Local issues will need very close attention

October 2, 2014

The two opinion pieces on the implications for higher education of the Scottish referendum raise questions for universities in England as debate about the governance of England begins.

Sir David Bell, who backed the “no” vote (“No: it’s the right answer”, 25 September), says that “higher education could benefit from further devolution to the cities and regions. Universities are major players in local and regional economies, and enhancing powers at that level could be beneficial [and] almost certainly…more useful than an English parliament.”

Willy Maley, who supported a “yes” vote (“It should have been ‘aye’ ”, 25 September), goes beyond the narrowly economic role of universities. Referring to the long Scottish tradition of higher education contributing
to the public good, he suggests that: “As academics we must be more engaged with the communities our campus sits among. Widening participation in higher education is as vital as widening participation in politics.” Like many, he puts the local dimension into a Scottish debate around “what are universities for?”.

Let’s hope that the role of universities in English civil society beyond the Westminster bubble will not be neglected in debate about the governance of England. As the Higher Education Funding Council for England has recognised in the latest call for bids to its Catalyst fund, universities are key “anchor” institutions in their local communities over and beyond their direct and indirect employment effects.

But developing and enhancing this role in the context of the current structures and mechanisms for funding both higher education and local government in England will not be easy. As in other highly centralised countries, there is no geographical dimension to higher education policy, and local government has no responsibility in this area. The system has evolved with no top-down planning, and there is the added complication of the dominance of London and the South East.

In this context, a number of challenges come to mind. How can institutional rankings be reconciled with the need to develop a higher education system sensitive to different communities’ needs? In the higher education market, will we see vulnerable institutions emerge in places where a university plays a key anchoring role but which themselves are places that are highly vulnerable economically, socially and culturally? Where do universities fit into ideas of giving more powers to leading city regions?

There are many questions like these around the place of universities in any more devolved system of English governance. As many of these are highly contentious within higher education and politics more generally, theyneed to be taken forward by those outside the sector. Hopefully some respected independent body will take them up.

John Goddard
Emeritus professor of regional development studies
Newcastle University

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

PhD Scholar in Medicine

University Of Queensland

Manager, Research Systems and Performance

Auckland University Of Technology

Lecturer in Aboriginal Allied Health

University Of South Australia

Lecturer, School of Nursing & Midwifery

Western Sydney University

College General Manager, SHE

La Trobe University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham