16 Sep 2019
Bill Rammell, Chair of the Association for Modern Universities, MillionPlus, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, will tell a fringe event at the Liberal Democrat conference today (16 September) that Britain can thrive if the country and its universities prioritise openness.
Bill Rammell will say:
“We need to ensure we remain open. To students, to research and to collaboration, across Europe and beyond…being open can mean boosting our ability to recruit internationally, which not only benefits our courses culturally and academically: it also brings huge amounts of economic growth to the local areas.”
“[Openness] means maintaining vital research links, as well as still being seen as a genuine option for EU students to study. Simply moving EU students into international status, with the associated fees attached to it, may see numbers fall dramatically. It’s surely not beyond us to think of a solution that works in all of our best interests.”
That culture of openness must also extend further towards students of different backgrounds and their individual journeys into higher education, from commuter students, part-time students and mature students. For example, take-up of part-time study has dropped by 40% since 2010.
He will say:
“No two university students are the same. My experience of my own students in my institution is that they’re hard-working, aspirational, and future-focused - a real credit to themselves and their community…The system must be able to not just ‘cope’ with these different types of students but be built as much for them as for the fresh faced 18-year-old straight out of school or college. At the moment, the system does not support different types of students equally…and this will take changes in mindset, as well as to government policy.”
He will also commend the role of modern universities as civic hubs, the beating heart of their communities:
“The greater the investment in our institutions the more we can work with local businesses, undertake research or build global links.
“Strike out the clichéd image of ivory towers from your mind - academia today is about networks, about bringing people and organisations together, creating research that has a real-world impact and application. Modern universities are best placed to facilitate and drive that impact.”
Also on the panel will be the Rt Hon. Baroness Garden of Frognal and Sir Simon Hughes, Chancellor of London South Bank University, with Miatta Fahnbulleh, Chief Executive of the New Economics Foundation, as Chair.
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Liberal Democrat Conference 2019
Monday 16th September, 1pm, Branksome Suite, BIC
FLEXIBLE LEARNING, HIGH SKILLS, STRONGER ECONOMY – MODERN UNIVERSITIES DRIVING THE UK’S FUTURE
Good afternoon and welcome to our fringe event today. I would like to start by thanking Sir Simon Hughes and Baroness Garden, and Miatta for chairing today - and thank you all for coming today. I am sure we can have an excellent discussion at this critical time in our country’s political trajectory.
For those of us who have followed politics closely over the last few years the words ‘unpredictable’ or ‘volatile’ or even simply ‘unprecedented’ will have become commonplace.
For those of us in higher education, it has been a similar story. We’ve had policy shifts, ministerial turnover, alterations, recommendations, and impacts on just about every aspect of what a university does. And all this before we even start to think about Brexit.
Meanwhile, universities and their students still battle an image problem in much of the national media as they are seen as recalcitrant bastions of internationalism by many who are pushing for a death-or-glory Brexit.
On top of all this, universities are still at the centre of party politics and the struggle over headline university fees – something which I’m certain I won’t need to remind this conference - can lead to outcomes that have a large political significance whilst not always making for implementable policy.
This is what has driven us at MillionPlus to come here this year and to engage as widely as possible to make the case for what we in our part of the sector believe to be so important – and what simply must not be lost in all the noise about Brexit and its aftermath.
A university today, and particularly a modern university, is unlike the universities of even a decade or so ago. The sheer volume and quality of what our institutions do in their communities and internationally is phenomenal.
At Bedfordshire we are, of course, a British, European and proudly international university. Yet we are also deeply rooted in our locality and this grounds everything we do. The same is true of modern universities up and down the country. They are embedded in their communities, serving as a beating heart of not just the education system locally but also the regional economy.
When our universities do well, the local area does well, local businesses prosper, and our graduates succeed too. As such we see ourselves as drivers for change, not just for our individual students, but for the wider communities we serve.
Importantly, many of these institutions operate in areas of the country that are not necessarily top of the political agenda, and, to use a now-popular phrase, the ‘left behind’ areas crying out for extra investment and attention to enable them to thrive.
