I am speaking this morning alongside Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Science, at a Portland Communications event on the future of UK higher education. Here are my remarks.
- Thank you for inviting me.
- We don’t have long so I want to get straight into the swing of it. But, first, I must register the great success that Jo has had in getting his Higher Education and Research Bill – now an Act – through. You don’t have to agree with every word of it to recognise what a great political achievement the new legislation is. And it is good that we finally have a new legal framework for higher education.
- When today’s event was put together back in March, Henry asked me to focus on Brexit. No one, perhaps not even Theresa May, knew then we would be in the midst of an election campaign now. So I will try to address Brexit and the election briefly.
- In January, we published the most detailed assessment on what Brexit means for student numbers. Our work recognised that not all universities will be affected in the same way and we included second-order effects, like the value of the £. Overall, our results showed UK universities will continue to be very attractive destinations. We predicted they could lose around 10,000 new overseas students each year after Brexit but, as they will all be paying full international fees, it is likely institutions will be around £200 million a year better off.
- Jo recently told the sector to stop being negative when talking about international students and to make the positive case for them more loudly. So I note in passing the enormous contribution international students make to the UK – educationally, economically and in terms of soft power.
- But I want to focus on something else. The positive case for student emigration. Compared to other countries, very few British people get a taste of higher education abroad. If we are to continue being an open outward-looking nation, that should change. I would like to see the money saved from not giving financial support to EU students put instead towards an outward mobility scheme.
- The main other thing I want to say on Brexit is to endorse the overwhelming consensus within universities on the need to maintain – or, rather, improve – our levels of publicly-funded research: we know public funding crowds in private funding; we have an incredibly efficient research base; and, unlike most countries our size, we have strength in breadth, across the full mix of disciplines.
- The official Leave campaign famously promised more money for the NHS; it also said, ‘After we Vote Leave, we could divert a substantial amount of our savings into long-term fundamental science projects’ (see below). If that is to happen, Philip Hammond – or his successor come June 9th – needs to go on being really supportive of science and research.
How Vote Leave campaigned on science and research
- In terms of the election, we are waiting for the parties to publish their manifestoes. When it comes to higher education, the overarching goal for all of them should be to maintain and improve the world-class nature of the UK higher education sector.
- In terms of specific changes, here’s five that have emerged from HEPI’s recent research that could be included in the manifestoes and which are implementable in a single parliamentary term:
- better information for students on where their fees go;
- renewed support for university-based teacher training to tackle the recruitment crisis in our schools;
- a tougher regime for recouping student loans from those abroad;
- better support for students’ mental health, which is less good than among the population as a whole and young people in general; and
- a focus on the underachievement of young men, who are less likely to enter higher education, more likely to drop out and less likely to get a First or 2:i.
- That is a brief canter through some of the issues, but there is a much HEPI research underlying each of these recommendations if you want to know more – and we have a conference of our own on the day before the general election election when we will be discussing some of them.
- Finally, both the election and Brexit seem likely to lead to fewer skilled migrants, which means we must get better at educating those who are already in the labour market too. That means continuing to improve opportunities for part-time students, second-chance students and lifelong learners.