Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, has set out five tests against which recommendations from the upcoming publication of the Augar review should be judged:
Parliamentarians must judge the Augar panel’s recommendations on the basis of what is most likely to be enable Britain to thrive, not on political expedience.
Universities UK are sharing these five tests with government, media and other stakeholders, as it continues to champion the role of universities in local communities up and down the country as employers, drivers of social mobility, engines of economic growth and hubs of civic engagement.
Passing these tests will mean that the review panel has succeeded in putting forward recommendations that will enable universities to sustain and grow their positive impact on individuals, the economy and the whole of society.
One: Will the proposals improve access to higher education?
Anyone who wants the opportunity to achieve their ambitions in going to university, should be able to do so. Progress has been made on narrowing the gap in participation between the most disadvantaged and the least, but we can and should be more ambitious on widening participation. Our guiding principle should be to expand opportunity, not constrain it.
Two: Will the proposals help address Britain’s skills gaps?
With graduate job vacancies forecast to increase and graduate unemployment rate at a forty-year low; we need more students successfully progressing through both further and higher education to meet rising employer demand.
There are clear benefits in further expanding the number of university graduates, as our competitors are doing. Britain needs to rise to this challenge and support more of the population through higher-level study.
Three: Will the proposals sustain the quality of British post-18 education?
Students at British universities enjoy some of the best learning experiences in the world. It is a reason that international students choose the UK as their preferred destination of study. It should not be taken for granted, and it costs money to sustain.
In England, tuition fees replaced public funding to universities and the fee level has not kept pace with inflation. Cutting the fee level, without a commitment to make up the shortfall with public funding, will see bigger class sizes, poorer facilities, and less advice, support and choice for students.
Four: Will the proposals help Britain’s universities to contribute to the quality of life in their local communities?
Universities currently generate a knock-on impact of nearly £100bn for the UK economy and support almost a million jobs throughout the UK. In areas where traditional industries have declined the university is always at the heart of regeneration efforts, providing the research, innovation and skills to stimulate business growth and attract external investment.
If the proposals support the ability of universities and colleges to engage with their communities, our whole society will be better off.
Five: Will the proposals give students ownership of their choices about the course and career path that is right for them?
The current system allows students to choose the sort of course they should study and where, but we can improve the information, advice and guidance available to help them make those choices and reach their goals.
Meanwhile the funding system needs to be clear and simple to promote access and ensure students understand the financial support available. But fundamentally we should respect and support students’ choices – as it is they who will have to live with the consequences.
Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK