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UK – a world-class higher education system

Earlier this year, the Secretary of State John Denham announced his intention to develop a framework for the UK higher education over the next ten to fifteen years, expressing the “need to decide what a world-class HE system of the future should look like, what it should seek to achieve, and establish the current barriers to its development”. To create a basis for the future government policy in higher education and to fuel the debate in this sector, the Secretary of State commissioned both individuals and organisations active in this field to write a series of nine reports, which have been recently made available on the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) website. The assessments cover issues such as: international higher education, institutional performance, research careers or the demographic challenge facing universities. These contributions put forward recommendations for the government and universities on how the UK's higher education system should develop over the next decade, in order to safeguard its top quality reputation.

While the academia makes use of this official channel to determine in which direction the higher education wind will blow, the British student unions, unsurprisingly, preferred the more traditional path of street protests as their lobbying instrument. Through a demonstration against university tuition fees, organised at the beginning of November by the National Union of Students, British students are trying to shape the outcomes of the review of undergraduate fees that is to start next year.

It seems that 2009 will be a year of change for the British higher education system, with many trying to influence the direction of transformations. Although the Secretary of State seemed receptive to the suggestions - at least to the ones recommended in the commissioned reports - it remains to be seen to what extent these will actually be integrated in the final policy, and furthermore, bring the desired results.