19 Oct 2015
In speeches at a million+ and NUS fringe at the Scottish National Party Conference in Aberdeen, Professor Andrea Nolan, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh Napier University and Professor Michael Gunn, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University, called on SNP MSPs and MPs to engage with modern universities and to challenge the impact of immigration policy on international students.
Highlighting the benefits of cross-border collaboration, Professor Nolan and Professor Gunn outlined the contribution of modern universities to research and widening participation. They were joined on the platform by Angela Constance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Carole Monaghan MP, Public Services and Education Spokesperson, Megan Dunn, President NUS UK and Vonnie Sandlan, President NUS Scotland.
Professor Nolan said:
“All our universities rely on international students in many ways and overseas communities rely on our universities; the trajectory of UK immigration policy is a real and significant threat to us.
“The SNP can stand-up for Higher Education through considered thinking, evidence based policy making and brave choices in Holyrood, and effective participation in Westminster.
“In particular they must foreground the societal value - economic, social and cultural - of Higher Education, and challenge the impact of immigration policy on international students.”
Professor Michael Gunn said:
“We need SNP MPs to take a strong interest in the UK Government’s Higher Education Green Paper and to question the wider impact of the Home office’s visa policies for international students - and not just focus on changes to the post-study work route, important though these are.
"We would like you to argue for the retention of the Student Opportunity Allocation, for much more investment in the translational research funding that modern universities support and to promote the value of EU membership, not just because it helps to promote universities working together but because it provides important opportunities for students as well.”
SNP Conference, million+ / NUS Fringe 5.00pm, Friday 16th October 2015
How will the SNP stand-up for higher education in Westminster and Holyrood?
Professor Andrea Nolan OBE
Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Edinburgh Napier University
As the Principal of a ‘modern’ Scottish university, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to share this platform. The ‘moderns’ have been major players in delivering the growth in access to Higher Education over the last two decades and engaging with business to drive innovation. They hold a special place in the HE sectors both in Scotland and the UK.
Michael and I work in different and diverging policy environments, both experiencing much politically driven change on issues spanning funding, accountability, governance, immigration and the challenges of widening access and funding research, and all against a backdrop of public spending cuts. But we have much in common too. Higher education is central to the Scottish economic strategy goals of increasing competitiveness and tackling inequality and it is central to the future wellbeing of the whole of the United Kingdom.
This challenges institutions to balance priorities while remaining competitive, but also presents opportunities to innovate and promote collaborations which will support excellence and drive continuous improvement across the sector.
I emphasise across the sector because it is vital for teaching, research and knowledge exchange to be supported in all of our universities; they enable Edinburgh Napier and my fellow Million+ institutions to innovate, develop people and actively contribute to the development of the communities we serve locally, nationally and internationally. I applaud the Scottish government’s commitment to fund excellent research in all universities, and the collaborative approach to development through research pooling, and more recently through the launch of Innovation Centres.
Collaboration and partnership underpin our approach to quality. Partnerships among universities, with students through SPARQs, and with a range of other stakeholders have driven improvement through our quality enhancement framework, an internationally respected approach to enhancing the student experience.
And colleagues from across the learning system are joining forces through the Silver Commission to tackle the real challenges of widening access to Higher Education. Modern universities have led the way and are critical to this work; currently within the UK one third of all students entering HE are over 21, and the majority of these enter modern universities.
The features of our system that I have described make our HE sector hugely attractive worldwide. All our universities rely on international students in many ways and overseas communities rely on our universities; the trajectory of UK immigration policy is a real and significant threat to us.
And so to answer the question set for us – the SNP can stand-up for HE through considered thinking, evidence based policy making and brave choices in Holyrood, and effective participation in Westminster. In particular they must foreground the societal value: economic, social and cultural, of Higher Education, and challenge the impact of immigration policy on international students.
Finally, I hope that this fringe fosters a closer working relationship between the SNP and modern universities, there is much to be achieved through collaborative working.
Professor Michael Gunn
Vice-Chancellor, Staffordshire University
million+ is a university think-tank working with modern universities both north and south of the border and I am particularly delighted to be here with Angela, as the Cabinet Secretary, and Carol (Monaghan - to be confirmed ), with my colleague Andrea Nolan, Principal of Edinburgh Napier University, and with Vonnie and Megan. For over a decade the NUS and million+ have worked in partnership to host fringes at the Party Conferences and I am really pleased that we have maintained that tradition at the SNP Conference.
Let’s face it, there are now very big differences in the funding of higher education north and south of the border but this should not close our eyes to the huge benefits that come from cross-border university collaborations whether in research, sharing best practice in teaching or how to better promote access to higher education, including for those who are older and want to study on a flexible basis - something that modern universities are very good at and for which they should be given much more credit.
As the Vice-Chancellor of an English University, I and my colleagues have used the Scottish Government’s interest in supporting areas of emerging research to lobby the Treasury in Whitehall to think much more imaginatively about how research funding should be distributed – an issue that could be taken up on the Science and Technology Select Committee at Westminster.
In England, we can learn from the enhancement approach to quality assurance developed in Scotland and in Scotland, some of the initiatives and investment to promote access progressed by the pre-2010 Labour Government might be usefully explored at Holyrood.
As of this year there has been no cap on university undergraduate numbers in England – and there are pros and cons to this. However, even when numbers were regulated as they continue to be in Scotland, modern universities were at the forefront of arguing that additional places should be funded to promote and widen participation and enhance the skills base. Could we learn from each other on this one too? Perhaps.
So where next? At Westminster we have a five year fixed term parliament and we need SNP MPs to take a strong interest in the UK Government’s Higher Education Green Paper, to question the wider impact of the Home office’s visa policies for international students - and not just focus on changes to the post-study work route, important though these are.
We would like you to argue with us for the retention of the Student Opportunity Allocation, for much more investment in the translational research funding that modern universities support and which benefits the economy – and we would like you to promote the value of EU membership, not just because it helps to promote universities working together but because it provides important opportunities for students as well.
This is why, as modern universities, we look forward to doing much more work with SNP colleagues at Westminster and at Holyrood.
There’s a lot to discuss - and even more to play for.
Notes to Editors
1. For further information or to arrange an interview with Professor Nolan or Professor Gunn, contact million+ on: email@example.com | 020 7717 1658
2. million+ is a leading university think-tank. More information can be found at www.millionplus.ac.uk