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New rules different games

University leaders' views on the unsettled outlook for higher education

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PA's Higher Education Survey 2016 represents the views of heads of UK universities on the multiple policy disruptions facing higher education.

An unprecedented barrage of game-changing policy developments has emerged during 2016 that will reshape the market and regulatory landscape for Britain’s higher education (HE) providers. The concurrent impacts of the Brexit vote, the radical provisions of the Higher Education and Research Bill, the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), redoubled restrictions on student visas and the restructuring of research funding (among other reforms) present HE leaders with a plethora of new challenges. Coming on top of relatively recent upheavals to the funding and marketisation of HE teaching, how will the sector cope?

About the survey

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This report is based on PA’s eighth annual survey of university vice-chancellors and other leaders of HE institutions. Some general questions were carried forward from previous years, allowing us to see how leaders’ views have changed over time. In addition, this year’s survey focussed on the wave of dramatic changes in the markets and regulation of HE provision over the course of 2016.

Download the full report

Snapshot of findings

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The impact of visa controls on student and staff recruitment

79% of university leaders predicted that visa restrictions will have seriously adverse impacts on their sector. 

Vice-chancellors are worried that the impacts of policy changes will undermine the viability and competitiveness of the university sector.

The sector is being restructured by stealth

Almost half of vice-chancellors predict significant numbers of institutional failures in the light of policy and market changes.   

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While many of their peers disagree with this extreme outlook, 74% predict significant rationalisation of the sector, through course and staff cuts, and major restructuring through partnerships, alliances, and collaborations.

Priorities for the future

79% of university leaders say student satisfaction is their top priority.

Vice-chancellors are prioritising TEF, REF and NSS ratings as necessary to protect market positions, but at the same time looking elsewhere for sustainable growth.

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  • "We are in a situation of multiple unknowns. It is like Alice in Wonderland – nothing seems to make sense"
  • "Being forced to focus on UK students and research funding, rather than being globally oriented, risks significant deterioration in our global position"
  • "The TEF could create a game of financial snakes and ladders, with short ladders and long snakes. Some institutions could fall quickly and struggle to dig their way back up"
  • "We have lost a golden age that we did not realise we had"
  • "Institutions will need to define their own terms of success, and to be increasingly clear about what they do best"

To find out more, contact the authors of the report, Mike Boxall and Paul Woodgates

Contact the authors

Contact the innovation team

Frazer Bennett

Frazer Bennett

Anita Chandraker

Anita Chandraker

Andy Katz

Andy Katz

Hsiu Mei Wong

Hsiu Mei Wong

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