I’m often asked why I put up with a 4.5 hour round trip travelling to/from work. The answer is that that for me, whilst my family are rooted in Gloucestershire thus moving is unattractive, nothing compares with the London HE ‘scene’.
Having worked 30 years in/around the HE sector for private, public and not-for-profit organisations, I’ve gained an interesting, if unusual, perspective on HE. My jobs have included a 10 year stint working for HEFCE/PCFC during which I dealt with many institutions in England. As a regional team manager then regional consultant for HEFCE, I began to feel drawn towards the London HEI (Higher Education Institution) group. Having become a consultant with KPMG, in 2002 I went on secondment to the then London Higher Education Consortium (LHEC), now London Higher. My task was to assess LHEC. Not long after I made the move permanent and the rest is history.
Would I relish a similar role for another regional association, or a national one or mission group? No. Why? Because like London itself, London HE is different and special. London is the UK capital and true world city; its size and scale are on a level apart; business and community dynamics are unique. The population is truly multi-cultural – a majority of minorities – and growing. Likewise, London’s HEI cluster has no comparison in the UK and there are few that come close elsewhere in the world. There is something for everyone – and every business.
London faces big challenges of course. ‘London vs the rest’ is an uncomfortable and recurring theme. Deprivation is juxtaposed to affluence. Aggregate figures can mask very real issues around poverty, qualifications and wellbeing. It can be easy for people to feel lonely or become lost in 24×7 London. Property prices are a major headache – and the costs of operating in London ditto for HEIs. NSS League tables show London HEIs doing relatively badly on student experience – in part this reflects on accommodation costs and the fact that few London HEIs offer a traditional ‘campus’ environment.
Yet despite all of this there are opportunities and excitement. London has great open spaces. There are a multitude of constant events and activities – many are free or low cost. Cultural and creative, sport and leisure, and entertainment and nightlife, options abound. London’s universities and colleges sit alongside it all – part of the fabric of London. They too are buzzing places. One of the best parts of my job is that I go out to all the member institutions at least once a year. There isn’t one I don’t enjoy visiting. But they don’t look or feel the same. As London is vibrantly diverse – so London’s HEIs are likewise. No wonder that for students from overseas London remains a magnet – despite some drawbacks that others even in the UK enjoy pointing to. These students want to be part of London and get a London HE experience. If they turn away from London it will be other countries that benefit not, I suggest, HEIs elsewhere in the UK.
So I love London. Enough to put up with a tedious commute. But I do believe that we in London HE must do a better job of telling the story, in language all can understand, of how we contribute to the rest of the UK rather than take from it. And we should promote the positives about the ‘London student experience’. These are tasks London Higher will be helping with – cue future blogs!