A review of Wonkhe’s sixth year

This week marks Wonkhe’s 6th birthday. I always use our birthday to reflect on the year just passed and this was undoubtedly our biggest yet. Where has the time gone?

If you’d like to read back about some of the history and origins of Wonkhe, you could do worse than charting our course through the yearly updates:

The organisation

Wonkhe as an organisation has been through a dramatic change over the last twelve months. 2016 began still with just one employee (me) and ended the year staffed by Team Wonkhe – five brilliant people. We’ve introduced a slew of new services over the past twelve months and moved into our first office: as an organisation, we are unrecognisable from our state a year ago. After the success of the Monday Morning HE Briefing (itself now only eighteen months old), I introduced the Wonkhe Daily, our daily email briefing about everything going on in UK HE. It’s been a tremendous success in just six short months, and it’s a lot of fun to get together and send every day, knowing that so many people now depend on it as part of their routine each morning.

Our programme of events has also been fun and added a whole new dimension to our work, the biggest being BrHExit – the first conference to explore the impact of Brexit on UK HE back in August. It’s been brilliant to bring the HE community together where we can to explore important issues in a timely way, as we try to do through any possible means. I’ve also been delighted that we’ve been able to introduce Wonkhe Professional – a programme of extremely high-quality training and development opportunities for the HE sector, and they’ve been really popular.

Our jobs board seems to grow by the week and we’ve been featuring a steadily increasing amount of roles in policy, strategy, communications and HE leadership. Perhaps a sign of our times that so much of the sector is investing more in these sorts of roles.

Our partnership programme is thriving and we’ve been thrilled to welcome many new partners this year, the logos for all of which you can find on the home page of the website.

The website

Growing the organisation has enabled us to publish more than ever on the site. With still limited, but expanded editorial resources, we’ve been hunting down a greater diversity of contributors, finding new angles to analyse and debate the latest developments in UK HE, publishing the work of more than 150 new contributors in the last twelve months alone.

Our mission is to open up the HE debate and bring in new voices to the discussion so that HE policy is improved and everyone that cares about it is better informed. That mission has never felt as important as it does today and we remain as committed to it as ever.

What’s been popular

As is now traditional, I like to rank the most popular articles of the last year. The below have been the most popular in descending order (and exclude auxiliary pages, the Power List and other popular pages on the site).

  1. Live: The HE White Paper – this was the live blog on the day the HE White Paper was published in May. We helped the sector stay on top of the fast-moving developments and get to grips with White Paper as it was released.
  2. Analysis: UKRI if you want to: how to read the new research funding landscape – this brilliant article by James Wilsdon published days after the White Paper, assessed the government’s plans through a research policy lens and was hugely influential given its timeliness and the sharpness of its analysis.
  3. Policy Watch: The Incredible Machine: Our visual guide to the TEF – now reworked three times since the day the TEF was unveiled in the original Green Paper, the Incredible Machine has travelled far and wide and hopefully proved a useful tool for many in understanding how the TEF will work.
  4. Policy Watch: TEF and tuition fees: myths and realities – David Morris expertly explained the link between TEF and tuition fees in a time when the issue was widely misunderstand and confusingly reported by the press. An updated version of the piece including the latest changes to policy can be found here.
  5. Data: Transparency revolution: is there bias in university admissions? David Morris’ seminal analysis of brand new UCAS data from which we were able to show that there was evidence of bias in university admissions. The analysis was featured in The Guardian and the piece was shortlisted by the CIPR in its education journalism awards for the outstanding use of data journalism.

As well as articles on the White Paper, TEF and data, our analysis of Brexit, both in the lead up to the referendum vote and in the months afterwards, proved extremely popular – perhaps unsurprisingly given the strength of feeling about the issue in the sector. You can find it all under the #Brexit tag – an archive that will no doubt continue to grow over coming years. A particular mention should be made for What next for universities and our disunited kingdom? The article was published on the morning of the referendum itself, and although the results were hours from being known, Wonkhe’s David Morris correctly predicted the shape of the debate that would follow. He rightly won the CIPR awards for best newcomer to education journalism for the piece.

With so many exciting plans in the pipeline, 2017 looks set to be even bigger for Wonkhe. Our growth means more analysis, more debate and all through an ever-increasing amount of channels. I hope you stick around for the next twelve months of Wonkhe.

Mark Leach, Editor

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