University of Greenwich

David Blunkett, The Secretary of State for Education and Employment visits The University of Greenwich

David Blunkett made a landmark speech on higher education and the challenges it faces in the 21st century. These pages document the speech and his visit to The University of Greenwich


The speech
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Secretary of State

Computing and Mathematics School
University of Greenwich














David Blunkett's Speech on Higher Education, 15 February 2000
at Maritime Greenwich University:





I want today to make a significant statement about the future direction of higher education. I hope it will stimulate discussion and debate over the coming months about the policy framework for this vital sector of our education system.

  1. It is very appropriate that we are here today at Greenwich University. I shall devote much of my speech to the issue of globalisation, and there can be few better places to do so than here at the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage site, in the superb Wren buildings. The fact that this is now a university campus means that, through learning, the traditions of exploration and discovery for which this part of the world is famous are being maintained.

  2. It was also at Woolwich Polytechnic, one of the forerunners of this university, that Tony Crosland delivered his famous speech in 1965 on the future of the polytechnics. Crosland’s statement was a defining moment for higher education. Set alongside the first commitments given by Harold Wilson to the development of the University of the Air, or the Open University as it was to become, Crosland’s speech was a landmark for the higher education policy of the 1960s Labour government.

  3. Unfortunately, such landmark occasions for higher education policy have been few and far between. Rarely in this country have governments developed coherent and strategic higher education policies. Higher education has been addressed only episodically, and without sustained interest, for much of our recent political history.

  4. In the early 1960s, the Robbins Report mapped out a response to predicted higher education need, an approach redolent of the economic and scientific discourses of the era, particularly its confidence in the power of planning. But although Robbins was hugely influential, and remains the seminal text of 20th century UK higher education, Crosland himself moved rapidly to create a polytechnic sector which would fulfil very different purposes - prioritising local access to vocational programmes - to the greenfield post-Robbins campuses. As the 1970s progressed, higher education slipped down the list of political priorities and was largely absent from the politically charged education debates of the decade.

  5. Higher education only reappeared on the political map for any length of time in the late 1980s, when the Conservative government expanded access to the sector in what one commentator has called "a fit of absent-mindedness." A system designed for an elite was simply stretched to accommodate new students. And whilst expansion was rapid, it was shortlived. Soon after Ken Clarke had abolished the binary divide, fiscal retrenchment brought a halt to the growth in student numbers and the sector went back into policy cold storage.

  6. Only when the funding crisis in higher education became so acute that it could no longer be ignored was the Dearing Committee of Inquiry established. It bears repeating that between 1989 and 1997, higher education per student was cut by a huge 2553 or 36% per student. It would have been cut by a further 6.5% had we not implemented the Dearing recommendations. The cuts had placed enormous strain on the ability of higher education institutions to uphold quality and respond to the new challenges they faced. The funding crisis was therefore very real and urgent action was necessary to address it.

  7. The Dearing report provided a platform for tackling the longer-term challenges for higher education. Interestingly, however, it ended on an important disclaimer. In an ever more rapidly changing environment, the report argued, higher education should undergo another fundamental review within five years. In other words, higher education policymaking is now subject to new constraints caused by the rapidity of change, a situation unthinkable in the Robbins era. And this change is related to the fundamental socio-economic development of the last quarter of the 20th century: globalisation. It is therefore with the challenge of globalisation that higher education policy now starts.

  8. Globalisation, the knowledge economy & the delivery of higher education

  9. Globalisation has transformed the economic and social conditions in which we live. Although it is subject to fierce debate, it is now widely accepted that profound change has taken place in the global environment: the increased internationalisation of production and trade; the real time integration (and volatility) of global financial markets, and enhanced mobility of capital; intensified environmental and political inter-dependency; and socio-cultural transformations consequent upon new information and communication flows. Money now moves around the globe at the click of a button, and the sums are huge: daily turnover in the foreign exchange markets approached two trillion dollars by the end of the 1990s. Meanwhile, world export volumes were ten times higher in 1995 than 40 years earlier. These are profound changes, and within each of them, we can see at work the seismic impact of technological advance, particularly the development of information and communication technologies.

  10. The powerhouses of the new global economy are innovation and ideas, skills and knowledge. These are the now the tools for success and prosperity as much as natural resources and physical labour power were in the past century.

  11. Higher education is at the centre of these developments. Across the world, its shape, structure and purposes are undergoing transformation because of globalisation. At the same time, it provides research and innovation, scholarship and teaching which equip individuals and businesses to respond to global change. World class higher education ensures that countries can grow and sustain high-skill businesses, and attract and retain the most highly-skilled people. It endows people with creative and moral capacities, thinking skills and depth knowledge that underpin our economic competitiveness and our wider quality of life. It is therefore at the heart of the productive capacity of the new economy and the prosperity of our democracy.

  12. It is these fundamental aspects of the impact of globalisation on higher education that I want to address in my speech today. I want to look first at what global change means for higher education itself, particularly the development of new forms of virtual distance learning and new international institutional alliances; second, at diversification of higher education, and how we can secure excellence for an expanded student population; and third, at the role of higher education in securing economic competitiveness and social cohesion, through the development of new forms of liaison with business and access to the world of work, and social justice in participation in learning. Our challenge is - to use the phrase - to think globally and act locally, responding to world-wide economic change through reaching out to business and drawing higher education into the regeneration of communities, whilst at the same time maintaining its global standing.

  13. There is no doubt that globalisation and the arrival of the knowledge economy have intensified the competitive pressures on higher education institutions. Learning has become big business. Demand for higher learning is growing at exponential rates. It has been estimated that there will be 159 million global enrolments in higher education by 2025, 87 million of which will from Asia. The global market for higher education is already estimated to stand at 300 billion per year. Whether in response to increased individual and business demand, or pressure from governments, participation in higher education is being driven up across the world.

