This first follow-up post focuses on the presentation given by Professor James Wisdom on the topic of The context of UK Higher Education 2021 as it was, no pun intended, full of the aforementioned “wisdom”.
His first insight about visual feedback based on students’ foreheads was amusing and insightful.
The second point about the amount of material shared with students in order to balance both breadth and depth also resonated closely with some of the choices I make in my own teaching and considerations about suitable amounts of preparatory and follow-up material to share, and what format they should take.
The broader overview provided based upon the OECD’s annual publication Education at a Glance was tremendously helpful in contextualising the current moment. The central concerns facing higher education at this moment at this historical moment were reported to include the following:
- The depth and longevity of recession caused by the pandemic
- Likely substantial growth in unemployment a subsequent and a lagged reduction in state spending upon education
- A possible impact upon international students
- Likely widening divisions in society between the educated and less well educated
- The relationship between degree level study and vocational awards
- A concern for the permeability of qualification routes
- A question around the role of employees in the expected recession
Given these sobering constraints Prof. Wisdom suggested that the demand for higher education is likely to grow , this conclusion in turn, based upon a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute The Demand for Higher Education to 2035 authored by Rachel Hewitt. A few points to mention:
- 2021-2030 the number of 18-year-olds will be growing and participation rate in higher education is also growing
- The pressure to expand upon HEI’s will occur across the UK but greatest in London and the South-East
- Consequent fiscal pressure on the Treasury will grow as 60% of costs not be covered by repaid loans
- The consequence of this is that the government cannot let universities fail
The presentation then usefully narrowed somewhat and reflected upon student surveys in regard to value the following graph is illustrative perhaps have some of the orientations that as a course leader I might consider when empathising with the perspective of the student body.
One of the most notable areas where poor value is perceived by students is pretty clearly around fees. Dr Wisdom had an interesting comment to make on this point inasmuch is the greatest cost born by students in higher education is not actually listed on the diagram above but is in fact the opportunity cost in earnings that would otherwise be gained over the three years of study.
With the two above diagrams providing a little more context of the content of the presentation, I would now like quote a number of current questions raised by Dr Wisdom that are likely to shape how higher education will develop for the next generation:
- To concentrate resources on the best and brightest?
- To support a meritocracy – opportunities for all taken by some?
- To generate national wealth in a competitive world?
- To preserve the best of the past and a hand on the flame of learning?
- To have the highest standards – in the world?
- To challenge all assumptions and the status quo?
- To educate everyone to the highest possible level?
- Higher education for all our citizens, at all stages of their lives?
To conclude the short post, I would again like to directly quote from Dr wisdom with a few last points that were shared with the group
- Continuing demand for the expansion of higher education tertiary education is a reality in all OECD countries
- Continuing demand for tertiary education as personal or family investment
- The UK fee paying model has protected the expansion of HE with a consequence of transferring a huge burden into future public expenditure
- Through the selection process HE transfers a massive financial benefit from all taxpayers to graduates
- The maintenance of traditional models of HE is denying access to many people who otherwise could engage – issues here around strategies of widening participation decolonisation
The final point, real food for thought is that HE and FE are being set up to compete for scarce resources (with possible enhanced FE provision occurring in regional centres rather than large urban centres – this catering for Conservative / Brexit catchments). HE / FE competition is not new – “what would be new is if HE won the competition”, and this seemed to be the implication provided in conclusion of Prof Wisdom’s presentation.