TIGA publishes Parliamentary activity update for the higher education sector

By September 11, 2020 Press Releases

On 11 September 2020, TIGA, the trade association representing the video games industry, published an update on Parliamentary activity for the higher education sector.


Updated guidance for universities ahead of reopening
Department for Education
10 September 2020

The Government has updated guidance to help universities reopen buildings and campuses this September while keeping students and staff safe.

Government guidance to help universities make campuses as safe as possible has been updated ahead of students starting the new term.

The Department for Education has updated its guidance in line with the latest public health advice from SAGE, which was clear that there is no scientific basis that face-to-face teaching is unsafe as long as COVID-secure plans are in place.

Universities have been working hard to make campuses as safe as possible, including through enhanced cleaning measures, good ventilation, social distancing on campus and changes to timetables to stagger or reduce attendance on site.

The Government already recommends face coverings are worn in all communal and enclosed spaces. Universities can choose to adopt the use of face coverings as part of their wider COVID-secure measures, particularly where social distancing cannot be maintained or it is difficult to provide good ventilation.

The updated guidance includes advice on what a provider should do in the event of a local lockdown, track and trace procedures, the creation of new households in student accommodation and reflects the latest social gathering restrictions coming into force on Monday.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

“The safety and wellbeing of university staff and students is our priority.

“Universities have been making a mammoth effort to safely open campuses and buildings to students this autumn, and the Government has worked closely with them to ensure they are well prepared for the return of students.

“The updated guidance includes the recent SAGE advice and will help university leaders access the information they need, and assist their existing plans to keep students and staff as safe as possible.”

The SAGE group has made clear that teaching in person is important and fully online provision would have an impact on students’ mental health. Where practical work occurs in close contact like medicine, dentistry and performing arts, universities should follow advice for the relevant professional environment.

In areas subject to local lockdown, four tiers of restrictions have been set out for education settings:

  • Tier 1: HE providers are expected to provide blended learning, with face-to-face tuition, following the provisions of this guidance, and public health guidance, including, for example, the appropriate use of face coverings.
  • Tier 2: HE providers should move to an increased level of online learning where possible. Providers should prioritise the continuation of face-to-face provision based on their own risk assessment. We expect that, in the majority of cases, this will be for those courses where it is most beneficial (for example clinical or practical learning and research).
  • Tier 3: HE providers should increase the level of online learning to retain face to face provision for priority courses (e.g. clinical and medical courses), and in as limited number of situations as possible. Students should follow government advice to remain in their current accommodation to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus through travel, and providers should support this by keeping services like university libraries and catering open.
  • Tier 4: We expect the majority of provision to be online, with buildings open for essential workers only. This should include the continuation of essential research.

In student accommodation, universities are expected to identify ‘households’ to manage routine contact as safely as possible. These households in halls of residence would be students living in the same flat or on the same floor who share a kitchen or bathroom.

The guidance also sets out that universities should have strong test and trace measures in place and plans for local outbreaks, whether in student accommodation or in certain academic departments, so that action can be taken quickly. Public Health

England may recommend additional measures in the event of a local outbreak and across all sectors.

The guidance forms one part of the wider Government advice relevant to higher education, and is complemented by guidance on track and trace and for landlords on renting and coronavirus.

The Universities Minister has also urged students, along with the wider public, to act responsibly as they return to campus. It follows warnings – most recently raised by the Prime Minister – for young people to follow social distancing rules, and reports that some companies have been advertising mass social Fresher’s events.

New restrictions coming into force on Monday mean social gatherings of more than six people will be against the law both indoors and outdoors, including at places like pubs and restaurants.

Universities can still welcome students back later this month and plans for teaching will not be impacted. All social activities will need to comply with the latest measures, though students will still be able to socialise with the same ‘household’ they form in their student accommodation.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

“Health advice only works if we all follow it. I urge students, just like the wider public, to do their bit and act responsibly to ensure campuses can remain open for them to use and enjoy.

“As a Government, we have clearly set out the consequences for anyone who risks spreading the virus, whether that’s through illicit social gatherings or organising large events. The police and local authorities will take serious action where it is necessary.