  14. New providers are already expanding into the learning environment to meet this demand, particularly in the USA.. These American providers, having grown rapidly in their home country, are now using the competitive advantage bestowed by the fact that English is the global language to expand overseas. Organisations like the University of Phoenix and the Western Governors University are becoming well known in the education world. Established providers are also marketing themselves aggressively to new students, using their prestigious global brands. Moreover, international media organisations and leading publishers are now entering into partnerships with education providers to exploit the growth of learning markets. I understand that News International recently purchased a 25% stake in Scottish Knowledge Plc - a venture formed by Scottish higher education institutions and leading companies to capture overseas market share. The Pearson Group, Harcourt General, Mc Graw Hill, Simon & Schuster - all of them and more have entered into similar alliances or ventures in recent years.

  15. At the same time, international student numbers are growing and competition to recruit them is intense. Countries are vying to ensure that overseas students choose their domestic universities and colleges, and for very good reason. These students not only bring economic gains - vital as these are - but cultural contact that enriches our communities and provides lifelong links between people across the world. That is precisely why we now have a government-led strategy for international recruitment - so that we can raise our market share in relation to our major competitors from 17% to 25% by 2005. We must have big aspirations, even if we are a small country. It is absolutely clear that we must use the competitive advantage we have been given by the English language and the international reputation of our higher education system to make major strides in these markets. And I will spell out just how we can do so throughout this speech.

  16. Global corporations are also reaching into areas of teaching and knowledge traditionally held to be the sole preserve of higher education institutions. The US now has some 4,000 corporate "universities". Two years ago it was estimated that 85% of the US Fortune 500 deployed remote learning for employees. The same report gave the example of health giant Kaiser Permanente "eating into university business" by doubling its distance learning sites and offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees for nurses and continuing education for physicians.

  17. The corporate "university" trend has developed in the UK: Motorola, British Aerospace and others offer clear examples. These corporations bring with them global brand names, multi-national workforces, and extensive resources. The combination is a powerful one.

  18. Now I do not contend that these are universities in the fullest sense of higher learning as we know it - many are simply re-engineered human resource departments. Sometimes these corporations seek partnerships with chartered universities, but in many instances they do not. There is no doubt that that competition for lifelong learning provision from the private sector will intensify.

  19. Developments in information and communication technologies have accelerated these trends and will provide the springboard for future growth. The impact of new technologies on learning are now well rehearsed. Virtual networks eradicate the distance between the student and the provider, thus opening up a genuinely global learning market. Learning provision can be customised for individual need and delivered to specification, extending the boundaries of choice and flexibility beyond the confines of the seminar room or lecture hall. And learning is subject to new economies: once the investment in research and development of learning material has been made, the learning programme can be delivered at minimal marginal cost to an infinite number of people.

  20. Before I am accused of technological utopianism, let me also stress the limits. Use and take-up of new technologies is not uniform; there are digital divides which will deepen unless action is taken to reduce them - which is why we are embarked on radical programmes for social inclusion in the knowledge society, from ICT in schools to ICT learning centres in disadvantaged communities. Nor has human interaction disappeared. Learning is a social process, and on-line provision is often combined with face-to-face tuition (although it should be noted that the power of new technologies is such that real-time virtual interaction will soon closely replicate face-to-face contact). Moreover, on-line learning is still in its infancy, particularly in pedagogic development and learner support.

  21. Nonetheless, it is clear that virtual learning is an industry which is striding forward all around us. Higher education institutions are entering into new alliances with the private sector to develop courseware and new communication technology capacity. For example, the London School of Economics, together with Chicago, Columbia and Stanford universities in the US, is offering degree modules on-line via a private Internet-based company, aimed at the business community. This is an example of partnership between higher education institutions and private companies which harnesses the intellectual capabilities of these institutions with the business expertise and financial muscle power of the private sector.

  22. And business-university partnerships are driving forward the communication technologies which will support virtual learning. For example, Internet2 is an American university-led venture, partly funded by major US IT corporations, to develop the infrastructure of the next wave of the Internet. It will make possible higher capacity, multicast communication. It has the potential to secure decisive advantage for the US in the development of Internet technology. Another example is the link-up between MIT and Nanovation Technologies Inc. in a six year research programme for the development of photonic or light-based technologies which enhance the speed, capacity and bandwidth of telecommunications, data transmission and computing products. The first dedicated photonics research centre in the world will be built on the MIT campus. In a nutshell, university research is transforming the technologies which will be used to provide learning and communications in the future.

  23. Virtual learning poses challenges for all universities - indeed all learning providers. But the challenge is also a national one - how can we best, as a country, respond to the wave of change that e-learning is bringing to higher education throughout the globe?

  24. We are already developing learndirect - the University for Industry - to provide virtual learning for SMEs and individuals. In addition, I believe a national initiative is now required in higher education to maximise our chances of success in the new environment. That is why I can announce that HEFCE will bring forward proposals for a new collaborative venture between universities and private sector partners, under the working title of the "e-Universities". The e-Universities initiative will concentrate UK effort and resources from a number of partners in a single virtual provider, which will be able to compete with the scale of the resources available to the leading individual US players such as MIT, Phoenix or the University of Maryland. It will be clearly positioned overseas as the flag-carrier for the best of UK higher education in web-based delivery.

  25. Our intention is to identify, on a competitive basis, a consortium of leading HE institutions in the UK to develop the e-Universities venture. The consortium will also include at least two leading companies as partners, drawn from the Internet-servicing, software/hardware development, publishing, and corporate learning sectors. More institutions will participate as they demonstrate their ability to make a high quality contribution.

  26. This is an innovative project with the intention of creating a brand new university venture with a difference, to meet the competitive global challenge thrown at UK higher education. There is no shortage in higher education of high quality teaching and learning materials and expertise in web-based delivery. Many individual institutions are seeking to develop web-based applications on their own or in groups. But no single provider has the resources to exploit existing materials and expertise with the necessary scale and profile. The experience of the OU has demonstrated the very high costs of developing good-quality distance learning materials, and those costs will continue to rise if we are to match the quality of the materials being produced in the US. Such investment can only be justified if one can be confident of reaching a large market at home and overseas. Hence the need for a national initiative to bring together existing resources and talents in a way that achieves the necessary critical mass.

