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What's going on in Higher Education?

Your weekly newsletter containing updates on the state of Higher Education

Week commencing 15/05/17

General Election 2017: Higher Education pledges

With three weeks to go until Election Day, parties are releasing more policy proposals by the day. Having devoted significant time and energy to pushing the Higher Education and Research Act through both houses, the Conservatives are unlikely to reveal any pledges which would have major implications for higher education institutions specifically. Their position in relation to Brexit, however, will undoubtedly have a domino effect on most UK industries, universities included, if Theresa May’s Government were to be re-elected. Their hard-line approach to negotiating our divorce from the EU may see us leave the common market, which would require that EU students be charged international rather than home fees, as is currently the case.

In a bid to regain some of the student vote, which abandoned the party after it voted to treble fees, the Liberal Democrats have pledged to reinstate nursing bursaries and maintenance cuts which Conservative Government cut. Their manifesto betrays a deep-seated scepticism of how easily new providers in the sector will be given degree awarding powers thanks to the new HE Act. It also features a promise to stop any more selling off of student loan books.

The Labour Party has pledged to abolish tuition fees, counterintuitively becoming the last of the main parties to put such a pledge in an election manifesto. John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, was quoted as saying that ‘education is not a commodity to be bought and sold’. The National Union of Students and Universities and College Union have backed the policy. There has been minimal alarm from institutional figures over the potential loss of income that would result from the implementation of this policy, but this is likely due to the fact that a Conservative majority is considered by far the most likely outcome on 8 June.

From ivory tower to good neighbour?

This article critically examines the relationship between universities and their locale. The author discusses how, although ‘[t]he image of an ivory tower presents universities set apart from their surrounds… many – if not most – higher education institutions are physically, socially, culturally economically and environmentally very present within cities, towns and neighbourhoods’. The task that universities must set themselves now, he claims, is to read against the grain of ‘hackneyed phrases of serving communities, driving local economies and providing jobs’ to establish whether their role is actually rather exploitative.

This sentiment, that universities ‘prey on their host settlements’, has its roots in the author’s concern that ‘there are too many occasions where we use communities as a live laboratory’. He uses examples of sociologists, geographers and the like, who ‘cart students round to look at poor people; view planning blots on the landscape; get local views to inform university assignments’. This interaction might seem preferable to none at all, but it falls short of authentic, respectful engagement.

Our Students’ Union works to engage meaningfully with our communities in Cambridge and Chelmsford, primarily by offering students local volunteering opportunities. Opportunities are updated regularly on the Volunteering page of our website, and range from long-term to one-off opportunities. These currently include placements in museums, charity shops, homeless shelters, cookery clubs and lots more.


Highlights from the week’s papers

Manchester University accused of planning 'clearout' of senior staff Union points to plans to create more than 100 less well-paid junior academic posts while seeking 171 redundancies

Universities must do more to tackle use of smart drugs, say experts Academics call on institutions to consider measures such as drug testing to stem UK rise of drugs used to cope with exam stress