Universities minister praises sector for ‘rising to the challenge’

Michelle Donelan salutes university leaders and staff in speech ahead of House of Commons summer recess

Universities minister Michelle Donelan MP has praised university leaders and staff in a speech delivered to the Fifth Festival of Higher Education this morning.

There was “so much to celebrate”, a smiling Donelan told the audience of key figures in higher education, as she spoke of the “sterling efforts” of universities to adapt their teaching during the pandemic, drawing attention to blended learning innovations she had seen at the Royal College of Music, the University of Essex and Imperial College.

She also saluted the help universities had given their wider communities during lockdown.

“I understand just how hard it’s been,” she said. “You have risen to that challenge.”

The minister also spoke about her personal experience of higher education, saying that she had been the first person in her family to go to university: “I directly know the power of university to transform lives.”

Moving onto policy, she said she was “delighted” that the Office for Students (OfS) had “stamped out” conditional unconditional offers, and wants to see the practice “end for good – there is no justification.”

Ms Donelan also spoke of her passion for social mobility, and her enthusiasm for Zero Gravity, the online platform that connects state school pupils with university mentors to help them apply to Oxbridge and Russell Group universities.

She encouraged providers to think about “flexibility” regarding the delivery of degree courses and reiterated the government’s support for degree apprenticeships, accelerated degrees, part-time learning, higher technical education and “more modular provision” generally.

The House of Commons summer recess begins tomorrow (22 July).

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