England is home to many of the world’s best performing higher education institutions, leading in both teaching and research. Almost half of young people enter higher education, and the number of disadvantaged young people studying is rising. Our most successful institutions offer their students excellent teaching and learning, preparing them for high quality employment and ensuring value for money.
However, higher education is still not as accessible as it should be, and some institutions are failing in their efforts to admit a more diverse range of students. We encourage universities to be more transparent about their contextualised admissions processes and invest their widening participation budgets in programmes which will lead to real change. The Government must urgently address the decline in part-time and mature students and re-introduce a system of maintenance grants for the most disadvantaged students.
Alongside a drive to improve social justice, higher education must play a more significant role in meeting this country’s skills needs and preparing students for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Degree apprenticeships are crucial to filling skills gaps and boosting this country’s productivity. We strongly urge the Department for Education and the Institute for Apprenticeships to fully support and champion the expansion of degree apprenticeships. These courses offer students the opportunity to gain a degree whilst earning a wage rather than incurring tuition fee debt.
The excessive salaries of Vice-Chancellors are disconnected from a value for money offer for students. The Office for Students must take a much firmer stance on senior management remuneration and not be afraid to intervene, especially when institutions pay their Vice-Chancellor more than eight times the average staff salary. We are pleased that there has been an increase in graduate employability data, but we are concerned about relying too heavily on the information to hold institutions to account.
Alongside offering degree apprenticeships, universities must move away from a linear approach and embrace more flexible types of learning. Accelerated degrees should be made an option for more learners, alongside credit transfer, work placements and the ability to pause studying for periods of time. Only through a step away from the rigid, traditional three-year undergraduate study approach can universities ensure they are open to students from all backgrounds.
The current review of post-18 education and funding offers the Government the opportunity to re-shape the sector. We believe that the future of higher education should be more skills-based leading to appropriate professional graduate-level and skilled employment destinations. Higher education must become more flexible and focused on helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds climb the ladder of opportunity.
Published: 5 November 2018