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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.

UUK calls for government and universities to prepare for “no deal” Brexit

In the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, the Government must unilaterally secure EU citizens rights and strengthen its pledge to underwrite UK participation in EU research programmes, according to new guidance from Universities UK.

In a paper, the organisation sets out the range of implications and mitigations for universities associated with a possible ‘no deal’ Brexit outcome, while making it clear that such a scenario is “highly undesirable”.

A ‘no-deal’ situation would create immediate uncertainty for EU nationals in UK universities, prospective students and staff from across the EU, and for those participating in any of the Horizon 2020, Structural Funds or Erasmus+ programmes.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of UUK, said: "A 'no deal' Brexit would have huge implications for universities in all corners of the UK, and prove enormously damaging for regional jobs, growth and skills. EU staff and students at British universities, and UK staff and students at European universities, would be left facing huge uncertainty."

Universities UK has called on the government to build on the “stability measures” it has already put in place to minimise disruption.

This includes government guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights, making no substantive changes to rules governing EU migration until 1 January 2021, strengthening and clarifying its existing pledge to underwrite participation in EU programmes and establishing back-up structures to mirror Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ where required.

The paper also sets out the challenges that universities will face if the Brexit negotiations end without a deal in place.

Reaching the March 2019 exit date without an agreement would mean the residency and work rights of EU nationals already working in universities would be unclear and EU nationals entering the UK could be treated as third country nationals, subject to non-EEA immigration rules and requirements.

The UK’s ability to participate in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ could cease, because there would be no legal obligation for the UK to pay any financial settlement on exit, while the continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications covered by the current EU Directive would be uncertain.

UUK has called on the government to ensure that any substantive changes to rules governing EU migration are preceded by a period of two years to allow universities and prospective staff and students to prepare for any new system.

The Government should also set out its contingency plans for replacing access to single beneficiary Horizon 2020 funds and access to Erasmus+.

Universities are also advised to take certain actions, including encouraging EU staff to secure pre-settled or settled status under the current pilot of the settlement scheme which runs from 15th November until 21st December 2018.

Institutions need to be mindful of how courses are described to prospective students in terms of fee/loan status and qualifications recognition and think about their communication to this group around the publication of the EU Settlement Scheme, the paper says.

Liaising with European partners regularly to share understanding of the impact of no deal and collaboratively plan for such an outcome, is also suggested.

Other issues that universities bear must in mind around the exit date include travel arrangements between the UK and EU; health insurance for students and staff; energy / participation in Euratom and other programmes; trade /customs arrangements; as well as procurement and contracts held by universities.

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