Report on the HEPI Annual Conference 13 June 2019

Report on the HEPI Annual Conference 13 June 2019

HEPI 2019 Annual Conference:  ‘What is University For? Future Proofing the Sector in the age of risk and regulation’

On 13 June 2019, HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) held its annual conference at the National Gallery in London on ‘What is University For? Future Proofing the Sector in the age of risk and regulation’. HEPI is the only UK thinktank focusing on Higher Education. The University of Northampton is a member of HEPI through HEPI’s University Partnership Programme, but Professor Janet Wilson, Vice President of NCUP, attended, representing the National Conference of University Professors (NCUP) that has an affiliation with HEPI.

Chris Skidmore, MP, Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, in conversation with Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, spoke about plans for a more dynamic UK research environment with dedication of 2.4% of GDP, the challenges posed by Industrial strategy and the  need for clean growth, the new technologies in which universities are to be incubators especially on IP protection. Today’s most important issues are the Augar Report on post-18 Education in England, Brexit, and the Immigration White Paper. Skidmore approved of the post-18 ‘whole systems’ approach, the proposal for a two year degree, and the UK’s moral leadership with its Climate Agenda. He hoped net zero growth might be reached earlier than 2050.

Highlight of the conference was the launch of HEPI’s Student Academic Experience Survey 2019, a response from 14,000 full time undergraduate respondents.  Most significant is that better value for money for the second consecutive year is recorded, with teaching quality as the main factor in producing good value (64%) and tuition fees as the main factor in perceiving poorer value (62%). There were also statistics on mental health (students are significantly more anxious than other young people), and on taxpayer support for undergraduate teaching: 43% stated that Government should  pay over half the costs, and 22% that it pay all the costs whereas the Augar Report says taxpayers should continue to pay half.

Professor Terence Davis, President of NCUP, asked raised a question during the conference discussion.   This related to the policy of ‘positive discrimination ‘of women students in the selection process at the undergraduate entry level in mathematics and their advancement at the MA level with ‘gift aided’ funding, assisted through the Association of Commonwealth Universities.  This allows them to proceed to doctoral level. He observed that this had been practiced in some African universities with highly positive results e.g. approximately 20 doctoral students, completed or concurrent, over the last 15 years in one university alone (Mzuzu University, Malawi where Professor Davis was the founding VC).   Several of these students have received scholarships in universities in advanced economies. He suggested that this approach could be adapted for the UK situation in order to ‘fish’ more successfully across ethnic groups and between the social divisions in the UK’s vast ‘Pool of ability’. An interesting discussion followed.

Professor Janet Wilson