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Higher Education Conference 2017: highlights

By Benjamin Meunier, on 17 October 2017

The annual Higher Education (HE) Conference took place last week at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, in the shadow of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. big ben scaffolding (2)I attended to learn more about how HE policy is changing, as both Brexit and the focus on student fees in the recent General Election are continuing to impact on the future of universities. There were a range of speakers, from HEFCE, universities, suppliers and experts in education. Below are some highlights from 2 key speeches by the Chief Executive of HEFCE (1) and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham on new ways of thinking about the role of universities as educators (2), as well as a summary of a panel discussion on life for universities after Brexit (3). I will post separately on a learning spaces workshop led by a US furniture supplier, based on their research and experiences of fitting out learning spaces.



1. Keynote Address, Prof Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE

HEFCE is the body which currently funds and regulates universities and colleges in England; from next year it will be replaced by the Office for Students.

The Chief Executive of HEFCE set out 4 main themes:

  • Brexit
  • Industrial Strategy
  • Social Mobility
  • The Student Interest


  • Brexit concerns
    • Rights of EU staff and researchers
    • Relationships and partnerships with EU institutions
    • Funding

Prof Atkins indicated that whilst there are (many) challenges, there is also a significant “Brexit opportunity”, namely that the UK as a country, may be able to define an international strategy for research partnerships, which was not possible or practical eithin the EU. An early example perhaps was Jo Johnson, as Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, signing a £60m agreement with the US Department of Energy’s for the LBNF/DUNE neutrino programme in late September: http://news.fnal.gov/2017/09/uk-commits-88-million-lbnfdune-first-ever-umbrella-science-agreement-u-s/.

(Whether or not this agreement was helped by Brexit is open to question, but there is a sense that research institutions in the UK are thinking very seriously about which countries and institutions we wish to make or grow partnerships with.)


  • Industrial Strategy

Prof Atkins expected that the White Paper for the new Industrial Strategy was due around the time the Budget comes out on 22/11. The UK Government is determined that research, knowledge exchange and commercialisation undertaken by HE institutions (HEIs) should increasingly be linked and be seen to be linked to the priorities identified in the Industrial Strategy. She referred to a HEFCE-managed £100m boost provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for industrial priorities as well as an additional £100m capability fund to support university-to-university partnership for innovation.

Apprenticeships should be seen as part of this broad Industrial Strategy, with many apprenticeships being created in Engineering/STEM areas.

Advent of new T-level (Technical) qualifications coming alongside A-levels: Prof Atkins suggested that HEIs need to think about equivalence of qualifications, so that in due course a “climbing frame of opportunities” enables students to move from secondary education to Further Education into HE.


  • Social Mobility

Prof Atkins reiterated that social mobility is an absolute priority for the current government. She outlined how HEFCE has been supporting this, for instance through a collaborative outreach programme, working with 25 consortia with schools and local communities. This initiative is taking action at ward level, looking at school outcomes based on student results at 16.

The full impact of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and its use of student background data has yet to be determined. Prof Atkins speculated that this data being made public would shape how providers are perceived, in terms of the reality of widening participation. Future use of these data will become very important, helping to give much more sophisticated answers to “what works in social mobility?”.

Better information and better careers guidance for students is a priority for OfS.

HEFCE is looking to develop a toolkit for learning gain in curriculum (identifying metrics and effectiveness of curricula). HEFCE has agreed over £4m of investment in this area, expect OfS will continue with this investment. For more information, see HEFCE’s webpages dedicated to learning gain and current pilots.

Finally, Prof Atkins referred to the emphasis made by Nicola Dandrige, the incoming Chief Executive of the Office for Students (OfS) in a speech to the NUS on 09/10: “the OfS will be the champion of students and the taxpayer, not the friend of institutions.”

[See also this recent report from HEPI (August 2017): Where next for WP and fair access?, which was mentioned during the conference]


  • Student Interest

The traditional view of young 18-yo F/T student as the default model for universities is becoming increasingly obsolete.

Whilst the percentage of 18 year olds in education has been generally rising, there has been close to a 60% drop in Part-Time mature students; at the same time, in-house training is declining. Prof Atkins suggested that the sector needs to consider how the Apprenticeship levy can be used to support people in employment as part of CPD.


Opportunities and Challenges

  • Teaching excellence and student outcomes
  • REF 2021
  • Related initiatives


Teaching excellence and  Student outcomes

Sir Michael Barber, who will be Chair of the OfS, sees TEF as part of the “Golden Age” which he expects to introduce. For his full speech to Universities UK, see UUK’s website.

