Inside Track - 15 December 2015 - Vice-Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands

Sir Alan discusses the higher education Green Paper and the implications of the Comprehensive Spending Review for universities.


Today sees the start of the winter graduation week, marked by two special events at our ceremonies in the Great Hall – the first is the long service awards for staff who have served the University for 25 years or more; the second is the award of Ebola ‘campaign’ medals, the first of their kind to be awarded by the UK Government for a response to a humanitarian crisis.  These are being awarded to Dr Hazel Stewart, Andrew Buckley, Dr Zsorfia Igloi and Dr Rebecca Surtees for their outstanding work with Public Health England in their diagnostic laboratories in Sierra Leone.  

My sincere thanks and the appreciation of the staff and students of the University go to our long serving staff and to four selfless virologists who played a crucial part in curbing the Ebola epidemic.

The Christmas and New Year break continues the theme of celebration but it is also a time to think ahead and to consider what lies ahead for the University in 2016 and beyond.

The government published its higher education Green Paper on Friday 6 November.  The Green Paper covers a lot of ground and signals a number of potentially radical shifts that have potentially significant implications for the future of the sector and its supporting infrastructure. There is a strong focus on promoting competition and choice, and the student interest, and transforming sector infrastructure to support these objectives.

The best summary to date is from UUK which covers four areas:

  • teaching excellence, quality and social mobility which includes an outline of how the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is going to work

  • market entry and opening the sector up to new providers (not my word of choice)

  • sector infrastructure, including the creating of the Office for Students (OfS), and

  • simplifying the research funding system.

Current thinking in UUK and elsewhere is that we should encourage the Government through the consultation period – to ensure that:

  • the Teaching Excellence Framework is proportionate and focused, allowing for diversity and not adding unnecessary regulatory burden

  • there is a clearer sense of how the proposals will work across the whole of the UK, recognising that the international profile and reputation of higher education is viewed very much through a UK perspective.  The proposals for quality, teaching excellence, market entry and the organisation of research funding within the dual support system all have UK-wide implications

  • with the proposed shift of QR funding from HEFCE in England, the vital relationship between teaching and research is not damaged and that a wider institutional perspective is recognised and supported in the new regulatory framework and sector architecture

  • the move to create greater diversity and competition through opening up the market to alternative providers does not lead to an erosion of the necessarily high entry barriers to higher education and the coveted University title.

These are all fundamental issues which deserve attention in the coming weeks and months as we also come to terms with the “savings” outlined in the comprehensive spending review. These include:

  • the switch from maintenance grants to loans (over £2 billion a year by 2019-20)

  • reductions in teaching grant by £120 million in cash terms by 2019-20 including a 50% reduction in student opportunity funding

  • a £100 million reduction in departmental administration spending with some of the costs to be picked up by Universities, and

  • uncertainties over the allocation of STEM funding, capital and the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF).

The University ended the year in a strong position with underlying financial strength and a positive recruitment cycle in the summer of 2015.  I am therefore confident that we can continue to implement our strategic plan without breaking step.  That said, the policy and funding position being promoted by the Government means that we will need to redouble our efforts to boost research funding and to expand and diversify our income streams from student education.

We have progressed well in recent years largely through the hard work, creativity and determination of colleagues across the University and I want to close the year by thanking you for all that you have done to deliver high standards of education and research excellence at a time of change.

I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and I look forward to re-engaging with this new set of challenges on 4 January.


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