Ironically, the conference
takes place at the time of the year where our competition for students is at
its most intense: confirmation and clearing. Admittedly, the heat has subsided
since its peak in mid-August, when for a couple of days many universities ran
what I suspect were some of the busiest call centres in the country.
At Nottingham Trent University (NTU), our offer strategy in
clearing was, as usual, shaped partly by our understanding of the approach of
what we call our UCAS Competitor Group (you know who you are!) and, for some of
our disciplines, a much wider penumbra of higher education institutions.
Furthermore, the most intense
competition for students and, to some extent, for staff takes place against
those very universities with which we also work closest.
NTU has what could be
termed three concentric circles of collaboration: an outer circle comprising
the 135 members of UUK; a middle circle made up of 19 members of the University
Alliance; and the inner circle of seven institutions which have just formed
Midlands Enterprise Universities. Most of the latter are in our core competitor
The NTU pattern of affiliation
by no means represents all of the combinations in the sector. There is at least
one university I know that belongs to a fourth partnership group in the UK.
Some are members of international alliances. I doubt there are many
universities attending the UUK conference that are not members of at least one
They speak to an ever more competitive higher education
scene where the interests of individual institutions are best assured by a
network of effective partnerships with those possessing similar opportunities
and constraints. These will differ depending on the issue under consideration. The
rules of the various games in which we are involved are shaped by the
overlapping interventions of these three groups and many others; however, once
they have been agreed, the competition between us is intense whichever field we
are playing on.
Being in three formal
affiliations is time-consuming. It is crucial for NTU to be clear about the
purpose of each. Midlands Enterprise Universities has been formed to coordinate
the contributions of its seven members to the Midlands Engine agenda around
skills, enterprise, and innovation. The University Alliance ensures that the
voice of the new wave of civic universities is reflected in higher education
policy across research, teaching and knowledge transfer.
Which brings me back to Universities
UK, and the programme for our 2016 conference. In my view, its unique role is
to represent universities in those areas where all our interests align, such as
immigration policy or the UK’s future research relationship with the EU. The
conference is an annual invitation to raise our collective eyes to the horizon,
stimulated by a range of speakers that only an organisation with the profile
and reputation of UUK could secure. Crucially, I will hear the perspectives of
university leaders, and a range of those who head up sector bodies, with whom I
would otherwise have little contact.
For NTU, the conference is one
important component of how we ensure our organisational ability to both collaborate and compete
on the domestic and international stage. I look forward to welcoming many of
you to Nottingham and to renewing our affiliation.