The Government has launched a campaign to help students understand the latest advice and guidance to keep them as safe as possible. Activity includes local advertisements, partnerships with social media platforms popular with students, working with universities and providing a toolkit to support universities to deliver messaging as part of their own communications directly to their students.



Vocational and technical qualification assessments in 2021
7 September 2020

Ofqual confirms decisions following consultation on arrangements for vocational and technical qualification assessments in 2021.

We recognise that some learners taking vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) have experienced lost teaching and training time as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and that appropriate arrangements need to be put in place to mitigate the impact of this disruption and respond to any ongoing or future public health measures.

We consulted on proposals to permit awarding organisations to make adjustments to their qualifications and assessments, which took account of the different ways in which the qualifications are used – ranging from those taken alongside, or instead of general qualifications, to those used to signal occupational competency.

Responses to the consultation have been carefully considered and given the high level of agreement to the proposals, we have today, 7 September, confirmed our decisions and that the proposed arrangements are being implemented in full.

Dame Glenys Stacey, Acting Chief Regulator, Ofqual, said:

“In many cases, awarding organisations will be able to deliver VTQs as normal, but where this is not possible it is important that any changes continue to deliver qualifications that are a valid and reliable indication of knowledge, understanding, skills or practical competence.

“We will continue to work with awarding organisations to support their decision-making on when adaptations are necessary and what adaptations are appropriate for different qualifications. The work we are already doing to facilitate the development of common approaches across similar sectors and types of qualifications will also continue.”

As government’s expectation is that assessments will take place during 2020/21, awarding organisations are being allowed to adapt assessments to enable them to better cater for any future disruptions. We will monitor plans they are putting in place, ensuring that, as far as possible, arrangements are in place to cope with different potential scenarios depending on the progression of the pandemic. It is therefore not necessary to permit awarding organisations to offer calculated results for assessments taken in 2020/21.

Our second draft extended extraordinary regulatory framework, on which we have launched a consultation today, sets out the regulatory arrangements and guidance with which awarding organisations must comply when adapting their qualifications.

Awarding organisations must consider whether their assessments and qualifications can progress as they normally would, or if there is need to adapt assessments and qualifications. This could include widening assessment windows to provide greater flexibility, streamlining assessments to free up time for teaching and learning, or changing some assessment requirements to deal with the impact of any ongoing social distancing measures, such as group performances. However, if they can progress as normal, qualifications and assessments will not be adapted.

It is important that centres receive information about adaptations in a timely and consistent way and we are working with stakeholders to agree deadlines by when awarding organisations will provide qualification specific information to their centres.

Our approach seeks to ensure that, as far as possible, learners taking VTQs and other general qualifications, have the opportunity to receive a fair result and are not disadvantaged by the longer term impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


New international student immigration routes open early
Home Office
10 September 2020

The Student route and Child Student route will open on 5 October 2020 to the best and brightest international students from across the globe.

New routes for international students to apply for visas will open early delivering on the government’s commitment to introduce a new points-based immigration system.

As detailed in the immigration rules laid in Parliament today (10 September 2020), the Student route and Child Student route will both open on 5 October 2020 to the best and brightest international students from across the globe.

International students play a key part in the government’s agenda to unleash the UK’s potential now that we have left the EU. They make important contributions economically, academically, and financially. We recognise that as a result of coronavirus, some overseas students are choosing to defer their entry onto courses in the UK until the spring semester of 2021. Introducing these new routes now means that students will be able to benefit from the new streamlined process whilst still giving sponsors time to adapt after their autumn intake.

The routes treat all students equally, with international students, including those from Europe coming to study after the transition period ends, using the same, simplified route when it opens for applications.

It will ensure our world-leading education sector can continue to welcome talented and high potential students to our globally renowned universities, further education and English language colleges, and independent schools.

Minister for Future Borders and Immigration Kevin Foster said:

“Now we have left the EU, we are free to unleash this country’s full potential and implement the changes we need to restore trust in the immigration system and attract talent to drive our economy forward.

Launching the Student route early sends a clear message to the world we want the best and brightest to come to the UK to study at our globally renowned education institutions.”

There will be no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK. This will help to increase the total number of international students choosing to study in the UK higher education system each year to 600,000 by 2030, as set out in the International Education Strategy published in March 2019.

