The diversity of Britain's higher education sector is one of its greatest strengths, the incoming chief executive of Universities UK has said.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Nicola Dandridge, who joins UUK in September, said she had been "living and breathing" diversity in her current position as chief executive of the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), which promotes equality and diversity for university staff and students.
She quoted Chris Brink, vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, who told a recent ECU-Times Higher Education conference on equality that "we learn more from people we don't know than from those we do".
"It is undoubtedly the case that the sector's diversity is a great strength that will sustain it - it is a positive thing," Ms Dandridge said in her first interview since being named the next chief executive of the vice-chancellors' representative group.
The different mission groups would express different views on some issues, she said, but there are plenty of common problems facing the sector, such as points-based immigration, widening participation and the debate over undergraduate standards.
"Eighty per cent of universities have employer engagement within their mission," she pointed out.
The key challenge facing the sector in the next year will be the recession, she said, adding that "we must make explicit" universities' role in leading the UK's recovery.
"This has to be very clearly articulated - we contribute £45 billion to the economy, and decisions on funding need to keep the long-term vision in mind," she said.
Ms Dandridge, who previously worked as a lawyer for Thompsons Solicitors and in the City, will replace Diana Warwick, who leaves UUK at the end of August after 14 years as chief executive.
Meanwhile, the next tranche of funding for the ECU is under review. Aneez Esmail, associate vice- president for equality and diversity at the University of Manchester, said: "The ECU has done a good job, but its work is not finished. I would be very worried if it was subsumed into another body."