So, the question I’d like to ask today is this: in an era of political uncertainty and ever shifting priorities, what can to done to help modern universities and their partners succeed for their students and our communities?
First and foremost, we must ensure the future of a sustainably funded system that works for the student interest. That is our key objective, and at modern universities it serves a greater function than just teaching our students in their chosen subjects.
The expansion of university title after 1992, enabled people from all backgrounds to access higher education in a way that was unthinkable in generations gone by.
We have moved, as a country, to a knowledge-based economy, targeting higher skills. In so doing, we have created these universities as engines for social mobility that are transformative for so many people.
This is why MillionPlus has long campaigned for maintaining an effective unit-of-resource to invest in the education of every student with the ambition, talent and desire to succeed in higher education, whatever their background and wherever they live in the UK. We don’t want to see students having their education diminished, their life chances hampered, leading to a widening division between the ‘haves and the have-nots’ that modern universities in particular have worked so hard to bridge.
I was part of the government that boosted the unit of investment in 2003 to invest in students’ education, away from the competing interests that draw on government spending.
The trebling of fees in 2010, although not without the challenges it has created with marketisation, took this to another level. It enabled universities of all types to maintain levels of excellence and opportunity by improving the student experience.
I make no apologies for wanting the best for my students and wanting to see every student at every university have the same amount invested in them. Without this we fall back into the old ways and we will be all the worse for it.
Alongside investment, we need to ensure we remain open. To students, to research and to collaboration, across Europe and beyond.
Being open can mean boosting our ability to recruit internationally, which not only benefits our courses culturally and academically: it also brings huge amounts of economic growth to the local area.
Some of the policies over the last decade have meant huge backward steps that have curtailed student numbers from overseas. We need to keep the pressure on, at all levels, to ensure we don’t do ourselves more harm in the post-Brexit period. The recent changes to post-study work for overseas students is a welcome step in the right direction but can’t be a substitute for wider reform which is long overdue.
The same is true for Europe, being open means maintaining vital research links, as well as still being seen as a genuine option for EU students to study. Simply moving EU students into international status, with the associated fees attached to it, may see numbers fall dramatically. It’s surely not beyond us to think of a solution that works in all of our best interests.
Lastly, being open is also about being open to different types of students. We all have an image of what a student is in our mind’s eye, but it rarely matches with the majority of those who are actually studying. We get a distorted image from parts of the media, who dismiss many of them as so-called ‘snowflakes’.
Yet from commuter students, to part-time students to mature students, no two university students are the same. My experience of my own students in my institution is that they’re hard-working, aspirational, and future-focused - a real credit to themselves and their community.
The system must be able to not just ‘cope’ with these different types of students but be built as much for them as for the fresh faced 18-year-old straight out of school or college. At the moment, the system does not support different types of students equally – for example take-up of part-time students has decreased approximately 40% since 2010 - and this will take changes in mindset, as well as to government policy. Kirsty Williams’s introduction of better support for part-time and mature students in Wales has shown England one possible path, we now need to deliver a better system elsewhere in the UK.
Lastly, alongside enhancing the student experience, we need to bear in mind the crucial role our institutions play in their communities, as civic hubs. The greater the investment in our institutions the more we can work with local businesses, undertake research or build global links.
Strike out the clichéd image of ivory towers from your mind - academia today is about networks, about bringing people and organisations together, creating research that has a real-world impact and application. Modern universities are best placed to facilitate and drive that impact.
When we want to ensure investment reaches all over the country, where we boost life chances, help UK businesses trade overseas, upskill the workforce and enable economic growth, look no further than the universities already doing just that.
Underplaying the role of universities harms so much more than just our students. It undermines the UK’s prospects for growth and success in the testing time we see ahead.
Modern universities like my own, and like so many, produce fantastic graduates, making me hopeful for the future at a time when so much else leads us to doubt that. Support them, and the whole country will see the economic and social pay-back.
Notes to editors