The Political Affairs in Higher Education conference, now in its second year, brings together senior leaders of policy, public relations and political affairs from across the higher education sector. We’re live blogging the day and you can find the agenda here.
Panel asked about the Nurse Review.
Mian: “It feels like there’s lots of pushing things forward – we’re going to consult, we’re going to think about things… I’d love to read what the first draft looked like.”
Lumsden: “In some ways, you could see the Nurse Review as delaying the difficult question. Now it hasn’t really answered it. I sense strong dissatisfaction with the outputs and where the research councils were with their funding.”
Mian: “I’m not a Tory, but it does seem to me that the political action over the next few years is going to be between the traditional side and the modernising side of the Conservative Party. Not least because there’s a leadership election to come.”
To end the day, a panel discussion chaired by Nick Hillman. Alongside him:
Leo Ringer, former Economic Adviser to Vince Cable MP and Sajid Javid MP
Jake Sumner, former Adviser to Chuka Umunna MP and Dame Margaret Hodge MP.
Ashley Lumsden, former Special Adviser to the Business Secretary and former Lib Dem Leader of Lambeth Council
Emran Mian, Director, Social Market Foundation
“On TEF, we [on the BIS Select Committee] agree with the minister that we want teaching excellence given prominence. Yet there are big questions to resolve. How on earth can you have a common set of metrics that can allow a potential student to compare and contrast teaching at different institutions given the diversity of the sector?
“If it’s going to be risk-based light-touch regulation, how do you stop it becoming bossy and bureaucratic?
“Should it be linked to freedoms regarding raised tuition fees?”
Currently speaking is Labour MP for Hartlepool Iain Wright, chair of the Commons BIS Select Committee:
“I’m in place [as chair] until 2020. I’ve got a clear idea of what I want to do and a very clear timescale in which to do it.
“The Green Paper is most significant proposal for change in HE for decades. We think proposals on the Green Paper are fraught with risk.
“I remain to be convinced that resources (to widen participation) will be made available”.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI):
“The first thing I’d say about the Green Paper is that it’s bold. They’re clearly not wasting any time.
“The single thing I’d say about the Green Paper is how green it actually is. We were expecting this one to be a Green Paper with white edges. But it’s very green. There are some big questions that aren’t actually answered. There are lots of big unresolved issues.
“Though don’t take that as a criticism. Green papers should be green. It’s a consultation document, not a masterplan.”
Dandridge: “The second major issue affecting UUK right now – probably no surprise to most of you in this audience – is immigration policy and international students. The government made it very clear that it’s going to continue to pursue the net migration target.
“As many of you are aware, talks are ongoing in many respects. It’s not all doom and gloom. There are very clear signs that a number of prominent cabinet members are challenging the Home Office on many of these proposals. But there is no policy shift yet.”
Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge is now addressing delegates:
“The Green Paper, we’ve been told, is very much a consultative document. From our perspective, there’s a lot of good in there as well as things that are not so good.”
That concludes Katharine Peacock’s talk, the third of the morning session. Now a break and some workshops which we won’t be live blogging. We’ll be back at 2.45pm for UUK’s CEO Nicola Dandridge’s address to the conference.
Peacock: “Compared to other sectors, HE comes out quite well [in the view of MPs]. Charities top, banking bottom; universities towards the top tier.
“Lord Willetts is right. The House of Lords is very friendly towards the sector. Though they have a more fragmented view of things.”
Peacock: “One of the striking things for me was: MPs aren’t currently as interested in looking at teaching and learning in universities (as research)”.
“The new intake of MPs are more likely to speak positively of the impact of the EU on universities and funding”, she adds.
Peacock: “There are lots of different events to navigate.
“To put the EU referendum issue to bed, David Cameron’s going to need 60%”, adding that otherwise, we could see a repeat of the “neverendum” scenario being witnessed in Scotland (where 48% of people think there will be another referendum).
Then talking about the Conservative Party leadership battle, Peacock notes that Tory voters favour George Osborne quite significantly whereas Labour and UKIP favour Boris Johnson by a distance.
The morning’s third speaker, succeeding Rammell, is Katharine Peacock, Managing Director of ComRes.
“A lot of people are talking about the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon being a mass youth movement from social media and saying that there’s this mass of people on the left who haven’t been represented.
“What I want to say to you is Labour did not lost the last election because they weren’t left-wing enough.”
Bill Rammell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and former universities minister is asking the big question – elsewhere on Wonkhe we have a blog based on this morning’s speech:
Some of that is simply about raising our profile as a university in our region – we are a local recruiter and it helps us if influential people have an insight into our work and can understand what we have to offer, whether it is that we are a top ten university for improving the student experience or that we saw the second highest proportional increase in funding in the country in the wake of REF 2014.
It is equally important that those individuals are equipped to make arguments on our behalf. We need our local MPs and councillors to have an understanding of why it matters if immigration policy restricts our ability to recruit international students and that it has a direct impact not just on our health as a university but on the economic health of the region as a whole.
But in a more fundamental sense, this engagement activity speaks to the role of universities in their local communities and regions.
You can read the full piece here.
Question from the floor on part-time students draws the following remark from Willetts:
“Perhaps my greatest regret was what happened with part-time students.”
End of keynote speech. Razzall asks Willetts about the Green Paper. He responds:
“I don’t think it’s fair for me to go around doing a commentary on Jo [Johnson] and Sajid [Javid]. There is a growing sense that while with research we’d already got a highly competitive system, there weren’t enough competitive pressures when it came to teaching.”
On the EU referendum, Willetts warns: “There is a trap for universities. If you approach the case for the EU simply in terms of ‘Universities get more money out of it than they put in’; to be honest, I don’t think that is an argument of massive impact, if you’re saying the crucial test is whether you get out more than you put in. While that’s true in HE, the argument points the other way overall.
“If, however, you take a few steps back and say this university can serve this city region best if we are part of the EU – it benefits from the flow of people, funding and research, that’s an argument that would have purchase. Think of how your arguments will play to a wider audience.”
“Look at the vice-chancellors who are shaping the media agenda. Sir Anthony Seldon only arrived at Buckingham couple of months ago but is so active. I would predict, at the moment, that Anthony Seldon is going to the the most high profile representative of university leadership.
“And look at the role which, to her credit, Louise Richardson played in the Scottish independence referendum, where other Scottish VCs were silent.”
Lord Willetts, introduced by chair Katie Razzall, currently giving the keynote address:
“I’ve spoken a few times in this hall over the years with many happy memories – well, most of them happy memories…
“You know who your allies are. Your local MPs; think also of all the surrounding MPs who’ve got university staff living there and students in accommodation. Councillors of course, especially with the move to radical devolution. City leaders. Can you work with other institutional leaders in your region?
“The most important voice is the students. Students who themselves are willing to speak about their experiences at your university.”
David WIlletts: “Find something specific to say to policymakers about what you’re doing at your university”
Delegates have now made their way up into Woburn House’s main hall for the event to begin. After an introduction from today’s chair, BBC Newsnight’s Katie Razzall, we’ll hear the keynote address from former Minister for Universities and Science Lord Willetts
The live blog will commence shortly.