UNIVERSITY, 22 OCTOBER 2001
was very sorry not to have been able to speak to you at
the Universities UK conference in Southampton, and I think
we all regret the circumstances that didnít make that
possible, but I am pleased to be here today.
Guildhall is a good place to make the sort of speech that
I want to make today because I want to talk about the
mission for higher education, and many of the elements
we see at London Guildhall - widening participation, diversity,
rising to new challenges and promoting leadership - are
key to what I want to say.
know I am going to be a disappointment to at least one
person today. I got a lot of messages of goodwill after
the Election in June (itís probably downwards from then
on, Iíve decided). But there were lots of messages of
good will, except for one which appeared in the Independent.
An academic, Warden of a well known college, said, "I
rather assume that all her interests will be in schools
rather than universities. Politicians do not understand
how universities work. It will be a period of benign neglect,
and I donít mind that." Well, Iím setting out very
deliberately today to disappoint that one gentleman but
I hope not the rest of the audience.
of the reasons I want to disappoint him is that what you
do every day in your institutions, the students you teach,
the work that you do, the research that you carry out,
is far too important, not only to individuals in this
country, but far too crucial to the whole nationís future
to be neglected benignly or otherwise. What I think is
true (and maybe this is the source of those comments)
is that since the Labour Government was first elected
in 1997 we have been devoting enormous energy and enthusiasm
and drive and resources into raising standards in our
schools. And that is as important, Iíd argue, to the future
of higher education and what we want to achieve there
as to any of the structures of our community.
want to remind you what the position was throughout the
schools system in 1997. There was massive under-performance
at primary and secondary level; children reaching the
age of 11 without the skills that they needed to read
and write effectively and to access the secondary curriculum.
And thatís why we have introduced the literacy and numeracy
strategies. Before then, the gaps between those who achieve
and those who donít achieve have never really been seriously
and consistently addressed. Thatís why we introduced Education
Action Zones and Excellence in Cities - offering targeted
good quality and sustained challenge and support in some
of our most challenging urban areas in the country, to
see if we could narrow the unacceptable gap in performance
between children from different backgrounds Ė something
which no-one had done before Ė and that includes generations
of educationalists, and not just Governments.
whatís more, in this term we will want to concentrate
on our schools agenda and transforming secondary education.
We have set up the Learning and Skills Council to try
to tackle the nationís long-term failure to raise skills.
But it is time now to put more focus on what we do in
higher education, and the work we have done so far in
schools and with the skills agenda will lay good foundations
for us all to do that.
has been a huge change in higher education over the last
ten to twenty years Ė it has shifted from being an elite
system to being something much wider, something much more
important than that. When we look back over those decades,
it almost happened without anyone necessarily thinking
strategically about what we want Universities to do. I
am committed to further expansion, I know and I believe
with all my heart that it can be achieved without any
compromise on excellence. But as we expand further weíve
got to think strategically about what the sector does
and how we want it to do it. Weíre here to set out today
together a vision for higher education that looks forward
a decade or more. That vision has got to be built around
diverse institutions pursuing excellence in their different
ways. There are four central goals that I want to put
to you today, and I want to talk about how we can achieve
them and look at the challenges that face us and how we
might begin overcoming them. I think those four are:
widening participation and unlocking the potential of
the poorer sections of society. We do want to move ahead
to achieve our target that half of the population will
enter higher education by the time they reach the age
to continue to produce world class research.
making sure that Universities work better with industry
and with the wider community.
to support excellent teaching in our higher education
these goals wonít necessarily be easy. It will demand
vision and it will demand commitment and drive from every
single one of us. So I also want to raise today the issue
of excellent management and leadership in the sector.
pledge that the Government made shortly before the General
Election and repeated in the Manifesto that 50 per cent
of under 30s would enter higher education by 2010 is one
of the highest priorities on the Governmentís agenda.
It is not unrealistic - it can be done - and the increase
in figures for accepted applications this year suggests
that we have made further progress. But I want to be clear
as I can, itís not just something that would be quite
nice, itís not just a social aspiration (although it is
both those things) - itís far more important than that.
You know that way back in 1997 our Government made the
decision that as a nation we wanted to compete on the
world stage as a high-value-added and high skills economy.
We canít do that without investment in skills, investment
in education and increasing participation in higher education.