  27. Although there would be close liaison and co-operation between the two, the e-Universities initiative will not duplicate the work the University for Industry. The UfI’s focus is on expanding achievement at basic and intermediate skills levels for SMEs and individuals, rather than higher education. We expect both the UfI, and now the e-Universities, to become world-leaders in the provision of virtual learning, placing the UK at the cutting edge of global developments.

  28. Quality is at the heart of these proposals, and it will be the critical success factor in the competition for new students and emerging learning markets. ICT allows the very highest standards in teaching quality to be offered to huge numbers of people, and not just those who attend particular institutions. I have always placed the highest emphasis on the quality of teaching and learning provision, and I strongly support the development of a transparent and clear quality assessment system which identifies failure as well as it celebrates success. I’m also sure that we can make substantial progress towards improvement in teaching quality through the Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and the work of the Higher Education National Training Organisation, THETO, with whom the sector should engage to assist in the learning and development of all staff within higher education.

  29. Prospective students, and other stakeholders, must be confident of the quality of higher education they can expect to receive, including those looking at UK providers from overseas. To make choices they need clear and reliable information on the quality of what’s on offer. By all means, let us ensure that intervention is inversely proportionate to success, and keep the bureaucracy to a minimum. But quality is an absolute priority, and a commitment to continuous improvement must be the norm in the sector. It is the only basis on which UK higher education can expect to thrive in the years ahead.

  30. Quality must also be maintained as we expand access to higher education. I am absolutely clear that standards in higher education must not be sacrificed to expanded access. I do not want to see the currency of higher education undermined by the creation of a stratified sector in which some forms of provision are considered excellent and others second-rate or second-class. Our objective is expansion with diversity and excellence throughout the sector, so that we secure wider participation in a higher education system valued for its quality as a whole.

  31. The key to the success of this policy objective is genuine diversity. Universities and colleges have to play to their strengths, so that they can offer excellence in their chosen areas of activity, rather than adopt a one-size fits all approach or simply offer their version of a standard product. They will need to forge alliances and collaborative ventures which allow them to share expertise and resources, rather than simply compete alone in every different area of provision.

  32. Many of these alliances will be local and national but others will be shaped by globalisation, so that world class provision in teaching and research is built on new institutional configurations which reflect the realities of the current global environment. I will return to this crucial point later. The essential point is that we now need a step change which lifts our higher education system onto a new development path - so that we avoid the development of a situation in which universities and colleges simply engage in fragmented, low-level competition. We can choose a future in which we have excellence and quality across the sector, rather than a return to the binary divide or a new form of stratification which protects an elite at the expense of high standards for all.

  33. Diversity with excellence will also mean identifying new routes into higher education and new forms of provision. It is well known that our historic skills deficit in this country lies in the shortage of people with intermediate skills - including highly qualified technicians. We have to develop new higher education opportunities at this level, orientated strongly to the employability skills, specialist knowledge and broad understanding needed in the new economy. In doing so, we must learn from popular and successful two-year provision of higher education in other parts of the world.

  34. To help meet our objective that half of all young people are able to participate in higher education by the age of 30, we therefore intend to create new two-year Foundation Degrees - opening up a new route for expansion of opportunity and the development of diversity.

  35. I am today launching a consultation document on these Foundation Degrees. The degrees will offer rigorous specialist subject knowledge underpinned by a broad base of academic learning. They will be developed and delivered in close partnership with employers, with guaranteed arrangements for articulation and progression to first degree courses. Our expectation is that Foundation Degrees would be designed in such a way that students who successfully complete them could progress onto an honours degree with only one and a third extra years study.

  36. The new Associate Degree at Middlesex University is a vocational degree, offered through part time or full time study in a network of local FE colleges and the Universities in north London. Courses are available in creative industries, complementary health, applied computing work based learning and management. The programmes which incorporate key skills which are closely linked to and support the areas of specialism, aim to give students the rounded skills they need for self employment as well as for employability more generally. Academically stretching, the award is based on 240 HE credit points. Middlesex believe that these features, particularly the level and guaranteed progression to an honours degree make this qualification distinct from other HE qualifications below the honours degree.

  37. Foundation degrees will be available in diverse subject areas, but always designed to develop key skills and employability, and offer clear routes into the labour market or further learning. There will be active links between a student’s work experience and academic study. Students who take Foundation Degrees will be fully equipped with the skills and abilities they will need for effective engagement in the knowledge economy - so that they are enterprising and creative, familiar with the world of work, and possess a sound base of ICT and other key skills as well as specialist knowledge.

  38. For many young people, entry to Foundation Degrees will take place after successful completion of Modern Apprenticeships, so that, for the first time, we have a robust, high-standard ladder of progression in work-based learning. Full-time study will suit some young people, whilst others will want to take the degrees part-time, staying in employment. In this way, Foundation Degrees will provide an accessible and flexible building block for lifelong learning and future career success, drawing together further and higher education and the world of work. They will ensure that higher education is particularly responsive to local and regional labour market needs.

  39. I also expect the new degrees to be offered in both "old" and "new" universities, often in partnership with high-quality further education colleges. We will begin pilots for the degrees in 2001, on the basis of careful consultation and design work which we will shortly initiate. I place a premium on Foundation Degrees meeting the very highest standards.

  40. Globalisation and Research

  41. Globalisation has also led to significant changes in patterns of university research. Research networks have proliferated as the knowledge economy has expanded. It has been calculated that there are more scientists working in the world today than have worked in the whole of the history of science. ICT also means that the results of basic research are disseminated throughout the world rapidly, as new findings enter public debate, and new users and developers pick up on the consequences. Of course, academics have always formed knowledge communities across national borders. But they are now in communication with each other and the outside world in new ways. The leading edge of scientific research has become a breaking wave.

