Divisive = bad; diverse = good

This is my first London Higher CEO’s Blog. I write it at a time when I have been reflecting about how often things really do seem to go around in circles – recurring at intervals whether every few weeks, months, yearly or longer.

For instance, higher education (HE) news lately has included – how London has too much higher education/too many institutions, universities don’t produce ‘work ready’ graduates, there are  so many higher education ‘cold spots’, delivery of a new batch of HE league tables – even LinkedIn puts one nowadays! I find some is not ‘new’ news, other elements to be a distraction, and a few more frustrating.

I often yawn at seeing yet another league table. However I confess I warmed to the ‘London is the best city in the world’ for HE headlines and tweets that appeared following the latest THE world university rankings. The downside being it was based on the number of ‘elite’ universities in our capital.

Actually this is only part of the story. Of course London offers five ‘Russell Group’ universities – fantastic international institutions. But it doesn’t stop there.  It is the amazing range of HE institutions that makes London the world’s best university city – everything from excellent small institutions offering different specialties through to the large multi faculty modern universities, plus those research intensive leaders. This set against the backdrop of the growing, vibrant and multi-cultural city and region that is London itself.

A few weekends ago, around the edge of the Conservative Party Conference, I found myself fighting on two depressingly familiar fronts. Namely, the ‘too much HE (and too many HEIs) in London’ theme, and ‘only elite institutions are any good’.

First, London is a true world city, with the scale and dynamics to go with it. It is expanding, has a population rapidly becoming a ‘majority of minorities’ and like other cities it has its share of challenges. A world class city requires a world class HE cluster – London has one. The cluster is and will continue to evolve. Collaboration happens at every level, all the time. All our HE institutions are involved in various collaborations of different types. At one end of the spectrum the decision to merge has been or will be a good call for some. London’s HEIs don’t need to be pushed into making big decisions by policy makers and Treasury officials – or those who consider taking resource out of the capital will somehow mean an automatic boom, or replacement of a specialism, elsewhere in the UK.

As for the preoccupation with ‘brightest and best’ students going only to ‘elite’ institutions, give me strength. Where does this stop? And what are we saying about the (majority of) people who either don’t emerge from school with three/four A levels at A or A*, or don’t go to one of 25 universities?  Are they deemed to be forever ‘moderate’, or ‘no hopers’ even?  What of the institutions that strive to add value or that offer a different experience – are they second rate or worse? Some influential people I have encountered lately seem to consider this to the way of it…

My belief has always been that this country needs an HE sector that is open and welcoming to all those able to benefit from it and who are willing to work hard to do so. Different people have different needs, aptitudes and wishes and they flourish in different environments. Diversity in higher education is so very important.  And let’s not forget other countries are expanding their university sectors, and have Governments that are investing far more heavily in their institutions than we are. London offers a truly magnificent and diverse group of universities and HE colleges. We ought to be celebrating that wonderful asset. An asset that serves London but also serves the country. London Higher – and I – will continue to promote just that.