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What the 2024 UK General Election means for student accommodation

27 June 2024

Political decisions can reshape the whole Higher Education landscape, and many in the sector are keeping a close eye on the 2024 UK General Election. So we enlisted an expert panel and host Jenny Shaw  to tell us exactly what this General Election might mean for Higher Education, students and student accommodation in a special General Election podcast episode.

Our guests look at party manifestos, how universities should respond to these commitments (or lack of), what we might expect from further devolution and HE’s relationship with Further Education, and – most importantly – what the Higher Education and property sectors need from an incoming administration.

If you want to be prepared for what’s in store over the next five years, you won’t want to miss this episode. Our panellists include:

  • George Blake, Policy and Networks Officer at London Higher
  • Dani Payne, Senior Researcher at Social Market Foundation
  • Ian Fletcher, Director of Policy at the British Property Foundation
  • Megan Haskins, Policy and Research Manager at University College London Students’ Union

You can listen to the episode, or read the transcript, below.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are the personal views of individual guest speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unite Students and/or Unite Group plc. 

Episode transcript: What the 2024 UK General Election means for student accommodation

Jenny Shaw: Hello and welcome to Accommodation Matters. I’m Jenny Shaw and today instead of our scheduled episode, we are coming to you with an election special. And if you’re starting to feel that you’ve had quite enough of this election already, then fear not because what we are going to be doing is cutting through all the noise and getting right down to what it might mean for Higher Education, for students and for student accommodation.

So here we are. The parties have published their manifestos or equivalent, so we do have a reasonable idea about what might be in store – or do we? Here to break it down for us, we have a panel of top experts. George Blake is Policy and Networks Officer for London Higher. Hello George.

George Blake: Hello. Nice to be here.

Jenny Shaw: And Ian Fletcher is Director of Policy at the British Property Federation. Hello Ian.

Ian Fletcher: Hello Jenny. Good afternoon everybody.

Jenny Shaw: Dani Payne is a Senior Researcher at the Social Market Foundation. Hi Dani.

Dani Payne: Good afternoon. Thank you for having me.

Jenny Shaw: And Meg Haskins is Policy and Research Manager for Student Union UCL [University College London].

Megan Haskins: Lovely to join.

Jenny Shaw: Great to have you all on and looking forward to the conversation. Before we start, just to say, we are not going to be speculating today about the results of the election. We will restrain ourselves on that point, but it’s fair to say that at the time of recording there is a very clear leader in the polls and so the conversation may well reflect that. So we’re going to get into the manifesto promises shortly, but let’s start with what we might need from the next administration. We’ll do this as a fairly quick fire round, I think.

George, can you kick us off? What would be top of your agenda for a new government?

George Blake: So, I think an end to the negative rhetoric around Higher Education and a step change in the way we’re discussing the value of university, the way we’re discussing access and the way we’re talking about how universities contribute to the economy more widely.

Jenny Shaw: That’s great, thank you and I can see everyone else nodding. Dani, what is your take on this? What would you like to see?

Dani Payne: I think what I would really like to see is a shared vision for the purpose of the sector. I think a lot of the pain of the last few years has often been due to a disconnect between what the public wants or thinks universities should provide, what universities think their purpose is and what government wants their purpose to be, and I think it would be a really interesting topic for an early citizens’ assembly to try and come to at least a shared understanding of what we’re trying to achieve through a mass Higher Education market.

Jenny Shaw: It’d be great to get that sense of alignment, wouldn’t it? Ian, what would be top of your wishlist for student accommodation and maybe more widely for the property sector?

Ian Fletcher: I think taking the second first, more widely would be economic and political stability. That creates, I think, the conditions in terms of certainty for investment and growth in the economy, and that supports all the other things that we want to do. And then specifically, we need to have a planning system that better delivers the various needs that people need in terms of the built environment. So planning reform would be up there amongst my priorities.

Jenny Shaw: That’s great, thank you. And Meg, on behalf of students, what would be your number one ask?

Megan Haskins: Yeah, I guess when we’ve been speaking to students, maintenance loans are the things that come up a lot. I was at the HEPI Conference last week and Amira Campbell – who’s the incoming NUS president – was talking, and what was top of her list was maintenance grants being reinstated. I think we’ve seen a huge increase in terms of parents footing that bill and in terms of there being a huge reliance on that in order for students to make ends meet, and even then it’s still not happening.

