PODCAST: Reopening, mental health, immigration, mergers

This week on the podcast we discuss the announcements that universities are starting to make about their approach to September.

This week on the podcast we discuss the announcements that universities are starting to make about their approach to September.

There’s an updated and refreshed mental health framework out, an immigration bill has been passed in Parliament, and we catch up with former Wales Education Minister Leighton Andrews on his urge to merge. Plus – nature is healing – correlate is back.

With Anne Marie Graham, CEO at UKCISA, Adam Tickell, Vice Chancellor at the University of Sussex and Leighton Andrews, Professor of Practice in Public Service Leadership and Innovation at Cardiff Business School.

Items this week:

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Correlate

With a return to campus – in some form – on the cards, thoughts are turning to estates and likely numbers of student numbers. Previous investment in estates is likely, with class sizes shrinking and PPE being added, to prove key.

DK has plotted the FTE number of people on campus (that’s staff and all students) against the gross internal area in meters squared. Do larger providers have more floor space? Yes, but does it correlate?

The answer is yes – it does. R squared is 0.78, suggesting a very strong correlation. What’s striking is the huge amounts of space providers own – though of course not all of it is suitable for teaching. Manchester and Edinburgh are among the largest in both senses of the word. I’ve added details on the number of sites and the number of buildings each provider owns – I particularly envy the Aberystwyth estates team managing 688 buildings across 15 sites. Data is from the recently released HESA Estates record, and where the data doesn’t exist – as notably, with the University of Birmingham who chose not to submit Estates data this year – I’ve not plotted it.

Transcript

(Please note this is auto-generated and un-edited)

[00:00:01] It’s the Wonkhe show. Announcements are coming in re September. But are they all a bit thick and fast? We’ll talk. Mental health, immigration, mergers and nature recently cuts correlate is back. It’s all coming out.

[00:00:12] We will end the funding for research. We recognize that your research is really important. And we will give you most of the money it takes to conduct the research. But we won’t give you it all. And we’ll. In the Roundhill, broadly speaking, funding to teach students from our country in Scotland, they don’t fund enough to get the funding. It’s insufficient to teach students from Scotland. But there is this.

[00:00:41] Welcome to The Wonkhe Show, your week into this week’s Higher Education News, Policy and analysis Sonship Dickinson. I’m here to provide what Nicola Dandrige would call absolute clarity on what’s going on. As usual, we have two excellent guests in Ealing. Anne-Marie Graham is the chief executive. of UKCISA , Anne-Marie, your highlight of the week, please?

[00:00:58] My highlight of the week, Jim, I think is Mental Health Awareness Week. And we kicked off the week Ekso with a virtual yoga class on Monday, which I think has definitely been my highlight separately.

[00:01:07] And in Brighton, the vice chancellor at the University of Sussex, Adam, took our London, your highlight of the week.

[00:01:12] Well, the week was getting out of my home for the first time and quite well yesterday, which was an absolute treat.

[00:01:17] Brilliant. So, yes, we start this week with campuses reopening. On Monday, AFSC Nicola Dandrige said that universities had to offer for absolute clarity to students. And then as the week progressed, a few had to try and really explain what’s going on here.

[00:01:32] Well, yeah, I think I’m in a in a fantastic example of the autonomy of the sector. We’ve had quite a few very varied announcements. The announcements that caused a huge media splash was that the leaked news that University of Cambridge would deliver all of its lectures online until summer 2021, although it has been at pains to clarify that other teaching may take place face to face, subject to sexual distancing requirements. Whereas at the other end of the spectrum, in terms of really going for face to face the university, Bolton has announced a series of measures to ensure that students can return to its campus for teaching in autumn 2020.

[00:02:11] Let’s let’s have a little listen to some of the stuff that was in Boltons animation to explain their approach.

[00:02:17] We want every student to be able to travel to our university campus safely. That is why we are providing all our full time students with the use of a bicycle so they can choose not to use public transport. We are also installing body temperature scanners at all of the entrances to our campus. These scanners can detect anyone that potentially could be unwell. Once inside the campus, we are also providing all of the necessary safety equipment, including masks, gloves and hand sanitizer so that everyone can keep two metres apart. We have installed a clear and simple one way navigation system around campus. We are dedicated to ensuring all of our washroom facilities are regularly checked and cleaned. To me, to rule also applies to our classrooms. Normally, such spaces would accommodate around 25 students, but now we are reducing that to around five so everyone can study safely with peace of mind. We are also protecting students by installing screens to help our staff conduct their lectures safely. We are even using hygienic keyboard covers to make sure all of the common contact points are safe to use and covered secure. These rules don’t just apply to classrooms. Workshops and laboratories have also been designed to be Kofod safe. And that’s not all. Like all of our buildings, our library is now operating a one way system. Each student will be allocated a social distance trolley to collect books which limit the number of students in this space at one time. It’s not all hard work. Even in our social zones, we have introduced new safety measures, including one metre high screens on smaller tables, larger distances between tables and more snack stations. So students spend less time queuing for that cappuccino or sandwich. We have also rolled out online learning materials and access to more digital resources alongside traditional paper documents. We have also introduced a simple system to reduce on campus congestion by providing allocated sessions so that Face-To-Face tutorials can continue.

