Political policies fuel HE fears

Annual survey by PA Consulting Group exposes HE concerns over potential threats posed by Governmental policy

By Sophie Harrison

A survey run by PA Consulting Group has reported a deep concern among some two thirds of higher education leaders, over the influence of government policy.

Heading the list of concerns shared by universities included the possibility of UK withdrawal from the EU, in addition to potential political upheaval with China, in the near future; they recognise the risk of Chinese government restricting the flow of students to the UK, or withdrawing from academic partnerships.

The survey also disclosed little confidence, among HE frontrunners, that the next General Election will resolve these issues; fewer than 10% believed that HE reform would make a visible mark on any of the main parties’ manifestos.

Meanwhile, over 70% of vice-chancellors expect any future government to postpone early decisions about funding or regulation, predicting another independent review instead, and 40% of vice-chancellors also believe that, subsequently, a significant number of institutional failures in HE is likely; more than half expect to see significant rationalisation, through mergers and take-overs.

Paul Woodgates from PA Consulting Group, said: “Vice-chancellors feel strongly that government intervention policies, such as teacher training and overseas student visa controls, represent the greatest constraint to their success. They see government as forcing them to become more competitive in an open market, while restraining their responses to this market.

“Universities are suddenly having to adapt their business strategies much faster than their governance models can cope with, creating a sense of grievance from universities towards government. This is a remarkable change, as only a few years ago universities looked to government for strategic leadership.”  

Nonetheless, confidence in HE institutions does remain. While recognising the growth potential from new markets, such as online and professional programmes, 80% of vice-chancellors still appear to be pinning their hopes on growing traditional, on-campus taught degree programmes.

Mike Boxall, also of PA Consulting Group, said: “Overall, our survey suggests that vice-chancellors are confident in their institutions’ ability to withstand market turbulence. But is their confidence misplaced? They fear for other universities’ survival as markets become more competitive, while seeming to overlook the fact that they rely on the exact same markets and face the same risks.”

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