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Conceptions of what is excellent in higher education are starting to change

Professor Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, outlines strategies adopted by NTU that are boosting social mobility and which helped it win the inaugural Guardian University of the Year award, a gong he believes shows how notions of excellence in HE are changing.

A house divided? Growing divisions and inequalities in HE

Mike Boxall, who has thirty years' experience as a consultant and commentator on strategic developments in higher and further education, finds evidence in recent news of growing and worrying divisions within UK higher education.

UK HE must put its house in order to maintain global excellence

News on higher education over the past week highlights an urgent need for the sector to get to grips with ethical issues that have a bearing on the way it is managed and governed, argues Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations at Council for Higher Education in Art and Design (CHEAD).

Rising staff costs putting universities under greater pressure, warns Moody's

UK universities will face greater financial pressure over the next three years due to rising staff costs as they accommodate more students, retain talent and negotiate pay rises,  Moody's has warned.

Higher vocational STEM education can lead to better earnings than degrees, study finds

Earnings of people achieving higher-level vocational qualifications in STEM subjects can exceed those of people who pursued the same subjects at a university level, a study has concluded.

Weekly HE news review: Storm clouds gathering?

With Brexit inevitably dominating the headlines this week, Rhiannon Birch, Director of Planning and Insight at the University of Sheffield, looks at what else was also making news in higher education.

 

In a week where the main news focus was the meaningful vote, the rejection of the EU Withdrawal Agreement and speculation as to where this leaves the UK, it would be easy to focus on Brexit. You don’t have to go too far to find dire warnings of the consequences for the sector and the Business Times has the latest summary of a perfect storm facing HE. It’s reasonable to say that on Brexit we know no more now than we did last week about what this means for our longer term future and keeping a close, informed eye on developments while planning for the worst seems a sensible approach whether that means preparing for no-deal or proactively building post-Brexit relationships with the EU.

This week’s round of speculation around the possible outcomes of the Augar Review continued to focus on likely recommendations on fees and loans with articles on the potential implications for students and institutions featuring in the FT, Guardian and BBC. However, what little of the commentary has considered thus far is that the devil is unlikely to be in the detail of the Augar recommendations. What Browne, Dearing and other higher education reviews over the years show is just how far the reality of Government implementation varies from the original recommendations. The kite-flying is fun to watch but it will be what Government does with the Augar Report that really matters.

With Westminster focussed on English HE policymaking and apparent leaks from Augar, it’s interesting to see stories on similar challenges facing HE in Scotland where College lecturers are striking over pay and the Education Secretary, John Swinney, has rejected Universities Scotland’s argument that ongoing real term cuts are unsustainable. He suggested that the sector is good at finding new sources of income itself and rebuffed the argument that a sustainable level of core government funding is essential for the staff and facilities that enable universities to compete for these resources.

Brexit aside, this week has seen some new and interesting developments in the UK higher education story. The debate around unconditional offers took a week off as discussion moved to the familiar refrain of the potential for post-qualification admissions, this time reimagined in a UCU report. The report presents a vision of higher education admissions as a student-centred process which supports decision making across all options including apprenticeships and employment. This was balanced by a HEPI blog which reports that a quarter of school exam grades are wrong so whatever the process for admissions there is evidence of subject areas where grades may be a less reliable indication of an applicants’ ability.

A word of sense also emerged on the degree inflation debate as Phil Pilkington, writing for WonkHE, explored the possible academic causes beyond the negative headlines. In the context of earlier coverage, it seems that degree inflation will continue to be used in the media as a lightning rod for a wider narrative around marketisation, value for money and the qualities of a degree. But understanding the causes of the change and where it sits in wider HE policymaking, rather than relying on simplistic assumptions that degree inflation is just a bad thing, offers a new way of thinking about the issue.

Finally, there was a lovely story on an early display version of the periodic table being found underneath a lecture theatre at the University of St Andrews. The article is an interesting counterpart to a recent piece in the Conversation about how the current iconic design emerged.

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