Quite simply we need more graduates and we will not be
training people for whom there are no jobs. Labour market
forecasts by the National Skills Taskforce show that between
1999 and 2010 there will be a growth of 1.73 million jobs
in those occupations that typically recruit graduates
Ė things like managers and associate professionals. In
the past, a 50% participation rate might have been seen
as socially desirable, certainly part of my political
background and philosophy would have made it the right
thing to do. But now it is an economic necessity.
know better than I do the link throughout all parts of
our education system between social class and educational
attainment. And no where are those statistics more startling
and frightening than they are in higher education. Thatís
inevitable given its position after the compulsory years
of schooling. About 70% of the children from higher socio-economic
groups go on to higher education and thatís compared to
somewhere between 13 and 14 percent from families from
lower socio-economic backgrounds.
it can be traced back to wasted talent in schools. Children
from non-manual backgrounds are one-and-a-half times more
likely to get five or more A* to Cs at GCSE than those
from manual backgrounds, and twice as likely to get eight
A* to Cs. 43% of 18 year olds from higher socio-economic
backgrounds achieve two A levels Ė the basic requirement
to go on a degree course Ė compared with only 18% from
lower socio-economic backgrounds.
in a strange sort of way, when I look at those statistics,
terrible though they may be, they actually give me my
optimism. Because like you, nobody can think that middle
class children are brighter than poorer children. Nobody
can think that white children should achieve at a higher
level than black children. Nobody can assume that children
from the inner cities shouldnít be able to achieve at
the same level as those from the suburbs. So it is possible.
All we have to do is to raise the achievement of those
children from the communities which have traditionally
underachieved to the same level as those from the communities
that have traditionally achieved. If you look at it in
that way, 50% does not sound unrealistic. But it will
be hard work and it will be a challenge.
know that what most needs to be done is to raise attainment
in schools and that is my responsibility not yours. That
is why in our first term we put such emphasis on literacy
and numeracy; and why we are putting such emphasis in
the second term on building on that as we move into reform
of secondary education. But it goes further than that
and I do need your help as well, and we do need to work
know academic attainment at 18 is essential if we are
to increase the number of young people eligible to go
into higher education but it is never going to be enough
by itself. We have to raise aspirations, we have to raise
self belief, we have to raise self esteem and ambition
in some of our young people. You know as well as I do
that some young people, even the brightest, grow up believing
that higher education cannot be for them. They get to
18 without ever having set foot on a university campus,
without ever having had a lengthy conversation with somebody
who lectures in higher education. They go home to families
and communities where the whole social life is with people
who donít have jobs which require degrees. Itís hardly
surprising that their aspiration to go into higher education
is perhaps not as great as some of their peers from other
backgrounds who have had those opportunities.
Challenge has made a start. I am deeply grateful to the
universities and higher education colleges that have done
work on it. I know that the Governmentís launch of the
Excellence Challenge over the last three or four years
was only based on some of the good work that higher education
has already done. I know myself as a teacher in the inner
cities some ten years ago that even then there were some
universities who were beginning to put out feelers and
beginning to talk to us about how we can do better and
about ending this relationship between social class and
access to higher education.
I think we need to go further than that, and thatís really
our joint agenda. To have a school system that raises
the attainment level. For higher education institutions
to work with the school system and the Government to make
sure you do all that you can to build on the work that
youíve done in the past. I think that what I want most
of all to happen in all those universities is to put roots
down into the schools so that we can see the work you
are doing on access. This is not an optional extra. This
is not just an occasional summer school or visit by a
lecturer or student. What I want to see is that the presence
of somebody from higher education almost becomes run of
the mill so that you give those young people the aspiration
and the ambition, and you help to persuade them that university
is for people like them. That is the contribution that
you can make to the widening participation agenda. I think
the prospect of going to university is something that
fires many young people to work harder for their A levels
and achieve at a higher level. If you havenít got that
aspiration to go to university it is one of those levers
that is missing. What we want you to do in secondary schools
is to inject these aspirations to go to university amongst
working class children so that together with the work
that we will do in school, it will actually once and for
all take us along the road which breaks the link that
other nations donít have between social class and educational
is another rich source of talent that we need to get into
higher education over the next ten years. There are one
million people in their 20s who already have level three
qualifications. We need to work with employers to raise
skill levels even further and to see if some of those
people with level three qualifications in their 20s might
benefit from a period of higher education to take them
further on in their career and to give their employers
and their workplaces the skills that they need. And achieving
that will need greater diversity Ė and thatís true for
each of the challenges that I set out at the beginning
of this speech. As my predecessor David Blunkett said,
there should be emphasis on foundation degrees and getting
the proper channels for those who want to study vocational
qualifications right from age 14 to degree and postgraduate
level. That implies innovation in teaching and learning
and it certainly means making higher education as flexible
and as accessible as possible. Between us I think we have
a joint mission to nurture the talent that is currently
being lost not only to higher education but to the nation
as a whole.
