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Power list: the 50 people with the most influence over UK universities?

Despite the overwhelming focus of HE being on Universities, degrees and masters qualifications, the HE sector has an alternative provision that is increasingly supported and promoted by many influential and powerful individuals and organisations.

Full article here –

Published by Wonkhe – a thinktank for higher education policy “wonks” – the list includes the policymakers, lobbyists, politicians, vice-chancellors and thinkers who wield most influence over the sector.

Wonkhe editor Mark Leach says: “In its third edition, the annual Wonkhe Power List reflects the failure of politicians to provide answers to the policy questions that really matter to universities.

“Politicians are starting to shape their policies around mistaken beliefs about how universities are run and how our higher education sector is organised. However, the wonks are fighting back – it’s been comforting to see politicians lose some influence at the expense of those better placed to know what’s really going on, and the ranking reflects this.”

Some names from the top 50.

Judy Friedberg, consultant

“Not all power comes from the top down, and this year – the year of the Donald – ‘people power’ makes a pressing case for recognition on the Wonkhe power list. In the case of higher education, ‘the people’ are students and they are finding imaginative ways to flex a newly discovered political muscle. Their most impactful display of strength has been through the ballot box. They rallied in huge numbers behind Jeremy Corbyn in the recent election and shook the Labour Party to its core. Tuition fees, which had looked set to plod steadily ever upwards, landed back on the political table with an almighty thunk.”

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn – Prime Minister, and Leader of the Opposition.

What a difference a year makes…….Labour Party dreams of free university tuition looked like a fantasy. But Jeremy Corbyn’s General Election campaign, built on the back of the disaffected young, has kickstarted a national conversation on the nature and fairness of university funding……. The Prime Minister, by contrast, was top of our 2016 Power List, riding high on her personal popularity, her determination to centralise government decision-making, and a continued unwillingness to bend to pressure from universities (and their allies) over international students. Only the Prime Minister’s personal stubbornness has been holding back some easing off on international students policy. Now, May looks in no position to keep resisting should there be further pressure to liberalise rules on Tier 4 visas.

Alison Wolf — Professor of Public Sector Management, King’s College London

….Baroness Alison Wolf, whose influence and research stretches across the tertiary education landscape from HE to FE and skills….Wolf has been a long-term sceptic of continued university expansion, and her most recent paper for the Education Policy Institute advocates expanding sub-degree higher education at the expense of bachelor’s degrees, and also rebalancing funding towards the colleges sector.

Anthony Seldon — Vice-Chancellor, University of Buckingham

Seldon has been an outspoken and active vice chancellor and has cemented his position as the unofficial leader of the more established end of alternative providers. Seldon also exemplifies the rise of independent HE more generally – with the ear of policymakers and the press for what we used to call the “Challenger sector”, we see the passage HERA2017 as confirmation of their central place in HE policymaking.

Kirsty Williams — Cabinet Secretary for Education, Welsh Government

As the sole Liberal Democrat in the Welsh Assembly, she has worked with a Labour minority administration as Education Secretary since 2016, steering through radical changes to higher education policy – most recently consulting on the Hazelkorn recommendations on wider post-compulsory education. A confident and impressive assembly member, her focus on the delivery of a genuinely fair and progressive system has done more to improve the poor sector perception of her party than any amount of Westminster hand-wringing.

LEO — The indebted millennial

Labour’s better-than-expected showing in the General Election was less to do with its success among current students than with recent graduates in the process of paying off their student loans. This was only the beginning of the clout that indebted millennials might begin to have on higher education policy. Graduates of both the £3,000 and £9,000 fee systems are now entering the labour market and beginning to feel the effects of their monthly loan repayments. If they are not, it may be because higher education has not managed to offer the earnings returns that they might once have expected.

Greg Clark — Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy

With the expected autumn release of a White Paper – following the consultation early this year – we may well see recommendations to enhance public support available for research and development, and higher level skills provision. In a public policy environment currently turning in an anti-university direction, both the profile and income of institutions would see a boost – and further new entrants to the sector, in the form of the postulated technical institutes in every major town.

Andrew Adonis (Provisional) — Chair, National Infrastructure Commission

Regularly cited as the architect of fees, Adonis has turned his back on the arguments he so successfully deployed during the days of the 2004 Higher Education Act. Citing the “venality and greed” of vice-chancellors, he now advocates for the dismantling of the “Frankenstein’s monster” that he feels his funding model has become.

Shakira Martin and Amatey Doku — President and Vice President (Higher Education), the National Union of Students.

A moderate-backed slate led by new President Shakira Martin was elected at NUS National Conference in 2017. The eclectic and lively Martin, formerly NUS Vice President for Further Education, is only the second NUS President to have attended a further education college instead of university. She will be an effective and media-friendly spokesperson for NUS, but her policy focus will mainly be directed towards her passion for FE.

Martin Lewis — Founder,

TV’s “Money Saving Expert” entered the higher education arena as a front person for the benefits of the post-Browne fees model as a member of the Student Finance Task Force. But the government’s continued refusal to raise the repayment threshold awakened the crusading consumer rights journalist within, and his trenchant criticism of this decision escalated to include talk of a legal challenge in 2015. Though this never came to fruition, Lewis has kept the pressure on this and related issues – becoming a key voice in student finance debates and the first port of call for students and others seeking clarity regarding an increasingly Byzantine system.

Alex Proudfoot — Chief Executive, Independent Higher Education.

The extent to which the emerging regulatory architecture of higher education is shaped around the needs of a particular model of “alternative provider”, coupled with the fact that this has been achieved in such a short space of time, suggests that Proudfoot and others have been successful in making the case for private and not-for-profit higher education.

The above are listed in the Higher Education Power List 2017 – The list represents the top 50 movers and shakers in and around UK higher education. Who has the most influence over the sector? Who will be instrumental in shaping its future?