  42. The growth of mass higher education has also meant that research activity and scholarship have spread throughout the university sector, as institutions previously confined to teaching missions develop niche specialisms, applied research and scholarship activities. In these conditions, a single department in a university can become a world beater.

  43. But the reverse side of this coin is that most world class, leading edge basic research is increasingly concentrated in relatively few global universities. This is partly a matter of cost or size. Much basic research, particularly in certain branches of physics, is simply so capital intensive that only a few universities, either alone or in combination, are able to engage in it. But there is also a broader phenomenon at work which mirrors the concentration of industrial basic research and development in major corporations.

  44. The UK has world-class excellence in university research and this is recognised and rewarded through the Research Assessment Exercise. With 1% of the world’s population, we conduct 5.5% of the world’s research effort and gain an 8% share of world scientific publication, placing us second only to the USA.. In order to retain world class university research in an increasingly competitive environment, government support for research must be selective. It is vital that we sustain world class excellence, and that is why research funding received an additional 1.4 billion investment from government and the Wellcome Trust in the last Comprehensive Spending Review. It is also very tightly focused - some 30 institutions gain three quarters of all public research funds, a degree of selectivity which is comparable to that in the USA.

  45. Selectivity must be carefully managed, however. Assessment and funding mechanisms must be responsive to the requirements of evolution and development in the sector, since otherwise we will simply freeze the national research effort at any point in time and innovation will be curtailed. We must enable research excellence and diversity to flourish in different parts of the sector. And, of course, that is one reason why the dual support system of funding research through the Higher Education Funding Councils and the Office of Science and Technology is important, and why I am absolutely committed to it.

  46. Research is not just about science and technology. Research in the social sciences, the arts and humanities, is also vital to our national prosperity. Good government, for example, depends on solid research evidence and a constant, if critical, engagement between politicians, civil servants and the research community, as I pointed out in my recent lecture to the Economic and Social Research Council. Research in social science, the arts and the humanities preserves and enriches the economic, social and cultural fabric of the nation.

  47. And let me also say this: it is learning which equips citizens for participation in democratic dialogue with researchers, regulatory authorities and government on the profound ethical issues thrown up by scientific advance. As Tony Giddens has pointed out, science simply invades our lives, and much more directly than it ever did before, which means that - and I quote - "we cannot any longer have a society in which we put technological change, or the impact of science, on one side, and expect the experts to resume their work."

  48. I reiterate what I said in my North of England speech at the New Year: the choices we face in this new century cannot and will not be made by a handful of experts or the powerful. Our education reforms are all about the development of an educated citizenry - a democracy in which people are educated in the fullest sense of the world, and able to participate in active self-government. People who are knowledgeable and skilled, literate in the arts and sciences, equipped to make moral judgements, and who contribute actively to ethical debates and the construction of solutions to the challenges they face, both locally and globally.

  49. A final point on basic research, before I move on. Sometimes, the most basic research of all is the thing for which we are remembered. The great physicist Richard Feynman put it this way: "In this age, people are experiencing a delight, the tremendous delight that you get when you guess how nature will work in a new situation never seen before. The age in which we live is an age in which we are discovering the fundamental laws of nature, and that day will never come again." One of the responsibilities of government is to sustain a climate in which that search can continue. We cannot always know where research will lead, and what its outcomes will be. And that means there must be room for research with no immediate short-term value - but which may lead to significant economic and cultural benefits in the long term. We need to sustain this creativity, not stifle it.

  50. Higher Education, Innovation and Economic Prosperity

  51. I want to turn now to the wider role of higher education in the knowledge economy.

  52. Academic theorists have noted that, at the same time as it breaks down national boundaries, globalisation intensifies the importance of the local and regional. This is clearly observable in relation to higher education. As I said last year in my Exeter University speech, since universities are such powerful drivers of technological and other changes, they have become critical to local and regional economic development. They produce people with knowledge and skills; they generate new knowledge and import it from diverse sources; and they apply knowledge in a range of environments. They are the seedbed for new industries, products and services, and they are at the hub of the business networks and industrial clusters of the knowledge economy. Nor is this role limited to science and technology sectors: innovation in the arts, humanities, design and other creative disciplines, is crucial to business competitiveness in the knowledge economy.

  53. This critical role places a special responsibility on higher education institutions to forge links with businesses. Liaison with small and medium-sized enterprises is particularly critical, since these companies are drivers of innovation and employment growth in the knowledge economy.

  54. Universities have long undertaken contract work for industry. In recent years this work has flourished. Industrial liaison has grown; science parks have proliferated; and universities have incubated and spun-out new companies.

  55. This is vital work which brings benefits to both business and to universities and colleges. But in some cases, building relationships with industry has a pay-off only in the longer term. That is why government has to intervene to bolster the relationships in their early stages, since information gaps and time lags will cause market failure.

  56. My department and the Department for Trade and Industry have a number of schemes designed to foster such liaison and tackle market failures. The Higher Education Reach Out scheme - which will provide 60 million over three years to fund work with industry - has had a tremendous response to its calls for applications. Universities also submitted substantial bids for the Science Enterprise and Universities Challenge Funds.

  57. These are successful programmes, but they are not the only ones. My department, in conjunction with the Department for Trade and Industry, undoubtedly has too many discrete schemes and programmes aimed at higher education-business links. There is a strong case for consolidating these schemes, not only to simplify the processes, but more importantly, to provide a significant stream of dedicated funding which secures a third mission for universities - namely to work with industry and the wider community - alongside their teaching and research activities. This work is vital to our business competitiveness, and we will ensure that government funding for it is consolidated and marketed effectively and aggressively.

  58. The White Rose Consortium is a pioneering regional alliance of the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. It has secured University Challenge funding; formed a Faraday Partnership for enhanced packing technology, working with Pira International and Cambridge Consultants Ltd; and was one of the first to receive an award under the Biotechnology Exploitation Platform Challenge. It is currently developing an enterprise centre.

