Higher education policy is complex and ever changing. This is never more so than now, as we try to understand what the future of higher education will look like through and after the pandemic. Here, I set out three key lessons for new governors to help navigate the policy environment we find ourselves in.
Don’t let the short term distract from the bigger picture
A need to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and the A levels fiasco of this summer focused all our attention on policy in not just the short-term, but the immediate term. This is understandable and entirely necessary in these circumstances. However, it is important that in responding to policy challenges we don’t get lose sight of the longer-term picture of what higher education will look like. In ten year’s time, a combination of changing demographics and increasing levels of participation mean we will need another 300,000 places in higher education. If we do not remain aware of and prepare for these changes now, we may struggle accommodate them in the future.
Students are often more rational than given credit for
Stories in the media about students often give the impression they are less rational than is shown by the evidence. The HEPI / Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey has been capturing information on students’ views of higher education for thirteen years on wide range of areas, including some of the best information on value for money, students’ workload and wellbeing. The results show a picture of a student body who are largely hard-working, with realistic expectations of their university and maximising the opportunities brought about by their student experience. Utilising evidence such as this can avoid falling into tropes of what students’ think and care about.
Policy issues rarely resolve in the timeframes expected
Tackling issues outside of a university’s immediate control is complex, but it is often tempting to assume there is a limited timeframe in which they will be solved. However, these timeframes are often stretched, leaving universities in limbo. For example, the EU referendum was held back in 2016 and we officially left the European Union at the start of this year, but we are still unsure of how Brexit will impact future student demand. The Government begun a review of higher education funding back in February 2018, under Theresa May’s leadership. However, we are still yet to see what the Government response will be to the independent panel’s report, and we may be waiting until the spending review of 2021 to find out. The temptation to wait for an external policy issue to be resolved before pressing on with changes is understandable, but it is worth remembering these issues often live on much longer than our first expectations.
Rachel Hewitt will lead the session on the ‘Policy landscape’ at our Induction to Higher Education Governance for new Governors, 15 October 2020, part of our Governor Development Programme, designed to support governors, board members and professionals from all HE providers across the UK.