The case for part-time study

While the number of students going to university full-time has risen, the part-time sector has experienced a sharp decline, wasting hundreds of thousands of lives, writes the Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, Peter Horrocks.

Over the coming weeks and months, the Government’s policies on higher education will start to take shape.  We already know some of the issues everyone will be talking about, with tuition fees and whether young people are getting value for money high on the list.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the focus is on school leavers – after all, this is the experience shared by the overwhelming majority of policy makers and the journalists who report on the sector.  But behind the rise in the number of full-time students lies a troubling picture for an increasingly critical part of our university system.

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Universities and the productivity challenge

With an emergency budget and an expectedly difficult comprehensive spending review looming on the horizon, Universities UK is preparing to make a strong case for why more investment in universities is needed to deliver on the government’s economic policy objectives.  Our report on the economic role of universities outlines some key reasons, touching upon how the higher education sector can help overcome the systemic weaknesses that are holding UK growth back.

Of all the challenges facing our economy at the moment, the UK’s dismal productivity growth record since the 2008 global recession (see figure below) has clearly emerged as the number-one concern for the incoming government, and with good reason. If productivity remains stubbornly low, then clearly our economy is not investing enough in its workforce and infrastructure, and is not innovating enough; the government has an essential role to play in turning this around.

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Stand up and be counted on Europe

I am just back from Brussels after chairing the European Commission’s CITIES 2015 forum. It was organised to get support from politicians, policy makers, business leaders and researchers across Europe for the Commission’s new plans for an urban agenda for Europe. In fact, I found their plan a bit disappointing – offering to do less than I think it could and should. It needs to be more ambitious.

Nevertheless it got me reflecting on the huge significance of Europe to our cities and universities in the UK. Leaving Europe at this point would be a disaster for both. Much of my academic research in recent years has shown how much we can learn from the best cities in Europe. It is no accident that countries with more high performing cities than the UK also have far more successful national economies. Germany is the most obvious – but not the only example (cf. Second Tier Cities in Europe). We need to be in Europe, be part of that debate and show how cities can forge national success. Since the government with its Northern Powerhouse and devolution agenda  emphasised the importance of cities to national success, it seems perverse that it is now risking cutting us off from stronger relationships with successful European cities.

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Correcting misleading portrayals of international students

A recent article in the Sunday Telegraph portrays a misleading picture of international university students who come to the UK.

Firstly, although the Home Office categorises international students as “migrants”, the majority of the public do not. Polls have shown that only 22% of the UK public consider international students to be immigrants, and that most people feel positively towards students who come here to study, recognising the contribution they make to Britain financially, culturally and academically.

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Growing support for postgraduate study

This blog post was co-authored by Daniel Hurley & Martina Tortis who are both policy analysts at Universities UK

Over the past six months, postgraduate education has come increasingly under the spotlight. Two government announcements recently open for consultation – a loans system for taught Masters students in England, and proposals to strengthen support for postgraduate research students – signal a growing awareness of the value of higher study to the individual and the wider public.

Not only do postgraduates typically enjoy an uplift in earnings compared to those with only an undergraduate degree, (around £5,500 for Masters graduates), they are less likely to be unemployed and – as more and more jobs require a postgraduate qualification – make a key contribution to the UK’s skills and knowledge bases.

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The Queen’s speech & higher education

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.

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Election reflections from Wales

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.

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Universities UK ramps up campaign on EU membership

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.

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Supporting the student experience with open data

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.

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The Scottish manifestos & higher education

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.

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