Author Archives: hmjs

University: Change and Challenge

On 14th October Dame Julia addressed the Rochester Cathedral Business Guild. This post is taken from her keynote speech which considered the change and challenge facing universities.

Delighted to be invited.  What better than to be asked to talk about my favourite topic – universities. Like all areas, we have been subject to change and challenge.

So what does a university look like today? 

Well, the University of Kent has a turnover of about £220M a year, with about 3000 staff and 20,000 students.  We have students from 149 nationalities: 71% from the UK, 11% from the EU and 18% international.  We are ‘hotels’   5,400 bedrooms on the Canterbury Campus and over 1,100 at Liberty Quays in Medway. Overall, we are big and complex businesses. But very special businesses because we are not producing things. Our products are people and ideas. So managing such large and complex organisations is a challenge.

Like other businesses, we compete in order to attract good students and staff.   We need not only to do well but also we need to be seen to being doing well.   so another challenge is the increasing marketization of universities – and the extra costs that come with this.

Comparison of universities through endless league tables  is a growing and thriving activity.   Out of the some 130 UK universities that are included in these tables, Kent has achieved some encouraging recent rankings: Guardian – 20; Complete University Guide 23;Times/Sunday Times 23 and  short listed university of the year  by the Sunday times and also by Times Higher Education – the sectors main news outlet.

We have also risen 100 places in the various world league tables but they are another challenge.

In most part, the UK  league tables are built on two key measurements. The first is the student experience as determined by the annual national student survey –   we generally score vary highly in this. So a challenge is in maintaining our ranking.

The other is research performance through something called the Research Excellence Framework – last done in 2014 – we came 17th in the country for the intensity of our research.

Of course the biggest challenge for all of us is money, in terms of teaching UK domiciled students; we cannot charge more than £9000 under the new loan system.  All students are eligible for the loan.  We no longer get a block grant from the government but if you like individual payments from the student loan company.

What are the consequences? 

This has taken the expenditure off the Department for Business Innovation and Skills balance sheet. However, there is a difference between what goes out in loan and what comes in in repayments – repayable over 30 years. HMT is well aware of this ‘bill’.  From the student expenditure they are now graduating with considerable ‘debt’ although the pay back terms are progressive and nothing like that of credit card debt.

An increasing challenge for universities is the fact that maximum fee has not gone up with inflation.  There may be some movement in 2017 but we still have had six years with this maximum at a time when costs are increasing.

However, our range of income streams have allowed us to borrow significant funding for capital projects – so there are significant building programmes both here in Medway and in Canterbury. Let me be clear.   These investments would not be possible without income from international students and premium fee postgraduate courses. Cutting the number of international students cuts investment in your area.

So how do we differentiate the University of Kent from other universities?

One area is excellence in both teaching and research. The other is our focus on Europe – UK’s European university. This is in part a matter of geography – Kent is the closest county to continental Europe and now at the heart of High Speed One and transport through the tunnel to France and Belgium. In part, history – there is a tradition of educational links between Kent and the continent spread stretching back over 1500 years.

We have study centres in four European capitals; we benefit from being able to recruit academic staff from continental Europe. We and the localities also benefit from over 2000 non-UK European students from 43 different European countries. We score particularly highly on our international outlook. So a certain referendum may be a challenge.

Finally, I would like to talk about our focus on ‘place’.  We are located in the main in Kent and Medway.  Around a quarter of our undergraduates come from within the Kent and Medway areas.

A part of our engagement with the region lies in the efforts we devote to encouraging all those that can benefit to apply for university:  whatever their backgrounds.  We work with 40 partner schools and 3 partner colleges. We sponsor an academy school, Brompton Academy. Overall, we work on an intensive basis with 1500 school students per year and employ 340 University of Kent student ambassadors –Our clear experience is that sustained engagement over time with those at school increases the likelihood that they will progress to University.

You are all aware of the changes around the Universities at Medway campus.  Next week I am looking forward to attending the opening ceremony for our latest major transformation in the Historic Dockyard to mark the conversion of the Sail and Colour Loft into new teaching and office space for our Business School and the chapel into a modern lecture theatre.

All our analysis shows that the region benefits by about £750M a year directly and indirectly from the presence of the University of Kent.   We are a major local business.  We want to continue to work with you to encourage more investment in and development of the great potential that it is within the Kent and Medway region.

Thank you



Universities for Europe

Speech delivered as UUK president elect, at the Universities for Europe campaign launch at UCL.

Thank you Michael for that introduction, and for allowing UCL – London’s global university – to restrict its focus for today to the issue of Europe and the launch of the Universities for Europe campaign.