I would say though that I also share George’s feeling in terms of the negative press that has existed around Higher Education in recent years. It’s felt quite relentless, I would say, in terms of hammering the sector. So I think that would make a huge difference, I think, in terms of public sentiment around it, in terms of feeling within the sector for those who work in it, and also for those who are studying in it as well.

Jenny Shaw: Yeah, two great points there. Good, so I’d like us to move on and talk a little bit about what the main parties might actually do if they get into power. Having read the manifestos, it is a little bit tumbleweed when it comes to Higher Education – there’s not a great deal there. Dani, can you help us out here? How might they each approach Higher Education policy?

Dani Payne: Absolutely – I mean, they are some very interesting manifestos. In terms of the Conservative manifesto, it largely consists of an announcement that came about a week prior talking about introducing new legislation that would allow probably the regulator to close (how they defined) ‘low quality’ courses and the idea is to use that funding to fund apprenticeships. I think what we saw in the manifesto is not hugely different from what we’ve heard over the past 15 years, and particularly the last five years, in terms of concerns about quality of certain HE courses.

There is the risk that if the Conservatives do lose the election, and particularly if they see a large amount of their votes going to Reform, that they might move even stronger in those areas as an opposing party and have more right-leaning policies in regards to HE.

I think for Labour, whilst there has been some despair in the sector at the lack of specific policy detail, I think there’s more in there than people think. Some of the wording that’s been used, although is not explicitly announcing policies, is very deliberate and can signal where they might move towards. I think what was interesting was some of the similarities between the manifestos, so both spoke about quality assurance in HE.

I think the differences come from the Conservative manifesto quite narrowly defines the purpose of HE and quite narrowly defines value for money as being primarily that graduate outcome, that economic benefit to getting a degree. Whereas the Labour manifesto speaks much more broadly about the roles that universities can play in terms of plugging skills gaps and skills training, working with local communities, the civic agenda and broadening opportunity as well, which is really important.

And that distinction I think is really important because even if the aims are potentially similar, so both aiming to improve teaching quality for example, you’ll get different policy outcomes depending on what the mood music is. So with Labour for example, you could end up with policies that incentivise certain types of provision, say provision that are particularly workplace-focused or in certain kind of skill shortage industries, as opposed to policies that punish or restrict other types of courses that aren’t deemed as economically in need for the country.

I think we might also see from Labour potentially a move towards universities being seen as more part of the public sector as opposed to this kind of quasi-market of the past 12 years, since the tuition fee reforms. I think the way that they speak about universities as really having a big role in some of their big manifesto aims around broadening opportunity, around having a world-class skill system, the talk of the post-16 compulsory review, bringing in FE and HE to work closer together… I think we might see a bit more perhaps public contribution to HE finance and then in return potentially a bit less autonomy for universities.

Jenny Shaw: Yeah, it’s so interesting what you say about that. I do feel it’s- I mean, I’m old enough to have been around in the sector in the nineties and it does feel a bit like that. I’m very interested in what role Higher Education, potentially together with Further Education, might play in the industrial strategy, because I think a Labour government potentially would go quite hard on that. It seems to be quite central to their manifesto. How do you see that playing out?

Dani Payne: I agree. I think that that’s going to be a really important point. We don’t have a huge amount to go off. I counted; there’s 417 words on HE and FE together, and I think I could probably recite all of them by now. So, we don’t have a huge amount to go on, but I think the sector could infer that Labour have promised a secure future for HE. I think the sector would be wrong to assume that they won’t be asking for many things in return for that and I think one of those areas is going to be being a big player in delivering this industrial strategy.

It’s also going to be playing greater roles in the devolution of skills training, local skills improvement plans, working with Skills England. I thought it was very interesting the inclusion of the MAC [Migration Advisory Committee] on Skills England and I wonder whether that might signal that Labour is potentially not planning to be soft on international student fee reliance in the sector.