I have conversations about access and about participation,
many connect those issues to student finance. We want
to think again about any obstacles Ė real or imagined
Ė that could discourage young people from low income families
from taking up higher education. All of us would like
to produce a system for student support which is simpler
than the present one. So we have begun to review the current
system. I have said that the review has four clear aims:
of the system, especially in the area of hardship support.
Itís so complex at the moment you almost need a degree
to access all the different funds that are available;
of more upfront support for students from less well-off
that all students have access to sufficient financial
support throughout their years of higher education;
the problems of debt and the perceptions of debt.
principles of the reforms that David Blunkett announced
in 1997 were absolutely right and we will stick with them.
Those who benefit from higher education should contribute
to its cost. It would be utterly unfair for graduates,
who as a group earn 35% more than the average wage, to
be completely subsidised through their entire university
education by those who do not have their advantages and
who can afford it far less easily.
remember this Ė the "golden age" of free tuition
and grants for those who need them did not work as a driver
for access. The proportion of poorer students entering
higher education did not rise. And despite the rhetoric
around it, however much money we choose to put into student
support it will not be by itself the answer to the access
challenge. The problems are more complicated and more
profound: they are about ethos, about the perception,
and about prior attainment. So I want to satisfy myself
and to be absolutely certain that there is nothing in
the student support system that might act as a disincentive
to those we most want to attract. But we must not see
this as the only issue in the debate, and we must not
let it distract us from the more fundamental and the more
wanted to say a little bit about world class research.
Itís a success story. Itís one of the real strengths of
British higher education. With only 1% of the worldís
population, the UK carries out 4.7% of the worldís research,
it has 7.6% of the worldís scientific publications, and
over 9% of the citations of scientific papers. We rank
first in the world in terms of the number of publications
and citations generated for each pound spent on research.
Weíve got a challenge here as well, and the challenge
is very real. Itís how to keep our leading position.
know that if you want to carry out good research you need
to hire and back good quality researchers. Thatís why
the human resource strategies which universities and colleges
are drawing up need to address the issues of recruitment
and retention. And that is why I think successive research
assessment exercises have helped improve the quality of
research in universities because the results of those
exercises have made universities think very carefully
about where they can best invest their money. Weaker areas
have declined, but developing and strong areas have grown
is expensive. It needs talented researchers, but also
buildings and equipment as well. The infrastructure for
both science and technological research was becoming run
down. We have been investing huge sums of money to put
it right in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, first
with the Joint Infrastructure Fund, and now with the Science
Research Infrastructure Fund.
more needs to be done. Itís that old cycle of years of
under-investment followed by the Government injecting
large amounts of money every so often to sort out the
problems with infrastructure. I think just as we need
to do in our schools and throughout the whole of our education
service we need to end that dependence mentality and the
idea that once we have invested in capital we think we
could ignore it for a few more years. And that is one
of the things that I very much hope that the cross cutting
review of science which is part of our current spending
review will look at.
there are questions to ask. We need to ask about how universities
provide their share of the support for research grants
from external bodies. The dual support system has served
us well, but the growth in research income from charities
in particular Ė which has outstripped other sources Ė
must make us ask whether the dual support system can continue
to work in its present form. That is another issue for
the cross cutting review.
the challenges for both Government and the higher education
sector are bigger than this. We have productive research,
but we donít spend that much on it in total. The UK ranked
16th out of the 23 OECD nations for higher
education expenditure on research and development. So
there are concerns about the UK slipping down the world
league tables of research excellence and about UK research
being unable to compete on a level playing field. Quite
simply, we wonít keep our world class place if we allow
that to happen. Since we have a comparative advantage,
we should make sure it stays that way. So we do need more
resources. But these cannot come from the Government alone.
