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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.
MPs and prospective MPs are more interested in what universities can do for the UK’s economy than in the teaching they provide for 2.5 million students a year, a survey has shown.
A poll of MPs and politicians hoping to win a seat in the forthcoming general election commissioned by Universities UK found that they were most interested in hearing about universities’ engagement with business and enterprise and the employability of their graduates.
Very few – just 14 per cent of MPs and 16 per cent of “future MPs” – wanted information about one of the core purposes of universities: providing good teaching and a high quality learning environment for their students.
The proportion of those polled who wanted to know about where universities stand on immigration – a hot topic for institutions ahead of the election – was also relatively low (16 per cent among MPs and 13 per cent among would-be MPs).
The survey conducted by ComRes found that by contract 43 per cent of MPs were interested in universities’ engagement with business and 42 per cent in graduate employability. Prospective MPs were equally interested in graduate employability (48 per cent) and what universities were doing to widen participation in HE and boost social mobility.
Asked what they thought universities are good at, the most popular answer among respondents was conducting world class research – supported by 78 per cent of MPs and 75 per cent of prospective MPs. Most also thought British universities were strong on competing internationally with other HE sectors, producing highly skilled and employable graduates, and contributing to local employment and local economies.
But there was far less confidence in universities using their funding efficiently – with just 38 per cent of MPs and 30 per cent of future MPs thinking this was the case.
The area where respondents felt universities were weakest, though, was in engaging with MPs and other policymakers. Only just under a quarter of MPs and 13 per cent of future MPs thought universities were strong in this area.
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