Starmer has talked quite openly about how he wants to crack down on the reliance on foreign workers in the business sector and I think it’d be a mistake to assume that that wouldn’t also apply in HE. So, I think there’s potentially some challenges coming through for the sector, but I think that will be in return for Labour aiming to deliver a more secure future both in terms of the funding model and the review that we expect to come, but also as we’ve spoken about in terms of that kind of political stability.

And I think that is going to have to include some type of shared vision, and Labour in their manifesto I think have set out very clearly what their vision for HE is and that is one that delivers much more for businesses, for the economy, for local communities and for the taxpayer.

Jenny Shaw: Thanks Dani. And George, I’m interested in what you make of this because some of those features I think probably play quite well in the London context, but what do you make of it all?

George Blake: Yes, I think the idea that universities will have to contribute quite heavily to Labour vision for the future economy in order to receive the benefits that they’re hoping for is absolutely correct. Universities will need to work very hard to demonstrate that they’re going to fill the future skills gaps, they’re going to contribute towards a economic regeneration.

I’m maybe a little more sceptical about finance from central government coming towards Higher Education institutions. I think with the project set out as it is with limited fiscal headroom, it’s going to be very difficult for universities to see more money coming in and I think – while there might be some scepticism about the reliance on international students currently among almost every party – that once we get down to it, the value of that contribution will have to be recognised.

If I think about what a long-term assessment of the sector is going to look like, I find it very hard to see that not being the majority of new funds coming into the sector unless there’s a change in the funding model that’s really quite drastic and that’s possible, but I think A, we’re probably a few years away from it and B, it’ll probably take a few years after that for that funding to feed through into the sector. You know, a graduate tax is going to take a number of years after implementation to actually start providing the funds for future research.

In terms of London more broadly though, I think yes, the alignment of London universities and certainly the Labour Party’s aims in terms of growing the economy particularly, but also being a leader in R&D or R&I, I think works very well for London. So we’re positive we can make the case for the value of universities going forward and then hopefully universities will be recognised and rewarded for that

Jenny Shaw: And I think there’s probably a level of pragmatism around that income from international students that’s going to have to play in, isn’t there. For the sake of balance. What might that look like under a Conservative government?

George Blake: I think the manifesto of the Conservatives was actually less negative than quite a few people had appreciated. I think in the week before the sudden announcement of the election, everyone was extremely worried about change to the graduate route and actually the sector did a very good job of working with its remaining allies in government and the sector more broadly to make the case that, actually, changes to the root were likely to have really catastrophic impacts for universities and the rhetoric was dialled back and the proposals didn’t come through prior to the election.

I certainly don’t think we should take the idea that those changes are off the table entirely for granted. I don’t think they are, but there is a recognition in the Conservative Party that actually if they move too fast and too hard on these things, they could do irreparable damage and that the sector has a lot of value. So I think more likely that actually the policies under a Conservative government would look fairly similar.

I do think that the idea that apprenticeships would be funded by removing ‘low value’, in inverted commas, degree courses doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. I think most students who would’ve done those courses will simply find other courses to do, and that the desire to go to university will remain strong among those groups – unless it’s accompanied with other changes that motivate people to go onto different routes.

Jenny Shaw: Yeah, thank you. And that whole rhetoric around ‘low quality’ courses, it’s not particularly well-defined and it can be a bit of a proxy for courses that take on people from more marginalised backgrounds.

George Blake: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’ll be very difficult to define them except with very blunt tools like three to five year LEO [Longitudinal Education Outcomes] data or whatever else, and that it’ll be almost impossible to maintain the current trajectory on equalising access by making those changes unless again other changes are made alongside it. So, concerning, but I think unlikely to come to pass in its current iteration.

Jenny Shaw: Thank you. Meg, from a student’s point of view, what do you think is on the cards from the two main parties?

Megan Haskins: Obviously as people have discussed, I think the conversation around cutting ‘low quality’ courses has been kind of central and I mean it feeds back into what George and I originally said in terms of that rhetoric that’s existing.

I think it’s quite interesting when you look at, though, the language that is used by both the Conservatives and the Labour Party, but also parties such as Reform UK in relation to this, I think. Reform UK describe them as fake courses, whereas the Conservatives then go on to saying about ‘low quality’ and then Labour talk about strengthened regulation. So there’s kind of similar themes running through there, but the language being used to talk about them and the kind of extremes that they wish to go to are incredibly varied.

