What MPs want

With fewer than 100 days until the nation goes to the polls, public affairs professionals (call us campaigners, political strategists, lobbyists if you will) in private and public sector organisations across the country will be making their final bid to see their priorities enshrined in the parties’ manifestos.

But what do MPs – and those who hope to win a seat in the Commons come 8 May – want to hear about higher education? And perhaps more importantly, what do they think about the university sector?

Universities UK is unveiling research today, carried out by ComRes, which asked current and future MPs which university issues matter most to them. The results will help those of us with responsibility for parliamentary affairs to understand where we could do more to inform, engage or even challenge the views of MPs.

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An American perspective on the value of higher education

From the earliest days of our country, we have seen education as the foundation for democracy and citizenship, for social mobility and national prosperity. Higher education opens minds and opens doors. Yet high school students and families are increasingly questioning its value. Is investing in a college or university education still worth it?

The short answer is “yes.” There is no doubt that college pays off financially. A wide range of statistics shows the economic advantage of a four-year college education. Over a lifetime, students who graduate from college can expect to make about 60% more than those who do not, well over a million dollars more than they would otherwise. Completing college makes an even greater difference to the earning power of young women. A 25-34 year-old female with a bachelor’s degree can expect to make 70% more than if she had only completed her high school diploma.

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Rising to the open data challenge

Last week, Universities UK and Policy Exchange hosted a round table chaired by Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office. Maude has led on the government’s open data agenda, which has contributed to the UK’s ranking at the top of the international pile for open data. He recounted the experience of government that has had to engage with significant culture change and practical challenges. However, the benefits for driving accountability, improving decision making and improving the quality of data have been more than worth the effort.

The round table sought to build on this success by exploring the role for open data in the higher education sector. It brought together a variety of people from the sector and beyond to discuss the issues. This included Professor Sir Ian Diamond of the University of Aberdeen who saw great opportunities for the role of open data in driving modernisation across the range of activities of the university. Like many of the participants, Professor Diamond saw applications for improving operations, contributing to the research process and supporting the experience and outcomes of students.

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Higher education & Hollywood – are you cyber secure?

The attacks on Sony studios are a stark reminder of the potential damage that hacking can do to organisations. Films such as Fury and indiscreet emails about stars and staff have been leaked onto the web with the whole situation escalating into an international incident. It is probably fair to assume that the Chief Executive of Sony Studios is going to be tightening up both his own security practices and that of the rest of the organisation.

Just like Hollywood studios, universities potentially face the same range of cyber security threats, including advanced politically motivated attacks, attempts to steal potentially valuable intellectual property and damaging leaks about organisational practices. However, the leadership of UK universities recognise the importance of effective information security to the safe operation of their institutions.

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Assessing value for money in higher education

The higher education reforms in 2012 resulted in an increase in the fee cap to £9,000, and coincided with a cut in direct grant funding from government to universities.  While the evidence shows a higher education degree is an excellent long-term investment – with graduates earning more than non-graduates over their lifetimes, and developing skill sets to benefit their working lives and beyond – the rise in the fee cap has focused attention on whether students are receiving sufficient value for money from the current system.

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An effective and fair system for health professional education

Despite all the references to the Five Year Forward View, the recently published Workforce Plan for England remains backward looking. Less a plan than a rushed calculation of political contingency vs short-term affordability. Not at all a nuanced assessment of need for health professionals, now and in the future.

We don’t need the Daily Mail to tell us that there is a critical shortage of nurses. The Health Services Journal found that three quarters of NHS hospitals had recruited almost 6,000 overseas nurses in just 12 months. This attempt to plug the workforce gap is not a one off. In the previous year, the Nursing Times reported that 40 acute trusts had recruited 1,360 nurses from overseas to fill vacancies. The Royal College of Nursing makes the cause of the problem obvious: the NHS has failed year upon year to invest in training. This continues. Despite an increase in the number of places this year, the numbers of Adult Nurse training places are still recovering: from 14,451 in 2009-2010 to 13,748 in 2015-16.

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Proposals from Home Secretary delivers early Christmas present to competitor countries

Reports that the Home Secretary is considering sending home international students automatically once they complete their studies has been met with bafflement by the higher education sector. There are a number of reasons for this reaction, but it is mainly because such a policy wouldn’t reflect the opinion of voters – including those of the Home Secretary’s own party.

A recent poll by ICM showed that a whopping three quarters of people support a policy where international students are allowed to stay on and work when they complete their studies. Conservative Party voters are even more open to this policy, with more than eight out of ten in favour of post-study work opportunities for international students. What makes yesterday’s announcement even more curious is that UKIP supporters – those very same people who, one could argue, the Home Secretary is canvassing for votes – are in favour of this policy too. An incredible two thirds of UKIP voters say that international students should be allowed to remain in the UK to work once they finish their studies.

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Matching our success with ambition

The REF has shown that we continue to excel in research, but our success needs to be matched by ambition from government.

This week proved to be a hectic one for everyone involved in higher education. After six years in gestation, the publication of the Research Excellence Framework results was piped to the post on Wednesday when BIS released the science and innovation strategy. Both hold real significance for the research community.

A day is a long time in research policy…But first, the REF.

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Patterns and trends 2014

Today, UUK has published its long-standing, annual publication Patterns and trends in UK higher education, which focuses on time-series of topics around students, staff and finance in higher education. The data in this report goes up to the academic year 2012–13, which is currently the latest available data in this detail. For this blog, I’ve picked out two items, one on part-time students and one of the institutional graphs from the annexe to showcase the variety of data available in this report.

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Defending the role of quality-related research funding

Recent announcements by government suggest that the role and purpose of funding streams that enable universities to make decisions at the local level are under threat. Only last week at a board meeting of Universities UK members’ we were told we need to be prepared to make a robust case in support of quality-related (QR) funding. Today sees the launch of a report (published by HEFCE) which provides clear evidence of the vitally important role that such funding plays in supporting the world-class research produced by our universities.

UK higher education is rightly regarded as a world-leader, and the impact that our universities have on our own economy and society is huge. Our universities contribute £73 billion a year to the UK economy, and have been linked to 20 per cent of GDP growth between 1982 and 2005. On a wide array of measures, we are consistently found to have one of the very best tertiary education systems in the world.

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