Party Conferences 2012

We have just returned from a busy three weeks of Party Conferences. We ran a series of fringe events on ‘the future of higher education’ and held a number of meetings with parliamentarians from all three parties. Our fringe events were run in partnership with NUS, GuildHE, IPPR and Policy Exchange and each saw a high turnout and lively debate about the future of higher education. We also held a constructive workshop at Labour Party Conference with a number of key Labour figures including Shabana Mahmood MP, Adrian Bailey MP and Lord Stevenson.

Professor Steve West used the conferences to promote university_vision and stressed that the sector needs to pull together to create its own vision for the future. He said the sector was often responsive to decisions by government and “not in the driving seat”. Read his blog to find out more about what we discussed at conferences.

Below are some highlights from each of our events.

Liberal Democrat Party Conference

The future of higher education, with Stephen Williams MP and Baroness Sharpe

L-R: Andy Westwood, GuildHE Chief Exec; Liam Burns, NUS President; Libby Hackett, University Alliance Chief Exec; Nick Pearce, IPPR Director; Baroness Sharpe; Stephen Williams MP

Clearly the Liberal Democrats are in a position of needing to look at their higher education policy ahead of the next General Election. The session raised some interesting issues, particularly around the need for a coherent and joined-up set of policies for post-14 education. Very interesting questions were raised about whether apprenticeships could or should house higher education; how a genuinely mass higher education sector can be built; creating clearer progression routes through post-14 education; as well as discussion about the value of higher education. The latter was nicely summed up by Baroness Sharpe – “higher education is about fulfilment. If you’ve been through it you’re happier, healthier, more likely to vote, volunteer and have a successful career“.

Labour Party Conference

Roundtable with Shabana Mahmood MP, Shadow Minister of State for Higher Education

L-R: Andy Westwood, GuildHE Chief Exec; Lord Stevenson; Paul Blomfield MP; Shabana Mahmood MP; Professor Steve West; University Alliance Chair & UWE Vice Chancellor; Adrian Bailey MP; Libby Hackett; Barry Shearman MP; Liam Burns, NUS Presdient; Graeme Wise, NUS Assistant Director Policy; Emily Thomas, university_vision facilitator

We hosted a roundtable with Shabana Mahmood MP and other Labour Parliamentarians  with an interest in higher education. The main focus of the discussion was to look at the scenarios we have generated as part of our university_vision project and explore the implications for the future of higher education policy. There was discussion around key issue such as the need for more graduates to build a prosperous future for the UK and how we maintain the UK’s position as the world’s educator of choice.

The future of higher education fringe event, with Shabana Mahmood MP, Shadow Minister of State for HE

L-R: Liam Burns, NUS President; Shabana Mahmood MP; Rick Muir, IPPR; Professor Steve West; Professor David Green

As with our fringe event at the Lib Dem conference, this event was hosted by IPPR and very much focussed on the value of higher education and the need for the sector to pull together to create it’s own vision for the future. Shabana Mahmood MP Shabana Mahmood MP opened the conversation by highlighting the position of the Opposition team seeing universities as centre-stage of their economic policy. Higher education had the power to transform lives of individuals, and society as a whole and the government’s role had to be strategic, to put the framework in place to help university sector grow and to contribute to the economic recovery of the UK, she added.

Big issues such as what this means for academics, students and the local communities universities are part of came up as part of the discussion.

Conservative Party Conference

The future of higher education, with Rt Hon David Willetts MP

L-R: Professor Steve West; David Willetts MP; Lucy Lee, Policy Exchange; Professor David Green, Vice-Chancellor Worcester University; Liam Burns, NUS President.

Our event at Conservative Conference, hosted by Policy Exchange, was our final event for conference season. It was the most well-attending fringe event of any of ours, with over 90 people attending to hear the universities minister, David Willetts, set out his position on the future of higher education. The minister took the opportunity to announce the increase to the capital investment fund for universities to £300 million, demonstrating the Government’s recognition of the role they are playing in driving economic growth.

Professor West highlighted that the UK is below average in its investment in HE compared with our OECD competitors. When it comes to the long-term sustainability of our position as global leaders in higher education this is clearly an area that the Government is going to need to address.

Overall, we are extremely pleased with our events at all three party conferences. We are already starting to look towards next year’s Party Conferences where we hope to work alongside a larger number higher education organisations to inform and improve the public and political discourse around higher education. Watch this space…

Further reading