I don’t expect us to see anything from Reform UK in terms of leading us, but in terms of where it might take us in the future with the Conservatives, whether if they are the main opposition, seeing where they might try and take the Conservatives in terms of that right-leaning electorate.

I think in terms of the Labour Party, I think there’s quite a lot around increasing teaching standards. It was a bit of a surprise to me in terms of the national data sets that we see come through. I think at a local level within UCL I do see data come through around students who are dissatisfied with teaching, however that is often within student-staff consultative committee minutes, and so you’d kind of expect concerns to be raised in that forum because that is the purpose of those forums.

However – when you then look at NSS data, if you look at the Student Academic Experience Survey from Advance HE and HEPI, broadly students do seem reasonably happy with their teaching standards, and we know that there is a lot of work that goes in from academics in terms of those standards. So I think that language I did find quite surprising and I would be quite interested to see what that actually looks like when it’s played out, if it is played out.

And I think as well it will be interesting to see what the Labour Party do in terms of bringing HE and FE closer together. Obviously there’s been commentary from multiple parties around that lifelong learning piece and I think that kind of plays into that, in terms of setting students up from that post-16 pathway, but then onwards in life as well. That would be quite interesting to see come through.

In terms of what that looks like for them working closer together, I think that obviously devolution would play a role there. There was some work done by HEPI, I think by Chris Husbands, looking at laying out four potential pathways for Higher Education. They were quite extreme positions that were laid out but to try and get people thinking, and one of them that I was reading the other day was actually around more of that devolved work around kind of working with combined authorities on that local level when it comes to Further Education and Higher Education.

So that could be interesting to see. Again, I’m not sure what exactly it would look like for the student and I think that in terms of changing up how for example apprenticeships are viewed and taken up, I think that’s a much longer term project than just the implementation. As George says, that’s going to take a huge shift in the psyche of students and young people. A lot of students, if they’ve got Higher Education on the brain, they’re not going to be deterred by a change in the courses on offer, they will just look at the other courses on offer.

For a lot of them, I think it would take a lot of longer term work really in order to see that play through in terms of looking at what widening access and participation looks like from a very young age. And I think that’s where a lot of Labour’s work could be really important, in terms of their work around early years education, like secondary school level education in terms of levelling up there – that terrible term.

On that note though, in terms of the role of secondary level education and how that plays into widening access and participation, the Lib Dems have come through with policies around providing tutoring for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Obviously we saw a huge growth in tutoring during the pandemic in terms of those students who had access to it. There was data that showed that students who had access to tutoring were actually really positive about the experience, which people found quite surprising given the kind of feedback you often do receive.

But I think that’s quite an interesting perspective from the Liberal Democrats that we haven’t seen elsewhere in terms of thinking about how that plays into those roots later in life. But that’s kind of a perspective for now, I guess.

Jenny Shaw: No, it is a really useful one. I think it’s important to see Higher Education in the context of that wider education sector. I know about 15-20 years ago there seem to be a lot more integration between FE and HE than there is now and it seems to have moved away, but bringing it back to the core audience, that didn’t seem to be something that made more students stay at home necessarily. It just made a whole new market for students and people taking a different path to getting a degree. So, interesting. And if it gives more people more opportunities, yeah, quite positive.

Ian, I want to come to you now just to talk about the property side of student accommodation. What can we expect? There seem to be quite an upbeat mood at your Living Sectors Conference earlier this month, so I wonder if there’s maybe quite a lot to talk about there.

Ian Fletcher: Yes, Jenny, if you look back to the party conferences last year and particularly the Labour Party Conference, Keir Starmer’s speech was built around using, I suppose, development as the driver of growth and this was policymaking nirvana in terms of planning featuring so highly on a senior politician’s speech! And I think that that is then carried forward into the policies that we’ve seen in party manifestos and actually created a bit of competition almost between the parties to try and illustrate that they are going to support development better than has been the case.

In the case of student accommodation particularly, the thing that we have been suppressing is that we plan particularly badly for student accommodation. The National Planning Policy Framework sets out in section 63 how we should plan for student accommodation along with various other needs of different groups of society and it’s fairly weak at the moment. So strengthening that would I think a significant effect.

