Review 2017: Maddalaine Ansell, University Alliance

A look back at the year that was in higher education: was it a success for the sector?

Rebecca Paddick speaks to Maddalaine Ansell, Chief Executive for University Alliance, about the past year in HE and what might be in store for 2018. 

1.    In your opinion, has it been a successful year for UK HE?

It has been a time of immense change, but there is lots to be positive about as we look back over 2017. The industrial strategy makes it clear how important universities are to productivity and growth in all parts of the UK.  As universities that focus on technical and professional education and applied research, we are crucial to the success of cities and sectors.  We also play a major role in social mobility – offering opportunity to people from all parts of society.   The first results of the Teaching Excellence Framework have prompted a more nuanced understanding of the different models of excellence in the UK’s higher education system. Alongside this, we’ve seen the continued expansion of new routes into higher education such as degree apprenticeships.

2.    Will we really start to see the impact of Brexit on the HE sector next year?

We’re unlikely to see the full impact of Brexit on HE for some time yet – and much will depend on the final deal for international students and staff and access to EU research networks.  One positive is that universities are looking to expand their global partnerships beyond Europe. Earlier this year University Alliance led a mission to strengthen our collaboration with the Australian Technology Network of Universities. As the UK seeks to expand trade links further afield, university networks are a hugely valuable resource. 

3.    UK institutions performed well in the world university rankings and league tables this year, suggesting we are doing enough to stay competitive in an international market, do you agree with this? What could we be doing better?

Given the significant benefits which international students bring to the UK and in a world where there is increasing competition from universities overseas, we need to do all we can to welcome new arrivals. In recent years, the inclusion of international students in the net migration target and reduction in post-study work rights have sent the wrong message. We are hoping that the recent request to the MAC Committee to look at the value of international students indicates a sea-change.  Initiatives  like the GREAT Campaign have helped. 

4.    The first round of TEF results were released earlier this year, what impact will this have on the sector in 2018?

The TEF has already encouraged universities to look across all their courses and think how they can make them better – and lead to the best possible outcomes for students. For example, University Alliance has launched the Teaching Excellence Alliance, a programme designed to share best practice and to better understand and champion excellent teaching.

5.    What lessons have we learned in 2017 that will help us prepare for the year ahead?

Be proactive as well as reactive. We have had to deal with a tremendous amount of policy change in a context made uncertain by Brexit and the political fallout in the UK – and universities have got caught up in some of this. Next year may be just as turbulent, so it is important that we continue to put forward a positive agenda of our own. 

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The international student pathway reimagined

Thursday, December 2, 11AM (GMT)