    The University of Warwick has pioneered a number of partnerships with business, particularly through Warwick Manufacturing Group and Warwick Business School. Warwick Manufacturing Group has developed partnerships at regional, national, and international levels, including a pathbreaking approach to continuous professional development for managers. Warwick Business School conducts leading edge research into business competitiveness.

  59. Universities therefore need to have incentives, particularly through the rationalised and better focused government support I have outlined, to open up to business. But they also need to become more entrepreneurial and aggressive in seeking new markets. For genuine diversity to flourish in higher education, universities and colleges need to become more responsive to new markets, and to generate income from new sources, as the most successful have done. Warwick University now earns over 54% of its income from non-public sources; and both City University and Cranfield Business School generate nearly half of their income from the private sector. The competitive pressures I described earlier are all pushing in these directions.

  60. A good example is continuing professional development. This is a major new area of expansion for higher education. As well as traditional professional programmes, this area of work now involves short courses, better tailored to individual need, and bespoke provision for companies. It is an area into which international providers are already expanding aggressively, as the experience of the USA shows, since it is highly profitable, and often readily amenable to on-line delivery. UK higher education must respond to this competitive challenge, providing flexible, high-quality learning programmes at times and places to suit the learner. Much more of this provision should be delivered on-site at the workplace, and geared to individual and business needs. The degrees delivered at the workplace by Glasgow Caledonian University are a good example of the on-site provision which I want to see expanded.

  61. The Engineering Department of Glasgow Caledonian University offers workplace degrees at Motorola (BEng Electronic Engineering) and the Post Office (Msc Maintenance Management).

    Staff travel to Motorola on three mornings each week to deliver lectures and tutorials between 7am and 10 am. Because case studies and project work are directly related to company needs, the BEng can be completed in the same timescale as for full-time campus students. Seventy per cent of the original student intake progressed onto the final year of the programme.

    The MSc in Maintenance Management is aimed at Royal Mail Automation Centre Managers. Delivery takes place through a week of full-time intensive lectures followed by support from module tutors, concluding with the submission of a set assessment. Examinations are required in all but one of the eight taught modules. Students can exit after four modules and gain a postgraduate certificate or after eight modules with a postgraduate diploma. The award of the MSc requires the completion of a project and the submission of an appropriate report.

  62. Higher education must also equip all graduates with the skills and abilities they need to perform effectively in the workplace and build rewarding careers. The public investment in students is substantial - as indeed is the financial contribution made by students themselves. So it is critical that graduates should leave higher education able and prepared to make an early and effective contribution to the knowledge-based economy. That means possession, alongside specialist knowledge, of ICT and other key skills; a flair for enterprise; the ability to think creatively, and an understanding of the working environment. Graduates want work which does justice to their achievements, and offers a satisfying and well paid career, and universities need to do more to help them secure it.

  63. I recognise, of course, that the employment prospects of young graduates are good even though there are now so many more of them. The proportion who are unemployed six months after graduating fell from 8% in 1996 to 5% in 1998. Moreover, the increasing complexity of working life means graduate skills are sought in a widening range of jobs. However, there are some marked differences in levels of unemployment between institutions and between subjects. Part of the difference will be the extent to which universities give students the generic, transferable skills which employers say they want: communication and teamworking; problem solving; interpersonal skills; business and customer awareness; and a willingness to continue to learn.

  64. So universities need to think much harder about what they offer students, and be willing to ask their graduates whether their courses could have been better - and act on the answers. Experience of the world of work and the development of transferable skills should become universal in the sector. The introduction of Foundation Degrees will boost this provision, through the stimulation of new links to employers, including vocational modules, and the development of work placement schemes. I want to see investment in work experience and work placement programmes on a basis comparable to that in North America. This activity should take place across disciplines, since the key issue is to develop the employability skills, creativity and enterprise of all students, not just of those on programmes of a traditionally vocational nature. The new funding arrangements for students have increased the relevance and focus they will wish to see to the world of employment.

  65. Hyper Island School of New Media Design is located in an old naval prison on the Baltic coast in Sweden. It aims to provide the new media with skilled professionals and brings together higher education and industry in new and innovative ways. Students develop specialist knowledge and acquire market-orientated skills through inter-disciplinary learning programmes which are built around real project work. Team-based collaboration, and the integration of academic and practical work, feature in all courses. Ninety-five percent of Hyper Island graduates find work in the new media industries, and others go onto further learning.

  66. Universities and colleges must also be sure that the careers advice they offer their students is relevant, up-to-date and effective. Graduates need good information on prospective careers, as well as knowledge and skills, to prosper in the labour market.

  67. I make this point strongly because I believe that we need significant improvement in careers guidance in higher education, linked both to effective experience of the world of work and to guidance on choices for learning and progression, so that students make informed choices and build steadily towards learning outcomes that equip them with a broad base of skills and knowledge. Provision of careers guidance is currently patchy, and we need significant improvement. This will assist in reducing the drop-out rate, albeit one that is very low by international standards.

  68. Higher education institutions also have a responsibility to influence the learning programmes of prospective students in a positive way. We are introducing important reforms to the 16-19 advanced level curriculum in September this year to enable young people to take on broader programmes of study - a wider range of subjects, vocational as well as academic options, and the key skills. We are also introducing new "advanced extension awards" for the most able students, the details of which are being drawn up by the QCA in close consultation with universities.

  69. It is in all our interests to encourage a broader base of learning at advanced level, so that higher education can better develop students’ creative, entrepreneurial and employability skills, as well as particular subject knowledge. Those skills are best developed by a post-16 programme which combines traditional depth of study with a good deal more breadth than we have been used to in this country. I want to see far more non-scientists pursuing advanced level study in maths, for instance. And more scientists taking a modern language. Our reforms will enable that aspiration to become a reality.

  70. It goes without saying, however, that the value higher education institutions place upon the reforms will be critical to their success. I am determined that we prevent the development of a vicious circle in which schools and colleges hesitate to promote greater breadth without a clear steer from higher education that breadth will be valued, while universities hesitate to offer that steer until they have seen the full effects of the reforms.

