Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

Higher Education

Higher Education is once more the subject of media debate. The implications of the Leitch Report are still bubbling away (I still don’t understand why it never made headline news). There was debate in the Observer about the role of Higher Education. And now the government has announced that it wants another 20 new campuses.

The UK government seems to view the primary role of any form of education as being its contribution to the economy – replacing Blair’s ‘Education, education, education’ with ‘Skills, skills, skills’. There seems to be some recognition of its other contributions, such as greater appreciation of the arts, increased open-mindedness, and possibly an enhanced quality of life, but this is secondary. Acting as devil’s advocate, who is to say this is wrong? Labour is more expensive in the West, therefore maybe to capitalise on a more skilled workforce is the best way for the UK to survive in the future?

But as someone who works in UK HE I’m more interested in the implications for my role and the institution I work in. Another 20 campuses sounds like good news as it means expansion – although I have to be cautious here as expansion has been attempted before in other sectors without sufficient investment. It also means a continuation of the change of focus from academe to a more business-oriented environment. Courses and research must be more commercially focussed, and students must be attracted to do these courses. The days when the ‘new universities’ (ie the former polytechnics) were the most flexible at meeting these needs are long gone, so competition between universities will continue to increase.

The role of the information providers also continues to change. Twenty new campuses won’t be able to build 20 large new university libraries: rather there will be a demand for focussed information at the point of need. We have the challenge of finding the best way to achieve this. ‘Best’, in this climate, means the most educationally and financially effective way, and the universities which succeed will be the ones that achieve this.

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March 3, 2008 - Posted by | General

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