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The geo-politics of higher education – how should the sector position itself in the new world order?

  • 21 January 2020
  • By Nick Hillman

Every year, HEPI starts our annual programme of events with three parliamentary breakfast seminars, co-hosted with our Partner organisation Advance HE and kindly sponsored for many years by the long-standing Labour MP Barry Sheerman.

This year’s series kicks off next week, on Thursday 30 January, when we will consider ‘The geo-politics of higher education – how should the sector position itself in the new world order?’

Simon Marginson

We have a top-notch and truly international panel of speakers:

Many people think the new political stability could dampen down policy debates, including on higher education. If this is so, then our series of seminars could end up less interesting than in the past. But it seems highly unlikely for three reasons.

  1. First, while a hung Westminster Parliament might have made future big changes harder, a large majority for a single party makes them easier. Perhaps that’s why Jo Johnson, who is no longer on the green benches of the Commons, is still warning about the problems with a big cut in the tuition fee cap. There are big announcements currently being prepared – for example, on the budget, on future departmental spending, on what Brexit will mean and, in our own backyard, on the Augar report and on the Shirley Pearce review of the Teaching Excellence Framework.
  2. Secondly, the world is going through profound change. The UK’s relations with seemingly every major global powerbase are changing faster than normal, especially when it comes to the EU and China, while many other parts of the world, like the Middle East and Africa, are going through their own upheavals. Meanwhile, the United States remains more unpredictable than in the past.
  3. Thirdly and more parochially, our own UK higher education sector has perhaps not yet fully reconciled itself even to recent past changes, let alone steeled itself against coming ones. For example, is the quality of governance at UK universities up to scratch? Is there sufficient diversity among our governing bodies? What sort of longer-term relationship is there likely to be between the Office for Students and governing bodies? Similarly, what does it mean to be autonomous in a highly-regulated environment?How can university leaders best fix shortcomings in the student experience, with precarious staff contracts and on access with constrained funding? How can you demonstrate value when many of the external assessments that draw the attention of the public focus on measures that are of questionable educational value?

Across the three 2020 HEPI / Advance HE parliamentary seminars, we will discuss all these questions and more. After the January session on geo-politics, the February session will look at governance and the March one will consider autonomy.

For further information on all three sessions, see They are primarily aimed at policymakers, governors and senior university staff and are also open to the media (though the conversation after the opening remarks takes place under the Chatham House rule).

Places are strictly limited but there are still a few places left at all three seminars and, if you are interested in registering to attend, please contact [email protected].

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