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To boost social mobility, we must first accept that it does not yet exist

As Staffordshire University launches a new widening access initiative, its Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes explains why she believes institutions like her own have a crucial role to play in making social mobility a reality.

Minimal Covid-19 impact on 2020 NSS results, analysis finds

The vast majority of students were satisfied with their university course in 2020, despite the Covid-19 lockdown from March, a sector-level analysis of the National Student Survey results has found.

Collegiality enhances university leadership in a post-Covid world

Jonathan Baldwin, managing director of higher education at Jisc, looks at the changing role of post-Covid university leadership and the enduring need for collaboration.

Moving the HE landscape’s quality contours … again

The government's announcement of a major review of the National Student Survey signals a worrying shift in the HE regulatory landscape, warns Jon Scott, higher education consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester.

Government plans mark a seismic shift in higher education policy

Statements from ministers this week have made it clear that higher education in England is facing significant reforms, re-setting its focus towards helping to plug the UK's skills gaps and rebuilding the economy. Fariba Soetan, Policy Lead for Research and Innovation at the National Centre for Universities and Business, argues that the proposed changes bring a welcome focus on graduate outcomes and supporting the careers of young people.

Many issues await the attention of the new universities minister

The new universities minister Michelle Donelan

In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers.


If the cabinet represented the country, 20 of the 22 politicians at the top of government would have gone to a state school. In Boris’s new cabinet the number is seven. Perhaps the Office for Students should regulate Boris.

None of our universities’ metrics are quite as bad. But the latest widening participation report card from HESA shows they could do a lot better. Oxford’s two universities caught the headlines because although Oxford Brookes performs better than the University of Oxford in absolute terms - 68 per cent state schooled versus 61 per cent - Brookes has the higher performance benchmark, (91 per cent compared to 73 per cent for Oxford). For a thorough interrogation of the data read David Kernohan’s piece on WonkHE.

The revolving door into the universities minister’s office has spun yet again. For the first time in ten years a non-Oxbridge alumnus has been appointed. A former whip and member of the education select committee, this is Michelle Donelan’s first ministerial post. Although still to be confirmed, it looks like the science brief is going elsewhere and Donelan will pick up the skills and FE brief. Quite what this means for the ongoing arguments around vocational vs academic routes and HE funding vs FE funding, who knows.

The minister's first photo-op in her new job was opening a new agri-tech building at Wiltshire College and Universities Centre. I wonder if she was asked about Gavin Williamson’s announcement earlier in the week (he kept his job as Secretary of State by the way), culling 5,000 post-GCSE qualifications to make way for T-Levels? Funding is not something the Department for Education can ignore for long. In a recent blog I explained to employers why they may be facing an increase in their Apprentice Levy bill. Universities need to take note of these arguments, both as levy payers, and institutions that are rightly or wrongly perceived to get more than their fair share of money.

Writing this over the weekend, it felt like two Horsemen of the Apocalypse had broken free as storm Dennis rampaged across the country and the Coronavirus continued to spread alarm across the globe. The virus, renamed Covid-19, highlights HE’s increased exposure to global forces. In the early noughties, when the SARS epidemic killed 774 people worldwide, there were 47,740 Chinese students in the UK. Now there are 120,385. With a comparable increase in world trade, Covid-19 could have a lasting impact on many economies. Universities have warned government that the sector will take a financial hit if Chinese students are deterred from coming to the UK. The implications of Covid-19 for universities and their students and how they might respond is explored by John Gill, editor of THE.

Our universities have global reputations to protect. How they balance managing their reputations with the freedom of students and staff to express concerns publicly were highlighted by two stories last week. The BBC reported that universities are using NDAs, or gagging orders, to stop students going public about complaints of sexual harassment, bullying or poor teaching. And a Guardian article exposed how institutions are attempting to silence academics from discussing work-place issues on social media.

In our first month outside the European Union, ministers’ red boxes and vice chancellors’ inboxes remain crammed with global, national and local headaches that have few obvious antidotes.