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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.
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.
The coronavirus outbreak will lead to temporary budget deterioration and operating deficits for some UK universities next year, but the sector's finances are likely to bounce back in two to three years, according to a new report from the ratings agency Moody's.
Three scenarios modelled to test universities' financial resilience forecast that UK universities will lose fee income next year and some will incur operating deficits as a result. However, strong balance sheets support their ability to absorb a one-off deficit and credit quality, and in the longer term, underlying strong demand trends for higher education support a recovery over the next two to three years, the report says.
In addition to a rising participation rate and a sharp and favourable demographic shift, the sector is expected to benefit from a supportive policy environment for research funding and international students.
The report observes that prior to the coronavirus outbreak, UK universities reported strong growth in undergraduate applications for the 2020-21 academic year despite adverse demographic trends. Applications from domestic students were up 1 per cent from the previous year.
"This was a strong result given the corresponding decline in the university-age population, and we expect this demographic trend to reverse sharply from 2021," Moody's said, adding: "Although enrolments may be considerably lower than in past years given the coronavirus outbreak and the high degree of uncertainty it entails, strong previous growth in applications underlines the UK's global appeal as a destination for higher education."
Health and safety concerns are likely to have only a temporary effect on international student demand, and just as the number of international students continued to rise following Brexit, the agency said it expected the medium-term reputation of the UK to continue to be resilient.
Commenting on recent government policies on research funding and a more favourable immigration regime for international students and staff, Moody's said it expected policy "to continue to be supportive overall".
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