Government will never be able for instance to match the
level of investment produced by the endowments of the
top US universities. So there are hard questions to answer
about how we maintain our position. What is the best way
to lever in more support for world class research institutions
in the UK, and how can the money best be distributed between
institutions? How can we make sure that the brightest
and the best want to use their talents here in the UK
Ė whether they are staying on here or coming from elsewhere?
And how can we help our best institutions collaborate
effectively with other world leaders? How can we make
sure that the benefits of the best research are shared
throughout the system?
third challenge I outlined was that of embedding universities
in industries and our communities. We know we live in
a global economy. Itís a compulsory sentence in most speeches
that politicians make these days. But it applies to universities
and colleges in just the same way as it implies to individuals
seeking training or education or employment. Yet the strange
thing about globalisation is as much as national boundaries
and national frontiers seem to break down this increases
the importance of local and regional areas. And I believe
that higher education is a very powerful driver of technological
and other change. It is crucial to local and regional
economic development. You produce the people with knowledge
and skills; you generate new knowledge through research
and scholarship; you exploit that knowledge through innovation
in spinout companies, contract research and transferring
skilled people to businesses. It is essential work. It
will only work well if you get the relationship right
between businesses and communities on the one hand and
educational institutions on the other, and each knows
each otherís needs. That is why forging links between
the two is very important, and why working with regional
development agencies is a crucial partnership.
data of knowledge transfer for technological innovation
in the UK shows that enterprises look more to the "technology
base" than directly to the science base for technological
innovation. This type of applied research can be very
important for the regional economy but is relatively poorly
done in the UK perhaps for three reasons:
level of business R&D in the UK is low compared
to key competitors;
have a skills gap in UK business with a shortage in
areas such as certified civil and electrical engineering;
donít have as good links as we should between businesses
and higher education or other publicly funded research.
these limit the ability of UK business to absorb knowledge
are beginning to recognise that there is more money to
be put into research and development through tax credits
for small and medium enterprises, and there is a number
of schemes designed to help in this area such as Science
Enterprise Challenge and University Challenge.
there is already good work being done. Newcastle University
has a business development team whose main function is
to match the needs of business with expertise and capabilities
already in the university. And again, at Salford University,
Academic Enterprise makes a point of providing a single
place of contact for those enquiring about access to business
and it offers a fast track for them to relevant expertise
in the university.
we are only at the very beginning, and this is another
immense challenge to the sector. Of course there are many
other partners, and British industry too needs to rise
to the challenge. But again there is a step change to
be made in our thinking; success in this field will come
when there is a commitment to the principle that this
is an important and growing role of a modern university.
I know that most of our universities do not deserve to
be thought of as mere ivory towers. The fact that so many
of them are perceived that way by people outside perhaps
shows how much we need to change the culture and how much
we need to talk to each other.
is one single issue that is central to the quality of
everything that happens. The quality of teaching, and
the quality of the student experience in terms of learning.
I know there is a long history to this debate in higher
education. Not just on teaching quality assurance but
on the investment that has already been made in improving
the quality of teaching and learning.
want to encourage new forms of teaching and learning.
We have together already launched the e-Universities project
so that we can make sure the UK is at the centre of high
quality higher education over the internet. It was announced
last Friday that Sun Microsystems had entered into a strategic
alliance with a newly formed company UK e-Universities
Worldwide, to provide the technology platform to deliver
the courses worldwide.
there are examples of good university-based teaching as
well. Coventry University has developed a comprehensive
system of recognising and rewarding excellent teachers
through promotion criteria, teaching awards and teaching
fellowships. This shows a strong commitment to teaching
excellence that I would like to see spreading further.
But there is a debate to be had about how we get the balance
right between institutional processes and external review.
We attach, as I know you do, particular importance to
robust assessment and review methods Ė both internal and
external. We shall take a keen interest in the outcomes
of the current consultation on quality assurance. Letís
wait to see what that brings before that debate between
us. I will be guided by my initial thoughts on quality
assurance. There are three key things which need to be
put in place. First, in a publicly funded system there
must be accountability. We cannot spend public money without
some assurance that we are spending it to good effect.
Second, there must be good information for students and
parents so that they can make informed and sound decisions
about the courses they take. And thirdly, because of the
very nature of the higher education systems and its strengths,
there must be autonomy Ė institutions must have the freedom
to look for the solutions that suit them. But we must
have a system that brings these three strands together.
