Create 50 campuses in higher education ‘cold spots’, says report

Ministers should see higher education as integral to levelling-up agenda instead of ‘taking any opportunity to pick a fight with universities’, says major report

June 15, 2022

The Westminster government should see higher education as integral to the levelling-up agenda instead of “taking any opportunity to pick a fight with universities”, and should support the creation of 50 new campuses in deprived areas, according to the Times Education Commission’s report.

The report, which says English tuition fees should be allowed to rise from 2025, ending a freeze cutting university funding, criticises ministers for a “capricious and overly political” stance on higher education driven by hostility to expansion.

Ministers’ opinion that “too many people are going on to higher education” means that they “take any opportunity to pick a fight with universities, whether over free speech or so-called ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’”, says the report.

The report’s 12 recommendations, welcomed by 10 former education secretaries and two former prime ministers, also include introducing “a 15-year strategy for education, drawn up in consultation with business leaders, scientists, local mayors, civic leaders and cultural figures, putting education above short-term party politics and bringing out the best in our schools, colleges and universities”.

THE Campus views: We need to create a tutoring army to level up education

The commission, chaired by Rachel Sylvester, a journalist on The Times, has been examining the UK’s whole education system for the past year and considering its future, in the wake of the pandemic. The 22-strong panel of commissioners includes former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone, University of Manchester vice-chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell, children’s author Sir Michael Morpurgo and Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson.

Among recommendations at school level are for the creation of “a British baccalaureate, offering broader academic and vocational qualifications at 18, with parity in funding per pupil in both routes”, and of “an army of undergraduate tutors earning credit towards their degrees by helping pupils who fall behind to catch up”.

On higher education, the report says the government’s focus “can be more about who is excluded than who is included”, as in its recent consultation on the reintroduction of student number caps and minimum grade requirements, “which according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies would disproportionately affect poorer pupils”.

Lord Johnson says in the commission report: “Abolishing student number controls has been the standout levelling-up policy of the last decade.”

A knowledge economy “in which jobs are overwhelmingly created in sectors disproportionately employing graduates” will mean that “putting high-quality higher education within reach of more people will become ever more important”, he adds.

The government’s apparent intent to restrict university numbers “is at odds with demographic trends”, says the commission report, highlighting Higher Education Policy Institute analysis suggesting that 350,000 extra full-time places will be needed in England by 2035 just to keep up with the rising number of 18-year-olds.

“The government should see higher education as part of its ‘levelling up’ agenda rather than something to be denigrated,” the report says.

It proposes that “the planning and funding systems should be used to incentivise the creation of 50 new university campuses in higher education ‘cold spots’ and deprived parts of the country. These should include university wings in further education colleges and satellite campuses, which will be quicker and easier to get off the ground than whole new institutions.”

The report highlights the example of Nottingham Trent University’s partnership with Vision West Nottinghamshire College, providing higher education programmes at the further education college’s main campus in Mansfield, in nursing, sports science and business.

Edward Peck, the NTU vice-chancellor, says in the commission report that proximity is crucial to encourage social mobility “because local people can then see that university is not mysterious, you just move from one building to another, it’s 50 yards away, with the same canteen and car park. The more you create physical distance between further education and higher education the less students are likely to progress.”

“The government is setting up a false choice between higher and further education and there should be more collaboration rather than competition between the sectors,” the commission report says.

“Student tuition fees, which have been frozen for five years, should be allowed to rise from 2025” to address a situation where vice-chancellors fear it is “no longer economic to increase the number of home students”, it also says.

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Reader's comments (2)

Can't wait to see the Royston Vasey Institue for Pennine Cultural Studies (it's a local campus for local students only). Their term starts a little later than most HE institutions, on 31 October, but the initiation ceremonies are really brilliant (start from around 11pm, bring your own pentagram and salt circle) - and their MidSomer graduation sacrifice, ooops sorry I meant ceremony is, well, has to be seen to be believed. Just do NOT go there if you are a lone outsider from suburban Manchester, 20 miles to the west and 15,000 feet below, as, well you'll only need a single bus fare up there.
Absolutely correct.... but we are whistling in the wind with this government who do not care what the citizens who employ them want and for whom 'levelling up' is a nice soundbite already forgotten, never intended to be implemented. We need to keep politics out of education at all costs... the current mob will only ruin it like they have wrecked everything else that they have meddled in.