  71. So I am pleased that the evidence to date has shown strong support among universities for the thrust of the reforms. I am particularly glad that institutions such as University College London have taken such a positive approach by indicating now that breadth of study will be recognised in the admissions process alongside depth. I look to other universities to follow that lead.

  72. Universities & Social Inclusion

  73. I want also to address the issue of higher education and social justice directly. In a knowledge-economy, higher education becomes a potentially powerful instrument of social justice, since it serves not only as a driver of wealth creation, but as a critical determinant of life chances. As we expand access, and participation becomes the norm rather than the exception, so the higher education system will increasingly underpin social justice within the community. Rather than reinforcing social stratification, as it did for much of the 20th century, a modern, open higher education sector can take its place within a diverse framework of lifelong learning provision as a force for social justice.

  74. Crosland chose to meet this imperative through vocationally-orientated, locally accessible provision in the polytechnics. These created a distinct sector of higher education which, subsumed within local authorities, promoted wider access and helped secure local economic development. But his policy, successful as it was, deliberately therefore did not address the role of higher education in its totality. The wider contribution of higher education to the fulfilment of social justice remained unchartered terrain, and with it, the role of government policy towards the universities in this critical area. Only the creation of the Open University addressed social justice as a direct imperative of higher education policy, but, once again, a distinct entity was established, rather than a sector-wide initiative.

  75. The political landscape is different in the post-binary era. We cannot address the issue of higher education and its contribution to social justice other than on a sustained, sector-wide basis. What then are the components of a modern policy for higher education and its contribution to social cohesion and prosperity?

  76. The first is a system of student support which both adheres to progressive principles and facilitates access. The system of full public support for tuition fees and maintenance, to which the Left subscribed for many years, did not meet these criteria. It failed over the decades fundamentally to transform the socio-economic mix of the student intake, whilst at the same time it redistributed resources from ordinary taxpayers to the better off. Higher education has never been "free" in this sense: it has always been paid for, either directly, as in the case of individuals choosing part-time study, or through general taxation, which until recently subsidised those benefiting from higher education at the expense of those denied access.

  77. The new system of student support balances the contributions made by individuals and the community as a whole. It is more progressive than in the past, and it directs resources to those who need them most. Critically, it secures an income stream for higher education of fee contributions and loan repayments which underpins expansion and the widening of opportunities. We have already announced investment of an extra 11% in real terms in higher education for this Parliament; loan repayments and fee contributions alone will total 710m in England and Wales in 2001/2.

  78. In simple terms, the system gives us the resources we need for investment in access to a high-quality higher education sector, when as a nation, we would not otherwise be able to afford this investment against competing claims for funding for early years, schools standards and tackling the backlog of decay in education.

  79. The system also seeks to promote wider access by ensuring that students have enough funds to live on without being forced to rely unnecessarily on family resources; that modes of study, such as part-time learning, which are often favoured by individuals from less advantaged backgrounds, are better supported than they were; and by targeting particular groups of students such as lone parents, who require specific help. Our new student support measures for widening access will give particular help to mature students with children.

  80. In addition, we are now introducing into student support arrangements measures to promote institutional links between universities and young people from family backgrounds with no history of participation in higher education. I have recently announced that we will spend 10 million a year in pilots to promote these links between schools, further education colleges and universities - building on examples such as the scholarships financed by Robert Ogden in Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham which encourage access for disadvantaged students to Leeds University. Sheffield University has a COMPACT scheme which involves schools and colleges in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire. University academic staff identify prospective students in these schools and colleges and act as advocates on their behalf as they go through the higher education admissions process.

  81. We want to build on these links in order to nurture institutional capacity and commitment to wider access in both schools and colleges, and universities. They create a visible bridge for young people between school and college and a future in higher education.

  82. The second is the promotion of institutional responsiveness. A modern higher education sector must be open and inclusive. It must pursue wider social inclusion as an institutional objective. Success must be understood and measured by how far institutions serve the population as a whole - and that means people from all social class backgrounds and ethnic groups, and those with disabilities, at whatever stage of their lives. This will mean better access courses and similar initiatives which root higher education in the local community and open up provision to previously excluded groups. It means extra resources which unlock engagement in higher education from communities in which there is no expectation of it at present. This is work which the Higher Education Funding Council has taken forward as a priority, and I am grateful for this commitment. We must overcome the entrenched exclusion of large sections of our society from higher education.

  83. It will also mean facilitating choice and progression for students, enabling them to build steadily towards awards, and giving them more flexibility over when and where to study. Social justice requires the democratisation of participation in higher education, which, in turn, requires reform and modernisation of the sector itself.

  84. As our policies for raising school standards feed through into increased post-16 participation, and support for 16-19 learning is improved, I expect the numbers entering higher education from lower social income groups to rise. The introduction of Foundation Degrees and work-based entry into higher education will also widen access, enabling students to begin climbing the ladder of lifelong learning. More people will engage with higher education throughout their lives, and as the age profile of the population increases, higher education provision will need increasingly to respond to the needs of older students.

  85. In sum, higher education in this century will need to look very different to the system which evolved in the second half of the twentieth. It will typically be mixed mode - delivering through ICT and other learning at a distance, as well as face-to-face. It will offer flexible provision tailored to need, overcoming traditional distinctions between full and part-time study, and responding rapidly to changing social and economic conditions. Its students will reflect the society of which it is a part, drawn from all backgrounds, and they will undertake learning at home or in the workplace, as well as at the campus. Learning programmes will be more diverse and offered within a flexible credit and qualifications framework which embraces intensive short courses and recurrent lifetime participation.

  86. Meeting the Global Challenge: Excellence and Diversity in UK Higher Education

  87. These changes will be reflected in the shape, structure, management and funding of the sector - all of which offer challenges to higher education and government. How then must we respond?