Accountability because that is right when public money
is being spent; information because any organisation needs
to concentrate on those people it serves; and autonomy
because that is central to the ethics and values in our
higher education institutions.
must value teaching quality as part of our vision for
higher education. When I first looked at the higher education
system it became increasingly evident that there were
no financial incentives for excellent teaching, and I
do wonder if in some way we could incentivise excellence
in teaching in the same way as we do in research. This
too raises some important questions: how should you identify
what is excellent teaching in higher education? Should
we put incentives in place which would let institutions
specialise in this? If we are to do that, what does that
mean for the relationship between teaching and research?
Do the restrictions on student numbers stifle incentives
to teach well? And is there a cultural obstacle to overcome?
I sometimes get the feeling that teaching is still a bit
of a side show compared to research. We need to have excellent
research; we need excellent teaching; we need to expand
higher education to all those groups that have not had
access in all those ways that we need to achieve that.
We have to accept that we need excellence and initiative
and to allow people to specialise in teaching excellently.
a huge agenda that lies before us all Ė widening participation,
the challenge of delivering diversity and opportunity,
fostering teaching and research excellence, and linking
universities to industry and the community. Any agenda
like that will demand first class management and world
class leadership. We already have some, much of it in
this room, but we do not have enough. Too often as in
any phase of education there is not enough effective management
at the key levels of middle management as well as at senior
management. No one can defend the number of women at senior
levels of management in higher education. We must also
think about succession planning and the development of
people in general, to make sure that as each generation
of effective managers and leaders moves on, there are
more ready to take their place, and to accept that in
the fast changing sector that higher education has become
the challenges will always evolve.
much welcome the initiatives which are already underway
from the top management programme to the use of HEFCEís
fund for the development of good management practice.
But there is still more to be done. The scale of the pressures
on institutions is formidable and we need a renewed effort
to make a difference and look at management and leadership
in its own right.
already have an enormously strong sector. And an increasingly
varied sector too. We have the beginnings of new links
and alliances. There is a climate of change. I know that
London Guildhall University and the University of North
London have ambitious plans to come together, as I recognised
at the very beginning of this speech, and I wish you both
well in that endeavour. But it strikes me that all of
this, all these changes, all this new agenda perhaps needs
to be part of a bigger picture and we perhaps need an
active debate about how far it should be part of a bigger
design. We must foster proud and autonomous institutions,
confident in their differing missions and meeting the
needs of their students. But at the same time we have
to ensure that the full range of opportunities Ė including
those relevant to the new students we will be recruiting
Ė are available right across the country.
know that there has already been a great deal of debate
on these very issues, but it feels as though the time
is now right to come up with a more strategic approach.
I am convinced that we need to look at the rich complexity
of our higher education mission and to make sure that
we are fostering all the things we want higher education
are some big decisions ahead. We have already embarked
on the next spending review, and I have no doubt that
you will make your representations in due course to help
put more pressure on the Chancellor. I think the time
is also right to go beyond the timescale of the spending
review and to think more widely and strategically about
higher education in Britain. Therefore I have asked my
Department to carry out a wide ranging and fundamental
review covering all these key areas:
universities with industry and communities
want to look at how we incentivise and resource these
missions because at the moment all the incentives seem
to me to be skewed towards one end of the big picture.
I invite you, the Vice Chancellors, and the rest of the
sector to join us in that review as soon as we can get
together to begin to map some of the way forward to some
of the changes which I have outlined today.
am very conscious that I have come to you with a lot of
questions and not the answers, but that is the way I want
it at the moment. Most of all I want three things:
recognition of the work already done and the standing
you have and the importance of the contribution you
make. My thanks go to you for all that has happened.
real agenda to grow between us, not that I think we
will always agree, but what I want is to have a sharing
of what the key challenges are and what the key issues
are that need to be addressed;
would like very much over the coming months to try as
much as possible, in a diverse sector, to begin to agree
the way forward. If we can do that we have actually
done a service not only to higher education but a service
to the economy, to the nation and to the rest of the
community. We would have taken another step along the
road of moving universities from their old mission of
being elite and giving opportunities for the few, to
being in the heart of our communities, the key to individual
life chances, and in that sense the heart of our country
am most grateful to London Guildhall University for giving
me the chance to outline some of these challenges today,
and I very much look forward to working with you towards
these solutions in the months to come.