Chief Executive of the Russell Group Dr Tim Bradshaw said:

“The UK is a global leader in higher education, research and innovation. As we look to the UK’s future place in the world, we want to protect our hard-won status and the opportunities it provides to help with the economic recovery of towns and cities across Britain – as well as finding solutions to the wider challenges that face our society.

We welcome these changes to the immigration rules, which will help to ensure the UK remains an internationally attractive place for the best and brightest students to study. We will continue to work with the government to ensure our visa system remains flexible and responsive to developing issues, such as those emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.”

Cardiff University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan said:

“Given the continuing uncertainties arising from the global pandemic, it’s even more important that the UK is seen as open and welcoming so we can retain our hard-won status as a global leader in higher education, research and innovation.

That’s why these changes are welcome. The new arrangements will send a clear message that we have the support of our government to welcome talented students from across the world to come and study with us.”

The new Student route improves on the previous Tier 4 route by making it more streamlined for sponsoring institutions and their students, creating clearer pathways for students, and ensuring the UK remains competitive in a changing global education market.

Students will require a total of 70 points to be granted leave. They will achieve the required points if they can demonstrate that they have an offer from an approved educational institution, speak English and are able to support themselves during their studies in the UK.

We also want to ensure we retain the brightest and the best students to continue to contribute to the UK post-study, which is why we are launching the Graduate route in the summer of 2021. This additional new route will allow those who have completed a degree at a UK Higher Education provider with a track record of compliance to stay in the UK for two years (three years for PhD graduates) and work at any skill level, and to switch into work routes if they find a suitable job.

The government is on track to deliver its new points-based immigration which will attract talent and take back control by treating people from every part of the world equally and giving us control of our borders.


Education Secretary sets out aims for higher education
Department for Education
10 September 2020

Speaking to Universities UK members Gavin Williamson told vice-chancellors about his aims for achieving excellence in higher education.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today at the UUK conference.

I want to start by giving my sincere thanks and praise to the Higher Education sector for the way in which it has responded to the challenges of the past few months. I will then go on to talk about the role of the sector in supporting economic growth, nationally but also regionally.

We are grappling with unprecedented economic challenges and Higher education has a key role to play in helping us overcome these.

I know that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on students, universities and other higher education providers.

But the resilience, innovation and dedication from staff and students over the last few months in dealing with the issues the pandemic has created have been truly remarkable.

For example, it was wonderful to hear that despite the national lockdown, Natural Science students at Bangor University still managed to go on a virtual fieldtrip around Anglesey, using social media platforms to follow an actual tour undertaken by a senior lecturer prior to the lockdown.

And students at Warwick University, like many across the country, have been writing blogs to provide tips and support on subjects such as mental health during the COVID outbreak. Students have also been instrumental for many universities in helping and co-producing re-opening plans and communications.

And let’s not forget scientists, researchers and technicians in universities across the UK who are supporting our Vaccines Taskforce by working tirelessly to research a vaccine for coronavirus. It is thanks to their valuable medical and research expertise that vaccine candidate clinical trials are now taking place at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London.

Universities have also offered vital services such as lab space and accommodation, applying research expertise to develop medicine and equipment needed to combat the virus.

Many have also repurposed their facilities to carry out testing on those with coronavirus symptoms and have collaborated with industry partners on producing ventilators, PPE and testing equipment.

This is truly remarkable, and what makes our university sector truly world class.

With 4 higher education providers in the world’s top 10 and 18 in the top 100, I am so proud that the UK’s higher education sector has such a well-established reputation for high quality and world class research and innovation.

Just as importantly, UK universities are renowned for choice and flexibility and I am delighted that thousands of international students choose to study here each year, contributing to the UK both culturally, socially and economically.

Working closely with Universities UK, the British Council and others, Minister Donelan has been spearheading communications, reassuring current and prospective international students that the UK higher education is ‘open for business’, remains world-class and is a safe, welcoming and tolerant place to study.

As part of this, Government has also committed to an additional £1m in marketing spend delivered through Study UK.


