Priorities and Policies for HE- Andy Westwood

UVAC 2014

Andy Westwood- Guild HE

Andy opened the session with a question “What might happen in 2015”? I was disappointed that he wasn’t predicting an upturn in fortune for my beloved Liverpool FC. Instead he highlighted six challenges for HE institutions from 2015-2020.

1. Political decisions about UG fees and student numbers
2. Immigration and student visas (there is no escaping the debate)
3. Research funding and the REF results
4. Capital funding
5. Specialist ‘high cost’ and workplace funds
6. Increasing competition (and demographic squeeze)

55% of the working population (approx. £20m) have a level 3 qualification, this is a huge population to progress to university. We should keep that in mind when looking at the demographic shift.

Andy guessed that by the end of the next parliament higher education in Scotland, Wales, N.Ireland and England will look considerably different.

Skills and human capital are the best bet to increase economic productivity and growth for the UK to survive in the ‘global race’.

What’s the big problem?

Andy highlighted that universities are doing ok so where is the mismatch between economic performance and productivity.

Mid-level jobs globally have been declining over that last 2 decades, therefore if your degree doesn’t get you into the high level job then you’ll fall into low skilled jobs. Andy introduced the term ‘Gringo’ which stands for graduates in non-graduate occupations.

The number of people studying HE level quals overall is dropping, albeit increasing in FT numbers. This is a worrying trend, it means more young people are going to University, in itself not a bad thing, however it is probably related to riding out the economic storm. Additionally, there will continue to be a declining number of young people (18-20) in the UK until 2021.

Andy walked us through some frightening stats about the sheer drop in ‘other HE’ provision. I alluded to this in my Blog earlier but to see the decline since 2010 in numbers is frightening.

The stats are as follows:

-28% fall in PG study
-50% fall in part-time study
-big falls in non honours degree provision (small awards, CPD etc)
-big falls in employer (public and private) funded provision

The ‘one-size fits all’ has become common place and isn’t helping the UK in the ‘global race’. Andy asked if we are in a higher education bubble and mentioned that the need for change is coming or is already here.

There was a clear message from Andy that no matter which party gets in there isn’t going to be much money to radically change the system. Perhaps this will be the tipping point I alluded to earlier?

HE Funds

An interesting statistic- 60% of students may never fully pay back their loans! YouGov found that 60% of parents are dissatisfied with fee levels….I’m surprised it is so low.

Political Parties

Andy gave a brief overview on each party and their respective views on HE, whilst there were differences in fee structures (Labour advocating £6k) and defining the best route for young people and employees to get qualified the overall structure of FE and HE would remain the same. There does seem to be consensus from all sides on improving apprenticeships, developing national colleges for FE/HE (Vince Cable’s baby) and giving Higher Apprenticeships and/or technical degrees more priority and status. There is much less agreement on UG fees and funding.

A similar message to that given by Andrew Battarbee and particularly interesting should we have another coalition government.

Reimagining HE

Andy challenged the status quo and suggested the time was now ‘reimagine HE’ offering up suggestions such as the end of ‘one size fits all’, the return of the polytechnic, more locally/regionally devolved system and clear links with industrial strategy.

He suggested that university strategies were ‘identikit’ and lack innovation and encouraged HE leaders to be more risk taking, better linked to employers and be ok with being different!


There is a need to diversify the system and link education with the industrial strategy where provision is co-created with employers and in line with the city region agenda so that skills developed are utilised and high value jobs are created.

An excellent session detailing some scary stats for universities. The need for change is NOW!