UK higher education’s Christmas list

Funding for green campuses, levelling up and international links would be a gift from Santa Rishi Sunak to himself, too, says Nick Isles

December 21, 2021
A letter addressed to Santa
Source: iStock

Dear Santa Rishi,

My name is Higher Education (aged about 1,200 years), and I want to remind you that I’ve been very good this year.

I’ve worked very hard to maintain the quality of education for students in the most testing of times. I’ve continued to adapt to online and blended learning and tried my best to deal equitably with the culture wars that have beset me. Now, Santa Rishi, there are a few baubles I would like from you for my UK branches.

Watching COP26 from afar, I saw world leaders grapple with an even greater threat than the horrors of Covid. Dozens of universities have committed to divesting from any holdings they have in fossil fuels. Many have signed up to support the work of the Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education. Some are publishing carbon footprint data to give themselves targets. The problem is that my campuses have many old buildings that need constant heating in the winter, and I don’t have the cash to give them the green makeovers they need. Can you help? We don’t all appreciate chimneys or working in sub-zero temperatures.

I know you want to do something called “levelling up”. I’m not entirely clear about what that means, but I have some ideas on how you can help me to help you. I was very disappointed when your response to the Augar Review was not forthcoming in November, as I had been led to believe it would be. This makes planning for the future a bit difficult. It would be good to know that you will recognise that I have to be at the heart of any levelling-up agenda you might have.

Given the chance, I can drive local innovation ecosystems and respond effectively to local and national skills needs, helping to attract inward investment and improve civic life. I believe you’re a fan of Churchill. He said, “Give us the tools and we will finish the work.” Your elves probably say something similar. I do, too. I can really help if I know what you want.

Santa Rishi, I’ve got a problem with the neighbours I’d also like you to fix. Actually, to be fair, it’s not me who has the problem. I rather think it’s you. Things really were a lot better all round when students from the European continent could study and work in the UK without visas, and vice versa. Academia isn’t made to be squeezed into political borders.

In Glasgow, you talked about how you want to “rewire the entire global financial system for net zero”. It sounds great, and you clearly understand the interconnectedness of global financial institutions. But I am the same. Look at how Covid vaccine development depended on experts from myriad countries working together. If you want my people to come up with ideas for saving the planet, you could really help by making it easier for the brightest and best to learn in whichever place offers them the best opportunities. They also need to be able to participate in cross-border research schemes like Horizon Europe – which would also help enormously with the green business. I’m struggling to understand why you wouldn’t want to prioritise that.

My last request, Santa Rishi, is a bit of a biggie, and I know you’re not going to like it, but bear with me. This student loans business just isn’t welcome. I would love it if, as a first step, you implemented Augar’s recommendation to cut the fee cap to £7,500 and reintroduce the teaching grant.

That’s it for this year. I know that, although short, my list is quite costly. But if you get me these things, I promise I’ll never ask for anything else again. And, in the spirit of Christmas, I want you to understand that I’m not just asking for myself. In fact, you could see granting my wishes as giving a bit of a present to yourself, too. That’s an offer I bet you don’t see on many Christmas lists.

Nick Isles is chief executive of the Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design, London.


Rishi Sunak is the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Print headline: My HE Christmas list

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