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University leaders commit to pension talks as strikes begin

University leaders have written to the University and College Union to formally outline their commitment to continuing to work with UCU to deliver long-term reform of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. The move comes as UCU members at 60 universities begin strike action in disputes over both pensions and pay.

Gateway to university expertise now provides 'smart match' with business

A platform providing a single access point for businesses to university expertise and funding opportunities has been further developed by the National Centre for Universities and Business, Research England, and UK Research and Innovation, to help 'smart match' business and industry with higher education institutions, in a bid to boost R&D collaboration. Shivaun Meehan, Head of Communications at the NCUB, outlines the latest features of Konfer.

Survey pinpoints ways to make postgraduates even more satisfied

Eight out of 10 postgraduate students taking a taught course in the UK report continued satisfaction with the experience over a five-year period.But a survey of more than 70,000 postgraduates across 85 higher education institutions who responded to the Advance HE Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) highlights for the first time areas where institutions could do better still to boost satisfaction levels.

Government should listen to employers on graduate employment

The next government should adopt policies on graduate employment that reflect a less simplistic outlook than the current regime, argues Tristram Hooley, Chief Research Officer at the Institute of Student Employers, which has just published its manifesto wish list.

Postgraduate researchers report high anxiety levels

Postgraduate researchers are suffering high levels of anxiety and many want more support, according to new research.

Augar proposals must not mean supporting FE at the expense of HE

The Augar review panel was right to highlight under-funding of further education, but addressing this should not mean cuts in the higher education budget, argues Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive Officer of the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB).

 

Understanding the real drivers behind the Augar review or predicting how much will see the light of implementation remains to be seen,  but the its scope and depth leaves it difficult to ignore. Testimony to this fact has been the number of reaction pieces that have framed their response as at best initial or with strong caveats that more detailed analysis will follow.  

Many commend the Augar team for the depth and breadth in which they have grappled with significant and seismic issues.  As with all government sponsored reviews, there were constrains on the review team (fiscal neutrality), significant political interest (not just from the now outgoing PM but also from her would be successors), but also on where to draw the boundaries (post-18 is a very, very broad canvas).

Not all of the early leaks and rumours made it into the final report, for which many leaders in the university sector will be thankful for. But there is, as reported in a number of other places, enough to be concerned about if the recommendations are enacted: reduction in tuition fees with no guarantees as to where the funding shortfall will come from; threats around recruitment of students to courses with “poor retention, poor employability and poor long-term earnings”; redirecting the HE capital grant to further education.

It is on the last point that I think the constraints (or pressures) on the review team have pushed elements of the review into a polarised and binary discussion: HE or FE.  Clearly in looking at the totality of the Post-18 education system they need to think about ‘the other 50 per cent’ that do not go into higher education.  But should this be at the detriment to a system that the review acknowledges is considered to be outstanding across a range of measures (research, teaching, economic, civic). 

The fiscal neutrality forces a series of recommendations to rebalance funding or priorities away from HE towards FE. The figures in the report make for stark reading and Augar rightly puts a spotlight on the imbalance.  But imbalance does not necessarily mean it needs to be rebalanced. There is a collective effort needed to make the case that more funding is required for further education but not at the expense of the higher education budget.

A binary decision between FE or HE also assumes an absolute delineation between the two. Not just through the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy but in responding to changes in labour markets – universities increasingly partner with and often co-deliver programmes that offer more technical and vocational routes.  These partnerships are often rooted in the needs and requirements of particular places.  Further and higher education working together to meet the needs of local employers and local populations.  One recommendation not visible in the review would have been to encourage more of this to happen rather than reinforcing divisions between a perceived separate two worlds.

As noted above, the Augar review is too substantive a piece of work for both politicians and the sector to ignore.  More analysis and interpretation will emerge.  The Government will (when it can) offer calls to action when it published its response. But it needs to take up the baton from this review and really consider the needs of a future advanced knowledge economy.  We need to create a Post-18 education system truly capable of pushing the best and brightest minds as well as genuinely supporting and empowering others to realise their potential. It is not binary decision.  But a simple and powerful AND.  We need an education system in which all contribute AND all benefit.  

 

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