Everything going on in UK higher education
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Monday Morning HE Briefing from Wonkhe
Good morning. It's been a horrendous week but there's no time to sink into despair. Universities and our values will outlast Donald Trump, but not automatically: there's much work to do. Not least, understanding and resisting the Home Office's plans to restrict recruitment of international students to just a few universities, shaping the future of the tertiary education landscape in all corners of the UK, building more financially sustainable institutions and then there's always student politics... 

Let's hope this week is better than the last. 

Mark Leach, Editor

RIP Scottish Funding Council?

The cull of the higher education quangos looks set to spread, this time to Scotland. A substantial controversy has broken out after the BBC reported that the Scottish Funding Council is set to be comprehensively merged into a new body, possibly chaired by a minister, that would oversee Scottish post-16 education, skills and enterprise policy and funding.

The way the story has broken has been particularly odd. Back in October, the Phase 1 Report of the Enterprise and Skills Review recommended creating “a new Scotland-wide statutory board to co-ordinate the activities of Highlands and Island Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise, including SDI, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council”. It appears that few initially expected this to equate to a full merger.

However, in recent weeks officials at the SFC have been privately informed that the Council’s board would be abolished shortly after the creation of the new oversight board, and a full merger initiated into a ‘superquango’. This evidently has caused enough concern for someone at the SFC to pick up the phone to the BBC.

Despite the story breaking - with opposition politicians viciously condemning the move - the Scottish government is still hedging its public comments, leaving ambiguity about its plans. Its official statement made no comment on whether the new statutory board would be chaired by a minister or whether the SFC board would be abolished.

The Scottish sector’s concerns about its ongoing independence and academic freedom echo the criticisms made of the recent Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act. Though some have criticised Jo Johnson’s Higher Education and Research Bill for allowing for too much ministerial and state interference in academic institutions, it appears that the trend is by no means confined to England or the Conservative Party. Rather, it appears to be a result of a state that has increasingly high expectations of the publicly subsidised higher education sector across the UK nations, particularly given that universities have done relatively well in the context of public austerity. HEFCW in Wales is also set to be merged into a similar Tertiary Education Authority. Like it or not, the pressure is now on for universities across the UK to demonstrate the public, rather than self-interested, value of institutional autonomy.  

Delivering Diamond: The future of HE in Wales

Wednesday 7th December, Cardiff
Wonkhe and The Open Univeristy in Wales present a free conference to discuss the impact and implications of the Diamond Review of Welsh HE. Speakers include a keynote from Education Secretary Kirsty Williams. Space is limited so don't delay in booking. Find out more and register here

Feeling Trumped

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States has left liberal academia reeling. 'Brexit plus plus plus', as Trump himself has described the election, feels like a kick in the stomach to reasonable people everywhere. Not least in universities. The post-game analysis of the election is raging around the world as many commentators now turn to the future and the shape of Trump's administration.

On Wonkhe we have two pieces of early opinion and analysis. First, Martin McQuillan looks at why people voted for Trump and argues that the election is the result of rich, entitled middle-classes failing to check their privilege. He also warns university leaders against swimming in the tides of populism to ensure universities, and their values, endure beyond Trump’s presidency

Tony Strike is in the US for a conference among an HE community that is in mourning. He argues now has to face some hard truths.

Rigging the game

Another week goes by, and still we know little more about the government’s plans for reforming student visa regulations. We anticipate a Home Office consultation will be published soon, and following the recent rhetoric by the Home Secretary, it could point to a new regime that will create different tiers of universities with varying ability to recruit international students. Nerves are running high in the sector about such a prospect, and there seems few, if any, equitable solutions for how this might actually be implemented. On the site, we think the unthinkable - how Amber Rudd might actually turn the rhetoric into policy reality. Warning: none of the options look good. Read it in full here.

