Jon Wakeford introduces HEPI’s 2021 Annual Conference

UPP’s Director of Sector Engagement and Chair of the UPP Foundation, Jon Wakeford, introduced the Higher Education Policy Institute’s (HEPI) Annual Conference today.

As a long-standing partner of HEPI, UPP was a sponsor of the event, opened by HEPI Director Nick Hillman and themed ‘Learning from the Crisis’.

The opening address was provided by the Rt Hon. Gavin Williamson CBE MP, the Secretary of State for Education, while Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the Office for Students, delivered the morning keynote address.

In his speech, Jon commented: “The pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to reflect on exactly what the higher education sector delivers and how it achieves this: pedagogy, research and all the other experiential and extra-curricular activities which have been effectively put on hold for more than a year. 

“It has given us a chance to take stock of those elements which students have recognised as the critical parts of a university experience while throwing into sharp relief the huge importance they attach to face-to-face teaching.  

“The UPP Foundation’s own research across 2,000 students in 100 UK universities shows that nearly 60 per cent of UK students see face-to-face teaching as a top priority once they return to university in September. Just six per cent said they wanted to study fully online, and the findings confirm a continuing, significant demand for in-person learning.

“Whilst student demand is set to increase significantly over the next decade, the sector is facing considerable uncertainty in the wake of the pandemic, with many of the outputs from the Comprehensive Spending Review and the Post-18 education and funding review still unconfirmed. 

“There are indications that the tuition fee cap might be cut for arts and humanities subjects, alongside a lowering of the earnings threshold for loan repayments and an extension of the repayment period. These and other measures will put pressure on universities to place a limit on student places, making it harder for universities to widen participation and encourage inclusiveness. Less revenue will undoubtedly dilute the impact the role that universities are able to play in society.

“COVID-19 has clearly been highly disruptive for students in terms of learning, living and wellbeing. However, on the plus side, collaboration and innovation have been very much in evidence across the sector.

“In response to the issues raised by the pandemic, the UPP Foundation has established the Student Futures Commission, in partnership with Wonkhe and chaired by Mary Curnock-Cook, to assess what can be done to get students back on track post-pandemic by encouraging a collaborative effort from across the sector to support their future development and enhance the overall student experience.”

The event also saw the launch of the influential ‘HEPI / Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey’, which includes the best available data on students’ perceptions of value for money, workload and wellbeing.  

HEPI was established in 2002 to shape the higher education policy debate through evidence and is the UK’s only independent think tank devoted to the higher education sector.