And then all parties are supportive of brownfield development, trying to make that easier. Labour has talked about that brownfield passport, or that sort of national development, to manage policy on brownfields that would give greater presumption that you could develop on that land.

Coming back to the manifestos as well, and student accommodation more broadly, probably the most detailed manifesto is actually the Lib Dems. I was quite interested to see a lot of things that our part of the sector, I suppose, has been grappling with over the last few years in terms of mental health, statutory duties of care. That was really interesting to see as well.

And then as you know Jenny, all parties are committed to broader rental reform that has particular implications for purpose-built student accommodation and ensuring that the needs of that sector are taken account of in the reform. One would hope that civil servants are briefing any new ministers whatever party wins the election and therefore we get some sort of continuity and thinking on those issues. They are important issues to get right or you could constrain the supply of purpose-built student accommodation certainly.

Jenny Shaw: Thank you. And I did want to touch a little bit on devolution. We had not too long ago elections for a new group of metro mayors, and I’m going to open this up to everyone really, but do you think that we might see greater powers being devolved into city regions and regions, particularly across England, and what opportunities does that bring? And I think probably particularly for you Ian, does it give an opportunity for planning of student accommodation that local level, and what might that look like?

Ian Fletcher: Yeah, it does. Jenny, at a more strategic level, I’m thinking about a city region is accommodating both the benefits that Higher Education brings, but also the accommodation that creates doesn’t guarantee that if you’ve got strategic planning at that level, you actually get a lot of thought on Higher Education. The mayor of Manchester a few years ago had his Greater Manchester spatial framework. I read it and was shocked to find that Higher Education hardly featured in it to even although on the strength of the universities of Manchester, I would’ve thought that that would’ve been something that featured quite highly.

Just because they’ve got the powers doesn’t mean that necessarily they feature in, I think, the benefits and challenges that sometimes Higher Education and expansion creates. The huge challenge in this area is just that there are areas that have come together mainly north of Birmingham that have been working together in combined authorities for a number of years. The bigger challenge I think is areas that don’t actually come together and south of Birmingham, you don’t have that same sort of level of cooperation and therefore what sort of structures can you build on? Is that county councils, is that several county councils working together? Those are big questions that need to be answered.

Jenny Shaw: Thank you. George, I know that having worked in London that London does kind of function together as a whole city pretty well compared to maybe other city regions. What are you expecting for London?

George Blake: I think certainly we’re expecting across the country a greater degree of devolution. I don’t think we’ll see huge new powers for London, but what we do expect is that the powers available to London will be able to be used more effectively if the ruling party in government is the same as the London Mayor and the mayors around the country. And I think we’ve had a long period where that hasn’t been the case and we’ve never had, at least in recent memory, an extended period of those two things matching up.

So I think expectations are quite high and it’d be quite a test for the devolved administrations, not just in London as to how much they can achieve with the sort of handbrake taken off, with the permission to really go and be kind of optimistic and try new things. And I think there’s examples of that work happening already, but I think particularly if a Labour government were to be elected, we might see a return to the kind of enthusiasm for this that we saw in the last Labour government and perhaps more. Various people within the party have talked enthusiastically about devolving quite aggressively even beyond current arrangements.

And I think the thing that will probably most challenge this will be around skills and long-term skills planning. I think actually there will be clashes between national priorities and local priorities, and how they manage those clashes, and how they make sure local mayors are empowered to get on with the job of creating local skills plans all the rest of it while tying them to national need. Particularly things like the NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan and things like that will be the biggest challenge for them.

But I think universities are well placed to facilitate a lot of those plans, so I’m positive about it, but there will certainly be challenges.

Jenny Shaw: Yeah, absolutely. Meg, what does that mean for students do you think?

Megan Haskins: One of the things that I’ve been thinking about I guess is the wider life of students. So obviously we’ve been talking a lot about what this all means for the Higher Education sector specifically, but obviously a student’s life when they go to university is not just their life at their institution, they are using the infrastructure that exists around them in their cities or in the locality of their institution if they’re a commuter student.

