6 March 2012

It's 20 years since modern universities gained the 'university title'

Twenty years since the 1992 Further and Higher Education act was passed to allow modern universities to apply for ‘university title,’ the university think-tank million+ has highlighted 10 ways in which modern universities have revolutionised higher education:

Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of million+, said: “Since the Act was passed in 1992 modern universities have changed the landscape of UK higher education. By combining innovation with excellence these universities have ensured that students from a wide range of backgrounds have had opportunities to study at university denied to previous generations. They have also promoted world-leading research, enterprise and knowledge exchange of benefit to UK society and economy. 20 years on Britain’s modern universities are global players on the international stage.”

Modern universities have:
1) Long histories: modern universities are not the higher education ‘upstarts’ some people think. Many have their roots in 19th century movements to expand education including for those who wished to combine work and part-time study. Some were supported by public subscription and benefactors. Others were linked with particular disciplines such as design, the arts, engineering or professions such as teacher training. Some set out on what was then, the still revolutionary path of specifically providing access to higher education for women.

2) Delivered innovation and expansion. By 1992 these institutions were already teaching thousands of undergraduate and postgraduate students and undertaking research. The Act ensured proper recognition of the role of these universities and allowed them to innovate and expand. Almost half of all undergraduates now study in modern universities.

3) Driven social mobility, providing opportunities for people from a wide range of backgrounds to study at university, particularly those not traditionally involved in higher education in previous generations. In 2009-10, more than a third (37%) of students at modern universities came from the lower socio-economic classification 4-7 compared to 22% at Russell Group universities.

4) Transformed UK Higher Education from elite to a mass system. 15% of school leavers went on to university in the 80s compared to over 33% now and modern universities have been at the heart of this change.

5) Effectively invested in world-leading research: In spite of receiving only modest amounts of research funding modern universities support world-leading research and promote research of impact and relevance. For every £1 spent on research by the higher education funding councils in 2008-09, modern universities leveraged £2.91 from other sources compared to £2.17 by Russell Group and £1.77 by 1994 Group.

6) Forged strong links with local communities, businesses, industry and Local Economic Partnerships: 60% of all contract research and consultancy contracts for SMEs are provided by modern universities. These universities also supported 67% of all graduate start-ups in 2007-08, many linked to institutional research specialisms. Modern universities are involved in 22 of the 35 LEPs which have higher education representation and in 2011 Coventry were acclaimed as Entrepreneurial University of the Year. The graduates of modern universities are also vital to the delivery of public services such as education, nursing, health and social care.

7) Provided crucial postgraduate education: The research capacity developed in modern universities is vital to UK plc. More than 40% of all postgraduate provision in the UK is delivered by modern universities. In 2009-10 these universities awarded 10,695 postgraduate certificates in 2009-10, proportionately more than any other group of universities and modern universities attract the broadest spectrum of postgraduate students – 48% of all part-time postgraduates, 75% of postgraduates over 25 years of age, 38% of all postgraduate students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and 9.5% of all international doctoral students.

8) Proved they are global players in higher education: modern universities now have campuses and international partnerships with universities throughout the world. They are key players in providing access to UK higher education for thousands of students studying in their home countries as well as in Britain. Several like Middlesex, Greenwich and the University of Bedfordshire have won the Queens award for exports.

9) Placed student-focused teaching centre-stage: modern universities are dynamic, innovative hubs of teaching, research and enterprise. By using new technology, linking the curriculum with the knowledge and skills that graduates need in the world of work and ensuring that students are at the heart of the system, modern universities have delivered excellence and quality teaching and responded to emerging markets with new subjects and multi-disciplinary courses.

10) Improved graduate prospects. The earnings of graduates from modern universities are likely to be nearly 15% higher than that of people with lower qualifications – many of whom could progress to university but do not do so.

The million+ 2012 programme of events celebrates the 20th anniversary year of modern universities being entitled to apply for university title.

This will include a reception and dinner in Westminster this evening (Tuesday 6 March), to mark the exact date of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act receiving Royal Assent, offering an opportunity for parliamentarians and others to celebrate the achievements of modern universities, their students and graduates.