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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.

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.