[00:04:37] We are also encouraging 12 hours per week of physical on campus time so that students can still enjoy the benefits of university life whilst remaining safe. So what does jakovčić secure study environment look like? Welcome to Uni as it should be.

[00:04:54] See you in September. For sure.

[00:04:59] There are similarities and differences between the two. Those two announcement summary highlighted.

[00:05:04] There are, of course, though the truth is, is that the Cambridge link really said that they’re not gonna teach lectures, but they are going to continue to teach face to face in the normal way. And Bolton. Bolton’s announcement is not a million miles away from that. I think the truth is that we all face exactly the same challenge is how do we make a meaningful student experience in a condition where we are going to have to comply with forms of physical distancing? I think every university is just working on the logistics of it right now. We can do everything we can to provide their education in a in a meaningful way. I think the danger is that students cannot miss out on some of the intangibles. I know that a lot of thinking is going on up and down the country in making sure that we can make the learning experience and the broader experience as good as possible in the autumn.

[00:05:49] And Mary, I guess we can guess, can’t we, that, you know, some courses are more likely to be able to actually access some some face to face in September as opposed to others.

[00:05:58] And there might be a kind of paucity of face to face. And I guess if, you know, if you’re able to pop back to your house somewhere else in the U.K., that’s one thing. But if you’re an international student kind of stuck in a socially dist. toll of residents, that’s quite another.

[00:06:12] It’s it can be quite an isolated experience to start with. But without having that social interaction, which is, you know, part of what part of what an international student pays for that social experience. And it can be even more isolating. And I think it’s it’s not just about it’s not just about the teaching and the Face-To-Face teaching for them. It’s about the wider social interaction and also for the students as well. I mean, let’s not forget that having an international student and media internationalize is the experience for all students, not just not just the international student, say that that social interaction is is really important for all of our students if they want.

[00:06:51] But I think we will be teaching it Face-To-Face. I think every university will talk face to face in some way or other, but it’s it’s not going to be the same as this year. So, you know, seminars will be smaller. I mean, smaller numbers of people. It may be that lectures move largely online because lectures can be moved online and you can invest in the Sydney experience and different kinds of ways. And it may be that some of these things have long term benefits rather than short term changes.

[00:07:17] Yeah, and that’s an interesting question, though, isn’t it? Because, you know, I think there was a line somewhere in there kind of eventual statement that Cambridge put out because, of course, it was originally a leak to a student newspaper that suggested that, you know, there would be a kind of switch back to in person, face to face stuffies as soon as possible. But I guess for for lots of students, for lots of reasons, some of which are about accessibility, some of which are about convenience. It’s actually quite a good idea to have, you know, lectures online, isn’t it?

[00:07:45] I think there are certainly advantages of it. So what we’re finding is that students are able to go back and look at the lectures, the remotely the remote lecturers again and again when they’re not sure about what’s going on. And, you know, we forget that the lecturer is not a perfect mechanism for learning and that the capacity to to question it is a good thing. I think that the key thing, though, is that it’s shots not online, that we have to have ways of interacting with stuff, which just we’re just simply about receiving what they’re giving us. But the staff need to and and I have to say, are communicating with their students through Zoome through through email. But I think as we begin to mature in the autumn, then we’ll find other ways of doing it. And it won’t just be through Zoome. I think that we will actually be in a position to provide fiscal distancing where students and actually and staff can talk to each other and students can talk to each other in a safe, reliable way.

[00:08:37] I think for me the big takeaway was that in the media. Was that actually the media just assumed that lectures aren’t the only thing that institutions do for teaching. That was, for me, my big takeaway and, you know, the top level stuff was, you know, Cambridge meets online. But actually, you know, as Adam has explained lectures, it just one part if that student experience. And, you know, when we know that our you know, our members aren’t going all out to make sure that they can offer as much as they can in September, lectures are just one small part of that. And so the big learning for me was actually how much the media just took that as the only thing that students do.

