An uncertain future for Higher Education

Cap and symbolsAs somebody who has logged many years in higher education and who assiduously follows HE policy wonks, blogs and tweets, I have never known an era when the future for universities is more uncertain. In advance of the general election, I have blogged about the HE Hustings in Westminster which took place in early March.

Below, I try and distil a few more issues which occupy the HE policy landscape. This is inevitably a list which reflects my own, and English, preoccupations, and it is therefore partial – in both senses of the word.

There are several bodies which aim to influence future government policy on HE. The Million Plus think-tank and the University Alliance mission group have laid out their wishlists, while Universities UK, the vice-chancellor’s representative group, has set up a Student Funding Panel due to report after the election. Continue reading

Universities should be at the heart of our national debate

Professor Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor, Nottingham Trent University

Professor Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor, Nottingham Trent University

Can we expect an unaccustomed and not entirely welcome focus on universities at the coming General Election? Or are we in a position where, as Oscar Wilde said, ‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’.

It is a delightful epigram, but not one that those responsible for our major universities would necessarily endorse in the lead up to one of the most uncertain elections in recent history. Continue reading

It’s time for universities to make the case for public education

mortar boardA journalist recently wrote that higher education has been ‘weaponised’ as an issue for the forthcoming General Election. An eventuality that might now be contemplated ruefully by the nation’s Vice-Chancellors who, in future, might be careful what they wish for.

After years of relative invisibility in the public sphere, mentions of universities in politics and the media are now as frequent as mentions of cricket. The optimists among us can congratulate ourselves that this signals a welcome democratisation of higher education. Continue reading

Labour pledges to cut university tuition fees to £6,000

Nottingham Trent University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Edward Peck, issued this response last week following Ed Miliband’s pledge that tuition fees would be cut to £6,000 under a Labour government. His comments were used by BBC News Online (update 3.44pm).

“Whilst it would be difficult to argue that university tuition fees are the most pressing policy problem that would benefit from a £2.7bn public investment per annum, the continued commitment of the Labour Party to the proper funding of higher education is welcome.

“It is not immediately clear to me that reducing fees from £27k to £18k over three years will have the positive impact on widening participation that Mr Miliband and his colleagues have been arguing in the media in recent weeks. However, it does give an incoming Labour government more opportunity to tweak the system; for example, by enhancing the premium for universities recruiting to engineering.

“Implicit in Mr Miliband’s statement is that the standard income for universities will remain at £9k per undergraduate student per year until 2020, the same as it has been since 2012. This will represent a reduction of actual income of at least 25% over the eight year period; some smaller universities may struggle to maintain standards over the next five years.”