The best lies ahead for higher education

Last week, I attended an excellent event hosted by NESTA called: “Future Shock – the issues that should be talked about at the election, but aren’t”. Speakers from a range of fields and disciplines outlined the long-term trends that are affecting the economy, society, and the workplace, and which are likely to have significant impact regardless of the colour(s) of government after next May’s general election.

Five of the most pressing trends are highly relevant for the future of higher education policy in the UK. These are all developments taking place now, and which are already beginning to make their impact felt. Continue reading

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No room for complacency in the drive for efficiency and excellence

February 2015 sees the launch of a report led by Professor Sir Ian Diamond highlighting examples of efficiency in higher education. In the first in a series of blogposts that Efficiency Exchange will run ahead of the launch, Sir Ian emphasises the need to build on previous work towards the goal of creating smarter, stronger universities.

Higher education is a jewel in the UK’s crown. The UK has the second highest concentration of the world’s top universities and we rank first by field-weighted citation impact – an indicator of outstanding research quality and something which rightly attracts students and scholars from around the world.

UK higher education is also a hugely significant economic actor, supporting more than 700,000 jobs and contributing in excess of £70bn to the UK economy. This contribution ranks alongside that of legal services and is considerably more than computer manufacturing, basic pharmaceuticals and the air transport industry.

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Universities have their eye on the prize

As Longitude Prize 2014 opens for entries today, I hope many university researchers will feel encouraged to take part.

The £10 million Longitude Prize 2014 is a prize developed by Nesta, with Innovate UK (the new name for the Technology Strategy Board) as funding partner, to find solutions to a new global challenge.

At the end of June, the public voted for antibiotic resistance to be the focus of the 2014 Longitude Prize, which was set up to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the original prize (a £20,000 reward for finding a way to determine longitude at sea accurately).

In a time where heading to the doctor after the first sneeze is becoming the norm, we need new and improved ways to diagnose and treat bacterial infections worldwide. The Longitude Prize will go to the person or the team behind a new way to detect and understand bacterial infections.

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Professor Sir David Eastwood – UK delegation to India

Professor Sir David Eastwood was part of last week’s delegation to India of UK university leaders and the universities minister Greg Clark. In this blog, Sir David talks about the visit and the value of growing UK-India higher education links.   

The rise of India as an economic power house is without question, but the depth and scale of its ambitions to transform the country’s higher education system is without parallel.

India’s determination to engage with the global higher education market has been evidenced during a Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Higher Education Conference in New Delhi last week. Continue reading

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Highlights from our new HE facts & figures booklet

With an array of statistics published every year about higher education and universities, Universities UK is publishing some of the more striking numbers into an annual pamphlet-sized ‘facts and figures’ booklet.

In recent years, we started to use charts rather than tables and the document has gone on to become one of the most popular downloads on the Universities UK’s website. Using simple, eye-catching charts and info-graphics, the pamphlet helps illustrate, in simple terms, the current trends in the university system.

Some of the charts also highlight – in quite clear terms – the considerable economic, social and cultural impact of our universities. With a general election on the horizon, we hope this document is distributed as widely as possible to help make the case for why any government should Back Universities.

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Labour MP John Denham outlines alternatives to current tuition fees system

On Friday 7 November, former Labour cabinet minister John Denham MP gave evidence to Universities UK’s Student Funding Panel. In this guest blog, he outlines his ideas on reforming the student funding system in England.

England’s universities are boxed in. The initial cash boost from high fees is rapidly eroding. A year by year squeeze threatens teaching quality and research excellence at a time when higher education is more important than ever.

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Changing the direction of student visas

Last week I attended an event which renewed my faith in the ability of politicians of all parties to come together on issues of national importance. Unfortunately, it also reinforced how difficult it is for politicians to lead public opinion on divisive issues. The event was a breakfast for parliamentarians and university vice-chancellors in the Houses of Parliament to discuss the issue of student visas.

Higher education has traditionally been a great strength for the UK, with the most recent Times Higher Education world university rankings placing three of our universities in the top ten. The demand for world-class university education is growing rapidly as the middle classes expand in developing countries, and Britain should be seeking to grab as much of the market as possible. Not only do international students contribute billions in fees and living costs every year, they also are a valuable source of skills for our businesses. As Director General of the Institute of Directors, I represent 35,000 company directors in the UK and we found in a recent survey that 62 per cent of members think that curtailing the flow of these students to the UK would compromise their access to a vital supply of skills.

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University provision at risk

Year after year, universities play a fundamental – but perhaps overlooked – part in ensuring there is an adequate supply of high-quality teachers entering schools across England. The higher education sector as a whole recruits to high levels of all the places allocated for initial teacher training (ITT), and has an impressive track record when it comes to trainee satisfaction.

However, recent reforms to teaching training has resulted in three successive years of cuts in training places allocated directly to universities. Whilst the government’s new School Direct training route has expanded significantly; part of a drive towards a ‘school-led’ ITT system. A new report published today by Universities UK details the impact of such reforms to ITT on universities, schools and prospective teachers.

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EU reform and its impact on higher education

The vexed question of the UK’s membership of the European Union is once again taking centre stage. The election of UKIP’s first Member of Parliament dominated recent news headlines, and comments this week from the outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso about the UK’s continued membership of the EU also sparked debate.

While the UK government stresses that it is still looking at options in relation to the UK’s future relationship with the EU, and no decision has yet been taken, such public debates are already causing concern for many sectors – including higher education. Continue reading

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Why higher education wasn’t invited to the party (conferences)

As the political parties gathered for their last set of conferences before what is expected to be a tight election in 2015, higher education was largely absent in the major speeches taking place, but for rather separate reasons for each of the parties.

The Conservatives have been the dominant party of a government that has only recently overhauled the system of funding higher education. For them, the reforms fall into the category of ‘unpopular, but not so unpopular as to need to be addressed’. There are few votes to be won in reminding people of the new fee regime, but it hasn’t for them been a policy that has caused major political headaches. Continue reading

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