[00:09:11] I think the thing I can’t get my head around atomize site.

[00:09:13] So, you know, even if we have, you know, slightly more sophisticated ways of doing kind of social interaction in general as a society by September, and I suspect it will get slightly better than the kind of ham fisted stuff we’ve got now.

[00:09:25] Even even if that’s possible, the thing I can’t get my head around is in truth, in the credit framework. A lot of time is independent study and a lot of that is hanging out in libraries, talking to other students and so on and UNEF. And if all that social interaction is much more kind of strained and, you know, there’s not lots of thought that goes into how you kind of make that happen because you can’t really bump into people on time. That’s right. That’s that’s quite tough that that kind of, you know, independent study community kind of thing.

[00:09:52] Yeah, it is, I think. So some things that we will we will do and I’m sure others are doing is thinking about how we can use our spaces in order to to promote that. Because in a couple of meters, then the WHL guidelines are one meter, not two meters, but. But even if with a couple of meters, you can still talk to people. And so I think I think that one of the challenges for Faustine unions is exactly how they continue to be meaningful. And I know that they’re really thinking hard about taking their societies online. Lots of the student union cities in the country are doing great things already. So I know that there are virtual yoga classes. Austin Union has an annual student awards ceremony, and this year it went on to say they had about 300 people who turned up and the celebration was fantastic. So I think it’s not. Just universities that do welcome student experience under the Stinson’s unions really care about making sure that the students who come to us in the autumn, whether they’re returners or new students, get as good a time as they possibly can.

[00:10:49] Good. Now, let’s see who’s been blogging for us this week.

[00:10:55] Kate’s Albany head of Pink Areason Employability. The Career Service, King’s College, London. And one of the member Tervita of the Career Group. My blog is about how academics can serve. It’s more of their needs, transferable skills and attributes to their subject. To help students realize and articulate better the employability value of their curriculum learning in this highly challenging job market, Stephenson graduates have even greater anxiety than usual about the value of their degrees, particularly if it’s not professionally aligned to in the blog. I talk about how to capture what I call extracted employability, the huge range of transferable skills and attributes being taught and learned every day in curriculum that are innate to sociology, history and every other subject. Under exactly the same field and attributes that employers want, it’s not restrictive. Who need to death don’t want. A few weeks ago, difficult for students to develop these skills. They already are developing and they just aren’t aware of it and need better written language to capture it.

[00:11:55] And don’t forget, we’d love to have your contribution on the site, if you’d like to purchase a piece, drop us an e-mail on team at wonky dot com with your idea and we’ll be in touch. Now, next up, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and the university’s UK has launched an updated version of a framework. Adam, tell us more.

[00:12:11] So we know that there’s been a mental health crisis among young people for a long time at the Coping 19 pandemic is causing real difficulties. So Universities UK this week looked at that new guidance on supporting the mental health of students and of staff. The key actions they’re recommending is that there is continuing to be visible senior leadership and ownership of mental health challenges. But what’s new in this is a real emphasis on co-production. Working closely with staff and with students on strategies and services are making sure there is accessible and well resource support for supporting people’s mental health.

[00:12:42] Anne-marie, you were talking earlier about isolation. We you know, we can we can easily Gassen. There’s definitely research that backs up the idea that isolation is a key source of kind of mental health difficulties amongst students. And so, you know, we must be going into next academic year with no worries about it in this space.

[00:13:00] Absolutely. Yes. And I think it is also often more evidence, more challenging for those that are studying at postgraduate level than undergraduate level. Obviously, both. They present their own challenges. And I think, you know, we’ve done our own research, Ekis, just in the international student population and, you know, recently funded some research looking at mental health across PHC students and their supervisors. And and all of this is really important as we go into a year where, you know, evidence shows evidence, in which case also another survey shows that postgraduate students are feeling more reluctant to commit to something that starts online.

[00:13:40] And I think, you know, we have to think about how mental health factors into that for us. And it’s a really big, big challenge to get our heads around how how somebody hears me from the other side of the world, come to the UK to study, but is not able to access a community.

[00:13:59] Often it’s challenging to do that anyway in a normal in a normal year where we could actually where we don’t have a virus today, where what I think, you know, it’s really it’s really up to us as a community to make sure that we have as much in place to support them, to get them through those. There’s challenges to get all orientations and online or to get them brought forward so that we can start understanding those. There’s mental health challenges for for our students before before they come out.

[00:14:28] And I’ve heard from it from from from quite a few places that kind of direct demand for mental health services, you know, on campus. I mean I mean on campus, obviously online now. But, you know, those kind of Director Muffett kind of direct mental health services has fallen a bit during the pandemic. Is there a sense that, you know, the kind of shape of what might be required from universities? It might be quite different rather than just coming in, are converting everything to online as we go into September?

