Andy Burnham: ‘HE must move beyond strikes and show its value’

Greater Manchester mayor urges sector to get ready to show next government it can ‘kick-start regional growth’

九月 7, 2023

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has urged the sector to face up to post-pandemic questions about value for students and to resolve the industrial dispute so that it can tell the next government “a really powerful story” that investing in higher education and research can “kick-start regional growth”.

The Labour mayor spoke at the Universities UK conference, held at the University of Manchester, where he was introduced by Dame Nancy Rothwell, the university’s vice-chancellor.

He and Dame Nancy, along with the rest of Greater Manchester’s university leaders, were “always in the same rooms” working on their “shared set of ambitions for the city region”, said Mr Burnham.

Greater Manchester’s aim is to create a “research-based economy”, through projects such as the Atom Valley plan to “hopefully take graphene”, the University of Manchester-developed super-thin material, “and connect it to Oldham, Bury, Rochdale and bring really high-end jobs, reindustrialising the north of England in a good way”, said Mr Burnham.

Also highlighting developments such as the Institute of Technology led by the University of Salford, the mayor said: “It’s just not PR at a conference from someone like me to say, ‘we love our universities’. We couldn’t do without them; we couldn’t be where are today as a city region without their involvement.”

Having six Greater Manchester universities with 110,000 undergraduates in the city region “means big organisations see that number, they see that talent, and they invest here because they want that talent to work for them”, he said. “From an economic point of view, it’s of enormous importance that we have the size of the university base we have.”

But Mr Burnham said he also had a “challenge” to university leaders in the audience about the “the value delivered to undergraduates” – “given where we have reached in the public debate”.

“I speak as a parent of two pandemic undergraduates, now graduates – and I saw what they have gone through,” he added.

Mr Burnham continued that a “change in the way students were thinking about universities that was happening pre-pandemic has tipped in a more difficult direction post-pandemic – and we’ve got to be honest with each other about that, because we want those graduates, or undergraduates, to come in those numbers to this city region going forward”.

Greater Manchester has “got to do more as a city region” and would be adopting a call by the city region’s students’ unions to emulate Nottingham’s Student Living Strategy, he said.

This could encompass subsidised travel for 18- to 21-year-olds, an “employment charter” to “hopefully support graduates going into employment”, “a good landlord charter” and a plan to “give people incentives to stay on [in Greater Manchester] after they graduate”, he added.

The situation, he warned, was “potentially at a tipping point where students are saying, ‘is it worth going along the university route’, and more and more voices are saying that”.

Mr Burnham said he is “the parent of someone who still has not got a grade after she graduated”.

“We need to move beyond the industrial dispute,” he continued. “It’s a really worrying thing if it goes into this academic year as well.”

There was “more that could be done to raise employment standards…to reduce insecure or casual employment across the sector”, but there was “ground to be given, perhaps, on the other side as well”. Resolving the industrial dispute was critical as it was “a lose-lose-lose” for universities, staff and students, he warned.

“There’s a big moment here,” said Mr Burnham. “We’re heading towards a general election…We need to have higher education talking with one voice to the future; what higher education can contribute to the country.”

There was, he said, “a really powerful story about regional growth to be told – and an incoming government to be persuaded that it is worth investing in higher education and research because of the benefits it can bring to regional growth, the way it can kick-start regional growth and build those clusters [in new industries]”.



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