From education to employment

One Nation University: Spreading opportunity, reducing division and building community

Richard Brabner, the Director of the UPP Foundation

In a new Debate Paper from the Higher Education Policy Institute (@HEPI_news), Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation (@UPP_Foundation), says universities and the Government should adopt the famous political idea of One Nation to reshape universities in England.

Writing in a personal capacity, Brabner says criticism of recent higher education expansion stems from having a university sector that benefits the professional classes more than those from working-class backgrounds.

To overcome this, he argues we should adopt the idea of the One Nation University, which is a concept based on: spreading opportunity; reducing division; and building community.

Richard Brabner said:

‘At times the debate about universities is stuck between the status quo and radical alternatives. Neither is satisfactory.

‘Our sector has many strengths we must maintain, but also one fundamental weakness – its offer to people from the working classes and those who do not share its liberal orthodoxies. 

‘To change this, we need to adopt an agenda which enables real choice for working-class students, which kicks away at the last remnants of the ivory tower and promotes pluralism and civil disagreement within the academic community.

‘With new Ministers in place and reforms to higher education in the pipeline, there is no better time for Ministers and universities to embrace the One Nation University for the benefit of all.’

The paper:

  • argues against caps on what or where students can study and in favour of more active government policies to support flexible higher education – specifically, the paper calls for a new Director or Office for Higher Education and Place to encourage new provision in left-behind places and intervene in the market when institutions are negatively impacted by market forces beyond their control. He also recommends the creation of a Birkbeck-style evening university in every region of the UK. And to ensure young people, whatever their background, can study vulnerable subjects, such as Modern Languages, more universities should establish subject specialist free schools.
  • explains how a pervasive monoculture within higher education institutions affects how universities cope with cultural clashes and free speech – the paper calls for an English version of the Heterodox Academy to provide resources, develop training and support universities on tackling the problems around hostile and unprofessional online behaviour;
  • outlines the importance of participation in a student experience underpinned by community engagement, particularly for less advantaged students – the paper calls for a Student Community Service Programme, which would revitalise local communities, help students gain vital skills, tackle mental health, and help bridge town-gown and generational divides.

Nick Timothy CBE, former Chief of Staff to Theresa May, said:

‘Richard Brabner has produced a searingly honest analysis of the role universities play in our pursuit of a fairer society and stronger local communities. Such honesty is rare, and it has led him to produce a list of worthy policy proposals that should prompt a serious debate about how we reform higher education.’

Rachel Wolf, co-author of the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, said:

‘If the Government wants to forge a better partnership with higher education, and universities overcome the challenges of the next decade they should seriously consider this fascinating and thoughtful report from Richard Brabner.’

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK:

‘This timely and thought-provoking paper sets out a range of interesting observations which challenge universities to consider how they can enhance their positive impact on students, communities and the wider public.’

Professor Andy Westwood, Special Adviser (2007-09) to the last Labour Government. said:

‘Having done so much to establish and deliver the Civic University Commission, Richard Brabner is worth listening to here. His proposals for ‘balancing choice and place’ are both welcome and timely.’

Professor Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor, Sheffield Hallam University

‘This is a thought-provoking contribution to thinking about the social purposes of universities and the way universities can play a cohesive role in a nation facing increasing challenge and division.’

Chris Millward, Director of Fair Access and Participation, Office for Students:

‘I welcome this report from Richard Brabner and HEPI, particularly the proposals to give greater focus across government to the contributions universities make to the places in which they are based, and to position this more strongly within their access and participation work.’

Professor Mary Stuart CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Lincoln (2009-2021)

‘I believe the ideas in this report will resonate strongly with those who believe universities have a deep social responsibility to support their places and the people of those places.’

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