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Showing posts from January, 2019

Entering the Lion’s Den: Can the Conservative establishment be tamed?

Justine Greening entered the lion’s den from her working class origins and took on the Conservative establishment. Her progress in advancing her social mobility mission illustrates the real priorities of the government and it looks ominous. It is twelve months since Justine Greening lost her position as the Secretary of State for Education. At the time, this was considered a major setback for the cause of students from less advantaged b ackgrounds. She was considered to be a champion for our cause. Her replacement, Damian Hinds, is the product of an independent school and an Oxford PPE graduate. He could not be more different in experience or outlook. He immediately did what the current establishment seems to do when it cannot effectively govern. He set up a review on funding post-18 education under Philip Augar. That review is expected to emerge in February of this year. The aim last year would have been to counter the plans of Greening and extract better value from the fe

Things can only get better? Dream on.

With the Brexit chaos in full swing, it seems that the government is paralysed. This probably means that little time is being devoted to planning for the impending meltdown in higher education. The spectre of the Augar report has cast a fleeting shadow across this week’s reports of financial stress at more institutions. However, Augar is not per se a problem. With no spending plans from 2020 in place, the need for a radical rethink in the impending spending review later this year is of critical importance. With so much uncertainty around, the government may opt for a very short-term plan and prop up universities in the interim. But the problems will not go away and the hope is that ultimately a radical and comprehensive review of all university funding is carried out to provide more confidence in the system and a more stable environment for universities to plan in. The days of government absolving itself from its responsibilities in planning student numbers, and abandoning the sys

Break out the life vests: Save as many students and universities as you can.

This week has seen further angst in universities about the impending Augar Report due in February. On top of leaks about the likelihood of lower fees, there have been further reports of the numbers accessing loans being capped by setting a lower limit on A-level grades that are reported to be DDD. This has been accompanied by a call to expand the grammar school system further to help disadvantaged students. The reaction to both leaks has been one of impending crisis with some universities predicting they will close or merge. The only time a university went bust in the past was in 1987 when University College Cardiff merged with (was effectively taken over by) a neighbouring university, The University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology. Now Cardiff is again reported as moving closer to serious financial difficulty. Mounting debts on loan repayments and lower income may once again sink it. But this time there is no better managed neighbour to merge with. The signs are no

Is teaching intensity the Achilles heel of our universities?

The New Year appears to have provided a fearful start for UK universities. All of the signs are that the combination of lower fees and Brexit fallout will dent most existing plans out of shape. But in a climate of impending cuts it seems that the Achilles heel of the ‘intensity’ of teaching provision is being exposed. Gloomy reports have flown in formation over university managements that have yet to return to their desks next week. The inevitable decline in postgraduate students coming from the EU has been observed with alarm (See Times Higher Education January 4th 2019 Postgraduate numbers plummet amid fears for no-deal Brexit ). Postgraduates provide the backbone of the research efforts in most UK research teams and Brexit will have the most impact on this. The BBC report (4th January 2019 ‘Brexit: Universities warn no deal is 'biggest-ever threat' ) duly obliges with the impact on research funding being described as the ‘biggest- ever threat’. In seeking to s