Last week, vice-chancellors travelled to Brussels in the largest delegation that UUK has ever taken overseas. Developing collaboration with partners in Europe, making the Union work for UK universities, and defending the value of the EU to universities to a sceptical public are all going to be key challenges for the sector in the coming years – particularly with a referendum on the cards. It is not surprising that university leaders are increasingly looking to influence Brussels and build links with the colleagues on the continent.
This time they were there primarily to lobby the European Parliament and Commission on the cuts proposed to Horizon 2020 as part-funding for the proposed ‘European Fund for Strategic Investment’ – also known as the ‘Juncker Plan’.
With some seeing higher education as awash with cash and ‘a sector ripe for cuts’, Professor Nick Petford, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Northampton, argues that the sector must work hard during this election period to dispel the idea that universities are wasteful and inefficient.
UK higher education faces something of a dilemma. Yes, we are incredibly successful at all levels, with one of the strongest university sectors in the world. Yet, at the very core of higher education, uncertainty prevails.
For example, universities have proved adept at making surpluses at a time when many in the wider public sector were facing cuts. You might think this would be seen as a good thing. But it has drawn criticism from powerful quarters.
Universities have unique attributes that make them important and effective contributors to growth and social well-being. Our rich histories help us take the long-term view. Our pursuit of excellence provides the talent, research and ideas to drive forward growth and enable the knowledge economy to flourish. And the value we place on diversity helps create partnerships across cities, regions and countries, building the social and economic ties that bring us together and make us stronger than the sum of our parts.
However, we find ourselves in the midst of a perfect storm. Our future is under threat due to a combination of fiscal short-sightedness, an immigration debate driven by fear and emotion, and a slow erosion of universities’ autonomy.
Even in the digital age, knowledge happens because people with common interests can easily work alongside each other, wherever they come from. This open society is under attack amidst calls to leave the EU.
It has become a commonplace that knowledge and scholarship are borderless. History shows the opposite. From earliest times, societies have successfully controlled knowledge and scholars through sects, guilds, borders and mind control. Several forces are at work in the UK that could damage knowledge creation by re-introducing borders.
The headline grabber is the call by politicians of all stripes to restrict immigration and leave the EU. A hint of problems to come can be seen in the effects of the decision to scrap post-study work visas in the UK. This is diverting international students away from this country for the first time since such statistics have been gathered.
With over 190 independent countries, more than 6,000 spoken languages and 6.3 billion people in the world, it has never been clearer that there is so much we don’t know and so many people and cultures to learn from.
Internationalisation within higher education is a particular challenge for small, arts-focussed universities such as Bath Spa University. We have no prospect of entering the international rankings, no established partnerships and a boutique offer. Yet, internationalisation is critical for a twenty-first century institution.
As part of this month’s #WeAreInternational campaign – giving international students and graduates a platform to share their story about why they chose to study in the UK – Duane Stapleton from the St Vincent and the Grenadines, tells us what attracted him to the UK and how he has found the experience.
I chose to migrate to the UK to join the military and to further my education because after considering the pros and cons, the UK seemed to offer better opportunities for personal development. I undertook my initial BSc in Biomedical Science at De Montfort University in Leicester. This was my subject area of choice due to previous experience in this discipline in St Vincent and the Grenadines and because of my passion for diagnostic medicine.
Whoever will be sitting at the higher education minister’s desk after the election is going to have plenty in their in tray. Amongst other things vying for attention will be a pile of reports titled ‘HE regulation’. This week that pile grew higher, with the publication of a policy report from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). This follows Universities UK’s report last month and earlier contributions from the Higher Education Commission and HEPI. We’ve also had reports from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee highlighting particular concerns on controls around access to student support. That growing pile is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
The UK’s research base is second to none. Indeed, the strength of the UK’s science and technological research underpins the government’s strategy for growth and innovation. Yet the UK spends just 1.8% of GDP on research and development and lags behind in bringing that research to market in the form of new products and services. However, money alone cannot help the UK’s technology sector to prosper – we believe the real answer lies in design-led thinking.
In December last year, the government’s Science and Innovation Strategy recognised design as one of the most powerful tools we have to support teams utilise their research base. In order for the UK to compete in a highly competitive global economy, it must continue to invest in the right innovation support mechanisms – including design.
In the month when Universities UK is celebrating the cultural diversity of our universities with the #WeAreInternational campaign, research published today by Hepi provides a new angle to the debate on international students by looking at the soft power and educational benefits for UK students from learning and living alongside students from across the globe.
UUK’s infographic about the economic benefits for local communities and the country as a whole are regularly re-tweeted, and our report with British Future on international students and the UK immigration debate have added to our understanding about what the general public think about international students. But this research by Hepi and Kaplan International, with polling provided by YouthSight, asked those in the process of applying to UK universities what they think about the prospect of studying alongside students from abroad and being taught by international staff.