The new President of Universities UK (UUK) told delegates at UUK's annual members' conference today that strong support from government is essential for universities to play a full role in transforming people's lives and helping the economy to grow.
Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow, in her first major speech as President of Universities UK, made the call at the annual gathering of university leaders, taking place this week (8–9 September) at the University of Surrey. She addressed vice-chancellors at the conference alongside the Universities Minister Jo Johnson MP, who was also invited to speak.
Professor Goodfellow, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, called on government to support universities in four key areas:
The speech will highlight the powerful impact of universities:
On teaching excellence and student funding, Professor Goodfellow said: "Teaching excellence can only be delivered with stable and sustainable funding. This is essential to allow universities to continue to deliver a high-quality learning experience for students. Remember, our graduates are our teachers, our doctors, our engineers, innovators and wealth-creators."
In response to the question, 'is a degree still worth it?', she said: "Official figures show that 94% of graduates are in work or study three-and-a-half years after graduation and over 80% of those employed are in professional, graduate jobs. Our graduates also earn almost £10,000 a year more than people without degrees."
On investment in research and innovation, Professor Goodfellow said: "The UK is acknowledged for its world-leading research power. However, the UK has invested significantly less in research as a proportion of GDP than the OECD and EU averages. There is a real question about how long this position will last, if investment levels by the UK continue to lag behind our competitors. We must act now, or the UK's position will be further challenged."
Addressing the issue of international higher education and visa rules, she said: "We are committed to ensuring that international students are here legitimately to study, and to tackling any abuse. However, we are losing out to other countries. We should be presenting a welcoming climate for genuine international students and ensuring that visa and immigration rules and procedures are proportionate.
"We continue to urge the government to remove international students from their net migration target. They come to the UK, study for a period, and then the overwhelming majority go home."
Turning to the upcoming referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, she added: "The UK's membership of the European Union makes the UK's outstanding universities even stronger, contributing to economic growth, employable graduates and cutting edge research discoveries. In the referendum debate, universities must stand up and be counted. We should be a powerful and positive voice."