  88. I believe the first major change must be to ensure that the global transformation of industrial and commercial operations is reflected in higher education. Universities are increasingly fostering international alliances. Just today, four leading UK universities - Leeds, Sheffield, Southampton and York, have announced a new partnership with four leading US universities, the first step in the creation of a Worldwide Universities Network. They have agreed to collaborate initially on research, postgraduate degrees and continuing professional development. Another example is Universitas 21 - a network of research intensive universities which aims to assist its members to internationalise their operations. Its members span the UK, Canada, Australia, continental Europe and the Far East. It facilitates student and staff mobility and international teaching. The alliance provides international benchmarking in areas such as quality, student outcomes, and management efficiency.

  89. The new link-up we have sponsored from the Capital Modernisation Fund between MIT and the University of Cambridge, which will spread innovation and excellence around the country, is another example. It will build upon the international expertise of both universities, and linking with the Institutes of Enterprise, will bring significant advantages to businesses and higher education in the UK. And the new e-Universities collaboration will form close links with this project. The Cambridge/MIT project could have a lot to contribute, in teaching materials, their configuration for web-based delivery, and experience of handling international projects to the e-Universities. Moreover, the e-Universities initiative could provide a vehicle for other leading UK universities to develop comparable links with partner universities overseas.

  90. Such collaboration is increasingly important for at least two reasons. First, no single university has the resources or expertise to develop world-class capacity across all disciplines, - and this is true as much in respect of teaching materials and courseware, as it is research. Secondly, alliances form the basis for more effective engagement with the private sector. Resources can be shared, and different strengths brought into play together.

  91. I want to see these developments go further. Universities should consolidate bilateral links and form new global alliances and federations with overseas institutions to promote not only research, but also new teaching strategies and student and staff mobility. Globalisation has restructured most big industries. Those with which education is closely allied - i.e. those which are heavily research or communications-based - have undergone significant change. It is unlikely, therefore, that similar pressures will not develop in higher education.

  92. In the UK, these developments will often be transatlantic, given our historic links with the US and our shared language. But I also want us to build new alliances with leading European universities, cementing the progress we have made with European Union higher education mobility programmes and the links that have been forged through regional development funds, and deepening our engagement. This is imperative in order that higher education can play a central role in the new direction we must take in Europe: to become the world’s most prosperous and socially inclusive knowledge economy.

  93. I should add at this point that the bottom line for social inclusion in modern Europe is possession of the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. We can do more together in Europe to tackle the problem of the millions of adults who lack these basic skills - a legacy of the 20th century that we must redress urgently. In particular, I want to see the creation of a European Centre for Excellence in Adult Literacy and Numeracy, bringing together leading university departments of education across Europe. The centre would develop research programmes, facilitate the sharing of best practice and provide professional development for teachers of adult basic skills. It is an objective I shall pursue in coming months.

  94. International alliances will utilise ICT extensively. And as John Daniel, the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University has pointed out, universities will want to link to the mega-universities - the distance learning institutions teaching over 100,000 people - in order to develop and share ICT applications. Through these new alliances we can stay ahead of the game, sharing resources and spreading excellence to an expanded student population.

  95. All this will call for better management of change. As the Prime Minister put it in his Romanes lecture last year, in the knowledge economy, entrepreneurial universities will be as important as entrepreneurial businesses, the one fostering the other. The ‘do nothing’ university will not survive - and it will not be the job of government to bail it out. Universities need to adapt rapidly to the top-down influences of globalisation and the new technologies, as well as the bottom-up imperatives of serving the local labour market, innovating with local companies, and providing professional development courses that stimulate economic and intellectual growth. Above all, quality will be paramount. Diversity with quality will be the benchmark by which UK higher education will be seen and judged by those making choices, as businesses, individuals and nation states across the globe.

  96. Universities are autonomous, and will need to demonstrate their ability continuously to improve their management. Leadership is a critical ingredient of success, particularly when change is extensive or rapid. Throughout our education system, professional leadership is the key to securing high standards. A modern, open higher education sector requires sustained vision and committed management , so that the adaptation which is necessary can be achieved through well-planned restructuring of departments, rationalisations and mergers of institutions.

  97. However, it is well known that collegiate decision-making does not facilitate rapidity of response to changing conditions. Its not difficult to see why. These structures often militate against urgent action. But by the same token, simplistic models of corporate leadership have been abandoned in companies which rely for their success on the knowledge, skills and creative input of their staff. Flatter management has been the byword of post-Fordist restructuring.

  98. As Howard Newby has pointed out, the objective must be to secure structures of governance which combine collegiality with an institutional ability to act decisively and adapt quickly to change - which places a premium on the quality of institutional management. If some institutional managers are unconstrained, they can be the downfall of an institution as much as a slow death from management inertia.

  99. With effective leadership must come accountability. The empowerment of universities to pursue entrepreneurial activity and take new risks must be matched by robust performance measures and financial audit procedures which hold universities to account. It also means being held accountable to students who, since the introduction of fees, have become more critical consumers of higher education provision and have much higher expectations of what it should offer them.

  100. This accountability holds true for equal opportunities for women, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities as university staff. Higher education has not made sufficient progress on equal opportunities for its employees in the past. In fact, the situation is frankly deplorable. Pay discrimination is widespread, and institutional leadership is totally unrepresentative of wider society. Only 5 of the 72 English universities and only 6 of the Standing Conference of Principals institutions are headed by women, and there are no ethnic minority heads in either of these categories.

  101. I recognise that there is now a genuine willingness to tackle that legacy, the effects of which can be seen throughout the sector, and not just at the top. I have had the irony pointed out to me recently that the sector has made significant progress in equal opportunity for the recruitment of ethnic minority and women students, but not for its own staff.

  102. Universities employ some of the most skilled, dedicated and knowledgeable people in the country. They are a huge and precious resource, and institutional staffing management is therefore critical - particularly as new roles for academic and support staff develop out of the use of ICTs, entrepreneurial activity and interaction with business, and improvements to teaching quality. As in our schools and colleges, the role of the teacher is changing and evolving, and university management must facilitate the appropriate institutional responses.