TEF structure retained for Year 3 TEF (specification published last week, on DfE website)

In order to gauge to progress of HEIs in preparing students for employment, LEO (Longitudinal Employment Outcomes Survey) will be used as a metric in the new TEF. ProfAtkins added that Subject-Level TEF is progressing: pilots are recruiting for panellists and assessors now. It will be rolled out across the UK in Year 5, i.e. 2019-20.


REF 2021

Prof Atkins described a number of decisions recently agreed by HEFCE:

  • Impact weighting goes up
  • Each area will include a member of the panel focused on multi-disciplinary research
  • Entries will be allowed to demonstrate how they support activity outside of the university
  • Impact in teaching will be allowed, including impact within the institution

HEFCE webinar and blog floated suggestion that portability of outputs could be resolved for 2021 by some double-counting as a transitional method, i.e. both originating and new institutions eligible to submit.


Joint Agendas: OfS and Research England responsibilities

  • Postgraduate
  • Knowledge exchange
  • Infrastructure funding
  • Health of disciplines
  • Sustaining the research base
  • Research degree awarding powers
  • Interface between TEF and REF


Related initiatives

  • Learning Gain Programme
  • Degree Apprenticeships
  • Institute of Technology
  • Expansion of medical places
  • Connecting Capability Fund
  • Research Partnership Investment Fund
  • Local Growth Academy programme (sending representatives to the next iteration of Academy programme, to address the need of HE institutions to work more closely with regions/sub-regions, NHS, etc.) to address precise regional needs in social mobility or industrial and skills needs


2. Should we be Educating just Brains or Whole People in HEIs, Sir Antony Seldon (VC, University of Buckingham)

New paper published on “The Positive University” [See also caveats on wonkhe: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/beware-of-the-positive-university/]. The University of Buckingham is regularly ranked as best in the UK for student satisfaction (in fact, it has been top or second every year since 2011 – see, for instance,

http://www.independent.co.uk/student/student-life/Studies/buckingham-university-named-best-in-the-uk-for-student-satisfaction-a7006276.html or https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/universities/top-5-uk-universities-for-student-satisfaction-2018/?entry=1)

Sir Antony, Vice-Chancellor at Buckingham, is also a contemporary historian, educationalist, commentator and political author. He makes 10 recommendations in his new book about transition between school and university. He described the 10 points in his talk, which was well presented, posed challenging questions to reflect on and was at times caustic towards leaders and managers in the HE sector, particularly around the need to speak out and act as a critical friend of government, rather than slavishly following policy. As noted above, some caveats have been raised against the moralistic aspects of positive psychology.

1) Need to ensure staff are contented, so that they can fulfil role in supporting mental health and pastoral care for students, as well as having fulfilling lives.

2) The VC of Buckingham questioned why there is a paradox currently, where British universities have never been more successful but public opinion on universities has never been so low

2) Universities are called “Higher Education Institutions”: too often, the focus on the “H” detracts from universities’ role as educators

3) What does “education” mean? to lead out / to draw out what is inside. HE has narrowed down intelligence to 2 of the 8 types of intelligence (see Howard Gardner, Harvard). Focus on linguistic and logical intelligence. Sir Antony argued that universities need to also develop emotional intelligence, social intelligence, cultural intelligence, kinaesthetic intelligence, moral intelligence, spiritual intelligence.

Not about teaching to the tests: schools that prioritise roundedness see their results increase. Those that prioritise results, see decline.

4) UK has extraordinary universities but need real leadership to help them grow and thrive. Universities are narrow. Universities are mainly driven for academics; academic subjects need to be re-booted to their radical roots.

5) Rebellion about universities; government is coming in and insisting on the TEF. In critiquing TEF, Sir Antony contended that it is mechanistic, not looking at learning, more focused on teaching, little learning from abroad, little learning from schools. Sir Antony recognised that there was a need to address education in universities, but does not believe TEF is the right approach.

6) VC pay case playing out over the summer was not persuasive for VC salaries; in contrast with other university staff pay

7) Subjects need to be re-oriented to radical roots, not shaped around academics’ career needs

8) All students should do volunteering

Everybody should be taught virtues: performance virtue (see Jubilee Centre for performance, Birmingham); Civic virtues, Moral. All students should be taught entrepreneurship. Everybody should be taught leadership.

9) The positive university. General mental health crisis response was to get more counsellors, but that is insufficient – need to also think about how to develop personal efficacy and resilience. Mindfulness is one way that we can learn.

10) The British HE sector is outstanding. Contribution of universities to local communities as well as to public perception of Britain abroad is boundless. Sector needs to lead more strongly, to be clearer on the benefits of our sector, since the public case is not being made. Positive psychology, about advocacy and making the case.