Universities Minister addresses sector ahead of academic year
Department for Education
10 September 2020

Michelle Donelan spoke to Universities UK members to thank them for their innovation and looked ahead to the upcoming academic year.

Good morning,

I am delighted to be speaking to you today.

It is a shame that I cannot address you in person but it is a sign of the times that we are now completely used to talking to one another by screens. Yet only six months ago this would have seemed quite strange.

Let’s face it – there have not been many upsides to the pandemic. But the resilience and innovation that you have shown has not only been impressive, but has also led to changes in the delivery and accessibility of Higher Education forever.

So, I would like to begin by thanking you and congratulating you for the leadership that you have brought to bear in this global crisis.

Let’s be honest, these months have been incredibly difficult, for everyone involved.

And I have recognised the speed and agility shown by universities, how you have moved provision online, in some cases in just 24 hours, to make sure all your students were able to continue their studies.

We know that universities have a reputation for innovation, after all, it is what you do, but to see it transforming the learning experience for thousands of young people, that has been a revelation.

Take St George’s University of London, where they have created virtual ward rounds with virtual patients, to mimic clinical decision making for their medical students.

While Master’s students at Imperial College went on a virtual trip to the Pyrenees, conducting field work from hi-res photographs, Google Earth, and drone-scanned models of geological formations.

And Performing Arts students at Northampton University continued rehearsals of Shakespeare plays on video conferencing apps and completed two 90-minute films for their final production.

And now – now you are accepting a record percentage of 18-year-olds into university this year and a record level of disadvantaged students this year.

So it is thanks to you, that so many young people will still be able to fulfil their dream of studying at university. It is thanks to you, that our country still punches above its weight in the global higher education rankings.

But I do not for a minute think this has been easy – you have navigated through lockdown and we have worked together to admit as many students as possible this year.

On that note I want to say a special thank you. Thank you for bending over backwards to unlock the dreams and opportunities of this year’s cohort.

I know we have supported you with this, but you are the ones that have delivered on our agreed pledge to take all students this year and only offer deferred places as a last resort.

This pledge was agreed at the Higher Education Taskforce that I set up last month bringing representatives together from across the sector, including UUK, UCAS and the Office for Students.

My number one priority was to ensure that we support you to increase capacity, so that as many students as possible can study at their preferred university which their grades unlock.

This is exactly why we announced the removal of student number controls; why we announced the removal of student number caps for medical, dentistry and veterinary medical places.

It is why I established a sub working group on placements and have also worked with the Health Secretary to ensure we could add more placements for students in areas such as medicine and nursing.

That’s why we announced a £10milion capital fund, so providers will be able to buy equipment, and undertake and accelerate capital projects to enable them to take on additional students. And that’s why we announced additional T Grant funding for high costs subjects.

But now we face new challenges and more than ever I want us to put students first in this post-COVID age.

The next few months will be very different for you and I want to thank you for all the hard work that you have done to ensure that social distancing measures are introduced, plus blended learning and Covid-secure measures.

We agree with you – it is absolutely imperative that both students and staff are kept safe. Which is why we have updated guidance based on the most recent SAGE advice for higher education.

The Prime Minister announced a cautious road map to unlocking our society and economy and Universities are a vital part in this.

In fact, the latest Higher Education guidance from SAGE points to ramifications of not opening on student health – stating: “There is evidence of physical and mental health impacts from missing or limited access to education.”

However, all the rules and processes in the world will make no impact unless they are followed and together we need to reinforce this message to all students and staff.

We as government will lead from the front, building on our guidance with a communications plan. But we are also strongly looking to you to continue to uphold your duty of care and responsibility to student and staff health and wellbeing, by following our guidance, reinforcing the importance of it and also enforcing it – both for students and staff.


Because the reality is that campuses can only stay open if the guidance is followed.

We must be clear that the position is one of – use the measures & follow the guidance or lose access to an open campus. Because, safety is paramount for both universities and the communities they are embedded in.

Now I want to acknowledge that I realise in the midst of all this, the last thing any of you need at this time is a load of red tape to wade through.

Responding to a pandemic, making decisions swiftly – all this demands an agile and immediate reaction and a clear sense of purpose.

