The Guardian Class of 2025 – What’s Next for UK Universities?
The Guardian celebrated the launch of ‘Guardian Universities’ with a Tuesday evening drinks & discussion at their offices, joined by education-folk, from those working at universities, media agencies, and charities.
The panel’s discussion focused around the shifting landscape of higher education in the last few years, with key issues such as Brexit, increased tuition fees, and removal of maintenance loans all at the heart of propelling the HE sector into the limelight. In fact, it was anecdotally noted that after Brexit, Higher Education was the second most talked about subject in the media as of late.
So what is next for UK universities? The Teaching Excellence Framework when originally announced was cited by some as a slippery slope to the ghettoisation of higher education. Ranking universities on teaching quality could lead to differential tuition fees based on Gold/Silver/Bronze rating. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds may consequently attend lower ranked, and therefore cheaper, institutions resulting in lower graduate prospects and perpetuating wealth gaps. Or another stance - subjects which are cheaper to run are reflected in tuition costs, arguably discouraging people further from STEM subjects. It was said by several members of the panel that the notion of tiered fees ‘terrified’ them.
Of course, the concept of different fees arguably exists already. One member of the audience queried whether universities should charge varying fees for home and international students at all. Many universities have fledged that Brexit does not mean European students will now pay international fees, and will in fact keep them as they are. Should this not be extended to international students also, to help grow the ‘global village’, whereby sharing research amongst universities enables the mobility of individuals and institutions alike?
This question prompted the new one of whether ‘UK universities’ even exist as a collective, and certainly will they exist in 2025. The difference between English, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish institution is already vast and, at present, moving apart. The prediction from some was that universities will follow the suit of the school systems, whereby there is little to no overlap between countries.
Whilst there is no crystal ball for us to peer into to see what the future holds, the higher education sector in the UK will be a sector in flux.