More mission groups will emerge in English higher education as government policy on devolution provides fresh opportunities, according to the new University Alliance chair.
John Latham, the Coventry University vice-chancellor (pictured), takes over on 1 September as chair of the group, which bills itself as having members with “a common mission to make the difference to our cities and regions”.
He said that University Alliance members are “in a strong position to make their mark” as government policy focuses on “skills needs, enterprise, innovation, links with business” in the regions.
And Professor Latham saw an “opportunity for University Alliance as a mission group to really stamp its impact on this general agenda”.
In terms of the distinctiveness of University Alliance institutions, he described “a technology group of universities, those that have been heavily focused on supporting their region or city, vocational in a lot of the activity they do. If you think of the [government’s] degree apprenticeship programme, that’s quite a close fit to a lot of our members.
“Close proximity in working with industry, applied research, skills development – I think all of those [describe] the strength of the University Alliance group. And it’s a focus very much in line with where current government policy is.”
He also said: “I’m sure we might end up with other mission groups as we go forward…I think universities, with this current agenda, are looking to come together in groups. I certainly at this point wouldn’t personally want to be unaligned, because I think there’s strength in collaboration and partnership.”
Coventry, as well as being part of the University Alliance, has created a formal partnership, the West Midlands Combined Universities, with Birmingham City University and the University of Wolverhampton to support the newly formed West Midlands Combined Authority. And Coventry is one of six institutions in the Midlands Enterprise Universities group, which is supporting the government’s Midlands Engine for Growth.
Professor Latham, a member of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership board, described most universities as being “on a journey” towards seeing themselves as “economic development partners as much as education providers” and as having a “very important role to play in our local economies”.
As an example, he highlighted Coventry’s grouping with Birmingham City and Wolverhampton, with respect to developing health and social work skills in the West Midlands Combined Authority area.
He said: “There’s a big demand in that area [health and social work]…it’s about what new offers can you put into the marketplace, how can you integrate into degree apprenticeship provision, how can you match the skills needs of this particular sector which is important for this region, but how can you do it together.”
Professor Latham, a Coventry graduate, also said that the teaching excellence framework could be positive for University Alliance members. Coventry was ranked sixth in the benchmarked mock TEF produced by Times Higher Education earlier this year.
The TEF recognises that “support and engagement and focus on the student is very important”, he said.
“It always has been for Coventry and is for University Alliance members. If you look at the mock TEF results, University Alliance members did pretty well.”