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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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