Response to Vince Cable's speech on the university and wider Higher Education sector

20 July 2010

Chris Smith

Chris Smith

Former Head of Digital Transformation

One of the most striking statements in Vince Cable's recent speech on proposed reforms to University funding was his personal experience of being a sixth former facing a choice of barely a couple of dozen universities to apply for.

Indeed one of the more fortunate realities of today's university system is that it is geared toward opportunity rather than privilege. My concern is that, at a time when our economy needs more brilliant young minds to fuel the next millennium of growth, basic economics could be an inhibitor. Moreover, whilst demand for university places today is outstripping supply, any short-term, reactionary measures may lead to a complete reversal of this trend.

Mr Cable called for a debate about the efficiency and effectiveness of the HE sector and who pays for it. Much of the attention to date has focused on funding, fees and taxes. But what about efficiency and doing things differently? After 50 years of unabated growth surely we can reduce the cost of university administration and improve the student experience so that we continue to attract more higher fee paying foreign students. Maybe we can learn something from local authorities who have combined their accumulated resources or spending power to reduce costs and improve administrative efficiency, through what has become known as shared services.

With the majority of major towns or cities having at least two universities is there really a need to run, support and maintain their individual administrative services? By clubbing together they could not only reduce costs but also improve the student experience. It seems to me that unless we have equal focus on ideas such as this, as well as fees and taxes, students of tomorrow could be priced out of higher education.

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