All entries for June 2016

June 24, 2016

Reaction to the EU Referendum result

So, the voters have spoken; the next few years will see the result of that vote translated into policy reality. Across the University of Warwick, although some will be celebrating, there is, I know, much concern. Let me try to put some of that concern into context.

There are three issues that could impact directly on people.

The first concerns our students who are citizens from other EU countries. Many are concerned about their fee and immigration status. We currently have some 1260 such students registered on undergraduate degrees, as well as around 700 students who participate each year in Erasmus exchanges between Warwick and other EU institutions. Regarding fees, we have said confidently that those already registered will not be affected by any fee changes the government might subsequently impose; and that will hold also for those seeking to join us this Autumn. There will be a two year window at least for the negotiations. Therefore, logically, any fee change would not occur until 2020. That is not to accept the principle of a change to the fee regime; it is a worst case analysis.

The second is the impact on our staff. We have nearly 500 colleagues who work here from other EU countries. And I know many are concerned with the implications for their right to stay in this country. I can understand why, given some of the unpleasant things said during the Referendum campaign. It is not in the interest of any government to lose highly skilled workers, and so the main challenge is likely to be visa costs. This is something that will need careful monitoring. However, our European staff are an important, valued, part of our community, and I intend to make the case wherever I can that such staff are incredibly valuable to UK HE, and should not be disadvantaged in the new world.

Third, many at Warwick will be concerned about the impact on the university's research income, currently over £13m a year from EU sources. That funding comes from government, industry and charitable sources, and translates into posts and studentships, as well as equipment and activity. All currently signed contracts will be honoured. I will be arguing that even without membership of the EU, the UK should be a part of the European research family, as Norway and Switzerland currently are. In this work, we will be much helped by being inside a Europe wide body of research intensive universities - the Guild that we recently announced - which has, as its chair, the President of a Norwegian university. Working with other like-minded institutions around the world to progress our research and teaching aims will continue to be a priority for Warwick.

There is much, complex, work for us to do in the new environment, but much is already being prepared here at Warwick to enable us to understand how the University and our community might be impacted.

There will be, if the referendum campaign has been anything to go by, plenty of apocalyptic language greeting this result in the media. We will be told that the economy will collapse, that it's the end of civilisation as we know it.

I have made no secret that, in my view, the University's future would have been more certain with a Remain vote. But it is still secure with a Leave vote. We still are a very attractive place for students to study, whether they be British or from around the rest of the world, and part of that attraction is precisely because of the cosmopolitan nature of our student and staff body. We must maintain this. And seeing our growing research income over the past few years, we should remain confident in the quality of our research in the global competition for the funding our research needs and deserves.

So, although we will leave the EU, Warwick will remain a strong, confident, global institution.

There is one last point. Clearly the business of government will be dominated by the many processes required by exit. Once there is clarity on who is charged with translating this for higher education, I will be writing to them to call for a delay in the Higher Education Bill while this work is carried through. To add the demands of that Bill to those of EU exit, at the same time, will be an intolerable burden for universities that, frankly, threatens to rock our very capacity to do everything we do to promote and extend the UK’s reputation globally. This, at a time when that reputation matters more than ever. I hope that much will be self-evident to the minister.


June 17, 2016

Prevent in context

I am not an agent of the state. By this I mean that I do not work for the government. There is nothing wrong of course with working for the government. But I do not. I work for a University. British Universities are set up in a different way to others in the rest of Europe, which often are state bodies. So, for example, when Warwick signed up to the new Guild of European Research Intensive Universities, we were able to do so ourselves. Our partners at Uppsala in Sweden were not; in order to join, they need an act of parliament to be passed.

I start in this way because it is important in the context of the debate on Prevent which is quite rightly occupying the minds of many of my colleagues and students at Warwick and across the UK HE sector. As a Vice-Chancellor, indeed as the head of a major organisation, I'm not doing this through choice or desire and it is not because we are part of the government machinery. I need to ensure that Prevent is implemented because it is a statutory duty; it is the law.

