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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.
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.
Universities minister Greg Clark has called on leading universities in the Midlands and North of England to do more to tackle a north-south divide in the number of school leavers entering leading universities.
Analysis of government figures by the Sutton Trust for The Times has shown that all but one of 20 local authorities that send the most pupils to the most selective universities are from the London and the south east of England. The 20 sending the fewest school leavers to top universities are predominantly in the most deprived areas in the north and Midlands regions.
Mr Clark said he wanted leading universities, particularly those in areas that send the least pupils into higher education, to work more closely with schools and be more creative in their efforts to raise aspirations among pupils. Citing Sheffield Hallam University as an example of an institution that is providing effective access support to schools and colleges in its region, he suggested universities should be setting up more summer schools, appointing e-mentors and giving guidance on UCAS applications.
The minister's comments follow an announcement by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on the launch of a new national group of collaborative outreach networks working with schools and colleges to help raise aspirations and improve access. The 35 National Networks for Collaborative Outreach, backed by £22 million of HEFCE funding for the next two years, have been seen as a partial replacement of the Aim Higher programme, which had a £78 million budget in its final year but was scrapped in 2011 as part of government cut-backs.
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