UK universities are undergoing a ‘radical shift’ in their strategies to prioritize engagement and impact in their regions rather than ‘a competitive position with peer institutions’, leading to a shift towards increased demand. recruitment and income through direct links with âlarge local employersâ, according to an annual survey of rectors.
PA Consulting’s 11th survey of UK university leaders, shared exclusively with Times Higher Education, is based on more than 40 responses, via questionnaires, written comments and in-depth telephone interviews.
âUniversities are increasingly differentiating themselves and building their identity in terms of social and economic engagement and impacts in their local region,â in âa significant change from previous findings,â write the authors of the report. survey, PA Consulting higher education specialists Mike Boxall and Ian Matthias.
Seventy percent of the rectors who responded placed “recruiting from underrepresented and / or local student groups” as their first or second priority, with 45% doing the same to “support economic and labor needs. – local or sectoral work â. The numbers much lower given that the first or second priorities were “expanding or consolidating international partnerships” (chosen by 23%), “recruiting only the most academically gifted students” (15%) and ” lead the development of advanced and international research â(5 percent).
Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellors saw the main “major risks” as a reduction in tuition fees (chosen by 63%), a drop in demand for international students (35%) and ceilings / constraints on admissions. students (31%).
Universities may have been pushed towards greater local and regional focus by the Conservative Government’s focus in Westminster on ‘leveling out’ in parts of the UK following the Brexit vote, combined with the influence of the 2019 UPP Foundation Civic University Commission report, which has led many universities to enter into civic university agreements with key local partners.
Mr Boxall said the “striking” proportion of vice-chancellors emphasizing “what we might call the ‘leveling’ agenda and social impact” included “a good number of Russell’s group universities. ‘genuinely engaging in what you might call more focused, impact-based strategies’.
In connection with this, he said the survey showed that an increasing number of universities were moving “at least part of [their] focus on competing in Ucas’ open recruitment markets to drive employment and recruiting links with large local employers, especially the NHS but also police and large local industries – meeting recruitment needs very specific premises â.
A vice-chancellor described it as giving their university “pre-set numbers” and certainty. It’s a move to “protect their business” when “the constraints on numbers and prices are a real concern for them,” Boxall said.
Another vice-chancellor cited in the report saw here a synergy between civic mission and financial sustainability: “Doing the right things [for the community] and the money will flow.
In terms of potential changes in the shape of the sector, 73 percent of rectors said their institutions had no plans to merge with other higher education institutions, but 27 percent said they were actively considering such initiatives.
Mr Matthias said: âIn previous years there have always been forecasts of university closures etc. The reality is we haven’t seen this. What we’ll find is more alignment, a few mergers, but a lot more differentiation in the industry.
Whether it’s âmergers within ES but also integration with FEâ¦ we should expect to see some movement over the next two yearsâ in terms of âshape of the sectorâ, a- he continued. “I think the experience of universities going through Covid has been that they’ve untapped some potential to be nimble, innovative, and change fast enough that they didn’t previously think possible.”