Heading for a first … University Alliance
Higher education is infamous for producing reports that, while very worthy, end up only acting as doorstops or decoration on a bookshelf. So when a report is produced of real value and of important contemporary relevance to the key debate in politics right now – how to stimulate economic growth – it should be celebrated. This week, the publication of the University Alliance report, Growing the future: universities leading, changing and creating the regional economy was a welcome contribution to both the higher education and economic debates being had right now.
Unashamedly, the report set out the role which universities already do, and need to continue to play in contributing to the regional economy. At a time when the coalition is obsessed with deficit reduction, which is unquestionably choking off growth, it has never been more important for universities to demonstrate their value in helping to stimulate growth. In the immediate term, they are a vital source for jobs and an important link with local businesses; in the medium term their research and knowledge transfer will equip the future workforce with the skills required to ensure the UK can remain internationally competitive.
With contributions from leading figures in higher education, industry, politics and even a chapter from the chancellor of Huddersfield University, Sir Patrick Stewart, the report is well worth reading. Hopefully the kind words in the foreword from Vince Cable will translate into real support and crucially adequate funding for universities from government to be able to deliver on the promise they undoubtedly have.
Heading for a fail … post-qualification applications
The pros and cons of a post-qualification application system have long been debated within higher education. Bill Rammell, during his time as higher education minister put forward the idea for consideration, but a mixture of resistance from the sector and political timing meant it wasn’t realised.
So when the idea of moving A-level results forward and the university application process back was re-introduced by the coalition in the higher education white paper it was met with a mixed reaction once again. Instinctively, I continue to be drawn to the idea. Surely it makes more sense for university places to be awarded on the basis of your actual results, rather than on prediction. And while I accept that this may mean some shifting around of the school exam timetable and the university application process, it seems a price worth paying.
However, this week the Russell Group started to go public with their criticism of the idea, claiming that it’s not clear how the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and raising concerns that a PQA system could hamper their efforts to recruit disadvantaged students. A public statement like this means the Russell Group will be lobbying behind the scenes to see the idea thrown out by the time the white paper comes back from parliamentary scrutiny.
I still wait to be ultimately convinced by the arguments on either side, but I can’t help remain uncomfortable with an admissions system that relies so heavily on predictions, rather than a genuine attempt to measure attainment and more crucially potential.