Secretary of State's speech on the future of higher education

24 February 2009

Responding to a speech made today by John Denham MP, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, The Director General of the Russell Group, Dr Wendy Piatt, said:

“We welcome the Secretary of State’s celebration of the strengths of higher education in the UK but also his acknowledgement that this success can only be sustained with increased investment, particularly as we face increasingly fierce global competition, escalating costs and severe economic conditions. We also welcome his recognition of the crucial importance of institutions with a critical mass of research excellence. Now, more than ever it is essential that we as a nation bolster Britain’s critical mass of research excellence. World-class universities, with their heavy concentration of brainpower, established quality, and the sheer numbers and facilities to achieve global impact, are best placed to attract investment in innovation by leading global companies. It is right to celebrate excellence wherever it occurs, but excellence needs to be on a grand scale to guarantee prosperity for UK plc and quality of life for us all.

“With over 130,000 part time students (more part-time students on average than the sector as a whole) and a significant proportion of mature students, Russell Group universities also recognise the need to offer flexible learning opportunities for a diverse student body. Our universities have developed a wider range of initiatives such as sandwich courses and e-learning and are continually seeking to innovate in meeting the varied learning needs of students. Several of our institutions operate special entry routes where, for example, students can take their first or second years at the local Further Education College, or at another institution. However, as the speech acknowledges, many students continue to see the real benefits of studying full-time, away form home in a new, challenging environment and there are also a range of tricky issues including financial costs which would need to be carefully considered in moving towards some forms of flexible provision like credit accumulation and transfer.

“Finally, to ensure fair access, Russell Group universities are doing everything they can to ensure that talented students from every background have the chance to benefit from a degree. We are helping to raise academic attainment and aspirations by working closely with local schools, colleges and community organisations, organising summer schools and providing access courses and by dramatically increasing the amount of money committed to outreach and widening participation. Russell Group universities are constantly trying to improve the ways we identify potential and seek out those who would not normally consider applying to a Russell Group university.”

Notes to editors

  1. In his speech at the Higher Education Debate Conference the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, John Denham MP, stated: “We need institutions which can support the critical mass of leading researchers, and expensive facilities, which in turn can attract the very best amongst the global research and business community.”
  2. The Russell Group has over 130,000 part-time students and more part-time students on average than the sector as a whole.
  • In 2006/07, 31,000 new part-time students entered Russell Group universities, of which 28,000 were mature students.
  • In addition, 12% on average of our full-time undergraduate entrants are mature students.
  • Russell Group universities have over 7000 students studying on ‘sandwich’ courses.
  • Of all postgraduate students at Russell Group universities, 43% are studying part-tim

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