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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.

MillionPlus paper calls for defence of student mobility in Brexit talks

A new policy briefing from MillionPlus, highlights the key issues that the UK’s representatives need to negotiate to ensure that UK and EU students can continue to study in each other’s countries and that the UK’s universities can continue to trade in Europe post-Brexit.

The briefing paper, Brexit - what's best for our universities and students?, points out that future engagement in European science and research programmes is only one area in which a deal needs to be struck and that student mobility, the rights and status of EU citizens, and continued support for regions and localities which have benefitted from European funding, are equally important.

The paper, circulated to MPs, Peers and officials, says that leaving the European Union will have powerful and long-lasting implications for the UK’s universities and future students and graduates and for the different regions and countries of the UK. MillionPlus says that it will be critical for the UK to strike a deal which builds on what UK universities have already achieved.

It states that the ‘best Brexit’ deal would:

  • Deliver a freedom of study area for UK and EU students backed by specific reciprocal arrangements to enable students to access funding support based on the funding regimes applicable to home students in the country of study
  • Guarantee the rights of all EU staff working in UK universities currently, and at the point of Brexit
    ensure that accessing and exchanging academic talent between the UK and the EU is as frictionless as possible post-Brexit
  • Deliver continued access to EU research and collaborative programmes such as Horizon 2020; if Brexit negotiations fail to deliver this, the UK government should match current EU research funding levels and ensure that their distribution is not focused on a small number of universities
  • Agree an arbitration procedure, ideally by the retention of the ECJ, to facilitate future trade and research partnerships between UK universities and the E27
  • Replace European structural funding with a new fund to help address inequalities in regional growth and support the role of universities as anchor institutions in their localities in all parts of the UK
  • Ensure that the UK recognises EU regulations and frameworks to underpin UK universities’ trade and collaborations with the EU and EU partners; if this cannot be agreed by March 2019, the UK must agree a transitional deal whereby all EU regulations continue to be applied until alternative and appropriate mechanisms are established

Professor Dave Phoenix, Chair of MillionPlus and Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, said:

“While the EU Withdrawal Bill has passed its first major parliamentary hurdle, the clock is ticking on the time left for the UK to strike a deal with the 27 countries which will remain in the EU. Brexit has major implications for the UK’s universities and there are concerns that statements from different Ministers do not always align either with each other, or with the position papers that the government has published.

“The government’s paper on continued scientific collaboration with European partners is welcome. However, this will not be achieved without the UK negotiating associate status of some kind. This will require much greater clarity and agreement on the UK’s negotiating position with respect to future staff and student mobility, the adoption of regulations and an alternative arbitration mechanism if Ministers insist on withdrawing completely from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. A deal on these issues is essential if UK universities are to continue to trade in Europe. 

“The UK has also been allocated €16.42bn (£14.8bn) from European Structural and Investment Funds for the 2014-20 period. This supports 17 national and regional programmes in which universities are key players. These funds will disappear when the UK leaves the EU. While the government has committed to create a new Social Prosperity Fund, it is vital that it works with key stakeholders and the devolved administrations to develop an infrastructure to oversee the effective utilisation of the SPF if it wants to realise its ambitions to support regional growth and the role of universities as anchor institutions in their localities and regions.”

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