[00:14:58] I think that of course, of course, that’s got to be the case. We haven’t seen such a fall, but we’ve been very proactive about how to go about contacting students, particularly students who are not engaging with their classes. So I think probably an element of this is it needs us as institutions to make sure that we’re keeping an eye on who’s not engaging with us, because often that’s a good sign that the country mental health difficulties or indeed there may be other difficulties, which was about mental health, which about access to resources. And so this is a really challenging area, Jim, because fundamentally universities are being expected to fill a gap in the NHS. Nobody tends Rut’s universities and says you’ve got a student who’s broken their leg and therefore you need to set up an elite department. But we do expect universities to meet all the mental health needs because we underfund at a national level the mental health support for all people. I’m not trying to resile from our responsibility to look after our staff and students because it’s really important. But I think we just need to keep the pressure on the broader society to understand this is a societal challenge rather than just one for universities.

[00:16:07] Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that there are days when if I’m in a, you know, a moaning mood, I will say, ah, universities blaming wider society and lack of government support, as usual. You know, quite often I very like things like WPA, whatever. But it also seems to me there’s a hell of a lot of othering that goes on in relation to students because, you know, you can’t access Universal Credit. It’s universities that have to find the money for that. Mental health services are poor. It’s universities that have to fix dodgy universities that have to fix everything. Isn’t Ammori is.

[00:16:35] And I think I think Adam’s already hit the nail on the head. It’s it’s a real challenge. I mean, we’ve already we’ve we’ve done, I think, the challenges. We’ve done a really good job at raising the profile of discussing mental health and acknowledging mental health challenges. But at the same time, the resource is. Being put in place across the NHS to deal with that and a lot of universities. So for a long time they’ve been working hand-in-hand with their local NHS provision across the UK to make sure that they can support their students. So the more we have these conversations about mental health and and really improve people’s self awareness and in their reflections on their own mental health, we do need to make sure that we have those resources in place and they can’t just be down to the universities. It’s got to be down to general health provision, not least, I mean international students in particular. We’re asking them to pay a significant amount of money for an NHS surcharge now increased for the next year. And yet we’re saying to them that that that there’s not enough provision for them to access in the NHS. So I think that is a huge consumer issue that we need to think about. And it can’t be up to universities itself.

[00:17:45] And the other thing I was saying just on the other day is that, you know, you can understand and believe that, you know, look, me in mainstream public sector universities have this under control. But right at the kind of end of the kind of long tail of providers on the OFAC register, it’s hard to believe that some of the kind of micro providers have, you know, are able to put everything in place that frameworks like this suggest.

[00:18:08] I mean, I don’t have the detail of that. But if you look at the size of them and the amount of money that we’re able to spend as large universities, then that must be the case. I’ve got a really read that would sense if I don’t think this is a problem or that we don’t have some responsibility. But we need to think about mental health not just as being one big thing, but as a number of different challenges. So there are some issues around mental health, which are clearly responsiblities of universities. So we know that there are anxieties students have around assessment. We know that loneliness on campus is an issue. And there are things that we can do to support students around that, because this is in a sense, it’s the essence of what we do. There are students who have really acute mental health problems. Tragically, relatively small numbers of students in every university, every significant university will have problems which need them to be sectioned or which need the support of an acute trust. The truth is that’s fairly well handled or as well handled as it might be, because that’s an underfunded part. Is the group in the middle who have quite serious mental health needs? We’re a bit of counselling is not going to help them. That, I think, is the real gap.

[00:19:18] Now, immigration, the government’s controversial immigration bill flew through the House of Commons on Monday night. Amauri, give us a sense of the implications.

[00:19:27] Yes, it. The immigration bill has continued its somewhat incredibly it is relentless progress through the House of Commons. First for us in the sector.

[00:19:36] Obviously, this will end free movement for everybody, but for us it means that staff and students from the EU or the EPA will require a visa to enter the UK from the 1st of January 2021. And also the implications for the sector is that we we will need to sponsor them to enter the UK, which we have not had to do before, and not enter an additional resource implications for the sector and the impact assessment to the bill. And interesting, they suggests that any any anticipated drop in recruitment from EU visa will be offset by an increase in recruitment from non EU EU nationals, largely due to be increased pay. Steady work offer, no doubt.

[00:20:20] But interestingly, it does note that it is too early to consider the impact of Cobey 19 on on this recruitment as well.