Antony Seldson panel

3. Maintaining International Collaboration after Brexit

Brenda McMahon (Global Head of Higher Education, British Council), Vivienne Stern (Director, Universities UK International), Conrad Bird (Director of the GREAT Britain Campaign, Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office)


Universities showing commitment to students in the aftermath of Brexit vote. GREAT Britain Campaign keen to support universities promoting to international students, e.g. via the embassy network.


UUK: “need to work harder”. Plenty of reasons for believing that we will retain access to some key partnerships, based on government rhetoric (frameworks for research, Erasmus +)

If cannot remain in EU frameworks, UUK are looking at how we can work with networks (scenario planning with EU counterparts)

The British Council is supporting and avocating for an “open Brexit” with movement permitted for staff and students


Conrad Bird: people who come into contact with a country (as a tourist, student, coming across culture in own country, etc.) are c. 30% more likely to invest in that country. There is a business case for attracting students into the UK.

UUK: there has been neglect in terms of developing commercial/innovation links with other countries. There will be more of this type of thinking. UUK have launched a blog campaign on “bringing innovation home” (600 words, write to Miranda.Thomas@international.ac.uk) describing benefits of universities’ international activity for local/UK firms.


How are Government addressing the risk of loss of EU research funding?

UUK: absolutely believe that belonging to framework is essential and irreplaceable. 7-year multi-lateral agreement provides stability for major international partnerships and also supports networking and benefits not just UK but also EU institutions.

UUK understand urgency; EU counterparts don’t really know whether UK partners can be included in bids. Theresa May said to the House of Commons on 09/10 that the UK wants to continue contributing to research programmes; commitment of intents. Conrad Bird (to the audience of university staff): “you’re doing very good work in this area and I think it’s being heard.”


Overall, the discussion illustrated that there is still a lot of uncertainty around Brexit (unsurprisingly) but the agencies and government departments involved are committed to ensuring that the HE sector in the UK is maintained as a world-leading area. There was no guarantee, nor indeed any real news, about Brexit at the conference, and I will update you as and when there are any developments. I referenced the UUK “bringing innovation home” blog above, in case it is of interest to colleagues (within the Library or UCL more widely).

Outreach work in UCL Library Services

By utnvbsc, on 22 December 2016

We are currently reviewing the methodology by which we collect information on our outreach activities, but I wanted to give you an idea of the range of activities that took place during the 2015/16 academic year in order to demonstrate the diversity of work which goes on in this area.

At present, activities are categorised into one of four different groups:

a. Public (lectures, performances of music dance and the dramatic arts)
b. Exhibitions (permanent or temporary whether held within UCL library services, UCL museums and galleries or overseas)
c. Education (museum or library-based, including work in schools)
d. Other (online outreach, films/podcasts, publications and outreach work conducted by reader services)

We also sub-divide the above into whether events were free or paid-for.

In broad terms, there were 122 “outreach events” (covering all categories) in 2015/16 compared with 80 in 2014/15, a rise of 52% which is very impressive. The vast majority of these are free (92% in 2015/16) which helps us to demonstrate that we are being inclusive.

The following two pie-charts show the distribution of activity across the four categories for the respective academic years 2015/16 and 2014/15:




As you can see, exhibitions have increased somewhat year on year but all areas are broadly similar in proportion. An improved definition of “other” will help us be able to make more sense of this as we move forward. For example, one of the things we will be looking at in the Outreach Steering Group is how to measure online interactions. With social media, blog and website interactions, it can get quite complicated and it is quite possible we are underrecording at present. Watch this space!

In terms of numbers attending (or interacting with) outreach, these figures are in the millions which is fantastic. The largest category is films and podcasts and these massively boosted figures in 2014/15 with the several BBC programmes including  the BBC Horizon  ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ documentary, which had  UCL presenters and used Special Collections’ early printed books.

Finally, I thought it would be useful to publish the list of work [download pdf] so that you can see the variety for yourself. If you spot anything obvious that has been missed, please let me know so that we can ensure it gets included in future.

We are now part way  through the 2016/17 session. Already this is shaping up to be another good one. For example, there was the Vic Reeves Gaga for Dada BBC programme in September which used material from Special Collections’ Little Magazines Collection; the opportunities presented by the Orwell prize moving to UCL; and of course the Shakespeare exhibition in Stratford library which has just closed.


Cpd25 – Community Engagement and Widening Participation: How Universities and Libraries Reach Out to Marginalised Groups

By Sharon A James, on 21 December 2016

On 29th November I attended the Cpd25 course Community Engagement and Widening Participation: How Universities and Libraries Reach Out to Marginalised Groups. This ran for an afternoon and was held at The London Mathematical Society in Russell Square. I wanted to go to this event to find out more about which students are under-represented in Higher Education, what methods are used to overcome this and how we could be more inclusive at the site where I work (the UCL Language and Speech Science Library) and within UCL Library as a whole.