Many are worried about Prevent in operation. At Warwick, we heard this at our staff Assembly, which overwhelmingly passed a resolution critical of Prevent. I have seen those concerns in meetings with students, at our Senate, and at our Council. The governing body of this University, in terms of its trustees, is the Council. At its last meeting, the Council confirmed that the University should “continue to take an approach of ‘appropriate’ compliance with the Prevent duty”, whilst ensuring this was implemented in a way that protected the values we hold strong at Warwick: non-discriminatory academic freedom -“noting that Council recognised the importance of these principles” [Unconfirmed minutes].

This is also something that I take an academic interest in. My last book, Securitising Islam, mapped the processes in society that have for some led to practices in which Islamic identity is seen purely through a security lens; and the discrimination and violence that has sometimes followed. So it may be that you don’t like government policy; but arguably more problematic is the way that identities are seen to be problematic in everyday life – in newspapers, film, in blogs and in social media. You can track the same ‘jokes’ which many might see as Islamophobic on a whole range of social media sites, which ostensibly are in completely different domains. Governments may lead in particular directions; but equally importantly is how we, as a society, act.

Our duty as a University is certainly to follow the law, but we must do so in an enlightened way.

No one, I think, doubts the seriousness of the threat of terrorism. Think about what has happened in Paris, in Brussels and just recently in Orlando. Still greater acts of violence happen on a daily basis in Syria, in Iraq and elsewhere in our world. Closer to home, we have just seen the horrific murder of Jo Cox whilst she was doing her duty as an MP – working with the people in her constituency she was elected to serve. Often the perpetrators claim that they are driven to these sorts of acts to demonstrate their faith, or their political beliefs. But an important act of resistance as a University is to deny them that claim unchallenged, and to refuse to pigeonhole people.

At Warwick, I alongside some key academic colleagues and the President-elect of the SU, need support from our community to help us work out how we respond to Prevent in practice as a University. We will shortly be appealing via our Insite and MyWarwick portals for staff and student volunteers to work with us. It is important, and sadly unavoidable work, for us all. I hope others in our sector join us.


June 13, 2016

The Higher Education Green Paper has turned into a White Paper

The Higher Education Green Paper has turned into a White Paper. There is some evolution between the two following the government’s consultation exercise, but not that much. For research-intensive universities, indeed, for the sector as a whole, it is very challenging. That is not an accident, because it is supposed to be. Do recall that the minister for higher education views some of the education we provide as, quote, “lamentable”. As a sector we are labeled the “incumbents”, delaying or even preventing the introduction of innovation.

It is important for all institutions to work out how to react – as react we must. For Warwick, there are two particular issues I would like to focus on: TEF and new entrants. But before I do, let me just bridle at those accusations. “Lamentable” education is not an accusation supported by any evidence at Warwick. Over a dozen of our courses are regularly ranked in the world’s top 100. Look at the work in Engineers without Borders, WBS Create, our new degrees in Global Sustainability Development, and indeed so much of the work of IATL. And the charge of being “incumbents”? Given our proactive engagement with a whole series of regional partners in other parts of the education sector, in business, culture and industry, and indeed our California initiative – again, the evidence does not support the myth.

Let me turn first to the Teaching Evaluation Framework (TEF). TEF rankings will define how much we can raise fees in relation to inflation. The full implications of TEF are as yet undefined, but scheduled to be introduced as soon as 2017 and progressively increase in complexity thereafter. We do not know how TEF will be measured, but my main fear is the level of bureaucracy. For the last Research Excellence Framework – the only comparator exercise we have, Warwick’s submission was 2,741 pages; we estimate it took 50 person years. That is not 50 person years producing knowledge or disseminating knowledge; it is just the exercise of producing evidence for as-yet ill-defined assessment.

