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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.

Research England names KEF pilot institutions

Research England has selected 21 English universities to take part in a pilot Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), which will run between February and May 2019.

HEi-think: Universities must plan for short, medium and long-term to navigate turbulent times

Higher education leaders must be ready to think ahead and resist the temptation to respond only to short term changes in the current turbulent policy environment, says Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute.

Developments in HE show the sector needs a new unity of purpose

Professor Liz Barnes, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Staffordshire, reflects on the messages arising from a week of higher education news.

New universities leap ahead in latest Guardian rankings

Nottingham Trent University

New universities are challenging the historical hierarchy in UK higher education  as a significant number leaped ahead of Russell Group institutions in the latest Guardian league tables.

Newer universities appear to be reaping the rewards of a greater focus on teaching and the student experience, as the Guardian rankings rely heavily on National Student Survey scores as well as graduate employment, expenditure per student, student-staff ratios, and a “value added” measure. There is no research measure included, which is where Russell Group universities score well in other rankings.

Nottingham Trent University has risen 18 places to 16th, putting it one place ahead of Nottingham, three ahead of Birmingham and four in front of Bristol.

Liverpool Hope University rose 23 places to 33rd and Liverpool John Moores recorded the second biggest gain of 31 places to 49th – putting both ahead of Liverpool University despite the Russell Group institution rising ten places to 57th.

The University of Derby is up 25 places to 29th, ahead of Manchester which fell to 34th.  The University of Staffordshire rose 23 places to 44th, the University of the West of England Bristol was up 15 places to 37th, and Chichester University rose 18 to 54. All were ahead of Russell Groups Queen Mary University of London, which dropped 39 places to 83rd, and King’s College London which is down 19 places to 58th, tying with Cardiff which has fallen 16 places.

Commenting on the new rankings, Professor Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, said: "This continued rise in the rankings shows the benefits of implementing a strategy that focuses on being excellent in those areas that matter most to students. We are redefining what it means to be an elite university in the twenty first century".

Staffordshire University Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Martin Jones said: "Our success in the league tables demonstrates a shift in the HE landscape which recognises the value of modern universities with a focus on skills and employability.

"Our mission is to deliver excellent teaching, facilities and student experience with staff across the University working hard to achieve this. That hard work is reflected in a Silver TEF rating and the award for 'Most Improved Student Experience' in the Times Higher Education awards.

"We deliver a range of activities to support employability and enterprise including the option of a guaranteed work experience, volunteering and real-world projects. The impact of this was shown in last year's Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Survey (DLHE), which showed that 97.5 per cent of Staffordshire University graduates were employed or in further study.

"Staffordshire University's performance in the Guardian League Tables, combined with our other successes, mean we can afford to be proud of our achievements and our University. However, we are aware there is work to do to maintain and build on our position."

Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby, said:

“To achieve our highest ever ranking of 29th in The Guardian league tables is an outstanding achievement.  A key focus of these ranking are student experience, student satisfaction and employability - values which have always been at the heart of our institution.

“As a Gold TEF rated institution, this additional recognition from the Guardian reaffirms our excellence in learning and teaching quality, meeting the needs of a diverse student population through innovative ways of engaging with students.  These rankings follow the recent news that the University is ranked second in the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) university fair access table, which measures how successful individual universities have been in trying to widen access to students from all backgrounds.

“Within the last month the University has been shortlisted for two teaching quality awards; Teaching and Learning Strategy of the Year in the prestigious Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Award (THELMA) and the second for outstanding teaching in Global Teaching Excellence Awards (GTEA).

“A strategic focus for the University over the past two years has been working with our students and our regional employers to assure appropriate employment opportunities and support the regional economy. We are delighted to see that the University has shown significant improvement in career prospects in this year’s rankings, rising by 10.3 per cent compared to the sector average of 1.8 per cent.  We believe that our sustained efforts to provide relevant work experience/opportunities in each of our courses means that our graduates have learned the theory, put it into practice and, importantly, have the attributes and behaviours needed to thrive in the workplace.

“As a modern University, we are well-placed to adapt and shape our curricula to meet the needs of the global economy and accordingly to develop graduates with the skills employers need and in the future. Alignment to the Industrial Strategy and the needs of our region are foremost in our minds when we are developing our courses.

“There is increased competition within our sector but at the University of Derby we have focussed on delivering an enhanced student experience underpinned by excellence in teaching and research quality, career prospects and value for money and we believe offer our students a rich experience where they can thrive.”

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