[00:20:28] That’s one way to put it. I thought it was quite interesting that it was in slightly different font to the rest of the impact assessment that’s been made. It feel like it was added very much at the last minute. International students out of this.

[00:20:38] I think this is some I think this is hugely worrying, really. So we’ve we’ve got used to the diversity of life that EU students bring to the universities in the UK, and it’s just enhances our lives. Incredibly, the the current and the former president’s student union at Sussex are both EU nationals, and they’ve been absolutely fantastic. So, you know, we cannot miss this, not just financially, but we’re going to miss this in terms of the broader life of our country. I think we need to be mindful that the promised changes to the post, to the work regime should be helpful. There was, before Kofod 19, started hitting just on the announcement that it was planning to change the rules. There was a massive increase in interest from India, and it’s quite possible that a relaxation overall will help. I think the worry I’ve got at the moment, though, is that COFI 19 may change that because this isn’t in the bill. It’s something that would come as an executive action. And clearly, as the labour market in the United Kingdom is going to into meltdown, there will be pressure from some parts of the country that we do not offer generous post to rework the terms to people from overseas. And I think if that happens and we’ll put ourselves, it’s a massive, massive competitive disadvantage, particularly at a time when Australia is actually extending their post to work visas, rather. Pulling the back and I’m ready.

[00:21:56] Just remind us where that went, where that kind of decision is at and and what’s been said so far in terms of when it might kind of kick in and who it might kick in for and so on.

[00:22:07] So there is the continued comms on this is that if you graduate or so you complete your course in summer 2021, you will be eligible for the Graduate Immigration Week, which is a two year pay, steady work visa, which is an increase from the current six months of steady work that students who are completing Nichols’ this summer, wherever they are, can benefit from. And of course, if you’ve returned home, you’ve completed your course online, you’re not going to benefit from that that either. Which is which is a challenge, I think, for so many international students. And we have obviously, this immigration bill is working to an incredibly tight timeframe.

[00:22:51] I mean, for me, I am incredulous about the speed of the timeframe. I think, you know, there’s a there’s a lot to do before the end of the year.

[00:23:01] But we we anticipate that’s you know, we’ve been asking very much for more detail on the eligibility criteria about the graduate rate to be published, that we are assured that anyone who completes at a graduate level course in degree level calls in summer 2021, even if they start online in autumn 2020 and moved to the U.K. at a later stage, will be eligible for that route. But there’s there’s no there’s no detail on the implementation through legislation yet.

[00:23:30] Have we become too dependent on international student fee income? You know, there’s lots of commentary that has appeared around the edges over there. You know, I’m what I’ve described as university business models over the past couple of weeks, you know, particularly Scotland, naturally. Is it the case that, you know, this is all gone a bit too far and we’ve we’ve become in a kind of addicted to that, to the income?

[00:23:53] Well, let’s say that over the last decade and longer, there has been a tacit pact between universities and governments and that the ultimate in government. So, I mean, this is true in Scotland and Wales as it’s true. And in Northern Ireland, this it’s true in England that that deal has gone something like this. We will end the funding for research. We recognize that your research is really important and we will give you most of the money it takes to conduct world leading research. But we won’t give you at all. We’ll in the round. Well, broadly speaking, funding to teach students from our country now in Scotland, they don’t fund enough to. The funding is insufficient to teach students from Scotland. But since coming up from England and from elsewhere, and that gives them some balance. But if you look at the economy just as those two elements, that universities will lose money. So the third part of the bargain was you can fund that through, bring in international students and we’ll support you to do so in. A minister after minister has been on trade missions with university leaders, including myself, to try to increase the number of international students precisely so that we can maintain the excellence of the UK research base.

[00:25:01] Gavin Williamson even called explicitly called that a deal didn’t the UK conference back in September?

[00:25:06] It did. I think it’s a bit rich now for people to start criticising us for having taken that part of the bargain. And quite apart from anything else, it’s absolutely true that international students enhance our lives and also they enhance the UK soft power. I could tell you the number of people that when I travel internationally who talk to me very warmly about their university education in universities, I’ve worked here or elsewhere and have a very, very different approach to the UK than people who’ve studied in the United States or studied in Australia.

[00:25:35] So it’s a good deal for Britain, it’s a good deal for our universities, and it’s a good deal for UK students.

[00:25:40] Marie, are you picking up any sense of, you know, what what what what where the UK’s reputation is, are either from some of the research that’s coming in or, you know, kind of some of the feedback you might get?

[00:25:51] I mean, you know, I’ve I’ve certainly seen some fairly negative stuff written from, you know, students from China and India and so on.

