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Review of Day One of the fifth Buckingham Festival of HE

  • 8 July 2020

The future of higher education and the fallout from COVID-19 were two themes of the first day of the fifth Buckingham Festival of Higher Education, which went online for the first time yesterday.

Sponsored by Pearson and held in partnership with the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), the fifth University of Buckingham HE Festival was kicked off by former Education Minister Jo Johnson, who described scepticism about higher education among MPs as ‘the new Euroscepticism on the Conservative benches’.

Afterwards, Rachel Wolf, formerly of the No.10 Policy Unit, told Sir Anthony Seldon, Buckingham’s Vice-Chancellor, that ‘HE needs to be more flexible.‘  She also argued that further education and skills policy had been ‘massively neglected and needs attention.’

Civic responsibility was a recurring theme throughout the day and Rachel told the big online audience, ‘I would make sure you take the pulse of your locality, using polls, community engagement, see how it changes and have a set of metrics along those lines.’

Glyn Davies, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, joined the Festival from Australia. He contrasted the approach of the two centre-right administrations in Australia and the UK towards universities, arguing that the Australian Government in particular needed to provide more support in the crisis.

He also said the pandemic had produced changes in universities that are so rapid and so profound they might otherwise have taken until 2030 to occur. Afterwards, he took part in a question and answer session, chaired by Nick Hillman (HEPI’s Director), together with the Vice-Chancellor of Monash, Margaret Gardner.

Paul Johnson, the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, then revealed the likely financial impact of the current crisis on UK universities. Citing newly published IFS research, he noted the cost of well-targeted bail outs could be much less than providing a sector-wide support package.

Other speakers on the first day of the Festival included:

  • the President of Arizona State University, Michael Crow, who talked about the power of technology for delivering higher education to a more diverse range of students;
  • the former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Simon Wessely, who spoke passionately about the challenge of supporting students’ mental health;
  • Daniel Susskind, who looked at the changing world of work; and
  • Finsbury Chairman Roland Rudd, who urged the higher education sector to celebrate its successes more.

The growth of postgraduate courses was predicted in the final session of the day with another former Universities Minister – David Willetts. He also claimed overseas investment should play a much greater role in the growth of UK HE but warned this was only likely to happen if there were clearer rules to encourage it.

Day Two of the Festival includes an equally strong panel of speakers. Further details, including how to access all the sessions for free, can be found here.

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