Russell Group welcomes BIS higher education framework

03 November 2009

Responding to the publication of ‘Higher Ambitions’ by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills,  the Director General of The Russell Group of Universities, Dr Wendy Piatt commented:

On providing more information for students:

“Russell Group institutions are working hard to provide more information on what students can expect from their courses in terms of private study, lectures and assessment style. For example, a number of our institutions have established partnership agreements with students to ensure they are clear as to the kind of learning experience the university offers which in most cases is very different to the school environment.

“We are happy to continue to find new sources of information to help the student choose the right university for them and to prepare them for university life. However, we would just counsel caution about any overly simplistic ‘food-labelling-style’ systems – for example the number of ‘contact hours’ in a university course does not define the student experience and will vary considerably across courses. It is the quality of the interaction between students and academics that counts – and research-led universities rightly encourage students to become independent learners.

On employability: 

“Russell Group graduates are sought after by employers and gain on average a 10% wage boost over a lifetime compared with graduates from new universities (2).  When it comes to starting salaries Russell Group graduates secure, on average, a wage premium of over £3,000 compared to graduates from other institutions.  

“Russell Group universities have, for many years, been developing a range of schemes to enhance graduate employability, including work-based learning and internships in coveted professions. We are happy to look at new ways of ensuring that Russell Group graduates feel confident that they are in a strong position to succeed in a highly competitive job market.

“We warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to support science and engineering courses, which are both vital to the UK economy and in high demand from employers. However, higher education must always be more than just training for a job and care must be taken in attempting to decide which courses give graduates the greatest advantage in the labour market or predicting which skills will be most in demand in the future. A Russell Group degree is for life – not just for that first graduate job.”

On working with industry and sources of university funding:

In response to the paper’s assertion that there will be no increase in public funding, Dr Piatt added:

“Income from industry and philanthropy has increased substantially (3) over recent years. However, these sources of funding are not sufficient in themselves to fill the deficit in the funds required to ensure sustainability and international competitiveness in the future. We therefore welcome the fees review - as options for increasing funds must be explored as a matter of urgency. All the evidence about the impact of fees is promising – there has been no adverse impact on recruitment. Applications to English universities have continued to increase from students of all social backgrounds.”

On widening participation and social mobility:

“We look forward to working with Sir Martin Harris as he undertakes his review of widening access in selective universities. Social mobility and widening access remain a major concern for Russell Group universities. Last year [2007/08] Russell Group universities spent £45 million of income from student fees on outreach and bursaries to help students from less advantaged backgrounds access their institutions. However academic achievement continues to be the key factor in determining whether a student will go on to university. This is why our universities are working hard to help raise attainment and aspirations, with staff and students devoting an increasing amount of their time to working closely with local schools and colleges, arranging summer schools, and providing access courses.

“Through the admissions process our universities draw on a range of factors and information in order to identify potential, which may not be fully reflected in traditional qualifications. For example, some universities use personal statements, interviews or additional tests to give the applicant a further opportunity to demonstrate their strengths or a real interest in the subject. Some universities will take into account any particular barriers the candidate may have faced during their education such as spending time in care.

“Any information about a candidate’s potential which is fair, accurate and relevant is welcome as our institutions are constantly seeking to develop the most effective ways of identifying real potential.”

On world class research:

“The Russell Group strongly welcomes the call for a greater focus on world class research. In the face of fierce global competition and severe economic conditions, it is vital that we – like China, the United States and even France and Germany - bolster  our leading research-intensive universities. Only by concentrating resources can we ensure that Britain retains world-class universities which are international partners of choice for students, researchers and business.

"The UK’s world-class universities are crucial to maintaining our international competitiveness. The knowledge created and scientific breakthroughs generated in our universities drive the innovation which underpins the UK’s long-term economic growth.     

On postgraduate provision:

“A review of postgraduate provision is urgent because of the increased economic importance of postgraduates as the UK seeks to create a more skilled and highly qualified workforce. We need to create the best possible environment for attracting the best minds to do research at UK universities at a time when international students are being offered more financial support by many universities abroad, particularly in the US.

“The evidence suggests that PhD students thrive in research-intensive environments and that backing institutions with a critical mass of research activity benefits the graduate students as well as being the most productive way to fund research.” 

Note to editors

  1. A number of Russell Group institutions have established partnership agreements with students to provide a clear statement of mutual expectation for the learning experience. For example:
  • The Queen’s University Belfast Student Charter – developed by staff and students – establishes the principles which underpin the relationships between students and the University and links to relevant policy documents.
  • The University of Bristol’s student handbook contains the Student Agreement which is an embryonic contract.  The agreement is intended to provide a framework through which the University and its students can work together to create a positive environment for learning and academic achievement.

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