Welcome, PM Johnson!
Congratulations on your appointment. We appreciate that the first days and weeks in any new job are rather busy, so here’s our advice to help you navigate the acres of briefing that will be waiting for you at number 10.
First, what lies at the top of the in-tray marked Higher & Further Education – a weighty tome of suggested changes to Post 18 Education and Funding. You are inheriting the recommendations of an advisory review that was long-anticipated but now presents more challenges and pitfalls than solutions. That’s not to say the ‘Augar review’ doesn’t offer some welcome suggestions, such as the reintroduction of maintenance support and increased investment into Further Education, but we would advise caution on selective implementation of policies which could severely damage the future of UK universities and dramatically reduce the numbers of people going to university.
It was welcome to hear in your victory speech that you believe better education is vital to this country’s future success. But any suggestion that the country would be better off with less of the population educated by universities is a retrograde move which would limit opportunity for individuals and for the nation. Such a move risks limiting the contribution universities are making to progress the industrial strategy. And – in order for the nation to be a competitor on the global stage as a global economy – we need more, not less talent coming through our universities.
This leads us to our second piece of advice. Now, you will be looking to try and make some quick progress with (re)building vital relationships over the Channel. You should look to the university system as our international calling card, it will serve you and your cabinet well in terms of building and maintaining those all-important international relationships and partnerships. But domestically, UK universities need an effective post-Brexit settlement and immigration system that supports student and staff mobility, creating a welcoming environment for international talent to contribute to our national and local economies. For this, we encourage you to make good on your commitment to improve post-study work visas.
Our university system is world-class and the envy of the world. It educates and has educated the world’s greatest leaders including of course you and almost every politician, across every party. It has enabled some of the world’s greatest brains and creative talents to thrive and inspire the world over. But it’s important to remember that this talent comes not just from the towering spires of Oxbridge but from campuses and classrooms within every nation, region and city across the UK. Universities within touching distance of every community, offering first class tertiary academic, technical and professional education and training and crucially, delivering hope and aspiration to every generation.
Take LS Lowry educated at what we now know as Salford University arguably one of the most critically important British artists of the 20th century; Cressida Cowell, the newly appointed Children’s Laureate, alumna from University of Brighton; Bear Grylls former SAS service man and the youngest-ever Chief Scout educated at the University of West England, Bristol and Baroness Doreen Lawrence, alumna from the University of Greenwich who has campaigned selflessly for social and racial justice.
All these names and many, many more were educated in our universities. These are individuals who define and make us Great Britain and Northern Ireland. All educated at Alliance universities who deliver a mission to unlock potential, changing lives and communities.
In response to your desire to close the opportunity gap, we advise you to look to our universities. We now have historic numbers going to university and more first generational university entrants than ever. University is now for the many not the few, transcending boundaries of gender, age, race, disability, sexuality and class. We know the transformative power of university, and the opportunities they provide, but this potential may only be unlocked with the right support from a system that’s invested in.
Whilst the next couple of years may bring difficult budgetary pressures, it’s vital that short-term decisions aren’t made that may risk and undermine long-term prosperity. Continuous turbulence will mean an economy that desperately needs high-level skills and creativity. As an alliance of technical and professional universities, we’re committed to working together to drive this necessary innovation, workforce development and social change.
A successful education system is after all the bedrock of a successful nation. It is worth protecting. And so to our final piece of advice- do everything within your power to ensure our universities continue to thrive and that those with endless potential are able to access them. Together, they will build a Greater Britain.
We look forward to working with you during your time in office, and wish you well in the new role, Prime Minister.