Before the end of 2017, perhaps as early as 2016, voters across the UK will be asked to decide the future of our country’s relationship with the European Union. We don’t know yet when this vote will be or what reforms the Prime Minister will have negotiated by that time, but one thing is clear: this referendum is a decisive moment for us all and for the future of our country.

This is why Universities UK – the organisation that represents our universities – is committed to playing a positive and proactive role in the national debate over the coming months.

University leaders in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland see the future of university teaching and research as intertwined with the future of Europe.   Scholars and students have always wandered across Europe to the great universities of European civilisation. We wish to protect and promote that ability to share and grow knowledge, exchange ideas and experiences and allow the best minds to collaborate for the benefit of all of society.

The UK’s membership of the European Union makes the UK’s outstanding universities stronger, contributing to economic growth, employable graduates and cutting edge research discoveries.

Our universities are about the future of this country.  We generate new knowledge and understanding for future innovation with wide impact in terms of economic, social and cultural benefit. We provide the next generation of people with the skills and understanding for the jobs and insights needed for our future prosperity. The choice is whether we can better support future UK graduates and provide better benefits for society inside or outside the European Union.

Universities across the United Kingdom contribute significantly to Britain’s top place in the global influence rankings.   Universities like UCL are in the top ten in the world.  We have a strong global reputation. And, as both the Chancellor and Business Secretary commented recently, this confers a significant competitive advantage for our economy. Within the European Union we benefit from being a member of the biggest block of knowledge in the world.  We can influence this body of knowledge and in turn draw strength from it.

UK students and researchers have opportunities to experience living and working in continental Europe. The Erasmus programme – one of the most well-known schemes to foster mobility between European universities – has benefitted more than 200,000 British students and over 20,000 British university staff to date. This is not about academic tourism but about building networks and absorbing other languages and cultures. These are the insights needed for our students to become the global leaders of tomorrow. And the benefits last beyond the time they spend studying and researching.

Universities can access top talent from across Europe. Fourteen percent of academic staff in UK universities are from the EU, helping to ensure that our universities – and thus our nation – remains at the cutting edge of knowledge and innovation.  Moreover, there were 125,000 EU students studying at UK universities in 2012-13, generating £2.27 billion for the UK economy and 19,000 British jobs in local communities.

The European Union supports research, knowledge, innovation and technology – the factors that will decide future economic growth, productivity and human progress. It is in part through our membership of the EU that UK Universities are creating employment opportunities and innovations –strengthening the UK’s position in the world.

The research funding we receive from Europe – worth around 1bn pounds in 2013 – is undeniably important to the UK research base and to our economy more widely.  But, most crucially, it is the access to research partners and an extensive global network of collaboration which have helped keep UK universities at the cutting edge of research. The EU makes working across borders easier, allowing UK and European researchers to pool their knowledge, infrastructure and resources to achieve more together than they could do alone. By supporting collaboration and breaking down international barriers, the EU helps UK universities to deliver cutting-edge research and to make discoveries that improve people’s lives and enhance the UK’s global influence.

Of course, I recognise that the EU is far from perfect.  Reforms are needed in some areas and the UK’s International Higher Education Unit is playing an active role in the debate in Brussels. However, for the UK to have significant say in those reforms we need to commit to a future in the EU. It will take a number of years to debate and deliver many of the necessary reforms working with our European partners.

It is abundantly clear that the UK’s membership of the European Union has an overwhelmingly positive impact on our world-leading universities. UK universities are at the heart of the biggest knowledge producing region in the world – and we all benefit from that – individuals, the economy and society.

From today, those of us in universities want to inspire debate and ensure that it is informed and strengthened by evidence.  Universities UK is committed to ensuring that the significant benefits of EU membership to our universities – and through them, to the British people – are properly explained.

Through the Universities for Europe campaign:

  • We want universities to be a positive voice promoting the value of EU membership for higher education and research;
  • We want the national referendum debate to be informed and strengthened by evidence coming in part from our academic colleagues;
  • We want to inform the British public about how EU membership enables UK universities to have a  positive impact on individuals, the economy and society, and;
  • We want universities to be places to host public debate and provide academic expertise whatever side of the debate you are on.

The Universities for Europe campaign, led by Universities UK, will ensure that the university sector is a strong, positive voice in the referendum debate.

Over the coming months the campaign will promote powerful evidence and highlight compelling stories about the benefits of EU membership and will host public debates across the country working with partners in the university sector and beyond.

Universities will open their lecture halls to host public debates to discuss the pros and cons of membership of the EU.  Some of us – such as my own university – the University of Kent – have already started. At Kent we are holding public ‘in conversation with’ events with our chancellor – Gavin Esler, where he is interviewing prominent figures about their views on Europe.