[00:25:59] But I can’t I can’t call whether this is, you know, the sorts of things that, you know, catch the eye of people who write newspaper headlines or whether, you know, there are concerns about the way the UK is treated, international students. There are concerns about the way the UK has handled the pandemic and the lockdown.

[00:26:14] Yes. I mean, there has been some research recently that and to indicate that at the moment the UK is is not scoring quite as highly as some of our competitors in terms of perceptions on how they’re handling the lockdown. I’m not sure that that we’re really seeing that translate into a lack of interest, because I think, as Adam says, that that soft power element is still very strong.

[00:26:39] We have a we do have a lot of people still who who would want to come and study in the UK and the UK, still their destination of choice, and not just because of the extended post study work, but because of the quality of our education sector and. And I’ll say that that the soft power of the UK society as well. You know you know, you can’t underestimate the soft power that we do have in terms of football and pop music, all of these other elements of UK culture which really, really appeal. And so I think it’s to I think the most the most challenging thing now is it’s the lack of information of what’s going to happen in terms of online start and end. And I think as more institutions come out and and make their announcements along the lines of Cambridge in Bolton, I think that will be what really helps things forward rather than. And the immigration bill itself. I think the EU and EU nationals, it is much more challenging because they are moving to a position where they are feeling much more disadvantaged than they had been before. And of course, if they arrive in September and for a face to face start, it’s not a problem. They can they would be eligible to apply for the settlement scheme. But I think it’s more challenging for those that arrive after first January and on. We with the sector just need to make sure that we do a good job of communicating how we’re going to to welcome them and support them and and help them through that. That slightly different regime that they’re going to have to navigate.

[00:28:13] But I think that’s right. I think there are a couple of wins that we’ve got and or things that we can be positive about. And the kind of schadenfreude wins. The first is students from the EU and EEA who come in September are still eligible for student loan finance. And I think that that’s a that’s a lot of opportunity for this autumn. But the other is that we just have a prime minister who is not declaring war on our primary market in China, but in the United States and in Australia. The leaders leaders are so welcome that because I think that it’s such relations that better when they’re not shouty, but at least we’re not.

[00:28:48] Part of that campaign now is sailing. Carmelites is back.

[00:28:54] Welcome to. Yes. But does it correlate the podcast segment that gives an entirely new meaning to social distancing with return to campus in some form? On the cards, thoughts are turning to university states and the likely number of students on campus. Previous investment in the states is likely, with class sizes shrinking and PPE being added to teaching rooms. To prove key, I’ve posted the FTE number of people on campus staff and all students against the gross internal area in metre squared to larger providers. Have more floor space. Yes. But does it correlate?

[00:29:31] I think it doesn’t. That’s a bold move. I don’t know. I’m going purely on instinct. I think I’d say no.

[00:29:44] I’d say no. But my reasoning is because the confounding factor here will be research intensity. So there’ll be lots of large labs in areas with in places with rents for small numbers of students.

[00:29:58] The answer is yes, it does. R-squared is nought point seven eight, suggesting a very strong correlation. What’s striking is the huge amount of space providers own, though of course not all of it is suitable for teaching in Manchester and Edinburgh are among the largest providers in both senses of added details on the number of sites and the number of buildings each provider owns to the visualization. I particularly envy the Aberystwyth Estates team, who manages 688 buildings across 15 sites. Data is from the recently released He Said Estate’s record and where the data doesn’t exist, as notably with the University of Birmingham, who chose not to submit their estate’s data for this year. I have not plotted it.

[00:30:43] And finally, with a formal sector wide bailout still missing in action, conversations have been turning to ideas of reconfiguration, collaboration and merger. Now, before we discuss, DKA caught up with former Wales Education Minister Leighton urge to merge Andrews earlier in the week to take a trip down merger memory lane.

[00:31:02] I’m like Landreaux. I was the Minister for Education and the Welsh government from December 2009 until June 2013. I’m now Professor of Practice and Public Leadership and Innovation in Cardiff Business School.

[00:31:18] So when you first came into the ministerial role, be moved towards a reconfiguration and collaboration in Wales was already quite far and front. What was your impressions of the idea at the time?

[00:31:31] Well, the policy had been there for 10 years and it actually predated the creation of the National Assembly.

[00:31:39] And there was all party consensus on the need for reconsideration figuration of the higher education sector, faster progress needed to be made that the Welsh government and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales needed to use all the levers at their disposal.

[00:31:54] So my understanding was that the rationale was about supporting Welsh providers to gain sufficient scale and have to compete in the UK and internationally, and also to drive efficiency savings for the money that was flowing out from the Welsh governments who have to. Mr Abbott, right?

