Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Four Ss

Opening session at the CISG conference in Brighton, and we're here for the four Ss apparently:
Sun, sand, sea and stimulating conversation.

The opening keynote was delivered by the VC of the University of Sussex and was entitled, Higher Education: Finding the future.
It was an excellent summary of the issues we are facing at the moment, so here are some of the key points.

Difficult times for all sectors in many countries of the world.
It is possible to grow through difficult economic times to your benefit by taking out cost, becoming more efficient, investing in growth, prioritising and planning.

Higher education is part of the solution, not the problem in the current difficult economic situation.

There have been major changes in HE in the last 50 yrs:
  • Expansion: participation has gone up from 5% to 45%. Should we be moving to system like Europe where anyone who is qualified and wants university education should be able to get it? Not everyone will want it, and we have to workout how to fund it. We are a knowledge based economy.
  • Wider participation, fairer access. Must keep this. Some recent changes such as the ability to deliver higher fees will limit our ability to deliver wider access.
  • Loss of binary divide but there's still diversity in the sector.
  • Fragile funding. Have been other funding crises in the past, in the early 80s and under Thatcher. What is certain is that the proportion of public funding will fall. At Sussex 40% of thie funding is from the public purse. Aim to reduce to 30%. LSE is already at 15%. Some post 1992 HEIs at 60%.
  • Growth in international students.
  • More competition. Will increase with proposed new funding approach. Real challenges for sector with increased polarity caused by students choosing where they can afford. There will be turbulence in system and an influence on student recruitment and therefore the size and shape of institutions
There has to be a recognition that HE contributes to the local, regional and national economy. Recent calculations show the Universities of Sussex and Brighton contribute £1bn per annum to local economy. We are contributors to enterprise and innovation and a feeder of the knowledge based economy.

Some challenges for HE:
  • What is the university of the future? What is it going to look like? We will have to be more flexible. More part students, and students whom want to continue at work whilst studying. Currently we are too rigid.
  • How will we adapt to new funding models including marketisation and privatisation. Will a private sector emerge? Globalization will continue and students will look at quality. Rankings are becoming increasingly important with decisions made on the basis of them.
  • There will be changes in student demand. We will need to teach what students want to learn, not what our lecturers want to teach. We will have to continue to improve the student experience and improve our students employability.
  • Producing high impact international competitive research will be a challenge. Funding is set to become more concentrated.
  • How will we maintain and where appropriate grow our estate when BIS has just had a massive cut in capital? HEIs will still have aspirations to grow.
  • Reducing energy consumption and hitting our carbon targets is expensive to achieve, even more so when there's no capital support to do it.
  • We will have to find efficiency gains. Do what we're doing now on less.

Student concerns are important - without them there is no University. They should be at the centre of everything we do.
They hate most of what is going on at the moment. They dislike the market, the removal of the fees cap, and what they see as waste and inefficiencies in the system.

An NUS study on student perceptions of eLearning has recently been reported to HEFCE. They support choice, with a mixture of eLearning and face to face, multi modal, blended learning.
The competence of academic staff in using ICT was questioned commented on and reported as generally not good enough.
42.9% of students wanted their lecturers to use more ICT
Interestingly one of the recommendations was that institutions should review use and need for a VLE.

Universities are going to have to change, and change can be tough, but it can be also be exciting.

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