Think of the logic. If a fee of £9,000 is the appropriate rate, then surely it is obvious that inflation should, over time, be built in? If that is not the case, the fee actually decreases over time in real terms. Is this fair to students inter-generationally? You may disagree with the balance of contribution between student and State; but once that fee level is set, it simply needs to keep pace with inflation. In other words, the link imposed between TEF and fee inflation questions the very heart of the balance of contribution between student and State. Is that truly the intention? Further, once education is ranked across four levels – ranging from ‘does not meet expectations’ through to ‘outstanding’ – this will undoubtedly influence student choice. So, a university that doesn’t do well can’t inflate its fees, and becomes less attractive in the market place in the bargain. The HE equivalent of the “sink estate”. Where is the mechanism of intervention to turn around that decline?

Then consider the proposals on new entrants. I have no objection in principle. If new organisations offer education that students want and can’t access in the existing market, of course that should be facilitated. However, within three years of opening, such an organization will be able to offer degrees? That is high risk for both students and the sector. If the institution then fails, the continuation of those students’ degrees becomes whose responsibility? Existing universities. The failure would have negative implications for the capacity and reputation of UK HE as a whole. And what are new providers, especially for-profit providers, going to teach? Most probably only those subjects where the financial margin is greatest. That will almost certainly not be in science, technology or engineering. How does this help our national Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – STEM - agenda?

Of course, these issues have been widely debated in this University. An Assembly was called and passed a motion condemning the developments in the White Paper. This was taken to our Council, and after a thorough and wide-ranging debate, the Council resolved that it had “…independently reached similar views on the proposals for reform in the sector and was in sympathy with the views expressed at the meeting of the Assembly on the HE Green Paper”. [Unconfirmed minutes]. Similar views have been aired at our Senate, where there was a full debate last week; and in heads of department meetings. I have expressed these views in correspondence with the minister, and in meetings with various other ministers and senior officials. My hope is that these arguments – which of course are being made across the sector – might have some traction in the parliamentary debate, particularly in the House of Lords. We will see. We can hope, we can lobby, we can support. But we also have to start preparing for the world created by the new HE legislation.


June 01, 2016

Maintenance Grants

On 14 January 2016, 18 Members of Parliament voted to scrap all maintenance grants for new undergraduates from 2016/17, and replace them with loans.

This will have a wide-reaching impact on our community and our concern lies with current and future students who will take on even more debt during the course of their studies or not be able to take up places at universities due to the increased financial pressure.

This is life changing for some, not only for those affected students who won’t be able to fulfil their potential, but to the wider community who won’t be able to benefit from the brilliant minds these students possess. In many cases, this will affect students from low-income families and disproportionately affect students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and disabled students.

Stuart has written before about how the grant system supported him through his UG degree some thirty years ago and enabled him to complete his final year. We feel deeply that today’s and tomorrow’s students should also have this opportunity and are very concerned about the implications of this change of government policy. We are fully receptive to the concerns raised by students and staff alike, and we do not want this issue to slip under the radar.

At Senate on 8th March, Isaac Leigh, President of the Students' Union, presented a paper and gave a verbal report on the issue. The outcome of this was discussed at Council on 18th May. We appreciate that this can seem frustratingly slow, but in order for us to have the most impact with all issues we face, we have to follow the University’s set procedures to ensure all aspects are considered.

Whilst not able to replace maintenance grants for the majority of our students, the SU are in discussions with the Registrar & Chief Operating Officer about the current provision of hardship funds. We would urge anyone considering applying for UG or PG courses at Warwick to read the information about bursaries, scholarship and support available and we urge current students to talk to the Student Support office, your Personal Tutor or Resident Life tutor if faced with any difficulties; not just financial, as we come to arguably the most challenging term of the academic year.

Stuart Croft (Vice-Chancellor and President)
Isaac Leigh (President, Warwick Students' Union)

June 2016

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