[00:32:13] Yeah, so I mean, I think so. I think efficiency became more important. Post austerity, as it were, the real issue was about competitiveness, that the institutions, their ability to provide high quality courses and to win research funding.

[00:32:29] I mean, looking across Wales, arguably this agenda was successful in building a larger institution in south west Wales. And arguably there was no real change in North Wales, but it was in south east Wales that we saw, I mean, most of the heat and most of the press interest. Can you tell me your impressions of the state of Haiti in south east Wales?

[00:32:53] At the point the state level, there had been a longstanding debate going back several years about the relationship between the then university, the Morgan, the university well AS and Newport and UT because it was funded now by Carbon Cardiff Metropolitan University. And it was had always been clear that US was reluctant really to engage in merger discussions. And there’d been a previous proposal that had come close in around 2004 for a merger between Glamorgan and UWC.

[00:33:26] And there was a lot of feeling that the proposals had never been properly put to the governing body and UWC at that point. It was controversial. It was a situation where the then governing body and vice chancellor were very adamant.

[00:33:42] They didn’t want to be part of a merger process, and we determined that if necessary, we would use all of the levers at our disposal. Clearly, some of those levers were financial. From 2010, we became more dirigiste in our approach to funding to the higher education sector via a half coup, setting down some very clear goals for them. But also, of course, there were legal levers that we could use if we chose in certain circumstances.

[00:34:13] Yeah, the education reformer may you know, I wish that you specifically the ability to dissolve a higher education corporation. I mean, obviously, you would need to do that if the merger had taken place. But at the time in press, there was almost the impression that you had started this process to buffer a binary choice to Cardiff, Matt, either to to merge or close. Basically, is that right?

[00:34:36] No, it was it was never like that. I mean, there was an assumption, I think, that if if higher education institutions were not willing to cooperate with the notion of a Welsh higher education sector, then they would lose out in terms of funding when the funding regime change to a more student based funding system, as it did from 2012.

[00:35:02] It was clear that governments would have less strategic opportunity to intervene through funding than they had had before us.

[00:35:11] As such, so little of the funding was going to come essentially directly from government.

[00:35:17] I think in terms of the agenda, I felt it dogged all the discussions between the Welsh government and the Welsh higher education sector.

[00:35:26] It was always the elephant in the room and any kind of discussion on future higher education strategy. And it had to be resolved. Either reconfiguration was going to happen or it wasn’t. And we were just going to have to bite the bullet and decide on that. I had given myself three years to try and. Surround. We achieved, you know, the bulk of what we’d sought to do through that agenda.

[00:35:47] We’re looking back now at eight or nine years on. Do you think that the changes that have been made to the Welsh sector have been beneficial overall?

[00:35:57] Overall, I do.

[00:35:58] I mean, I think we have a smaller number of stronger institutions, which was always our objective. I still think there are unresolved issues in northeast Wales. You know, I think there is there are is their own strength, the institution, the relationship with, as we call it, with the colleges and so on. But overall, across Wales, yes, I think it’s been a positive development.

[00:36:18] So in South Wales, obviously, Cardiff remains successful independent organization, despite the warnings at the time that it was looking precarious. Do you think that kind of made the right decision to the day of the murder?

[00:36:33] I think it would have been we would have had a stronger post, 92 institution if they’d been part of that. However, they are under new leadership now. They made significant strides forward. Overall, I think the you know, that that reconfiguration agenda has been put to bed.

[00:36:49] And I think the agenda is a new one and a difficult one with the onset of the financial problems that we anticipate. Many universities are going to be facing after the end of the lockdown and the corporate mounting pandemic. It feels like that the ideas of mergers and reconfigurations are back on the agenda. And what would you say to ministers, to ministerial advisers, to vice chancellors that were perhaps thinking about the implications of this? I mean, what advice do you think you could offer them from your experience?

[00:37:17] Well, I think there has to be a compelling, educational and compelling strategic reason for going through a process of merger and reconfiguration.

[00:37:27] I hope it wouldn’t be driven simply by the financial situation of particular institutions. At the end of the day, you know, the quality of the courses on offer and their appeal to students, their ability to grow a significant student base have got to be the driving factors in any merger process. And there is a danger, I think sometimes that the crisis factors drive the merger agenda rather than a broader look at the educational opportunities.

[00:37:59] Are you feeling an urge to merge?