So thinking about the role of devolution in terms of transport facilities, looking at that, thinking about their access to other local services, thinking about their access to opportunities once they graduate. If we’re thinking about wanting to make sure that we’ve got people staying in places and people contributing to those communities, embedding themselves within those communities, I think that’s going to be really important to see. Because I think it can be very easy to just think, “Oh, a student goes to a city, they’re there for the three, four years if they’re a typical undergrad, and then they go away.”

But I think it’s important for us to think about their wider life in that place and what they actually bring to those spaces and what those spaces can provide for them, and then that creates that kind of symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship where you’ve got a nice cycle of reciprocity going on, almost.

Jenny Shaw: And just following on from that, I think London has never really had a problem in keeping its graduates once they’ve graduated, but maybe not so much in other parts of the country.

Megan Haskins: Yeah, absolutely. I mean where I went to university, a majority of students don’t stay. I went to university up in the northeast and then I’m from Leeds as well. So I think, having grown up in those places, it very much is that a lot of people are drawn to London for those opportunities. So I think it would be brilliant if we could start to see more and more of those opportunities being brought to other parts of the country.

And I think as George said there, thinking about how the councillors who have been elected this year, thinking about the mayors that are now in place, how they could marry up with a Labour government in power – I think that will be really, really interesting to see in terms of what that can bring for that prosperity outside of London, in terms of providing graduates and others with opportunities.

Jenny Shaw: Yeah, thank you. Dani, is that something we might see in the next administration?

Dani Payne: Yes, I think devolution is a really interesting topic. I think Labour have made it very clear that where they empower, when they’re talking about opportunity and broadening opportunity, they’re talking about primarily opportunity in one’s local area. Currently, if someone wants to upskill or progress in their career and this is concentrated in certain parts of the country, too often people have to move to access those opportunities and I think that that’s a key area that Labour wants to tackle. They want there to be a strong local skills training and labour market in those local areas.

I think it’s important that it’s devolution in spirit and not just in name. There’s questions over how devolved is it. If for example, if we’re talking about skills, they’re talking about devolving skills, budgets and powers to devolving those, but with national oversight of Skills England, and it’ll be interesting to see how hard-handed that oversight is – it will depend on the depth of that devolution, the depth of the powers that are given to those local areas.

I think on skills, it’s particularly important that provision is appropriate for a local area, meets local needs. An example, I won’t name the institutions, but one that I always give is that there was a regional college in south of England that decided to start a Chinese Mandarin A-level course and it was really popular and there wasn’t any other options in that district and it filled a skills shortage and a training need. Then a local sixth form saw that and thought, well that’s a great idea, we’ll do that too. And both had to shut because it became unviable.

So it’s very important that you have coordination of who needs to deliver what at what level and for whom, and how can we make sure that the local people have access to the training that they’ll need for their aspirations in life, that they can move away if they want to go to university for example, or to go to another training facility or to get a different job, but they don’t have have those options locally.

There’s some interesting analysis by Centre for Cities recently that found that actually, our relatively average performance in terms of productivity in the G7 wasn’t to do with our main city. London performs in line with other G7 countries and performs very strongly in terms of productivity. It’s what they call our ‘secondary cities’ that really pull down our average. And if we can fix that, if we can boost productivity in those skills cold spots, I think that that will have a really big impact on people’s day-to-day life, on the economy and help plug some of those skills shortages too.

Jenny Shaw: Yeah, it is very much about places as well as people, isn’t it? I’m just thinking about maybe turning things around a little bit and I wonder if any of you have any advice that you would like to give to universities, the Higher Education sector, knowing what we know about the manifesto commitments?

George Blake: I think to be as positive as possible about what it is that universities offer to the country. I think it’s been very difficult to publicly make a positive case for universities over the last four to five years, but even going back to the period of the introduction of the higher fees.

We need to be as strong as possible about the myriad benefits, not just in terms of the benefits to graduates going to universities, but about the incredible value they provide to local communities up and down the country and to the broader economy through both the physical placements within areas and through research and development and the incredible value they provide through the experts that then go on and give to other sectors through knowledge exchange and all the rest of it.

So I know we’ll be out there singing the praises, not just of our members in London, but of universities of the country over, and I encourage universities to be shamelessly positive about what it is they’re doing. There’ll all be challenges, of course, particularly around financing and everything else, and particularly around the affordability of life for students. But that shouldn’t stop universities arguing for their own value within the marketplace.

