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Behind the HE headlines is one key question – the purpose of universities

The past week’s higher education news demonstrates that there are certain expectations of universities that policymakers, HE leaders and the Augar review are expected to address, says Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of the Engineering Professors’ Council and Chief Executive of outreach organisation Push .

30 VCs sign new Civic University Agreement

Leaders of thirty universities have signed a Civic University Agreement, reaffirming their institution's commitment to their local communities by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in their home towns and cities at the top of their list of priorities.

HE reforms have hampered flexible study and innovative teaching, says paper

The Government’s higher education reforms may have led to a decline in more flexible forms of study and hampered innovation in teaching, according to responses to a Universities UK inquiry.

A paper that updates the findings and conclusions of evidence gathered by a Student Funding Panel chaired by UUK President Professor Sir Christopher Snowden says the increasing dominance of full-time three year degrees spells inflexibility for students.

At the same time, respondents have suggested that the reforms have given universities little incentive to try out innovative teaching methods – such as using new technology and experimenting with ways in which teachers interact with students.

Higher fees have led to a greater awareness among institutions of factors that demonstrate value for money, such as graduate employment and better teaching and learning facilities and student accommodation, the paper says.

But many respondents felt that while the new fees and loans system is progressive, the total amounts to be repaid by students is “very significant”, and some suggested the loans repayment period is too long.

The Panel, which launched its inquiry in August last year and is still taking evidence for a full report in the Spring ahead of the general election in May, is urging policy makers and stakeholders to consider whether the level of tuition fees and repayment periods could be cut down to improve students’ sense of value for money while meeting the Government’s needs for financial stability.

Professor Snowden said: “There has been a lot of commentary recently about the long-term financial sustainability of the current funding and fees system in England.

“We need more evidence on how the system can best deliver value for money for students, encourage greater participation of part-time and mature students and provide a stable funding environment for all universities.”

Further views and evidence can be submitted to the Panel by emailing: student-funding@universitiesuk.ac.uk

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