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VC calls for "new vision for HE" from politicians and university leaders

A leading vice-chancellor has called on politicians and other VCs to support a 'new vision for funding higher education and research' and has criticised policymakers who look to the US and Australia in search of 'some
higher education funding nirvana'.

In a speech to the annual meeting of the university think-tank Million+, Professor Michael Gunn, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University Million+ chair, said it was 'strange' that English policymakers had ignored the higher education funding systems in the Nordic countries and in Germany where fees have been abolished and where funding for high quality research is distributed throughout the university sector.

"Too many politicians and political advisers look to the US where many students do not complete or default on their loans and to Australia to provide answers to what they hope will be some higher education funding nirvana.

"Strangely they never look to the Nordic countries where research funding is much less concentrated and funding regimes are more favourable to student participation and they overlook the German Lander which have now all abandoned polices to charge university fees," he said.

Professor Gunn said there has been "far too much talk" from politicians about and their advisers about how to amend the student support regime to require graduates to repay more of the costs of higher education. Meanwhile, "the needs of part-time students and those who want to study at university later in life or for a
postgraduate qualification are almost completely ignored".

Politicians and university leaders also ignore at their peril Yougov's recent poll in which 60 per cent of parents said that they  felt that university was no longer value for money, Professor Gunn added.

"The future of higher education rests on expanding opportunities, delivering equality of the unit of funding for students wherever they study and ensuring that all universities are well-resourced and that their excellent research receives its fair share of public funding".

In the run-up to the general election, vice-chancellors, need to "stand up and be counted", arguing for a new vision for higher education "and the level of investment that the country needs to ensure that universities can deliver new opportunities for the next generation of students, work with businesses of all sizes and contribute to
society and the economy".

The speech follows questions raised over the sustainability of the Coalition Government's higher education reforms, with the cap due to be lifted on student numbers and David Willetts, the Universities Minister, advising
Parliament that 45p in every pound provided in student loans may never be repaid. Labour has yet to clarify its higher education policy.