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Facing the Future webinar 30 August 2019: What is higher education HE for?

27 Aug 2019 | Gary Loke As part of our enhanced range of member benefits for the 2019-20 academic year, we are running a series of webinars which cover the themes of ‘Facing the Future’ and ‘Global Perspectives’, focusing on creating and sharing new knowledge as well as an opportunity to engage in discussion with colleagues from Advance HE member institutions globally.

The first webinar addresses the topic “What is higher education for?” and is hosted by Advance HE’s CEO Alison Johns, along with Ron Barnett, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at University College London Institute of Education; John Widdowson, Principal of New College Durham and Chair of the Mixed Economy Group; Ramita Tejpal, Director of Academic Quality, BPP; and Nick Petford, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Northampton.

Gary Loke, Advance HE Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery, introduces the debate with some of his observations on the role of higher education:

"Our local perceptions, histories and experiences of universities give rise to different understanding of the purpose of higher education. While the word ‘university’ comes from Latin, the concept of higher education and scholarship existed around the world in various guises. In the European context, universities have existed since the medieval period, the purpose and role of a university was never really clarified to any degree until the development of nation states and the transition between the first and second industrial revolutions. The need for both technical and bureaucratic staff across industry and growing state services created a demand for graduates. 

"At the same time, the modern university also established the link between teaching and research, creating the conditions by which research could be linked back to new innovations, products and services. In effect, universities have always been a key local institution, but the extent to which the purpose or rather, 'What is HE for' cannot be answered without reflecting on the variety of providers, pressures on and motivations in both local and global systems. 

"Many societies are experiencing emerging challenges: for example an ageing society, pervasive low levels of productivity and economic growth, as well as the pressures around climate change and food security. Although no one should expect a higher education institution to 'fix' these global issues, the varying roles which different providers can play in these and other challenges is part of determining what higher education is for today. Part of answering this question stems from the opportunities as well - with the potential impact of ‘Big Data’ and other developments which the fourth industrial revolution are likely to drive, there is a need to work out what the role of modern HE institutions as societies change. 

"The other key part is that higher education no longer simply means ”university”; students have a much greater degree of latitude and choice in how they learn at higher levels. The extent to which this tests or at least alters the traditional link between 'higher education' and a university also has implications on the balance between teaching and learning, the role of research and the role of higher education in a global, national and regional context. 

"While each nation will have its own particular context and considerations, in the UK at least, with the publication of the Industrial Strategy in 2018, in addition to the recent Augar Review in England and the predicted and unforeseen impact from Brexit, means that understanding the role of higher education is essential by including the variety and voices in the sector. Of course the UK does not exist in isolation, and the global context of higher education continues to evolve."


At Advance HE we are making our own contribution with this webinar exclusively for our members. Book your place now and join us for what promises to be a great discussion.

The webinar will be at 11.00-12.00 BST (GMT +1) on Friday 30 August 2019.


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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