Wolf in sheep's clothing

Alison Wolf, one of the most important thinkers in UK education policy (and number 36 on the 2016 HE Power List) has today published ‘Remaking Tertiary Education: can we make a system that is fair and fit for purpose?’ for the Education Policy Institute. The report focuses on sub-degree tertiary qualifications, pointing out that despite politicians’ ambitions across the political spectrum, fewer and fewer such qualifications are being awarded. Wolf argues that these qualifications are cheaper to deliver than degrees and can have equal or better labour market outcomes than the traditional university offer.

Wolf is particularly critical of the number of graduates entering non-graduate occupations, as will be familiar to readers of her seminal 2003 book ‘Does Education Matter?’ (a Wonkhe recommendation). She is also critical of the failure to encourage take-up of tertiary awards through income contingent loans in further education, and argues that "the government must also act to recreate a national system of sub-degree tertiary awards which can be offered in further education colleges as well as universities”. It is clear that Wolf envisages that this would replace, as well as sit alongside, traditional three-year university-delivered degrees. The press this morning have written up the story as a crisis for higher education - for instance, the FT leads with 'England's higher education system "in tatters".

Wolf’s influence in tertiary education policy in recent years has been huge. Her work was the catalyst for the apprenticeship levy and she has been a member of the Sainsbury Review of Technical and Vocational Education amongst many other things. She has been a consistent sceptic of higher education expansion, has argued that the system is unnecessarily expensive for the state and does not work in the best interests of young people.

Perhaps in recognition of such influence, University Alliance and Million Plus have both offered early criticism the report today, M+ arguing that “many jobs are incorrectly categorised as non-graduate” and UA that "higher education leads to benefits for health, wellbeing and life satisfaction” as well as graduate employment. Wolf’s proposals are an implicit threat to the current business models of many post-92 institutions, but also lay down a challenge to the whole sector, asking whether current models of higher education are the most efficient way to achieve the outcomes that society and students seek. 

The Wonkhe Daily:
stay ahead of the HE agenda

Written by our team of HE wonks, the Wonkhe Daily is an email briefing sent every morning before work to thousands of HE professionals. The Daily sets the sector's agenda for the day ahead, analyses the latest policy developments, what's in the news, and everything going on in UK HE that you need to know about. 

Find out more here.

United for education?

On Saturday afternoon NUS and UCU will hold a joint demonstration in central London entitled ‘United for Education’. The march will protest against the Higher Education and Research Bill and cuts and mergers in further education colleges.

NUS last hosted a national demonstration in 2012, which ended in chaos on a rainy day in Kennington, when angry activists threw eggs at then-President Liam Burns for his perceived lack of enthusiasm for the demo. The march, under the slogan ‘Educate, Empower, Employ’, was criticised by the NUS left for lacking a clear message or purpose. However with left factions now broadly in charge of NUS, it is the moderates who are making the same criticism. Since 2012 the issue of whether to hold a demonstration has been totemic and a contested issue at every NUS Conference. If the left continue their ascendency in the union, we can expect annual demonstrations around this date.

However, is also clear that NUS and students’ unions are divided on policy and tactics. At present, students’ unions are voting on whether to conduct an independent equality impact assessment into the implications of carrying out an NSS boycott, a policy which was passed at this year’s conference. If passed, the move would effectively sink the boycott. There also appears to be mixed interest from unions in encouraging students to participate in this week’s demo. Other disputes are continuing in NUS over allegations of anti-Semitism against President Maria Bouattia, and concerns by some that the organisation is “institutionally racist” - a report into which is due to be published shortly.

Nonetheless, this weekend’s march should demonstrate (pun intended) that student activism is alive and well, as is internal students’ union infighting and politicking.

Not so healthy

Last week’s briefing previewed HEFCE’s latest financial forecast for the sector which, now published, has made sobering reading. The extremely pessimistic forecasts identified multiple threats to the ongoing financial health of the sector even before Brexit is accounted for. It also stressed the variability of financial fortunes within the sector, as a small number of institutions continue to do well, while others appear on the verge of very severe difficulties. The days of ‘keep calm and carry on’ are clearly over as the sector heads in to uncharted waters. Read our take on the forecasts.