So for this reason, having worked closely with the science minister, Amanda Solloway and the minister for innovation, Lord Bethell, today I am announcing a range of measures to reduce the bureaucratic burden across higher education and to free up your time to prioritise frontline teaching and research.

I want to help you focus your time and efforts on putting students first, not endless data.

And I am pleased to tell you, that we have worked with the OfS, UKRI and the Department of Health and Social Care to identify a number of sources of unnecessary bureaucracy that will be removed immediately, and we are going to look to cut this further with a system-wide review over the coming months.

I want you to have the time to focus on delivering high quality education – not on filling out forms.

So the measures outlined in today’s policy document include: reductions in the data universities and other HE providers will need to supply; reductions in monitoring measures, and reviews of data collections, including a wholescale review of the National Student Survey.

In addition, UKRI is implementing a set of major changes to how it works with applicants for funding, aimed at reducing the burden placed on researchers and innovators applying to UKRI whilst ensuring investment continues in the best ideas and people.

This builds on reforms that regulators, funding bodies and institutions are already making. This must be a continuing, collective effort in which you and all providers have a part to play.

In essence, my message here is clear – I do not want you weighed down with paperwork. Because you are in the business of educating, researching, as well as transforming and catapulting lives.

With this in mind, I also want to help you to maximise your role by enabling you to be more flexible and accessible.

Now I know universities are certainly no strangers to flexible learning from accelerated two-year degrees, degree apprenticeships, support for part-time learners, Institutes of Technology and other work to develop high quality higher technical education.

And we have exempted STEM subjects from restrictions on loan funding and introduced conversion courses in a wider range of subjects, including Artificial Intelligence for example.

Because in a rapidly changing technological environment it is vital that people have more opportunities to change career.

The Institute of Coding for example has developed bite-sized, short online courses in digital skills which launched in December 2019 and already has nearly 500,000 students.

But, we must build on this momentum.

You will know that I have spoken before about how our rigid Higher Education system needs to be opened up and I fully understand that we need to give you the tools and support to do this.

Our system incentivises and promotes the traditional three-year course. It does not enable readily accessible bitesized learning for people looking to upskill and reskill.

Yet the labour market today is made up of people who do multiple careers in one lifetime. So, I want to enable you to feed this need and also foster a culture of lifelong learning.

You will remember that the Augar review looked in detail at flexible learning and argued for widespread changes to the organisation and funding of higher education to enable that flexibility. And we will respond in parallel with the Spending Review. Rest assured, the global pandemic has not and will not throw us off course.

Because I am determined to ensure we support you to drive up the quality in Higher Education, increase the flexibility and accessibility plus continue to put students at the heart of all our decision making.

This brings me onto my final point today, something that worries me deeply. The mental health pressures that the past few months have placed on students – exacerbating and creating mental problems.

The mental health and wellbeing of students is one of my top priorities and let’s face it – a critical part of each university’s offer to students is increasingly their wellbeing and mental health support.

Supporting young people as they make the step up from school or college is absolutely vital in helping them to get the most out of their experience at university.

But now – now they have experienced something so very different with months out of formal education.

Research shows the majority of young people arrive at university unprepared for what it is like to live independently. So, imagine how this year’s cohort will feel?

I have worked with the Office for Students to help identify that providers can draw upon Student Premium funding worth around £256 million for the academic year 2020/21 towards student hardship funds, including paying for mental health support.

And when the pandemic struck, I wrote to all Universities and HE providers asking them to make sure that they continue to support students, including by bolstering welfare services.

And I want to thank you, and congratulate you, for your response. Welfare teams were quick off the mark in transforming mental health and wellbeing services and I have seen so many examples of good practice.

Such as, the University of Roehampton’s proactive student support which saw over 5,000 students receive a phone call from their academic guidance tutor within the first three weeks of remote delivery. This was followed up by further calls and guidance to support them in getting access to the learning and university support services they needed.

Whereas the University of Northampton also moved their counselling services to over the phone, and provided video support and instant chat messaging. The team set up a service that mirrored the normal daily drop-in service, enabling students to book a drop-in slot by ordering a free ticket via Eventbrite.

And Just last month I announced some important additional support to students during this time.

