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Chris Twine, Secretary to Council at The University of Warwick,shared positive statistics on inclusion and diversity across whole university community and on sustainability, including an impressive 52% carbon emissions reduction.
Key challenges for our sector are international competition, including English-language degrees at less expensive European universities, geopolitics, mass migration and the impact of Brexit. The domestic market may ask – is university worth it? But demand remains strong, the quality of teaching is good and universities have a positive regional impact.
Business broadcaster and journalist Declan Curry gave us sobering and sometimes surprising statistics on economic growth, employment, recession and the Ukraine war, and their impact on our daily lives. Students, especially poor students, are worse hit as maintenance loans have increased just 2% against 11% inflation. There are big tax rises and spending cuts ahead, but this recession will be shallower than previous and there are signs inflation is already peaking. Longer term, the world is in better shape than it feels, with reduced poverty and increased educational levels. But things won’t go back to where they were: retail is no longer about products and services but experience and convenience.
Nick Hillman of HEPI’s comprehensive round-up included the prospect of student loans being linked to graduate outcomes, and the current HE education minister’s view that half of all degrees should be degree apprenticeships.
International students make a significant contribution to the economy and policy should not be left to the Home Office. Departments that care, like Education, BEIS and International Trade, need to be involved. Read the HEPI Summary Report for the value of international students to your region.
Research funding is under threat. Universities need to show how research changes lives, get policy makers onto campuses to see what we do, and turn sceptics into advocates.
Blended learning is often presented as sub-value but it’s positive, and good edtech is not cheap. With funding frozen and growing student demand, it’s also part of the solution to universities doing more for less. The young expect it and it’s their view we need to hear on this.
The 2% increase in the maintenance loan makes a large proportion of rents unaffordable and compounding this, there’s a student housing market slowdown as the cost of borrowing affects the business model.
While higher education is valued, the prospect of a student numbers cap remains.
The OIA’s Jo Nuckley talked through some complaints that have escalated to the OIA. Students are comparing the university prospectus and website with the reality. And little things that happen with frontline staff can feed into bigger, often academic complaints.
Deal with complaints in professional manner at source and seek early resolution. Ensure that those capturing information at source do so factually and accurately. Respond to student breaches of behaviour proportionately. Remember, it is not easy to complain. Listen to understand, not to respond. Saying sorry is not admitting responsibility.
Encourage complaints – they are free feedback. Question your processes if you have multiple complaints or no complaints. Keep your CCTV footage longer!
In the OIA’s breakdown of student complaints, two groups are over-represented: international PGs who have lots to learn in a short space, and people with extra responsibilities, such as carers and disabled students, who have extra processes to go through.
Good Practice Framework - OIAHE
What the Living Black at University report uncovered was so shocking there had to be outputs – principles, guidance, toolkits. The EDI Data Maturity framework is part of this and an example of cross-sector engagement involving academics, accommodation providers and VCs.
Belonging in accommodation should be our focus as providers. There is a lack of trust and we must ensure we don’t close the door to students by our in actions. Utilise the data, be transparent, and be ready to be challenged and feel uncomfortable. Focus on action and outputs – do something with the data that gives positive change. To increase workforce diversity to provide role models and staff that Black students are comfortable approaching, we need to collect data at every stage of the recruitment process and pinpoint where the problems lie. Be careful that data does not mask problems. Be innovative, actively seek data to remedy inequalities, and ensure it’s available to those who can take action to change things. Approach university planners to find out what is already collected and ask for the data you need.
UCAS data shows demand for university outstripping supply – demographically and aspirationally, and there will be increased competition for places.
England returns to pre-Covid A level standards this year, Wales and Northern Ireland over two years.
The Government wants more degree apprenticeships - a more palatable way to expand HE - but the traditional model is still perceived as more prestigious, and the supply does not seem to be there. This also poses questions for student accommodation – block learning and 42-week lets? If more degrees are apprenticeships, is there a need for more accommodation to be built or will current supply work all year?
89% of UCAS applicants prefer to live in university halls - the VFM drivers are WIFI and the cost of living. They want more information about accommodation at an earlier stage, and the cost of living has overtaken sustainability as their top concern. They are also asking more about part-time work. Sadly, mental health declarations have seen a 45% increase.
Check the UCAS accommodation forecast for your city
Sport directors Phil Steele, Vicky Ackerley, Keith Morris and Rob Wadsworth made a convincing case for the positive impact of sport and physical activity on student wellbeing, employability, belonging and attainment.
The data shows that doing or volunteering in sport as a student increases your earning potential. It develops planning and time management skills, create a sense of belonging, builds community and supports wellbeing. Athletes need to be disciplined and this carries over into their studies.
Use data to inform your students about the value of sport and physical activity. Raise its profile at your institution by articulating the tangible benefits to the university. Include the latest trends and take international student interests into account in your sport and activity programme. Make it accessible in a cost of living crisis.
Russell Partnership Collection provided a timely update on the UK hospitality sector. Business demand is lagging behind leisure, but confidence is coming back. Post-Covid, lead times for big events are shorter. There’s an 11% staff vacancy rate across hospitality but things are improving, with wages rising to attract staff.
Catering plays an integral role in building a community. Think about multi-purpose spaces for catering, study, sport and physical activity. Utilise technology to reduce costs and solve recruitment issues. New technology reduces the staff load, improves experience and supports sustainability, for example by measuring food waste.
A commercial director panel then discussed support for students and staff in the cost of living crisis. The University of Bath has a £1.50 offer at every catering outlet, Kent are offering a £3 meal, Leicester are providing a £2.50 munchbox – bring your own box and we fill it - and Sheffield have frozen prices. Another UofBath initiative is an awareness campaign on how to cook for four on £5.
These actions are important but bring challenges for universities. How sustainable are the subsidies they require and will they come to be expected? And how do we compete with the high street 22% pay increase?
A huge thanks to our speakers, the University of Warwick conference team, University of Warwick Commercial Manager Mark Potter for the pre-conference tour and presentation on commercial change at Warwick, the CUBO Board and Conference Committee, our conference host Phil Scott, our Event Manager Sarah Clayton and the CUBO team.
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