New on Wonkhe

It's time for universities to get their public reputations in order. Ben Verinder argues why senior leaders from all backgrounds need to reconsider the reputation of their universities to thrive in an increasingly difficult climate. 

Political affairs in higher education forum

29th November, London

Wonkhe is pleased to be supporting this one-day conference hosted by Universities UK and CASE. The event brings speaks from across the worlds of politics, policy and media together with the growing body of public affairs professionals in UK HE. Find out more.

You might also have missed on Wonkhe

Claire Reddleman argues that the recent debates over sexual harassment on campus are in danger of missing the point and not providing the right solutions. VC of Portsmouth University Graham Galbraith suggests that universities should seek more constructive relationships with schools than the current government policy appears to promote. And Registrarism continues his series on honorary degrees focussing on those awarded the honour from the world of sport

JOB: Senior Communications and Engagement Manager
The University of Manchester
Find out more

Also on this week's higher education agenda

Monday 14th November

HEFCE is hosting its Strategic Advisory Committees Conference in London.
Million Plus has its admissions network event in London.
HEA is holding a webinar on the results of the UK Engagement Survey.
Parliament will see Justine Greening respond to education questions.
The Technical and Further Education Bill will get its second reading in parliament.
Education Policy Institute is holding its first annual lecture with Professor, the Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, in London.

Tuesday 15th November

Universities UK is holding event on ‘Using digital innovation to enhance university marketing and communications’ in London.
Million Plus is hosting senior faculty staff from the University of Southern Denmark.
HEFCE is holding a Prevent seminar for governing bodies in London.
The Leadership Foundation is holding an event on ‘Prevent: The Board's Role in Providing Assurance’ in Birmingham.
QAA is holding an event on ‘Quality Assurance and the Regulatory Landscape in UK Higher Education’.
The Association of Colleges holds its Annual Conference.
The APPG International Students will meet today, with Jo Johnson in attendance.
Flywire is holding an event on ‘Staying Ahead of global payment challenges in higher education’.
Education Policy Institute is holding an event on the ‘Commission on Children and Young People's Mental Health’ accompanied with the launch of a report.

Wednesday 16th November

University Alliance is hosting its teaching and learning network.
HEFCE has an event on ‘Widening participation together: Achievements of National Networks for Collaborative Outreach’ in London.
The Leadership Foundation has an event on Women in Science.
It is the first day of HEA’s PVC Network Meeting.
There is a Commons debate on Immigration rules for international students, Introduced by Stuart McDonald (SNP).
The Commons Brexit Select Committee will discuss the UK’s negotiating objectives for our withdrawal from the EU.
The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee meets to discuss science communication with Jo Johnson attending.
The Royal Society is hosting an event on ‘Data analytics: the skills need in STEM’ in London.
The Welsh Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee will meet.

Thursday 17th November

It’s the final day of the HEA PVC Network Meeting.
The Social Mobility Commission report is expected to be released.
CGHE is hosting a seminar on ‘Clark Kerr, the Master Plan and public higher education in California today’ in London.
The Welsh Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee meets today.
There will be a Scottish Government Debate on ‘How Scotland’s Innovation Centre Programme is Driving Innovation in Scotland’.
HEPI and the UPP Foundation are hosting an invitation-only roundtable dinner on university access, with guest speakers Alan Rusbridger and Professor Tim Blackman.
UCEA is hosting an event on how best to make use of its membership.
SRHE is hosting a seminar on ‘Pedagogy and Knowledge’ in London.

Friday 18th November

Deadline for HEFCW's End of Year Monitoring of Higher Education Enrolments 2015/16 consultation.
SRHE is hosting an event in London on ‘Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education’
HEA is holding a webinar on ‘Defining and demonstrating quality teaching and impact in higher education’.
Independent HE is hosting a seminar with Pennington Manches on Tier 4 updates.

Saturday 19th November

NUS and UCU stage the 'United for Education' demonstration in central London.

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