Labour must ‘foster collaboration rather than competition’ – MillionPlus

Labour must avoid the pitfalls of the Augar review and deliver sustained investment, Prof Lynn Dobbs said at a conference fringe event

Labour must “foster collaboration rather than competition” in tertiary education if it enters government, MillionPlus have said.

In a wide-ranging speech to a fringe event at the Labour Party conference, Prof Lynn Dobbs, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University and member of MillionPlus, laid out the priorities of the association.

MillionPlus, which represents 21 modern UK universities, said sustainable investment would mean universities and colleges could achieve “their shared potential together”.

Modern universities don’t always have the endowments and property portfolio that some other universities tend to have
– Prof Lynn Dobbs, MillionPlus

Prof Dobbs also called for the reintroduction of maintenance grants and money to help poorer students cover their living costs, which she described as “the most significant barriers to entry”.

In a rebuke to the Augar review, the vice-chancellor said, “shifting money around within education only moves problems from one part of the sector to the other, and from one set of students to the other”.

The review of post-18 education and funding – led by Dr Philip Augar – called for a freeze in taxpayer funding for universities until 2023, amounting to a 11% cut in funding. The panel also proposed a fee cap of £7,500 which, according to independent research by London Economics, would amount to a 36% fall in university income.

Based on findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on the cost of subjects to the taxpayer, the Augar review questioned whether the current number of art students is “strategically desirable” given graduates’ predicted earnings and the cost of loan write-offs .

“We judge that the current method of university funding has resulted in an accidental over-investment in some subjects and an under-investment in others that is at odds with the government’s Industrial Strategy and with taxpayers’ interests,” the Augar review noted.

Read more: Augar review quietly shelved

Calling for an expansion in post-18 education, Prof Dobbs said: “Despite the populist narrative of ‘too many students’, fewer than 50% of 30 years olds in the UK have had the opportunity to experience any form of higher education, this is a low bar that we should be seeking to leap over.”

“The requirements of any system of investment in HE is pretty clear. The most essential of these is to guarantee the unit of resource invested in each and every student at all institutions. This means that no matter where you go and what you study you will have the investment in your education that you need and deserve,” she added.

The report of post-18 education and funding “failed to please anybody, not least because this was politically driven and lacked the necessary independence and scope”, Prof Dobbs said.

Prof Dobbs said MillionPlus member institutions were based in regions that would benefit from strong higher education providers but added that their needs might be different from older Russell Group universities.

“Modern universities don’t always have the endowments and property portfolio that some other universities tend to have – we were created by our communities in our present forms many decades ago through our local authorities, and we educate people from all backgrounds in those localities. That grounded, civic mission animates and inspires us to this day. Income from the graduate contribution through fees is crucial for what we do,” Prof Dobbs said.

The association counts the universities of Bedfordshire, Sunderland, Anglia Ruskin, Staffordshire, Cumbria and Wolverhampton among its members.

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