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!


Skills and Employability- Andrew Battarbee

UVAC 2014- Skills and Employability- Why this agenda is of critical importance to the HE Sector

Andrew Battarbee, Deputy Director for Skills, BIS

The speaker introduced Andrew and apparently is a nice guy, very approachable and a friend of universities.

Andrew opened the session promising us that he will cover history, philosophy, business studies, geography and futurology. Intrigued!


Andrew also referenced the OECD report and confirms that England is an outlier in sub degree and really not comparative to Germanic countries, USA, Canada and Korea. Andrew gave an analogy of the England football team i.e. lots of running around and sweating without any real bite.

The legacy of this goes back to the Victorian era and then read some minutes from parliament in 1954…..very amusing but ultimately depressing in how we view technical and vocational career paths. Andrew suggested that there are some who believe it was wrong for polytechnics to become universities, he disagrees with this view but believes the polytechnics ‘left something’ behind.

The infrastructure and systems have enabled technical and vocational education to be forgotten about.


The system need to get behind better relationships between FE and HE with employers at the core, this can be done with Higher Apprenticeships and vocational degrees. Politicians need to forget about propagating parity of esteem between academic and vocational and get on with delivering the systems to deliver on action (my interpretation of what Andrew said).

Business Studies

Andrew gave us some statistics from technical industries and highlighted the fact that there was an impending crisis in terms of industries needing people with qualifications at Level 4 and above. He rolled off a litany of industries needing hundreds and thousands of technically able people.

Andrew challenged businesses to up their game and get engaged in taking control of their workforce development. They need to work smarter to develop apprenticeships fit for them and to engage with universities on negotiating bespoke solutions.


A short introduction on geography, he mentioned a devolution deal for Manchester on skills and allowing the city region to take control of local and regional needs. He expects this to be a repeated in other sectors albeit the impact may be indirect on universities.


Universities need to be more confident in what is right and wrong with the current system and use our influence to shape policy. Andrew summarised that whilst there is nuance between parties there is broad consensus on the industrial strategy and the importance of technical and vocational skills.

I was left encouraged by this talk and sensed an impending ‘tipping point’.

As a parent of 3 young kids I will certainly be supporting my kids following an alternative path!