Long before the election results were known, political soothsayers were already playing the “guess what will make it into the legislative programme for a hung Parliament” game: predicating which bits of which manifestos would stand and which fall. In the end this exercise was redundant as we are in an era of a majority Conservative government with the power to bring forward its programme as set out in their 2015 manifesto.
Today’s Queen’s Speech has announced 25 new bills, as well as one draft bill.
If you’d told me on 7 May that we would wake up the next morning to find that Wales was the last remaining rainbow part of the political map, I’d have been profoundly sceptical. That, however, is how it’s turned out, with 11 Welsh Conservative seats (up 3), 25 Labour seats (down 1), 1 Lib Dem (down 2) and Plaid Cymru unchanged on 3. Here at Aberystwyth University, we’re now in the constituency with the last Lib Dem MP standing in Wales.
At last week’s UUK Members’ Meeting, many were saying they’d got the predictions wrong before the election, including sundry distinguished political commentators. Nobody had been quite convinced we would have a Westminster government at this point, and we definitely have with rather more of the same Cabinet Ministers.So, what is coming for higher education? I did send our Director of Planning a little message sometime in the dark watches of election night to suggest we could ease off on scenario planning for the £6k fee(If those of you in England think modelling that was a challenge, try sorting it out in terms of the likely Barnett consequentials). There doesn’t at the moment seem to be much indication that the fee will rise, which might well have led to greater differentiation on price but we must watch this space.
By Alistair Jarvis, Director of Communications and External Relations, Universities UK & Vivienne Stern, Director of the UK HE International Unit, Universities UK
Last night was extraordinary. The Conservative majority makes one thing crystal clear. There will be a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU before the end of 2017.
Universities UK’s campaign to explain the benefits of European Union membership steps up a gear from today. Over the coming weeks and months you will hear a great deal more from us about why European Union membership is so important and has a positive impact on the British people, our society, our economy and our universities. We will campaign across the country with powerful evidence and compelling stories, in the media, through public events, and working with partners across the university sector and beyond.
The creating value from open data project aims to demonstrate the value of open data, ie publishing data to enable reuse, by identifying an application that could solve practical challenges facing universities and their students. (For more background about the potential that open data holds check out some of the talks in our seminar series). We hope that a focus on potential uses of open data can guide our understanding of what data is needed and where and how it can be published.
When we set out, this left a rather large question – what issues are universities currently grappling with and how can open data help? To explore this question, we ran a series of workshops with the NUS, professional groups and universities who are working with us on the project to find out what, if given a blank slate to come up with their ‘silicon valley moment’, they would like to solve using open data.
Higher education is a matter substantially devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but decisions made at Westminster can continue to have an impact on the whole of the UK higher education sector as was demonstrated by the change in tuition fees policy in the aftermath of the 2010 General Election.
In the 2015 General Election, higher education funding in England is again a point of divergence between the two largest parties’ policy platforms, with Labour proposing to lower tuition fees to £6,000 per annum and the Conservatives sticking to the current levels. In the event of another hung parliament, the votes of Scottish MPs might well determine the policy outcome.
The manifestos finally landed (or in the case of the 150 page Liberal Democrat monster, thudded) into inboxes, with the Scottish National Party bringing up the tail of the major parties on Monday last week.
Describing the SNP as a ‘major party’ in itself shows how different manifesto season is to the past – all of a few years ago there were only two manifestos that anybody really thought contained policies that might be implemented, but in the strange new world of multi-party democracy, we pore over points of potential agreement and disagreement across five documents. My summary of the full contents is available on the UUK website, for those with a particular penchant for hypothetical higher education policy.
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.