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Conceptions of what is excellent in higher education are starting to change

Professor Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, outlines strategies adopted by NTU that are boosting social mobility and which helped it win the inaugural Guardian University of the Year award, a gong he believes shows how notions of excellence in HE are changing.

A house divided? Growing divisions and inequalities in HE

Mike Boxall, who has thirty years' experience as a consultant and commentator on strategic developments in higher and further education, finds evidence in recent news of growing and worrying divisions within UK higher education.

UK HE must put its house in order to maintain global excellence

News on higher education over the past week highlights an urgent need for the sector to get to grips with ethical issues that have a bearing on the way it is managed and governed, argues Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations at Council for Higher Education in Art and Design (CHEAD).

Rising staff costs putting universities under greater pressure, warns Moody's

UK universities will face greater financial pressure over the next three years due to rising staff costs as they accommodate more students, retain talent and negotiate pay rises,  Moody's has warned.

Higher vocational STEM education can lead to better earnings than degrees, study finds

Earnings of people achieving higher-level vocational qualifications in STEM subjects can exceed those of people who pursued the same subjects at a university level, a study has concluded.

Bologna Process will not be derailed by Brexit, says expert

A British expert on the Bologna Process for creating comparable and compatible higher education systems across Europe says he does not believe it or the UK's involvement will be de-railed by Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

John Reilly, from the University of Kent, author of a report on The UK in the European Higher Education Area recently published by the British Council, argues that the Bologna process is safe despite the Brexit vote because 20 of the 48 countries involved are outside the EU.

 “It is much bigger than the EU and it’s  an inter-governmental process driven by governments,” he says. 

But he adds: “That said, the EU is a key partner and what will impact on the UK is the fact that the European Commission has sponsored projects and initiatives to help develop, reinforce and implement the Bologna Process.”

The roots of the Bologna Process lay with a declaration signed by the UK, France, Germany and Italy in 1998 at the Sorbonne setting out the framework.  

John Reilly says that while it is hard to guess what the government’s position will be leading up to Brexit, “I would think they would not want to divorce themselves from the Bologna Process, because they were one of the key initiators”.

In his report for the British Council, he writes that “the UK has been at the forefront of the Bologna Process from the outset” and describes how the process led to the setting up of the European Higher Education Area in 2010, which aims to “encourage and facilitate Higher Education cooperation”.

Despite his overall optimism about Bologna, the academic warns that the UK might find it “hard to engage” in projects supported by the EC if it is outside the EU and does not enter in to a European Economic Area type agreement or become an associated member of the EU.

“The EC plays a role like a supporting government, to implement some of the international aspects of the process, by helping to support Bologna tools, for example –the European Credit Transfer System and Quality Assurance - but they are all owned by the Bologna Process and have been endorsed by Ministers from all the  countries.”

Describing himself as “strongly Remain”, John Reilly says it is vital that action is taken to secure continued UK involvement in another international programme - the Erasmus + scheme - which promotes the international mobility of university students and staff.

His report says the UK government and the devolved nations have expressed how important it is to Britain’s future that students gain experience of studying abroad and that Erasmus “the largest student and staff mobility programme in the world” is “widely accepted as providing the basis and impetus for the Bologna Process”.

Mr Reilly, who is the former Director of the UK Socrates Erasmus Council, the Erasmus Mundus National structure and the UK Tempus Information office, told HEI-Know: “About 17,000 UK students are outwardly mobile through Erasmus and we send many more to Europe than we do to the rest of the world. The potential for increasing ‘global’ mobility is much more difficult in terms of costs, visas and academic recognition. 

“Erasmus + has instituted a quality charter which is an entry requirement for a Higher Education Institution and gives mutual guarantees for partnerships. Assessment of applications for the Charter is managed by the EC which removes a burden form each institution. Global partnerships will require separate bilateral agreements which will increase the burden on HEIs.

“If the UK is excluded from Erasmus, this will have a huge impact on UK outward student mobility and create a serious challenge for UK institutions. Universities are preparing their prospectuses for students coming in 2018. In their current prospectuses they are advertising four-year programmes with one year in a European university supported with an Erasmus  grant but for the future they  cannot guarantee this; they do not know if the UK will be included in the programme.“

Mr Reilly says the UK is formally in Erasmus until the end of the current programme in 2021 and that his hope is that there will be protection for students in it, although this will depend on the outcome of negotiation with the EU.

“Continued membership of Erasmus +should be the primary objective, coupled with access to Horizon 2020 and the Marie Skowdolska Curie Programme,” he says.

“Individual students and academics have got to work to ensure there is no early termination; to work in the most positive way, demonstrating the value and benefit [of the scheme].”

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