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
- 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
- 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.
Croslands 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, Croslands speech was a landmark for the
higher education policy of the 1960s Labour government.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
Globalisation, the knowledge economy & the delivery of higher education
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 bachelors and masters degrees for nurses
and continuing education for physicians.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
UfIs 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.
- 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. Im 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.
- 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
whats 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
- 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 students 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.
- 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.
- 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
Globalisation and Research
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- The UK has world-class excellence in university research and this is recognised and
rewarded through the Research Assessment Exercise. With 1% of the worlds population,
we conduct 5.5% of the worlds 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
Higher Education, Innovation and Economic Prosperity
- I want to turn now to the wider role of higher education in the knowledge economy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
Universities & Social Inclusion
- 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
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
Meeting the Global Challenge: Excellence and Diversity in UK Higher Education
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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 worlds most prosperous and socially inclusive knowledge economy.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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 cant 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.
An agenda for action
- Let me set out the major conclusions of this statement of policy.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 sectors 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
- 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.
- How can government best support universities in the pursuit of these objectives?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.