Recent speeches by UK Universities Minister on the Government’s vision for higher education

The Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts MP, has made several key speeches recently setting out the Government’s views on the role of universities.

At Nottingham University last month, David Willetts stated that universities can improve social mobility without compromising their academic integrity: “The primary role of universities is to enrich our knowledge and understanding. That is the fundamental value of teaching and research. We will not compromise on that. You don’t usually become an academic to raise the national growth rate or to improve social mobility. But if universities are true to their academic mission, these other goals can be achieved as well.”

He addressed the issue of increased tuition fees, and why these need not deter young people from applying to university. And he concluded that social mobility is a shared responsibility – from early years onwards.

In a detailed speech last week to Universities UK, the minister reiterated that government policy is to create a simpler, more flexible system, where funding follows the choices that students make. David Willetts denied that the shift to student fees and loans means a loss of government support for universities. And he set out the Coalition’s thinking on how universities can plan ahead, without necessarily raising fees to the maximum.

And in a speech this week to the British Academy, the minister talked about the significance of arts, humanities and social sciences in the modern university. He addressed funding issues for teaching and research, and announced that the Government intends to proceed with the 2012 Birth Cohort Study – the first UK-wide cohort for whom information will be captured before birth and in the first year of life. He said: “Despite the tough times, we are committed to gathering vital data – in the truest sense of the word – and to making full use of Britain’s strengths in social science.”

There was a further announcement relating to the new Research Excellence Framework, which will include an extra weighting on impact. But the minister emphasised his view that scholarship is valuable in its own right, and not simply as a means to something else.

Do you agree with David Willetts on these fundamental issues about the role, purpose and funding of social sciences? Please feel free to add a comment, or start a debate in the Forum.

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Vicki Bolton
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It’s hard to disagree with what he says – it’s what he does that causes the trouble. It would be interesting to know whether he has an ideal figure in mind for the percentage of 18 year olds who should go to university…

Vicki Bolton
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I’m almost relieved to find Willetts making statements I can get properly annoyed about… http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/apr/01/david-willetts-feminism-lack-of-jobs