02 Oct 2018
In a speech delivered today (2 October) at a MillionPlus and National Union of Students (NUS) fringe at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Professor Dave Phoenix, Chair of MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, and Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, will back the reintroduction of student maintenance grants to boost lifetime learning.
Addressing the ongoing review of post-18 education and funding, chaired by Philip Augar, Professor Phoenix will say that people must be able to re-skill and re-train later in life if Britain is to keep pace with economic evolutions such as AI and automation.
“As a sector and a country, we can’t rest on our laurels, we must press ahead in building a university sector that is responsive to 21st century challenges,” he will state.
Also on the platform will be Sam Gyimah MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation; and Shakira Martin, President of NUS.
Professor Phoenix will say:
“We believe that wherever unfair barriers are put in place, it is the duty of universities to try dismantle them. One such barrier remains the issue of living costs and maintenance. Students of the future must not be put off education due to the cost of living, and we hope to see the [Augar] review agree that maintenance grants should be reintroduced, helping make the system fairer for future generations.
“Similarly, the collapse of viable part-time opportunities for prospective students is one which continues to alarm us all. Without a policy solution here, too many people are left unable to boost their skills, access education later in life, or change their careers mid-life. This does not support the productivity we are going to need in the decades to come, where the impact of AI and automation will mean that those with few skills or outdated skills will be left behind.”
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Reviews, Revelations and Revolutions - what is the future for our universities and students?
Tuesday 2 October 2018 | 10am
Full speech by Professor Dave Phoenix:
Thank you for coming today, to what I hope will be a very interesting and informative discussion. I’d like to start by thanking our partners, the NUS, as well as Conservative Home, and my fellow panellists.
As you would expect from the title of this session I do want to touch on areas linked to the post-18 education review, chaired by Philip Augar. Like everyone in the higher education, we have actively engaged with the review, and eagerly await its findings. Indeed, I should point out that at Conservative Conference last year, MillionPlus actually called for such a review to take place, and only a day later the Prime Minister announced one.
We have long felt that rather than just fees the funding system overall needs to be looked at, to ensure that we deliver a world class, inclusive and diverse sector, serving the interests of our students and communities. The system I refer to includes our enormous civic role, our contribution as a driver of innovation with business through skills research and enterprise as well as our ability to be a motor for social mobility. Our premise was that we needed to reflect on our core values and think more broadly about the sort of university sector we wish to see in the decades ahead.
For me, the fundamental point must be that, as a sector and a country, we can’t rest on our laurels, we must press ahead in building a university sector that is responsive to 21st century challenges. The transformation, and diversification, of higher education in the last few decades has been monumental.
The Conservative government of the 1990s began the revolution, with the widening of the sector, enabling institutions like my own to obtain full university title and further strengthen our ability to serve our communities and students. The Dearing Report was commissioned by a Conservative Government, that set the frame for how universities worked in the 2000’s and beyond, introducing the concept of a graduate contribution to HE investment. And now we need to consider the shape of the sector in a post-Brexit world, where our new global role will be defined by our ability to project our success as a knowledge economy and a world leader in higher education and research.
To move forward into this era we need to firstly take stock of the past few years. The changes to university fees and funding in 2012 continue to provoke debate, but this investment has enabled improved support for employability, student entrepreneurship and student counselling, amongst many others. This is investment that each university needs, and each student deserves, and it is vital for the health of the sector. Without it there will be the real threat of regression, and that can’t be allowed to happen and indeed the unit of resource is already getting to be very tight.
The work being done at each university across the UK is phenomenal - and the range of what is on offer is unmatched.
It is right that the review is looking at post 18 funding and not simply university funding. Modern universities tend to be work-focussed with occupationally relevant programmes, run by lecturers who stay in close contact with industry practice. We do this in concert with local colleges and schools. Indeed, some modern universities, like Bolton University and my own, now have FE colleges and schools within our organisational family to help support student progression and to meet business needs. There is an opportunity to look at the wider education system in terms of how universities support level 4 and 5 education but as a country we need to also look at how we support progression pathways through to degrees and employment more holistically.
Widening access and increasing social mobility is built into the foundations of what modern universities do, but it does not define us, or our students. The excellence that is on display at modern universities is a revelation to those who experience it and is a vindication of the policy of maintaining investment in the student’s education. I never want to go back to a time when only the socially privileged had access to top quality teaching or facilities. If we care about lifelong learning, and giving everyone an opportunity to step up, we need always to bear in mind those universities that deliver this, in context of the diverse strengths of the whole UK higher education sector.
However, as much as investment helps paint a story of success, we mustn’t forget the problems that also persist. Whilst we are not in the business of debating fees today, as that is an issue for Parliament, we do believe that wherever unfair barriers are put in place, it is the duty of universities to try dismantle them.
One such barrier remains the issue of living costs and maintenance. Students of the future must not be put off education due to the cost of living, and we hope to see the review agree that maintenance grants should be reintroduced, helping make the system fairer for future generations. Similarly, the collapse of viable part-time opportunities for prospective students is one which continue to alarm us all. Without a policy solution here, too many people left unable to boost their skills, access education later in life, or change their careers mid-life. This does not support the productivity we are going to need in the decades to come, where the impact of AI and automation will mean that those with few skills or outdated skills will be left behind.
Overall, however, I believe there are many reasons to be hopeful for the future of this sector. With the support of our government I am convinced that we will remain world class in what we do, continuing to innovate, improve and extend the offer we can make to students. We have the capacity to work smarter, and challenge some established orthodoxies, and we should not be afraid to do so. We do need to raise our game further in some areas, and it is right that we are challenged. But despite the angst that have characterised debates about universities in the last year or so we should not forgot the public benefit universities provide.
A HE revolution has been under way in recent years, and like all revolutions it has its opportunities and its challenges. As we wrestle with Brexit, regional variation in prosperity and the growing need for reskilling throughout life the importance of having a diverse and international recognised university sector will be of even greater importance in the future.
The thriving sector we all wish to maintain and improve will require the maintenance of investment in students and measures to enable those in, or out of work, to access opportunities to access university later in life. It will require investment in enterprise and applied research in a way that meets the needs of business and society and supports universities to bolster local economies in their role as anchor institutions.
We have a strong university sector and I am confident that we can build on this to create a strong future for students and society if we can develop this shared vision for success.
Notes to editors