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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Priorities for a new Government: advice from our academics part 4 – HE

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 31 May 2017

The IOE blog has asked colleagues from across the Institute what’s at the top of their wish list. We are publishing their replies during the run-up to the election.
Higher education
It almost goes without saying that the most early and urgent issue in higher education is to clarify the right to residency of non-UK EU citizens working in UK higher education institutions, and the second most urgent issue is to establish a skilled labour migration scheme that will achieve open employment of academic staff from anywhere in the world on a merit basis. By one count 40 per cent of the new appointments in the Russell Group in the last five years were from non UK Europe. This large pool of people has been absolutely crucial in sustaining the exceptional quality of many UK HEIs in a setting in which funding remains at modest levels by global standards.
2.      Since Prime Minster Theresa May took the oath of office in July last year, a large scale cut to international student numbers has been imminent, as the quickest way of reducing net migration. In essence, this would mean pandering to the UKIP wing of the Conservative Party, and the anti-foreigner tabloids, at the expense of the financial sustainability of UK higher education institutions (HEIs), and of international students and their families from around the world. This uncertainty must be lifted, if institutions are to engage in responsible financial planning. If the government has to cut international student numbers let it say so and implement the reduction in a responsible time frame. Much better, it should exempt international students from the net migration count and allow UK HEIs to go on educating them as they have done. There is no evidence that the anti-migration feeling is directed against international student—and non-citizens with limited rights in this country should not be used as pawns for internal political purposes.
3.      After the election a new government has the opportunity to revisit the higher education bill. There is much disquiet in the sector, national education and business organisations, and the House of Lords, about sections of the bill. For example, the reduction in the public responsibilities of universities is one aspect of concern. Above all, reconsidering the bill is an opportunity to rethink the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Clearly, the techniques are not yet in place for comparative measurement of teaching and learning across the system: the real work on this has not yet been done. The use of proxies such as graduate employability and student satisfaction introduces distortions of fact, favours some institutions over others, and will have unintended negative consequences (such as the watering down of learning demands to boost student assessments of teaching), as almost everybody knows. If the TEF is to be made as effective as the Research Excellence Framework (REF), then the only responsible course of action is ‘back to the drawing board’!

Simon Marginson


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