The Student Space platform which has been funded by £3million from the Office for Students and is led by mental health charity Student Minds. It is designed to bridge the gaps in support for students arising from this unprecedented situation generated by the pandemic and works alongside existing services.

Students can access this support directly by phone or text and there are a range of resources available on the website. It also gives details of the support available at each university, and their tools to help students.

Mental health is an area I intend to keep shinning a light on – to support our students with the challenges that they may face, arguably – more important now than ever.

So, in conclusion I want to reiterate my thanks. From entirely online Freshers’ fairs at Coventry University, to the ‘Survive and Thrive’ seminars at Buckinghamshire New University.

I am confident that you are all going the extra mile to put students during this pandemic, so thank you.

I want to say again here today that for those seeking an excellent education and an unforgettable UK student experience, we are ensuring existing rules and processes are as flexible as possible and better than ever.

Not only have we confirmed that distance learning will be permitted for the 2020/21 academic year to respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in with COVID.

But, in addition, this time last year I spoke to you about the new 2 year post study offer in the form of the Graduate Route, and since then we have improved it further through announcing to offer 3 years for those on PhDs.

I hope you agree that we now have a world-class student visa offer befitting our world-class higher education sector – this will only improve once the Student route is launched later this year, and student visa processes are further streamlined.

In June I was happy to appoint one of your own, Sir Steve Smith, as the UK’s new International Education Champion, who has already begun assisting with opening up export growth opportunities for the whole UK education sector.

And we intend to publish review of the International Education Strategy this Autumn in order to ensure we retain laser-like focus on increasing the number of international students we host to 600k by 2030.

For those planning to study in the UK from the Autumn, I know that our higher education providers are consistently doing their utmost to ensure international students are supported and feel welcome on university campuses.

For all this good work and world class prestige, I do acknowledge that the pressures providers are facing as a result of COVID-19 are substantial and some may face serious financial difficulties as a result.

That is why my department is working closely with the sector, the Office for Students and across Government to monitor and fully understand the financial risks that providers are facing and help them access support where necessary, and have established a restructuring regime to support universities as a last resort, if it proves necessary.

I fully recognise that the decision on exam results a few weeks ago has not only impacted students and their families, but also universities and the admissions system. As I said at the time, we took this decision in the best interest of the students.

I have been incredibly impressed with the sector’s response and I know that it is striving to be to be fair and flexible in its approach to admissions.

Despite the uncertainty over what the coming year will look like on the ground, demand for higher education places has been great this year and universities have taken fantastic steps to reassure incoming students.

Government have removed the caps on medicine and dentistry courses this year and we are providing additional Teaching Grant and capital funding to support increased capacity.

Beyond this, the sector has excelled in adapting to take on as many students as possible, whilst of course taking responsibility and ensuring COVID-19 measures and precautions are adhered to.

I want to take this opportunity to land three key messages with you. The first is to keep going.

I’ve acknowledged some of the great work already done by the sector – but this will need to continue as we work through this uncertain period of time together.

To support with and solidify this progress already made, we have recently published new guidance for Higher Education providers on reopening campuses and buildings in a COVID-secure way.

We have used the evidence and recommendations set out in the HE SAGE report, as the corner stone of this guidance, in addition to input and advice from the sector. We expect this guidance to feed in directly to the plans HE providers are putting in place to reopen their doors safely, and I look forward to working with all stakeholders as the situation evolves across the autumn term.

And this brings me on to the second key message which I want to convey, the importance of collaboration. Specifically, providers working with their local authorities to develop plans for local outbreaks.

My department has worked with the Joint Biosecurity Centre, other government departments and local communities to establish best practice for providers to implement an integrated approach for tightening measures in areas subject to local restrictions.

I encourage universities to refer to this guidance on engaging with their local authority.

And finally, the key message of the government to the public is clear – we all must stay alert in order to control the virus and save lives and as part of this, students need to act responsibly on and off campus.

This is why working with the sector to develop a communications campaign and strategies has been pivotal to ensuring students have the information they need to make responsible choices, to keep themselves and those around them safe and their environments COVID-secure. We are asking you to also deliver clear messages to students about the measures you have in place, and how important it is that they follow them – to protect their own health, and the wider community.

