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Higher education is not broken - it just needs to fix its diversity problem

Reviewing the past week's higher education news, Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, takes issue with claims that UK higher education is "broken" and sees encouraging signs that it is addressing issues over diversity.

New year presents HE sector with fresh challenges

Professor Malcolm Todd, Deputy Vice-Chancellor/Provost (academic and student experience) at the University of Derby, comments on what he sees as the most significant higher education news and opinions making headlines in the first week of 2020.

Universities UK International calls on employers to back study abroad campaign

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, introduces the launch of Year Three of UUKi's Go International: Stand Out campaign, calling on employers to promote the value of international experience.

University leaders commit to pension talks as strikes begin

University leaders have written to the University and College Union to formally outline their commitment to continuing to work with UCU to deliver long-term reform of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. The move comes as UCU members at 60 universities begin strike action in disputes over both pensions and pay.

Gateway to university expertise now provides 'smart match' with business

A platform providing a single access point for businesses to university expertise and funding opportunities has been further developed by the National Centre for Universities and Business, Research England, and UK Research and Innovation, to help 'smart match' business and industry with higher education institutions, in a bid to boost R&D collaboration. Shivaun Meehan, Head of Communications at the NCUB, outlines the latest features of Konfer.

The shape of things to come in higher education?

Policy decisions now could lead to big changes in the future for higher education, suggests Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers.

 

I once told a market researcher that putting a camera into a mobile phone was a dumb idea. So maybe I shouldn’t attempt to predict the future. But even though it is beset with problems, I think that ten years from now a significant proportion of school leavers’ routes into work could be through higher and degree apprenticeships.

Policy Connect senior researcher Tom McEwan is right to point out in a Higher Education Policy Institute blog the significant issues degree apprenticeship providers and employers face when working with the apprenticeship levy. Even the Cabinet Office has cancelled one of its programmes. If the government can’t make its own policy work for itself, you have to wonder what smaller, less resourced businesses are supposed to do.

The levy is disliked by employers, but they are starting to work out how to spend it. The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) pool of employer members are hiring apprentices at a greater rate than graduates as they become better at utilising the levy. And the levy isn’t going away as I can’t see the Treasury handing the money back to employers. I know the accountancy sector very well. In the decade after PwC created the first accounting & finance partnership degree with Newcastle University, the industry created a plethora of alternative qualification routes with a range of partners. Sectors that have previously not considered apprentice routes will eventually find ways to spend their levy pot.

Employers love students with work experience but student demand for internships often outstrips employers’ supply, particularly in the legal sector. Sheffield Hallam University has come up with an innovative solution: create your own law practice to offer intern places to students. Employers always tell me their intern students make better hires as they are more likely to accept a job offer, stay longer and outperform their peers. Although SHU might find its subject level TEF employment score suffer -  in a WonkHE blog, Stuart Johnson, Director of the Careers Service at the University of Bristol, says he has discovered that because the next qualification an aspiring lawyer takes on graduation isn’t higher than level six, it is not deemed a positive outcome. Let’s hope this gets ironed out in the pilot stage.

Five years ago, fewer than 20 per cent of ISE employer members were focused on social mobility. Now over 70 per cent are. But progress is slow and cold spots are only going to get worse unless the government does more, says the APPG on social mobility. Often singled out for criticism, Oxford is doing more and will give £5,000 bursaries to students with parents on low incomes from 2020. Unlike in the 1950s, we don’t have an expanding pool of middle-class jobs – the opposite if artificial intelligence consumes much white-collar work. Will some have to descend the escalator as others ascend? Will HE have to turn away some of those it currently accepts? If it does, HE and policy makers will have to be prepared for a backlash.

But Theresa May can’t think about much beyond Brexit at the moment. I’m sure at times she would like to post a sweary rant on social media as Shakira Martin, NUS President, recently did on Facebook. With just over 30 days left to tick off the Brexit calendar, two news items highlighted our Brexit problems. The outlook for Erasmus remains uncertain and Britain’s disengagement from the European University Institute shows what ‘taking back control’ looks like in practice. In a WonkHE blog Iain Mansfield attempted to predict Brexit’s silver linings for the sector to Remainers like myself (and failed if the post’s comments are anything to go by). I sympathise with the Brexiters’ sovereignty and anti-bureaucracy arguments. But the amount of toil and treasure we are expending on Brexit to the detriment of all other issues we must tackle beggars belief.

In a month’s time the crystal ball may clear, but as Bill Gates once said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”.

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