CANVAS: Higher Education Spring 2017 - page 6

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CANVAS
examples of Public-Private Partnerships. I
have no issue with that and indeed welcome
the ingenuity to diversify revenue to support
the future of universities. Rather than worry
about ‘private’ providers, I am concerned
about ‘For Profit’ providers, who answer to
shareholders. A quick look at the way this was
exploited in the US, which in turn tarnished
the entire sector, is one I hope we can avoid.
In contrast, in November the Dyson Institute
of Technology was announced, initially in
partnership with Warwick University. The
UK has some exemplary small and specialist
institutions which train a small number
of outstanding students with an intensive
teaching regime. In that context, I welcome
institutions that are created to produce
outstanding practitioners.
However, the fact remains that the UK is
the only G7 country which invests less in HE
R&D as a percentage of GDP than it did 30
years ago. In his introduction to the recent
report,
‘Building on Success and Learning from
Experience
’, (July 2016), Lord Stern reiterates
’Whilst the UK spends less as a proportion
of GDP on research and development than
some of its counterparts, the productivity
of that investment is very high. Yet this begs
the question, particularly with uncertainty
surrounding the future of EU funding, what
the United Kingdom could achieve if it was
funded to the extent of other G7 nations.
THE HIGHER EDUCATION AND RESEARCH
BILL - IS THIS AN OPPORTUNITY TO
HARNESS THE COMPETITIVENESS OF THE
SECTOR AND IMPROVE PRODUCTIVITY
AND CROSS SECTOR WORKING?
Higher
Education is an extraordinarily resilient sector.
Some universities have been running for 50-
60 years, others for 700 years. We are used
to tough times and collectively the universities
will find ways to come through in challenging
times.
To me, the Bill approaches the sector with
a very specific interpretation of problems
in Higher Education. For example, the
proposed Teaching Excellence Framework
poses a valid issue: how to ensure students
are receiving the amount and quality of
teaching they deserve. Yet with no universal
standard of what that means, and, without
taking into account the existing commitment
to teaching in many parts of the sector, this
may give the impression of a significant,
widespread problem in the UK Higher
Education sector. I would regret anything that
demoralises this group of individuals working
in universities today. However, if it turns out
that the measurements yet–to-be-identified,
introduced through the Teaching Excellence
Framework, intrinsically benefit students,
there is no university that would not support
this outcome.
LEADERSHIP IN THE HE SECTOR.
DOES THIS NEED TO MOVE AWAY
FROM ACADEMIA AND INTO MORE
COMMERCIALLY EXPERIENCED SPHERES?
In my experience, leaders in HE are driven
more by the development of human capital,
than by the delivery of profits and margin.
There is no Vice-Chancellor I know that does
not understand the university is a complex
business. They do not exist as an island, but
have teams around them, and seek individuals
who bring specific skills and experience to
parts of the organisation. They work closely
with the Chair of Council and members of the
Council.
However, it’s important to recognise that
leading a Higher Education institution is not
the same as running a large corporation. A
Vice-Chancellor relies on the fact that many
individuals in the university are more of an
expert than he or she in their own subject.
This works as a useful measure to remind
anyone doing this difficult role that there are
always different views and approaches, and
that no one can know it all. The premise of
developing humans, both in body and mind,
is important to the academic community,
so decision-making needs to view risk not
as a danger, but something to be evaluated
against ‘what happens if we don’t do this’, and
then set this analysis in the context of limited
budgets.
This doesn’t mean someone from a
commercial background can’t take on the
role of Vice-Chancellor, but it would be
helpful for that individual to demonstrate an
understanding of the complexity and different
drivers to that of a for-profit entity.
I am confident, that a further cohort of
individuals will emerge to address the
changing needs of the sector. I think
leadership is secure, but being a leader is
certainly a different challenge than it might
have been 30 years ago.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER AS THE KEY
CONCERNS FOR INSTITUTIONS IN THE
MEDIUM TO LONG TERM?
Despite my
tendency towards optimism, I was sobered
by predictions in a recent report from Oliver
Wyman Consultants* commissioned for
TheCityUK. The report states that if we follow
a path of ‘hard Brexit’ or ‘low access’ to the
single market we face a potential loss of
75,000 jobs; £38billion in lost revenues; and
£10 billion in lost taxes.
That would be very difficult for any country
to weather. And I would wish to hear more,
as the Brexit terms become more clear and
the Higher Education Bill is enacted, as to
“It is impossible to find any great area
of research in UK which isn’t being
driven by Higher Education.”
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