We need to talk (more) about UK Higher Education
By Dan Beynon
So this Christmas it really feels like the UK Higher Education Sector is under siege! Some of the constant negativity is unfortunately deserved and, to an extent, self-inflicted. The VC pay issue has revealed some ill-considered extremes and not been dealt with pro-actively. The issues around funding too are complicated and not always addressed with enough focus on what it feels like from the standpoint of the students. But the sector still delivers truly life changing experiences to the vast majority of people it encounters.
We are facing a moment in time where we need to respond to this challenge and in September at CASE Europe’s Annual Conference, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, issued a rallying cry to the sector that urged everyone involved to speak out and tell the story of all that is positive in UK HE. I’d now like to introduce a campaign, that will be developed by SMRS and The Student Room in 2018, to help with this response. We are going to launch an online hub that will contain loads of real-life stories about all the great things that happen because of Higher Education.
The challenge is to make the case for HE whilst avoiding appearing self-interested or protectionist. The regular infographics that appear on social media demonstrating, for example, the financial value of an international student to the UK economy are important and reach a certain professional audience. But this type of information doesn’t engage people on a more emotional level. We need to connect with our other key audiences of students, potential students and their influencers, whether parents or teachers.
There’s a missing part of the sector’s response and it’s the defence of HE by the people who have experienced the benefits – whether students or otherwise. We need a clear and passionate rebuttal of all the current negativity in the form of a set of positive stories about the wonderful impact that UK HE has on people and their families.
But it’s a complex subject and we can’t be blind to the realities of the challenging situation that students and universities find themselves in and the range of serious issues that students face when considering a degree. These issues include student debt, visa regulations, contact hours, retention rates, employability and mental health issues BUT they are all issues that the sector can and do address and they do NOT outweigh the huge benefits that the majority of students enjoy from their experience.
So between now and the spring of 2018 we will be the gathering of a set of great stories that remind everyone what a wonderful thing University is and what amazing things happen because of Universities. This will be a very human set of stories – not data on economic benefits, not employability statistics – real human stories. The content of the campaign will showcase HE’s impact on diversity, opportunity, emotional and life changing experiences. A set of narratives to help bust the negative myths.
How can Universities and other HE related organisations help us?
We have a lot of great stories from The Student Room and we have the collective resource in our 2 organisations in terms of digital and creative expertise that will deliver the website. It will be out there and constantly updated. TSR and SMRS will make this campaign happen but we would like the sector’s help to do so.
We want more stories and engagement from the wider sector and that’s where individual institutions can help us make this happen. They will give us stories about students, staff and families and we will use them. We’ll carry video content and written stories but we’ll unashamedly control the site editorially – it’s not a forum – it’s a showcase of authentic, engaging stories showcasing great positive results delivered by UK HE.
We’d like to have Universities and other organisations involved in the campaign as partners or signatories and we are already in discussions with UUK, CASE and the UMF to collaborate as I know all those organisations have their own plans for related activity.
We want people to feel this campaign is one they can signpost and support. So please look out for the invitation to take part and do so when the moment arises. Thanks in advance – we’ll be in touch soon.