[00:38:01] Well, you know, the logic is it’s very difficult to refute at the moment. So although I haven’t got any specific plans at the moment, I think if we look at the sector as a whole, the kind of challenge could risk somewhere between nothing and seven billion pounds of international fee income. And my guess is it will be at least half of that. And there are many, many universities that just can’t maintain normal operations for more than a year or more. Also, with losing that income, bear in mind that worked by Matt Robert Parthenon, Iwai Parthenon has shown that even before we came into this crisis, 14 universities report deficits in each of the last three years and that three of that and half of those seven of those reported deteriorating deficits in each of those years. So I think it’s inconceivable that there’ll be as many universities in 24 months time as they are now. So my sense is, yes, there’s going to be a mature movement. I think that the key thing for us as a sector is to have ownership of that and do things that work for universities and what for students and for our staff, rather than wait until people get into crisis and then desperately try to bail out institutions where it should, which are on the brink.

[00:39:10] What is it possible to actually kind of save money on as a result of a collaboration? Imagine we say, is it management, Cochiti? Is it campuses? You know, what is it that, you know, can you know, can generate savings that are attractive, at least in principle?

[00:39:25] So I think this is the key question, because that the the worst kind of matter is one where you go into just because both of you going into some form of crisis, that the truth is, is that delivering cost savings is much more difficult than anybody thinks. It’s getting back offices or integrating professional services will be phenomenally difficult. Systems integration is not easy. So I think there will be elements of wanting to have an improved offer. It will be thinking about the courses you can offer. Can you do things differently?

[00:39:53] Can you actually have focus on one thing in one place and something in the partner institution? There will be over time, I think, the capacity to save on some of the some of the core services. But we mustn’t be naive about this. I think we need to be clear that mergers need to be for positive reason and that if you’re going to get if you’re you to get into partnership an institution, you have to have a similarity of strategic intent rather than thinking, I’m just going to go with my neighbor, who may be extremely different to me. I think that’s going to make a better institution. There’s an old adage in social policy, which is if you want to get rich, don’t marry a poor person. And I think there’s a there’s a real risk of shotgun marriages being forced down from Whitehall or being forced by a governing.

[00:40:42] In terms of the kind of choice thing marry when you know a particularly if you know you’re not. You spent all your childhood in, you know, in the U.K. when international students are looking at the U.K. system. Are they a bit baffled by that? Just that, you know, the sheer range of choice?

[00:40:58] Well, I think a lot of them are. Do you do you take geography into account when they make a decision? But it’s mainly the academic decision that they’re taking.

[00:41:07] So it’s it’s the strength, of course, offer or the specialism that that’s what really is the motivating factor. And that’s that’s one of the strengths that we have in the UK. But, you know, geography well will always be an issue that people will factor in an institute institution’s decision. So, you know, if if an international student is thinking about where to go, they will they will put geography into it. But but it’s the academic offer that is more important. I think from an international student point of view on one concern that I would want to flag around mergers is, you know, going back to our previous discussion on the new immigration system, we need to get that. We need to get that right from a point of view of mitigating hostile environment, because there’s a huge risk to international students around mergers of incredibly damaging confusion to their experience. If their sponsor is subsumed or merged with another institution, how does that have an impact on their visa and how quickly can we work to solve that? And how supportive is the Home Office going to be around that? So that’s a really practical question.

[00:42:19] Obviously, you know, officially, we’ve had a decade now of government policy in theory, encouraging new providers and the diversity providers are more providers. Do you think, you know, that kind of aim is over and rarely? You know, this is gonna be a decade dominated by this kind of rationalisation of the number of providers.

[00:42:37] But it’s going to be an overall, I think certainly that the that the larger, more substantial the sector than there will certainly be consolidation. I think that that wouldn’t necessarily mean you don’t get the proliferation of small niche providers who may come in, may succeed, may fail. But I do really believe that it’s different. I was just wondering if somebody was talking that is that maybe some of the solution is going to be rather than just a straightforward merger between two equipment universities as you get something developing a bit like the old University of London or or a multi trust so that you retain the independent identities of the institutions. But underlying them there within a group. And you can get savings from the group and you can see within that. So that’s a possibility that would help with the visa problem. But I think it might help in all sorts of other ways to.

[00:43:28] So that’s about it for this week to find out more about anything we’ve discussed today, you’ll find links on the episode page of Wonky Dot com, where you can also leave your thoughts and comments. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to us automatically. Just search for the wonky show on your favorite podcast directory or you’ll find the feed you need on monkey dot com forward slash podcast. And if you think you’ve got what it takes to be a guest on the show, you drop us an e-mail on team of Warnke dot com. And we’ll be in touch. So thanks again to our guests, Adam and Amerie, everyone at TI Warnke for making the show happen. And of course, to you fullest until next week. Stay Wonkhe.

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