  103. Pay is, of course, a central concern in the sector. The data show those working for universities have seen their pay slip back compared to other groups over the last decade or so. I can’t give guarantees today on this score. But the spending review is under way, looking at university funding across the board, and pay is a factor in that.

  104. An agenda for action

  105. Let me set out the major conclusions of this statement of policy.

  106. The development of the policy and funding framework for higher education has been guided by the need to balance the contributions made by individuals who benefit from higher learning; by government in the pursuit of social justice and meaningful social inclusion; and by business and commerce in their interaction with the sector. The balance to be struck is clearly a matter for continuing debate. The central question I have sought to address here is how we can develop and strengthen diversity within higher education - and its interface with further education, new forms of virtual learning, and the opening up of new learning markets - whilst avoiding a scenario of a fracturing of the sector, which would reduce the currency and value of higher education as a whole, rather than expand opportunity for participation in high-quality higher education? In other words, how do we respond to the global challenges I have outlined, generating real diversity with excellence for all, without sacrificing the sector to simple, low-level competition, in which the gains we have made in the recent past have been surrendered?

  107. This is why the question of ensuring that expansion and improved access goes hand-in-hand with the enhancement of quality, as well as increased diversification, is so important. Universities must play to their strengths, and they must do so by enhancing teaching quality, making more effective use of ICT, securing the highest standards in research and knowledge-transfer, and, critically, by building new alliances which bring together institutions in the pursuit of excellence, reflecting the reality of globalisation, rather than the alternative of fragmentation, low-level competition, and isolation which would be the hallmark of going-it-alone.

  108. So what does this mean for institutions?. First, universities and colleges need to set clear strategies against the background of the global changes I have outlined. That means they must look ahead, setting their sights on the coming decade and beyond.

  109. Second, the system must now evolve greater diversity, so that there is effective responsiveness from the local through to the global. As I have said, this will mean a strengthening of global alliances and further structural reorganisation, and a new shape to the sector with the widespread take-up of Foundation Degrees. The critical issue is that universities define their missions and pursue them with vigour. A unitary sector is not a uniform one. Rather, we must seek excellence with genuine diversity. Mission statements are not PR brochures; they are essential definitions of ethos and purpose.

  110. For institutions, this means, in different measure, conscious action to:

    • balance teaching, research and knowledge transfer;

    • secure improved quality across each of these missions;

    • support wider participation and the drive for social inclusion;

    • expand into new markets, particularly continuing professional development and lifelong learning provision, facilitating recurrent higher education participation and opening up towards business in more radical and imaginative ways;

    • preserve and enhance the sector’s traditional scholarship role, one which higher education, and higher education alone, can perform;

    • improve management capacity, particularly for effective staff development, within the context of clear accountability to government and society;

    • develop far better links with employers and others, and significantly improve careers guidance and work placements, in order to equip students with the skills and aptitudes they require to prosper in their careers and contribute effectively to workplace performance;

    • develop and utilise ICT more systematically and effectively, both in core activity, and in the development of new teaching and learning alliances between institutions, so that excellence can be offered to an expanded student population;

    • and, not least, tackle the unacceptable situation in respect of equal opportunities.

  1. How can government best support universities in the pursuit of these objectives?

  2. First, we have a responsibility to secure the public resources necessary for higher education to face the future with confidence. Our new student support system enables us to do that. But the quid pro quo must be that universities and colleges pursue new income sources more aggressively. Funding streams, both public and private, should promote greater diversity and support the pursuit of excellence and innovation, whether in teaching, research or business interaction.

  3. Second, we can minimise the burdens on higher education, consistent with the requirements of quality, accountability and audit, so that universities are free to open up new opportunities. Intervention should be made in inverse proportion to success.

  4. Third, we can develop a clearer, rationalised framework for innovation and knowledge transfer, so that this third mission of working with businesses and the wider community is well understood and funded transparently and effectively.

  5. Finally, we can use funding and other policy tools to work with higher education to secure social justice. Government policy - through expanded opportunities such as the new Foundation Degrees, the student support system, grant to the Higher Education Funding Council, and other polices - will continue to promote equitable participation in a flexible and responsive sector, linking across to wider education and social policy programmes in order to generate a coherent approach to lifelong learning.

  1. Conclusion

  2. Let me end, first on a political, and then on a personal note. I believe that higher education plays a critical role in the capacity of government and society to respond to globalisation without abandoning wealth creation and social justice. It forms part of the repertoire of the centre-left rejection of both the neo-liberal agenda for globalisation, which is simply to compel governments to retreat from institutional governance in the promotion of social justice, and the isolationist response, which is to reject openness and put up the shutters against global change. Higher education generates the innovation, skills and knowledge upon which societies depend for their capacity to succeed and prosper in the global economy. It enables a transformative response to the undoubted power of global economic and social forces, rather than a protectionist rejection of them or neo-liberal surrender to their worst consequences.

  3. Higher education also embodies the values which underpin our democracy: freedom, the pursuit of truth, and collective engagement in the improvement of the human condition. It carries within it our past, as much as our potential for the future. In these essential purposes of higher education lies its vital importance to this government and to the country as a whole.

  4. Higher education has also meant a great deal to me personally. In the community in which I grew up, it was unheard of for anybody to enter higher education, and in too many communities that remains the case. It is one of the reasons why I take the widening participation agenda so seriously. Higher education opened up significant new opportunities for me. It lifted my sights and raised my expectations. The learning I undertook, and the friendships I formed at university, have been of enduring value to me. These are things I want not only for my own family, but for many thousands more of our people, particularly my constituents and those in similar areas of our nation.

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Photographs of David Blunkett's Visit

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Video Clips of David Blunkett's Visit

Some video clips of the visit will be available here on 15th Febuary 2000 from about 6.00 P.M.





The following clips were recorded during the visit:

The Secretary of State with students in the Video Edit Suite






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