As pro vice-chancellor for external relations at Southampton Solent University, the article on the unsustainability of education in this morning’s Daily Telegraph – written by Nick Timothy, former adviser to Theresa May, and trailed on its front page (see below) – was of particular interest to me as I made my way to the clearing hub ahead of today’s A-level results.
Mr Timothy begins his article with a tale about how a young man who had cut his hair at the barber shop had told him that he was a graduate of the football studies degree at my university. He was “friendly, articulate and skilled”, he wrote, before postulating that the young barber might not believe that his studies were worth the financial investment.
Before I consider some of the wider issues in the article, I would first like to tell Nick a bit more about the football studies course that he questions the value of – something that he failed to ask the graduate he mentions in his article.
Our football studies courses go way beyond what occurs on the pitch, as they provide a unique insight into the game. Students are equipped with knowledge of the game’s structure, development and how it is effectively managed in an increasingly corporate environment. Graduates are currently employed in a wide range of roles – from performance analysts to commercial managers – at almost all Premier League football clubs, and several clubs in the English Football League.
Three-quarters of students are employed in graduate-level jobs six months after graduating, and student satisfaction is above the sector average – I would say that has some value.
I would be interested to know how Mr Timothy rates the best universities and courses. Surely there is no “wrong” institution, as he terms it. It is what best fits an individual’s learning style and interests, which is why we encourage potential students to attend open days and find out as much about the courses and university they are interested in as possible.
We also need to stop using words such as “little benefit”, as education is more than just learning a skill – it is about developing social capital, making friends and working with others from all around the world – this is obviously something that our graduate impressed Ms May’s former adviser with when he was speaking to him.
To see the impact that universities have on people’s lives, watching them move confidently into the world, is truly amazing – we must never underestimate the impact that universities have on society and the individuals who they attract.
As for the importance of degrees in relation to economic growth, I would argue that universities have a far-reaching impact on the economy. A new report looking at the economic impact of my own university suggests that we generated £563.6 million GVA (gross value added) and supported about 6,700 jobs across the UK.
Helping our graduates into successful careers is very important to us. We work closely with industry and embed initiatives into the curriculum to help our students achieve this; it’s no wonder then that we were recently ranked 12th out of 124 British institutions by The Economist in its analysis of government longitudinal education outcomes data.
I would also like to point out that many of the suggestions Nick puts forward to “radically change” education are already going on in much of the sector, Southampton Solent included. The sector is going through radical change all the time, as we evolve with the disciplines that we teach and research. For many of us, our research informs our teaching, and this then informs future careers.
We need to be looking forwards and not backwards, and it would worry me if this “radical” change tries to push us back into a system for the elite few.
Universities are already looking at the new post-16 skills plan launched in July 2016, which provides academic, technical and apprenticeship pathways. Modern universities such as Southampton Solent are already helping to drive forward the government’s apprenticeship agenda. We are already leading in many areas of the apprenticeship development, being a trailblazer institution in the South. The apprenticeship standards are designed by industry, to support industry.
As for forcing a remodel of some institutions along the lines of the Dutch Hogescholen and German Fachhochschulen, I would like to point out that these are all considered universities and not unlike this country’s “modern universities”. The comparison here is out of touch if that’s not already understood.
Many of our students are the first in their family to attend university and we are passionate about the research-informed teaching and real-world experience that we can offer them. Our door is always open to anyone who would like to find out more about what goes on at Southampton Solent. Nick Timothy, consider yourself invited.
Tere Daly is pro vice-chancellor for external relations at Southampton Solent University.