Today is just the start for the Universities for Europe campaign. We want universities to get actively involved.

In the referendum debate universities must stand up and be counted. We should be a powerful and positive voice on the benefits of EU membership.

If you’re a student – make sure you register to vote, and participate in discussions on your campus and in your community; if you’re an academic – make sure you share examples of how the EU has benefited your work; and if you’re a university leader – make sure that your staff and students are aware of the issues and make sure your voice is heard in on decisive issue for our country.

This is not just about the future success of universities, it’s even more important than that.

It’s about ensuring the future prosperity of the UK…

It’s about maximising the chances of new discoveries that enhance our society…

It is about tackling major challenges that affect all countries in Europe and beyond…

It’s about the UK’s standing in the world, and …

It’s about opportunities for British people now and in the future.

Thank you – and I look forward to working with you.


Access to Higher Education: Hamburg Transnational University Leaders Council

At a time when we are facing an extraordinary expansion of demand for Universities, it is important to look not only at the pool of those who attend but also those who do not attend.

All universities have as core missions the provision of higher education and (for most) the furtherance of learning through the discovery of new knowledge and new ideas. We exist to pursue excellence wherever this may be found, irrespective of the social, ethnic, gender or economic background of those we educate or those who conduct research. As a corollary: if there is not fairness in opportunity, both the individual and society may lose out.

One way of looking at fairness of opportunity is through the prism of income. According to the OECD, income inequality in its member countries is at its highest level for the past half century, with an average income of the richest 10% of the population about nine times that of the poorest 10%. Income may, however, not be the best metric for assessing whether access to higher education is fair. In the UK, we use an area based classification system based on the proportion of young residents who go onto higher education. Historically, you are about [three times] as likely to go to university if you come from the top quintile that if you come from the bottom.

Of course, correlation is not causation and it does not follow that if you come from an educationally disadvantaged area you will necessarily benefit from a university education. Nonetheless, in the UK there is a national strategy that all those with the potential to benefit from higher education have equal opportunity to participate and succeed, on a course and in an institution that best fit their potential, needs and ambitions for employment or further study.

The central body for ensuring the strategy is carried out is called the Office for Fair Access.  OFFA was set up about ten years ago to make sure that the introduction of higher tuition fees did not deter people from entering higher education of financial grounds. OFFA agrees ‘Fair Access’ arrangements with all HEIs that have tuition fees in excess of £6,000. These agreements are paid for by a levy (currently about £800 on a £9,000 tuition fee).  It is worth at this point, incidentally, noting that since tuition fees were introduced in the UK at their present level, in 2012, the number of full time students has grown – and this includes those from family backgrounds with no previous experience of higher education.

While a core element of these fair access agreements is the provision of bursaries, there is also a growing aspect that focusses on  measures to attract disadvantaged students and to support them during their studies and as they prepare to move on to work or further study.  In the University of Kent, for example, we work with 40 partner schools and 3 partner colleges. We sponsor an academy school that focusses on improving education for particularly disadvantaged children. Overall, we work on an intensive basis with 1500 students per year and employ 340 student ambassadors – working with the existing student body is, incidentally, an important part of our own strategy. Our clear experience is that sustained engagement over time with those at school increases the likelihood that they will progress to University.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, those from disadvantaged backgrounds often come to university with lower educational qualifications than those from more advantaged backgrounds. There has been criticism that the policy therefore lowers standards overall. That has not, however, been our experience. Nationally, 83% of ‘outreach’ HE entrants achieve a first degree – and 57% a good degree.

Under the previous UK government, there was an emerging policy on improving social mobility overall – not only in terms of access to higher education but also in many other areas of perceived inequality of opportunity. It is too early to tell what policies may be followed by the present government.

From the perspective of the individual, in the UK, a degree can improve lifetime earnings by on average £100,000, compared with those qualifications at the next level down. Insofar as earnings represent a proxy for economic value to society, it is clear that increasing the numbers at university of those able to benefit, represents a gain for society at large – this is not to mention the contribution that graduates can make in other ways.

And in knowledge economies – which, increasingly is what all our countries are becoming – we should ignore at our peril the importance of supporting the gifted individuals who are capable of paradigm-altering insights. Last week, the Physicist Professor Stephen Hawking was quoted in the press as fearing that academics would not now be provided with the same level of support that he himself had received when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. I believe he is wrong. But the value to society in providing exceptional support in some circumstances is clear.

What lessons to draw from this overview? I suggest there are three principles that may be relevant not only to the UK but to perhaps others represented at this conference:

  • Excellence should be pursued wherever it may be found
  • Fair Access is a benefit not only for the individual but for Society as a whole; and, therefore
  • Ensuring fair access is a responsibility for both society and universities, working in partnership