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Professor Steve West, Chair of the University Alliance, responds to HEPI’s new report

  • 24 July 2014

As ever, HEPI is providing useful and stimulating food for thought as the sector and others grapple with certain recurring issues.

In particular, we agree that the UK’s obsession with hierarchy limits the understanding of many people that excellence exists across the higher education sector. We all need to do more to challenge this narrow view, from those in the corridors of power through to those making a decision about entering higher education. 

Similarly, by focusing much of the funding debate on school-leavers, Government has taken its eyes off significant parts of the population who have just as much to gain from the transformative experience of higher education, notably mature, part-time students and post-graduates. Through our University Alliance’s HELP UK proposals, we have highlighted that a smarter loan design would enable universal access to life-time loans (addressing the lack of funding for most post-graduateS and two-thirds of part-time students) and a more sustainable loan system that will see more loans repaid, thereby reducing the levels of non-repayment.

Likewise, those who perpetuate the notion of a dichotomy between the vocational and academic create a narrow view of higher education that just does not reflect the value of what is being offered. Students across UK higher education, and employers seeking talent coming out of it, are demanding an experience that is rich in content and bedded in practice – an approach that is of significant importance to Alliance universities. 

As Sir David Watson highlights throughout the report we need to see a stronger sense of connectedness between universities. He focuses particularly on credit transfer, and this is possibly one area, but clearly if the UK HE sector is going to be successful in maintaining its world-leading credentials we are going to have to see greater collaboration in all sorts of areas. Universities need to start focussing more of their collective energy on helping to set the rules of the market – including the global market – rather than on competing for a diminishing pot of domestic public investment. The value of representative groups such as University Alliance in future is more likely to be measured through collective market positions or value propositions than solely by behind-the-scenes lobbying.

Hepi is grateful to Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer of the University of the West of England and Chair of the University Alliance for contributing this guest blog.

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