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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.

How to improve the student experience -- ask the students themselves

Jenny Shaw , Student Experience Director at Unite Students, draws lessons on the higher education sector's efforts to improve the student experience from a week of HE news and views.

HEi-think: Why universities should support two year degrees

From this September, students will be able to opt to study an accelerated two year degree, as opposed to a traditional three year course. Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic) at the University of Derby, discusses why universities should consider the change in legislation and look to offer accelerated degrees.

HEi-think: Universities must listen to their students in response to the green paper

The green paper offers HE institutions to opportunity to keep social mobility and other key issues high on the government's agenda. But they should listen closely to their students before submitting a response, argues Ross Renton, Pro Vice-Chancellor Students at the University of Worcester.

 

The long awaited higher education green paper finally arrived last Friday. It has been feverishly read in great detail by sector commentators, journalists and leadership in universities. Already there has been a range of briefings and initial responses released from sector bodies. We are all in agreement this is the greenest of green papers, there are lots of unanswered questions.

The paper is peppered with questions, for example ‘Do you agree with the proposals to further improve access and success for students from disadvantaged backgrounds?’ How could you disagree? Social mobility and widening participation is a key pillar of the new proposals and it seems to be a genuine commitment from the Government. I am told the Prime Minister has taken a personal interest and we know he set many of the targets in this area. It is now the role of the sector to help the Secretary of State deliver a white paper that will bring about sustained widening participation to HE.

Most Universities will take up the invitation to respond. For many, this will be crafted by ‘policy wonks’ and leadership teams. My plea is for institutions to work in partnership with their staff, students and Students’ Union to send a response that is rich with evidence. Students will have already had an email from the National Union of Students (NUS) outlining what these changes will mean for students and academics. What have institutions said to their students? Students will be able to give their perspective on what excellent teaching looks like. What do black and minority ethnic (BME) students think will make a difference in attracting and ensuring the success of BME students in HE?

The green paper also omits a number of issues that are of concern to the sector. There is little or no mention of part-time, postgraduate and mature students. Will there be a Student Opportunity fund? Will UCAS be compelled to provide institutions with more data? The proposals have only a passing reference to the needs of a locality/region. Are the new providers going to be encouraged to open in areas with inadequate HE provision? If not, we could end up with the only real growth being in London or our largest cities.

I see the green paper as an opportunity to ensure the government’s laudable ambitions for social mobility are deliverable and sustainable. We need to ensure that our responses make clear what works and highlight where central funding or co-ordination will make a significant difference. At last social mobility is high on the agenda - lets keep it up there.

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