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Emerging HE policies highlight new political landscape

Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.

Rethinking universities from the outside in

Mike Boxall, an independent researcher and consultant on higher education policies and strategies, and a senior adviser to PA Consulting, considers the emerging post-COVID world and its implications for the future of universities. His blog is based on a paper published recently by PA Consulting, and co-authored with its HE lead, Ian Matthias.

Is the government missing the real 'levelling up' value of HE?

The Westminster government should wake up to the full potential of higher education to help it meet its ‘levelling up’ goals, argues Professor Martin Jones, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Staffordshire University.

After a week of 'people power' it is time to listen to students

Jonathan Baldwin, managing director of higher education at Jisc, reflects on a week that’s felt the force of people power – and says it’s time for university leaders to respond to students’ calls for change.

Cassandra calling out higher education

After a week of largely disappointing news for UK higher education, Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University, fears that gloomy forecasts for the future of the sector may prove to be uncomfortably accurate.

 

For those of a fatalistic disposition, two publications at the start of last week heralded one of the most significant switches in policy for UK Higher Education since the start of the century.

The first was the publication of the new ‘Z3 condition’ by the Office for Students.  The expected cessation of almost all types of unconditional offers was not a surprise, but the removal of the retrospective application of the condition means that it has very little relevance to this cycle of admissions. However the extension of the condition until 30th September 2021 focuses on the next admissions cycle and reinforces Jo Johnson’s view that the Student Number Controls in place for 2019/20 are an indicator of a more permanent attitude towards greater control of a (smaller) HE ‘market’.

The second publication was from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which indicated that as many as 13 British universities could face financial disaster in the after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic. There were plenty of Cassandra’s following on: Gordon Marsden, Alec Cameron, Dame Nancy Rothwell, Peter Dolton and Alexander McCall Smith all provided perspectives along the same theme, highlighting the structural dependency on international student recruitment keeping both research and moreover, the majority of the University system, afloat. The evidence for these prophecies remains dynamic – although some early indicators of postgraduate deferral and withdrawal are starting to emerge.

Aside from the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak, other indicators in last week’s news also painted a bleak picture of the UK’s two largest student recruitment markets for the prospects of that financial dependency.  The growing negative press coverage of UK universities’ relationships with China in terms of concerns about restrictive practices, censorship and threats to intellectual property in teaching and research, alongside the continuing tensions around Hong Kong, has the potential to create longer-term disruption to our largest overseas student recruitment market if not handled sensitively. In parallel, the ‘deliberate’ disruption to the EU student recruitment market resulting from Brexit may mean that while we are immediately focused on university finances for 2020-21, the concern of leaders and planners should really be for 2021-22 onwards. We are unlikely to see the same kind of bailout package repeated and this is the more likely scenario for how the context of the OfS condition into the next cycle will play out.

And then on Thursday 9 July came the formal confirmation that had long been suspected - the earlier OfS condition being the oracle for: that the government wanted to ‘tear up’ the target for expansion of higher education and ‘rebalance’ the country’s post-18 education system towards further and technical education. This was centred around ‘exasperation’ of ‘snobbishness’ about the ‘value’ of HE, of which the (salaried) return on investment was proof of the need for change.

A combination of a continuing Student Number Control, which only allows for expansion for certain kinds of universities evidencing certain indicators of perceived ‘value’; a continuation of coronavirus pandemic outbreaks and associated responses internationally; the end of Home funded status for EU students and continuing sensitivities in geopolitics; and various governments within the UK finding higher education in disfavour augurs ill for the health of the sector.  

Was this week the end of the Third Act of this Greek HE Tragedy?

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