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Published: 09 September 2014

Surrey's Vice-Chancellor highlights three key areas for government policy

Universities UK President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey, Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, has highlighted three key policy issues an incoming government must prioritise to support the university sector.

Speaking at the University of Leeds (on Tuesday September 9) for UUK’s three-day Members’ Annual Conference, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, addressed vice-chancellors alongside the new Universities Minister, Greg Clark MP.

He focussed on three areas:

  • Research and innovation – making the case for closing the gap between the UK’s investment in research and innovation, and that of its major competitors
  • Internationalisation and immigration – calling on government and universities to work together to attract well-qualified international students and staff to the UK
  • Student funding – highlighting the need to develop a sustainable student funding system in England, but with relevance for the whole of the UK

Starting with the UK's position as a research power, Professor Snowden said, “If the UK’s public-investment in research continues to lag behind our competitors, the UK will struggle to remain a world-leading research power. We cannot be complacent, we need to act now.

“That is why we are asking that a new government establish a ten-year plan to increase public investment in research – in real terms – year-on-year to sustain our position as a premier global research power.”

Addressing the issue of international students, he said that an incoming government must do more to attract qualified students and staff to the UK. He commented, “UK degrees are recognised worldwide and right now, we are educating students from some of the strongest growing economies, including India, China, Brazil and Nigeria.

“Recently however, this positive contribution has been overshadowed by the changes to the student visa and immigration regime, creating a strong adverse perception in many countries and, after a period of strong growth, the decline in numbers of international students from some parts of the world is a serious concern. We need a change in Government immigration policy to realise the fantastic opportunity this country has in continuing to attract the brightest and the best international students and staff to our shores.”

He added that the UK needs “an ambitious, government-backed strategy for growth” alongside “more favourable post-study work opportunities” for international students.

On the subject of student funding he said, “There must be cross-party consensus for a long-term and sustainable system of funding.

“Neither students nor universities benefit from the funding system being overhauled every few years. The stability needed by universities and students will only be achieved if the system is properly funded. That means both the public and private costs of higher education being affordable, and the system attracting political consensus.”

He referred to the Student Funding Panel, established by Universities UK this year to assess the current system in England, and to make recommendations on its future development. He said, “This panel will report to UUK in spring 2015 and we will highlight any emerging findings from the group over the coming months as this issue becomes, no doubt, a hot topic in the election.

“In all of this discussion, we must not lose sight of the important issue of social mobility. It is important that suitably qualified students can access higher education regardless of financial circumstances.”

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