UK Higher Education Update

Important issues and stories

July 28, 2015

Higher education in the United Kingdom is changing rapidly. Causing consternation for some and jubilation for others, these changes are quite fascinating. Having spent the past year listening, learning, and absorbing all things related to UK HE, here are some recent issues and stories that I've been tracking:

  • Leaving the European Union: The UK government has vowed to put forward a referendum (vote) for EU membership in 2017. The proposed "Brexit" could have drastic effects on UK HE research funding. Universities UK has launched a campaign called "Universities for Europe" to "encourage British voters to keep the country in the E.U."
  • Too Many Students in Bath: In the historic city of Bath, university students make up almost 25% of the population. A petition is calling for a cap on the number of students in Bath. It will be interesting to see how the elimination of enrollment caps within UK higher education impacts the relationships between small cities and universities.
  • First Female Black University Leader: Kudos to SOAS, University of London for doing what no other UK university has done before. Baroness Valerie Amos takes charge as the senior leader at SOAS in September.
  • Mental Health Issues on the Rise: According to a recent study, there has been a 132% increase in the number of UK students who have reported a mental health problem.
  • No More Grants: The UK has gotten rid of grants for students. At face value this sounds horrendous. However, the amount of funds that were actually available to qualified students in the form of grants was less than stellar. The disparity between grant funding awards and cost of education was a fairly wide chasm that could only be bridged by loans.
  • TEF: Get Ready for More Loans and Debt...and "Better" Teaching: The proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is being sold to the UK as a way to improve teaching at universities. In reality, the TEF is a way for UK institutions to charge higher fees to students. Not surprisingly, the Russell Group (similar to Ivy League institutions in the US) is in full support of an increase in the fees that students will have to pay. As of right now, fees are capped at £9,000 per year. With the TEF, fees would increase at a lot of institutions. UK students are looking at an HE system where they will have to carry an increasing burden of financial aid debt. Sound familiar?
  • 3 Years in the UK: As student debt increases in the UK, it's still not as dire as the situation in the US. In fact, some UK universities may offer a more affordable degree than their US counterparts. Although, it does sound like Bath is already filling up with students... I guess there's always Germany.
  • We Want You, but We Really Don't: International students are a massive source of revenue for UK institutions. However, the UK government isn't exactly making it easy...especially for non-EU students. In fact, the UK home secretary has said that "universities should develop sustainable funding models that are not so dependent on international students." Ouch.
  • Students as Consumers: In the UK, consumer law applies to the relationship between universities and undergraduate students.
  • Who Can Afford Part-Time?: The Vice-Chancellor of The Open University shared a disturbing update on the state of part-time students in the UK. As fees increase, the number of part-time students decreases. And, unsuprisingly (and unfortunately) the decrease in part-time students represents a large number of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. What is happening to HE in the UK?
  • Students are Taking Umbrage: A group of students at University College London (UCL) are upset with the student experience that was sold to them compared to their actual experience as students. Time for an enhanced focus on student affairs in the UK?
  • Basic Skills, Digital Literacy, and Employability: If there's one thing that this recent survey indicates, it's that businesses wish that universities were doing a better job of preparing students for future employment. As UK higher education gets more competitive, the institutions that deliver greater connectivity between courses and careers will have a tremendous appeal.

I realize that some of the stories that I've shared paint a rather grim picture of UK higher education. In spite of all of the negatives, there are always positive stories to share and people who are doing amazing things.

This tweet from The Open University shares the story of one of their incredible students:


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