srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education

Ian Mc Nay


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Lessons for HE leaders from recent events

By Ian McNay

This is a longer piece than usual, an essay on leadership in HE, triggered by reflections on recent events and the lessons they offer. Turbulence in political leadership has been rife in the last six months from Italy to Gambia and New Zealand; UK and USA; the Labour Party, the Conservatives, UKIP; even the Open University. Which bridges to the first of five lessons to be drawn for HE leaders.

Lesson 1: listen to those you lead

If not, they will leave you – you risk losing their support, as in the OU, their loyalty, their commitment, even their compliance. Alternative leaders will spring up. I had hoped that the discourse about ‘disconnected’ might shift after the referendum vote. That showed that it was not the underclass who had disconnected from reality, but the political class whose bubble had floated off in to some cloud cuckoo land far from the reality of ‘others’ in those parts of Britain similar to my roots, on Teesside. It could have been Ashington, Scunthorpe, Motherwell, the Welsh valleys – alien places the perceivedly posh politicians do not go to and of which they have no understanding. But, after the shock wore off, the liberal elite, with its high proportion of graduates, returned to blaming the disenchanted – Hillary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ – for their ignorance or even lack of gratitude for what the EU/Obama had done for them. As with the rust belt in the USA, the view was that, to quote Shirley Maclaine in Sweet Charity, ‘there’s got to be something better than this’. Or even, ‘it can’t get any worse, and voting to continue means more of the same old, same old, which has done nothing for us’. So, change, any change, was seen as worth the risk, even if its proponents were lying clowns. What does that say about their views of the incumbent leaders? Continue reading

Ian Mc Nay


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Excellence and equity

By Ian McNay

This piece is shorter than planned, for which my apologies, though some of you may be grateful. We may get sucked in to the excellence debate over the next few months. My concern is about equity, and what has emerged recently on this.

One of the issues raised by the Green Paper is a commitment to doubling BME entrants to HE, and looking to the white male underclass. The second is urgent, but goes beyond HE. The first is odd, because, overall, participation rates from BME communities in  the UK are higher than for the white population. That is despite the evidence from Vicki Boliver and Tariq Modood about racial imbalance in the profile of offers made, particularly by elite universities, and despite Mary Curnock Cook’s comments.

My regret is that my own university failed to look at impact when the new VC reduced full-time undergraduate intake following higher fees in an attempt to move up league tables by raising the average UCAS tariff of entrants. Continue reading

Paul Temple


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The student experience in England: changing for the better and the worse?

By Paul Temple

When the present English tuition fee regime was being planned, there were plenty of voices from inside universities warning that it would change the nature of the relationship between students and their universities for the worse. Students would, it was feared, become customers, rather than junior partners in an academic enterprise. Indeed, this was what the Government’s 2011 White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System, seemed to look forward to: “Better informed students will take their custom to the places offering good value for money” (para 2.24) – in other words, they would, it was hoped, act like normal consumers. Has this happened? Continue reading


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The Catalan universities and the ‘unseen scenario’ of a hypothetical independence

By Michele Girotto

The self-determination referendum is a current hot topic in Catalonia. A reflection of this atmosphere is the pro-independence and the right to vote march that took place in Barcelona on 11 September during Catalonia’s national day. The debates surrounding the referendum are bringing forth issues of history, culture, language, legislation, economic and financial affairs, as well as education. Concentrating on the single topic of education, there have been several arguments engendered over the past years and especially in recent days, about whether an independent Catalonia would perform better in its national higher education system.

According to the president of the Vives Network of Universities, a non-profit organisation that represents and coordinates joint action in higher education, research and culture of 21 universities from 4 different European countries in the Mediterranean area, a 100% Catalan government would pay more attention to higher education Continue reading

Vicky Gunn


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Interdependence and HE systems

by Vicky Gunn

My life has entered a period of dramatic change. I am not referring here to my imminent move from an institution in which I have worked for nearly 18 years (Glasgow University) to a new adventure at Glasgow School of Art. No, the dramatic change I refer to here was my intellectual discomfort around the Scottish independence referendum. For me, the last few months have involved a growing realization that the fragile imaginary social fabric (to adopt a phrase of Maurice Bloch’s) which is stitched together to tailor the United Kingdom was being unpicked by two seamstresses of quite different hues: one focused on the holistic ‘sew the patchwork quilt together but slightly differently’ argument, the other on the ‘unpick the lot and start again’ one. Both have seemed wanting in my mind, because both appeared to come from an ultimately misleading question: should Scotland become an independent country? Continue reading

Paul Temple


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Light at the end of the tunnel?

By Paul Temple

Metaphors involving the word “light” are often invoked to describe the university’s task. Arriving at the new campus of the University of Macau, such metaphors seem redundant: you emerge into the daylight from a one-and-a-half kilometre tunnel which links the campus, which is in Chinese territory, with Macau. This is necessary because, despite extensive land reclamation, there wasn’t enough space in Macau itself to build the one square kilometre campus deemed necessary to meet the higher education needs of the Macau SAR (Special Administrative Region), the ex-Portuguese counterpart of Hong Kong, an hour away across the Pearl River estuary. Because movement between Macau and the rest of China is tightly controlled (as with Hong Kong), the new campus had to be separated from the rest of the mainland by a security fence and what is in effect a moat. The only access is by the tunnel. Continue reading

Paul Temple


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‘Alternative’ they may be, but ‘providers’ …?

By Paul Temple

Not that many SRHE members – I’m guessing here – will have called in on the London College of Business Sciences in Dock Road, E14. If you were planning a visit, you’d need to be sure that you hadn’t confused it with the London College of Business Management. Other traps for the unwary could be the London College of International Business Studies, not to mention the London College of Business Management and IT. Or indeed any one of a long list of for-profit colleges with the words ‘London’, ‘College’ and ‘Business’ in the title. The QAA has the thankless (and it seems to me pointless) task of inspecting these places. The London College of Business Sciences, to make a random choice, was established in 2010 and has changed ownership every year since then. It’s not then particularly surprising that the QAA in a report this year found that ‘The College’s…management of academic standards…is not fully effective’.

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