24 Sep 2018
In a speech delivered today (24 September) at a MillionPlus and NUS co-hosted fringe at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, Professor Dave Phoenix, Chair of MillionPlus and Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, will call on the party to deliver a sustainable HE funding model that maintains the unit of resource for teaching under its proposed National Education Service.
Professor Phoenix will share the platform with Gordon Marsden MP, Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Further Education and Skills; Education Select Committee member James Frith MP; and NUS President Shakira Martin.
He will also call for more to be done to increase the number of part-time and mature students.
He will say:
“What should not be up for grabs in the fees and funding debate is the maintenance of a world-class and successful university sector.
“We need to ensure that the sector has access to long-term, sustainable investment and that the approach to funding does not create barriers to opportunity for those that are able to benefit.
“We urgently need to rectify the setbacks in social mobility and enable the UK to upskill our labour force for the jobs, and lifestyles, of tomorrow.
“MillionPlus remains committed to engaging with Labour on this, as we all work towards a system that ensures every student, every university, every college, every school, and every one of us can benefit from the opportunities that they deserve.”
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A National Education Service: How to deliver for universities, colleges and students?
Monday, 24 September | 12pm
Hilton Hotel, Albert Suite 4
Full speech by Professor Dave Phoenix:
Thank you for coming along today and thanks to Shakira and our partners at the NUS, and to our parliamentary guests.
Gordon Marsden has been a committed advocate for higher and further education both before and after his appointment as Shadow Minister, and his contribution to these sectors continues to be highly valued by those representing universities and their students. I am also delighted that we have been joined by James Frith, who is an important and welcome voice on the Education Select Committee.
Today’s topic is the concept of Labour’s National Education Service. This is a radical idea and like any radical idea it will face challenges - political, logistical and economic. That is why MillionPlus is pleased that the party is taking the time to discuss these ideas in depth and open the conversation to all those with an interest in the topic – universities, students, the public and employers who require the skills and learning and knowledge creation generated in our universities.
These are challenging times for universities in the UK. We have regular attacks from media regarding value for money, questions as to the worth of university education and moves to a market driven model with growing reach of a new regulator raising questions of purpose and autonomy.
I believe that the higher education sector ought to be open to all ideas about how it is structured and funded but we must be clear about what it is we stand for, so we can test the value of any new proposals against the potential impact on our principles. MillionPlus does not pick sides in political battles but we do ensure that the voices of our students, and our staff are heard. These crucial perspectives can help us find fresh opportunities for progress and note potential unintended consequences of political change.
What should not be up for grabs in the fees and funding debate is the maintenance of a world-class and successful university sector.
We need to ensure that the sector has access to long-term, sustainable investment and that the approach to funding does not create barriers to opportunity for those that are able to benefit.
It is vital to remember that the coalition government’s increase in tuition fees in 2012 went hand in hand with an equal cut in the teaching grant going to universities, shifting the burden from state to graduates in well paid employment. Maintaining at least this level of investment for universities (and students) should be a starting point for the NES as it considers the requirements of higher education.
Keeping investment in teaching for students is critical. A unit of teaching resource of around £9,000 has directly helped students at institutions like my own. Our students, from extraordinarily diverse range of backgrounds, can now have access to the best facilities, enabling them to succeed in ways that would have been shut off to them in years gone past. This investment in higher education has provided students with innovative study support, advice on wellbeing, careers guidance, 24/7 libraries, state of the art technology, access to high-quality teaching from sector-leading experts. We simply cannot go back to a situation that the last Labour government inherited in 1997, with long-term decline in the resource for teaching.
Increases in university fees has been accompanied by improved access for the segment of students who study full-time, although not part-time and mature, which I will come to shortly. Today, for the majority, the main impediment to study is the lack of support for student living costs, which is why I believe reintroducing maintenance grants is by far the most effective thing we can do for students in the here and now. It was great to see this policy in Labour’s manifesto last year, and this should be at the forefront of NES policy going forward.
But recognising the cost of education does of course present challenges to the concept of the NES. I wouldn’t want to see a return to number controls, in fact I’d like to see Labour recommit to expanding HE participation with 50% as an absolute baseline.
In this regard I mention part-time and mature study, and it’s important to focus on it as it has been the key area of failure in the last decade. The current system simply does not work for these students, and if Labour is to phase in its National Education Service proposals in any way - as the New Zealand Labour party is currently - then my suggestion would be to put addressing fees for part-time students top of the list of priorities.
We urgently need to rectify the setbacks in social mobility and enable the UK to upskill our labour force for the jobs, and lifestyles, of tomorrow. Starting implementation of the NES by addressing part-time fees would be would mean that the policy would hit the ground running and get it off to the strongest start.
So, lots of work to be done. The NES Charter Labour has set out gives us a chance to think about the system from first principles that we have not done in decades. Education is, as the charter states, profoundly interconnected. From those starting out at primary school, all the way through to mature or part-time learners much later in life, we need a system fit for the modern world.
In a world of Artificial Intelligence and automation, people with no or few skills and little education will likely become even more socially excluded than some find themselves at present. In our age of inequality, we need education to once again be the great leveller.
In my own institution of London Southbank those interconnections between the levels of education are clear. We are a family of schools, a university, and soon a FE college, all under the one London Southbank group umbrella. We work across boundaries and age ranges. This is typical of many modern universities. As institutions which are closely linked to their communities they have great opportunity with the framework of a National Education Service to help create pathways for learning and to enhance people’s lives in the 21st century workplace and in society at large.
Today, Labour is being bold in its thinking, and that is to be welcomed. Whilst there is hard work ahead, we achieve nothing if we stand still or if we duck the big questions.
MillionPlus remains committed to engaging with Labour on this, as we all work towards a system that ensures every student, every university, every college, every school, and every one of us can benefit from the opportunities that they deserve.