26 Sep 2016
In a speech delivered today (26 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 calls on MPs to champion a 21st century vision of universities, supporting teaching, research and enterprise and reaching out to all communities.
Professor Phoenix will share the platform with Gordon Marsden MP, Shadow Minister Higher Education, Further Education and Skills; Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group and Malia Bouattia, President, National Union of Students.
He will also argue that the government’s Higher Education Bill should be amended, with collaboration and the public interest on the face of the Bill.
He will say:
“UK universities have a hard-won and well-deserved reputation for high quality with students that are talented and entrepreneurial, and Vice-Chancellors who want to ensure that their universities provide the highest quality courses and ground-breaking and translational research. We need Labour MPs to champion a vision of a university in the 21st century as one which supports teaching, research and enterprise and which reaches out to all communities.
“The government’s Higher Education and Research Bill focuses on competition and should be amended to place a public duty on the Office of Students and UKRI to work together. Collaboration and the public interest, and not just competition, must be on the face of the Bill.”
Turning to Brexit, Professor Phoenix will call on MPs to “press the government to make an urgent decision to guarantee that EU students will have access to student loan funding at least until 2020 to ensure that the UK’s trade in higher education services is not damaged even before any negotiations about Brexit have been triggered.”
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What does Brexit mean for Students, Universities and the Government's HE agenda?
Monday, 26 September, 5:30pm-6:30pm
LabourList Space (Hall 2G), ACC Liverpool
Full Speech by Professor Dave Phoenix:
Can I start by saying what a pleasure it is to be speaking at another Labour Party Conference fringe in partnership with the National Union of Students? Both as a Vice-Chancellor and as the Chair of MillionPlus, I know from first-hand experience that students are the lifeblood of all our institutions and student unions are a vital component of any high quality university system.
I am also delighted to be sharing the platform with Gordon Marsden and Roberta Blackman-Woods. The work that they have done on higher education, in particular on the Committee which has been scrutinising the Government’s Higher Education and Research Bill, has been exemplary and frankly tireless. My colleagues and I are indebted to them for their efforts - so Gordon and Roberta – thank you and please keep it up in the rest of the sessions.
Even before the Brexit vote, universities were in a state of high alert. The proposals in the Higher Education and Research Bill are seeking to promote competition by lowering the criteria for university title and taught degree awarding powers, and in my view this raises fundamental questions about what it means to be a university in England.
I believe that universities are not just businesses, and that they should always work in the interest of the public good, with roots in their communities. If we are not careful, however, this push for increased marketisation in the Bill will see the entire idea of what a university is in this country, changed forever - and for the worse.
Equally, moves to divide the teaching and research link within universities, through the creation of the Office for Students and UK Research and Innovation, are a real concern. Great research informs great teaching, and the two together are vital for our universities and students. We need to make sure the government’s plans are amended, so that collaboration and the public interest, and not simply competition, are on the face of the Bill.
Alongside the Bill there are also barriers to international student recruitment, with the Home Office determined to reduce international student numbers at the same time as the Department for Education wants to increase them – hardly evidence of joined-up government in action.
We also have challenges to teacher training in England, the abolition of bursaries for healthcare students, and the introduction of a teaching excellence framework that is linked with fees, wrongly in our opinion.
And then after all of that, there’s Brexit. Now I am not the first person to say that there is a surprising lack of clarity about what the government thinks Brexit means in practice, but let me help them and spell out a couple of things that they need to consider, and that Labour should be pushing for:
Firstly, Brexit should not mean an end to cross border working. Whether through research projects, internationalised staff, or student exchanges, working with our EU partners has been extremely successful. This needs to continue, and as such it should be at the centre of the Brexit negotiations about higher education.
We need to remember that education in this country is the 8th biggest sector of the economy. The 125,000 EU students studying here contribute £4billion a year, and also add culturally and intellectually to the UK university experience. I do not want broad, international and diverse curriculums to be only available at a small group of institutions, I want them to be available to all. We need all students building friendships, networks and closer ties with students in Europe, and further afield.
Secondly, Brexit must not act as another barrier to international recruitment. It is tragic that in some parts of the world the UK is now seen as a less desirable place to come and study. This is not being helped by a visa system for international students that is not fit for purpose.
The Prime Minister needs to send a message around the world that we are an open and friendly country, for students and staff, and the best way she could do that would be to remove students from migration figures altogether.
And, if there is good to come out of the vote to leave, Brexit should provide an opportunity for us to forge new links with other international partners. We should not accept anything less, and we need to be positive about ourselves, and about our future.
UK universities have a hard-won and well-deserved reputation for high quality; our home, EU and international students are talented and entrepreneurial, and Vice-Chancellors like myself want, and need, to ensure that we can continue to provide the highest quality courses and ground-breaking and translational research.
With all of this happening at once, we need Labour, in the Commons and the House of Lords, to keep the government focused on its duty to give us the tools to succeed, and to ensure that every student, whatever their background, age or country, can access higher education at a UK university, confident in their institution, knowing that it has met the rigorous tests necessary to achieve its university title.
This is why the Higher Education and Research Bill must be amended to place a public duty on the Office of Students and UKRI to truly work together, with collaboration and the public interest, and not just competition, on the face of the Bill.
It’s why we need the government to guarantee that EU students will have access to student loan funding at least until 2020.
And it’s why we all need to champion a vision of a university in the 21st century as one which supports teaching, research and enterprise and which reaches out to all communities. Frankly, the students of today and tomorrow deserve nothing less.
Notes to editors