The first presentations were given by two representatives from King’s College London (KCL); Niaomi Collett, Deputy Director of Widening Participation and Tom Claydon, formerly at UCL Library, who is now the Library Liaison Manager at KCL. Niaomi explained that WP candidates are prioritized in terms of ethnicity, disability, gender, mature student status, a background of being in care, or experience as a carer. KCL has sixteen schemes to help young people explore university including their flagship scheme K+, the Sutton Trust summer school and King’s Scholars, which works with local pupils in Years 7-9. Because KCL’s Archives and Special Collections is involved in community engagement the King’s Scholars’ scheme runs an Archive Adventurers session in which pupils learn about archives and how they are used at university.

KCL children 2

Pupils learning about KCL’s Archives and Special Collections

KCL’s Widening Participation strategy is all-encompassing and goes from pre-16 outreach through to student support and career guidance for graduates. The Widening Participation Office collaborates with the library through Tom Claydon whose job includes overseeing the provision of reference cards, inductions and study skills training for WP students. For example, the K+ scheme, which has a yearly intake of 200 children who attend classes over a two year period, starts off with a Library introduction given by Tom and a session about using the library’s resources with a library-trained Student Ambassador. Future plans include the Widening Participation Office giving a library training hour once a year and, in line with KCL strategy, the library working to provide parity of access to all service users. To achieve this it is developing tailored study skills training and investigating ways it can provide borrowing and e-resource access to K+ students.

The next two presentations were given by Kirsty Wadsley, Head of Widening Participation at LSE, and Maria Bell who provides Learning Support at LSE Library. Widening Participation at LSE is currently offered from primary school through to undergraduate level with priority given to students who are under-represented such as those from under-performing schools. The presenters stressed that it is key to make connections with schools so that relationships are formed, maintained and strengthened over time. Local events are also looked out for in which the university and library can get involved and engage with the community.

The library has various schemes such as Learning with LSE Collections for Schools, LSE Library Outreach (Young People & Communities) and the LSE Library public lecture programme. Because of this, library staff have training to learn about their role in WP and how to work with younger customers. The presenters also pointed out that they are fortunate enough to have a library Education Officer who creates connections between the library, the Widening Participation Office and schools. Finally the presenters reported that they get lots of positive written feedback from young participants such as: “The library is useful and very big & quiet.”

LSE school children

The final presentation was given by Bernard Scaife, Librarian at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and Co-leader of the Outreach KPA. There is a Widening Participation Office at UCL that raises awareness of Higher Education through activities and enhances UCL’s diversity by admitting students from under-represented backgrounds. Because of this UCL was awarded a Buttle Quality Mark for engaging with children in care, encouraging applications to UCL and providing support until after enrolment. The library has a relationship with the WP Office, for example it produces reference cards for the UCL Summer Challenge students, a cohort of 6th Form students from target backgrounds who undertake lessons and an essay on a topic of their choice. In 2014/15, 43% of pupils from this programme went on to make an application to UCL for undergraduate study. However, Bernard mentioned that the library needs to formally develop inductions and information literacy training and he will be working on this in the future.


There is also a library Outreach Steering Group (OSG) which was formed in April 2016 and includes members from various library sites. The OSG is working on the library’s first outreach strategy that will bring together the WP activities of all the sites and share their best practice. A future objective is to find a way to statistically record staff time spent on outreach so that it is recognised as an integral part of library services. Another aim is to look at ways of collecting information on how and if the library is reaching marginalised communities. Other plans include training and working with volunteers to provide library outreach activities both centrally and at the upcoming campus at the Olympic Park. This campus features in UCL’s plans to engage with the Borough of Newham and through outreach to the local community the UCL East hub will be used to raise awareness of the library’s collections.

UCL yr 8 sutton scholars

Museum workshop of Year 8 students from UCL Sutton Scholars

An interesting example of Community Engagement involved learning about Alix Hall, an Archive Education Coordinator funded by the Heritage Lottery. While working at IOE Library she ran various outreach events including one in May 2014 where evacuees talked about their childhood education during World War II and explored the concept of archives. In conclusion, Bernard mentioned that future ideas for library Community Engagement include a Culture Bus to take special collections to UCL East and a Culture Club where people can attend public lectures and events in Bloomsbury.

The afternoon ended with attendees being asked to write down what they had learned from the training on Post-It notes. These were then stuck up on the windows so that others could read and place stickers on those they found most helpful. Popular information included the need to not make assumptions about the knowledge and skills students bring with them to university, using special collections to capture imaginations and library staff knowing what their role is in Widening Participation and receiving training. This exercise consolidated what I had learned over an insightful afternoon and I came away from the course with far more awareness about Community Engagement and Widening Participation than I had before going.

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