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Showing posts from May, 2020

University madness and merger mania: Students beware the cliff edge

Most observers are predicting a disaster within months for Higher Education in the UK if further action is not taken. The government has held its second research task force meeting this week and its priority seems to be ahead of supporting students. This is taking the wrong approach that helps a minority of universities with higher research profiles. But where is the task force for students? Meanwhile, the Office for Students is hesitant in its advice to students, and to parliament, with the government lacking the political will to prioritise students. The old idea of forcing universities to merge as some approach insolvency has emerged. These are in effect ‘takeovers’ that will create further chaos that stalls genuine helpful actions. Personal experience of institutions that merged in the past showed student support and education fall well down the priority list of concerns. It is time for all involved to work together to support students as the top priority. The government has n

How precarious are universities in the UK?

There is little doubt that universities are facing a critical situation this summer. Many do not have enough reserves to ride out the crisis and stay solvent. Some have as little as a few days ‘net liquidity’ before they fail. However, the risk of insolvency is not evenly spread and some of our most prestigious institutions are not as safe as people tend to perceive. Those with high costs associated with research are more vulnerable. Others have learned to operate on less resource. The government will have no choice but to intervene further to avoid a total disaster. An initial focus on research should be widened urgently to ensure financial support for students across all institutions. This would be a better way to channel funding to the front line efficiently. This approach must also seek to help less advantaged students whose numbers will be rising fast in the storm of unemployment coming our way.   There has been mounting concern about the precarious financial situation of o

‘Levelling down’ and a post-graduate boost for those of greater means

The notion that the government is capable of ‘levelling up’ the economy, and society in general, has faded fast. Unemployment is rising fast with taxation income falling. The effect on students and their families is just at the beginning of a significant decline that could last for several years. Whilst many universities are preparing for a decrease in international students and their fees, others will be worried about a significant decline in UK undergraduate income. However, the dearth of jobs for graduates will no doubt lead to more of them taking up postgraduate courses through loans as a means of staving off unemployment for a while. This will be yet another challenge for the online and social distancing provision that is already coming this autumn (as an aside, the picture is of a microbial fermenter in my former research laboratory. It cannot be operated remotely or by social distancing). However, postgraduate courses and research may save many jobs in the end if universiti

Social Mobility in crisis: A 'Pardoner’s Tale'

There are many observers becoming very worried about the impact that the economic crisis, precipitated by the COVID-19 lockdown, will have on social mobility. This concern comes on the back of a stark realisation that social mobility in the UK is already in a poor state (see TEFS 25th October 2019 ‘Defusing the social ‘time bomb’: There will be no social mobility without equality ’). Access to university education has always been a way to become upwardly mobile. But despite talk of ‘levelling up’, and efforts to attract disadvantaged students to higher education, progress has been painfully slow. The crisis has cruelly exposed the precarious lives of many people, especially students with fewer resources. The notion that greed is the "spur to economic activity" looks hollow in the face of people dying before their time. The failure of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) to alter government direction became more exposed when its Chair, Martina Milburn, resigned earlier thi

Universities to get 'payday loan' sticking plaster. UPDATE. FE Colleges to be taken over

UPDATE. FE Colleges in England to be taken over. Although not about universities at this time, the news that the government is planning to take over Further Education colleges in England must come as a sharp jolt.  Yesterday, the Further Education newsletter,  FEWeek, published the article 'Government to take ownership of colleges' . The reasoning behind a white paper urgently under preparation is that the number of colleges in "formal intervention over their finances" has hit over thirty. This will mean that the financial freedom unleashed by the 2011 Education Act must now be reined in. FEWeek cites the annual report for 2018/19, the FE Commissioner, Richard Atkins noting problems as "frequently the result of poor governance and leadership over a number of years, resulting in weak decision-making”.   If, or when, similar problems emerge in our universities, then they might expect a similar knock on the door from the government. Who knows what the