We know that students travel from across the country and indeed across the world to attend our world-class universities. So we are also asking you to support and encourage students to stay at university if restrictions are imposed locally which limit their ability to enjoy face to face teaching – as you did when restrictions were first in place in March – to help manage the risk of students transmitting the virus back home.

This pandemic has resulted in a myriad of unprecedented challenges for the Higher Education sector to contend with.

However, knowing that the sector can rise to these and with such creativity, gives me faith and conviction that our institutions will continue to hold their place and represent the UK on the world stage.

It is this innovation, strength and adaptability which will ensure the sector can play a central role in economic growth.

Universities and other higher education providers play a key role in the national economy as well as in regional and local economies, not only by providing students with the skills they need to go into graduate jobs, but also by being at the forefront of applied industrial research and by working closely with hundreds of businesses.

They are a crucial part of the post-16 education landscape, that includes further education and apprenticeships, all of which give young people a real opportunity to enhance their career pathways and options after they leave school.

So today, I want to talk about the role all higher education providers play in delivering this essential mission.

Too often, there can be an implicit narrative that every university needs to measure itself against Oxbridge. That if a university isn’t winning Nobel prizes and taking in triple A students it is somehow second rate.

In reality, it is the diversity of our sector which will drive the levelling up agenda that is central to everything this Government does.

Take my own university, Bradford, which can trace its foundation back to the town’s Mechanics Institute in 1832. Or the University of Birmingham, founded by Joseph Chamberlain to underpin the growing industrial and economic strength of Britain’s second city.

These regional missions are as important today as they were then – and will only increase in importance as the nation recovers from the impact of COVID-19. Jobs, industry and regional growth must be at the heart of our education strategy – and universities must be a key part of that.

And there have been some fantastic examples to date. I was speaking to a businessman in my constituency recently, a locksmith who spoke glowingly of the support he had received from the University of Wolverhampton. The University of Wolverhampton is rated as one of the best universities in Europe for product design. And at London South Bank University, approximately 80% of students, as advisors to local businesses, helping their community whilst simultaneously gaining vital employability skills.

These are excellent examples of successful integration with local business. However, we must acknowledge that we are not quite there yet in achieving our goals.

There are still pockets of low quality. One only has to look at the Guardian subject league tables to see there are too many courses where well under 50% of students proceed to graduate employment.

But more fundamentally, in order to create a fairer, more prosperous and more productive country, we need to reverse the generational decline in higher technical education.

We have already announced that, over the next few years, we will be establishing a system of higher technical education where learners and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses that provide the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, whether they are taught in a further education college, a university or an independent training provider.

Of course, a large proportion of this will be delivered in our great further education colleges, but what I also want to see is for universities to end their preoccupation with three-year bachelors’ degrees and offer far more higher technical qualifications and apprenticeships. These would be more occupation focused and provide a better targeted route for some students, and benefit employers and the economy.

Universities and other higher education providers are already an important part of this market, but I want to see their technical offer expand.

Only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold a higher technical qualification as their highest qualification, compared to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada.

And, as a nation, we must be honest that have gone backwards here. Well over 100,000 people were doing Higher National Certificates and Diplomas in the year 2000; that has reduced to fewer than 35,000. And within Higher Education Institutes, total participants in foundation degrees have declined from a high of 81,000 (in 2009/10), to approximately 30,000 (28,760 in 2018/19).

Yet the economic case for studying these qualifications is inarguable. I want to capitalise on the potential of further and higher education providers to deliver excellent higher technical education and apprenticeships.

My vision is for a system which learners and employers have true confidence in for providing the skills they need to succeed.

As I set out in my Further Education speech on 9th July 2020, we will not see growth in the economy if universities do not play their part. And of course, they will play their part, as they have always done. I believe the join up with Further Education through increased flexibility so that study fits with the needs of students with busy lives, is key in ensuring these two sectors work cohesively together.

While good work has already been done, I am motivated to see us go further to achieving excellence. But, knowing that our providers and institutions are fantastically placed to deliver on these aims, gives me full confidence in our collective ability.

And I want to say here today, to each and every institution, you are part of the solution.

I hope each of you recognise your value and will work with me to achieve these ambitions.

Thank you.




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