This letter first appeared in The Observer on the 11 October 2020.
As CEO of a higher education mission group which represents professional and technical universities across the UK, I read with utter outrage an opinion piece from Will Hutton in your 4 October online edition, entitled: I saw up close the trials of university life in a pandemic. We should have done better.
In his piece, Mr Hutton states “What is more, few beyond the Russell Group go beyond online lectures to offer online seminars and tutorials, so raising questions about the justification for £9,250 tuition fees”. This claim is fundamentally inaccurate, shamelessly unabashed in its snobbery and hugely disingenuous to the armies of academics and professionals working in and beyond Alliance universities who pride themselves on their student-centred learning. These universities are leaders in delivering innovative teaching, including that provided by the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to engage, inspire and be fully inclusive. Most have, in fact, been providing advanced digital learning opportunities for their students long before the pandemic required it.
Mr Hutton’s article also willfully ignores how Alliance universities, like most across the UK, used this expertise to move quickly over the summer to provide a smooth transition to a ‘blended learning’ approach for all students; combining face to face teaching where possible, aligned with engaging online provision.
Although Mr Hutton has since apologised for his claim, I’m afraid this reservation and undervalue of services provided by universities outside of the Russell Group is nothing new, and shows how certain universities are still unjustly regarded by some political commentators. The reality is all of higher education serves students, future employers and the nation extremely well, delivering highly employable, job ready graduates with skills that the nation actually needs.