Tighten your belts and prepare for a year of cut and thrust

There will be no easy rides for anyone in higher education in 2010. Figures from the sector reflect on influences and aims

December 31, 2009

TARA BRABAZON - Professor of media, University of Brighton

My inspirational moment in the past 12 months was not sourced from PowerPointed, bullet-pointed vision statements. It did not gush with enthusiasm from research excellence framework consultation documents. No. The great moment of my year happened on the last night of Roger McGuinn's UK tour.

McGuinn is one of the greatest guitarists in the world. He also possesses a voice that flows between genres and musical styles with the ease of honey on a crumpet. He tells stories. He educates.

Those of us who have the privilege to work in universities can learn his lessons.

McGuinn is a great communicator. In comparison, think about the lazy language bouncing around campus emails this year, involving words like "synergy", "strategy", "sandpit" and "facilitation" in any particular order. Yawn.

KATIE WILLIAMS - Director, Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments, University of the West of England

I have "three wishes" for the year ahead.

First, I work in built environment studies and I wish that we would stop creating uninspiring places. There are some brilliant developments in Britain, but they are the exception.

My second wish is to have time to be proactive in my research. I think most academics feel at times like a human version of the donkey in Buckaroo. We have so many tasks loaded on to us that we ought to "buck", but we try to do them all. We know academia requires multitasking, but the continual barrage of new initiatives leaves little time for scholarship.

And my final wish is that Bruce Forsyth should be given a knighthood. He's a Saturday-night legend and it would make him happy.

NOEL SHARKEY - Professor of artificial intelligence and robotics, University of Sheffield

Hopes and anxieties are rife as the New Year approaches. Will the country go broke? Are international efforts on climate change just hot, carbonated air?

I watch with some dark amusement as the scientific and political establishment lash out at "climate change deniers". I haven't forgotten the establishment deniers of the early 1970s deriding our climate campaigners as "tree huggers".

On a personal note, I am uneasy about returning to full university duties in January after a five-year Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council senior media fellowship. I love lecturing to fresh young faces but university politics leaves me cold.

One positive note is the proposed allocation of 25 per cent for societal impact in the research excellence framework. As long as it isn't required of everyone, why shouldn't we reward social responsibility? After all, the public pay our salaries.

MALCOLM GILLIES - Vice-chancellor designate, London Metropolitan University

It's the economy, stupid! We're all down a financial sinkhole, and now have to earn/save our way out.

In 2010 we'll see what that means at home and at work. I'm not an optimist. Once the general election is over we have to expect the really bad news, whoever wins. I've already drilled a new notch in the belt.

Age shall not wither them. Mid-fifties is not a good age to be: too young to retire, but too infirm to take radical new directions. I always wanted to be a dancer, but think I'll just have to give up on that.

Forgive and forget. Moving from City University London to London Metropolitan was an unexpected move - even by me. But I'm thoroughly committed to the task ahead. London Met is the front line of public education, and I'm proud to be there. Nothing could be more important.

Mozart and more. My pianistic challenge this coming year is to refresh my playing of the Mozart piano sonatas, and to look at a bit more Bach. These great masters help to sharpen up the mind and reboot the memory.

WES STREETING - President, National Union of Students

I predict that 2010 will be an outstanding year for students.

Lord Browne's review of higher education funding will warn against the dangers of creating a real market in student fees, instead embracing the NUS' costed, progressive graduate contribution as an alternative.

Universities UK president Steve Smith will express concern about the amount of money being spent on student support, realising that too many students are still in hardship. And the mission groups, still smarting from £600 million cuts in the pre-Budget report, will put aside their petty squabbling to make a united case for UK higher education.

Sir Martin Harris will soldier on, trying to do something - anything - to widen fair access. And the sector will bid farewell to Lord Mandelson, who will announce his departure from his newly created Department for Business and Everything Else to become Emperor of Earth.

Oh, and I will leave the NUS and go on to win The X Factor.

DAVID WILLETTS - Conservative Shadow Universities Secretary

Something I'm really looking forward to in 2010 is a trip to the Large Hadron Collider, one of the great intellectual achievements of our age.

Having spent the past two and a half years researching and writing a book, one of my New Year's resolutions will be to read more books about science.

The book I've been writing, The Pinch, is about fairness between the generations and obligations that baby boomers have to younger generations.

The obvious thing that will be taking up much of my time from January is the general election, whenever it may come.

I very much hope there will be a change of government and that I can be a strong voice for universities and skills in the Cabinet.

Having spent 12 and a half years in Opposition and the past two and a half thinking carefully about how a future Conservative government could help the sector, I am itching to have the opportunity to put some of those ideas into practice.

Lord Browne's report on university funding will also clearly be at the forefront of people's minds in the New Year as it gets properly under way.

I hope it will produce recommendations that put universities on a stronger footing, deal with the issues around the student experience, and that it wins public support.

GRAHAM HENDERSON - Vice-chancellor, Teesside University

This year has been a mixed one on Teesside.

Disappointingly, our local Premiership side, Middlesbrough, was relegated to the Coca-Cola Championship and the economic recession took its toll, culminating in the recent announcement of 1,700 job losses at Corus' Teesside Cast Products plant in Redcar.

But on the plus side, the university's accolade as the first modern university to be awarded the Times Higher Education University of the Year award proved to be an amazing counterbalance, giving everyone in the Tees Valley a real sense of optimism and confidence about the future. It was an amazing, exhilarating and truly "once in a lifetime" experience that I will treasure for ever.

DAVID LAMMY - Higher Education Minister

It is no secret that 2010 will see the higher education sector, like everyone, operating in a tough economic climate. However, it has seen strong and sustained investment over the past ten years that will help the sector absorb such pressures.

The university sector will be a key player in supplying the economy with the expertise, world-class research and highly skilled people needed to ensure growth, while continuing to support local businesses and individuals through the upturn.

All of us will of course look forward to the recommendations made by Lord Browne in his review of higher education funding and student finance. More young people from disadvantaged backgrounds will benefit from university education, and student satisfaction will remain high as the quality of provision continues to excel.

The Government will take its outstanding record on expansion and investment in higher education to the general election, which Labour will obviously win.

Finally, in 2010 Tottenham Hotspur will push the big four for the Champions League, and I will not be appearing in the jungle or on the dance floor of reality TV programmes.

DAVID GREENAWAY - Vice-chancellor, University of Nottingham

A strong recovery from the global recession is now under way in Asia: let's hope 2010 brings recovery to the UK.

My chief fear is a continued rise in youth unemployment, which from past recessions we know to be especially damaging. Slow recovery would be bad news on this front.

There are actually bigger global challenges than the financial crisis, including energy sustainability, climate change, food security and access to basic needs for the bottom billion. We must all hope it proves possible to broker the kind of international co-operation required to credibly address these. I fear, however, another year may pass without progress, with the contingent risks growing.

After the general election there must be deep cuts in public expenditure to deal with our parlous public finances, and higher education will share the pain.

My hope is that cuts will be applied strategically and that the funding review takes a long-term perspective; my fear is equal misery for all.

2010 will be a big sporting year. My hopes? Promotion for Nottingham Forest; Rangers to win the Scottish Premier League; Scotland to win the Six Nations; and England to win the World Cup.

My fear? None of the above comes to pass.

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