Jenny Shaw: Hear hear. Ian, is there a similar – albeit much smaller and more limited – case to be made for the value of student accommodation?

Ian Fletcher: I think so. That was a great message from George and I think, yeah, we have to remember the Higher Education is obviously the primary reason for delivering that service, but it does have spillover effects in terms of the significant benefits that Higher Education brings to the wider community as well. If you think, three of the major regeneration schemes in London have Higher Education at their heart and that’s no accident. Students bring a vibrancy to an area.

And the other really positive thing that suddenly purpose-built student accommodation provides that I think local councillors should embrace is just that they are extremely well-managed places. You’re going to get a place that’s well-managed, that is supportive of students in both their academic life but also their life outside. I think all of that is important in terms of benefits to a wider community.

Jenny Shaw: Thank you. Well, we’re coming towards the end of the episode now, so let’s have one final quickfire question and I’m going to come round to each of you in turn. Where do you hope we will be in three years’ time? Dani, do you want to start us with this?

Dani Payne: Well, I hope we might have had the same minister for a bit longer than we’ve had in the past. I think that would help with some stability for the sector. I hope that we do see more positive mood music from whatever our next administration is, but in turn, I also hope that we see a bit more transparency from the sector itself as well.

I think because of difficulties in the rhetoric around universities and the value of university degree, at times the sector’s become quite insular and defensive and can seem quite opaque from outside. And I hope that a softening of that rhetoric will also help universities open up a bit more, be more open, be more transparent and, as George mentioned earlier, be able to shout a bit more about the positive role that they can play in delivering some of these missions around opportunity, around local communities and the civic agenda.

Jenny Shaw: Thanks, Dani. George, do you want to go next?

George Blake: Yeah, certainly. I was talking to colleagues from Australia the other day and they were talking about the changes that had come through in the University Accords process there. And aside from the technical details of it, one thing that really struck me was that they’d gone from a point where, much like us, universities were in a challenging place and seemed somewhat maligned and in a negative place regarding public perception and had gone to a real place of hope.

And so I think we want to be somewhere where universities feel hopeful about the future. We obviously want to stave off the worst circumstances. Yeah, we still want to have a diverse environment sector. We certainly don’t want a major provider in significant financial trouble, but I think we can hope beyond that. I think we can hope for a scenario where the sector is at the forefront of a regenerated Britain, somewhere where opportunity is booming not just for universities, but for all the areas, the economy and society that universities support.

Jenny Shaw: Quite right. Ian?

Ian Fletcher: I’d love to think that we are in a position where everyone that wants to have access to Higher Education has that access, that sort of underscores that ‘opportunity’ message that it shouldn’t be something that nobody can afford. That is quite a difficult ask in terms of the next government, thinking about how higher education is funded.

And then on the planning side, just to hope that both the new government and the development industry keep the faith. This is something that’s not going to turn around overnight. We’ve lost a lot of planners. We need to get that resource back into local authorities. We need to value public servants more.

Jenny Shaw: Thank you. And Meg, I want to give the last word to you on behalf of students.

Megan Haskins: Yeah. I think one, I’d basically like to see students in a place whereby we don’t have any students who are in positions of poverty. Over the last couple of years, there’s been a real increase of that with the cost of living crisis. I know it’s said all the time, but it is very real for students. I volunteer at a food kitchen myself, and I see students in the locality queuing up for that food. And we’ve seen from our research previously with the Russell Group Students Unions that we’ve got students who are living just above the destitution line. So I think fundamentally I’d like to see a move away from that.

But I think also speaking to what Ian, George and Dani have said, I think currently looking at the polls, we know that Higher Education is not a priority for the electorate.

I think it would be nice by the time we’re coming around to the next election that it’s a priority, but that it’s a priority because people recognise the influence that it has on all aspects of the running of our country, and that they can see how integral Higher Education and the education system itself is to that wider society piece in terms of the NHS and the workforce plan, in terms of thinking about the boost to the economy, our role in terms of research, in terms of soft power globally, all of that and how it ties together.

That’s a big ambition, but I do think that that’s something that would be brilliant to see from that kind of institution perspective as well.

Jenny Shaw: What a great note to end the show on. Thank you so much, Megan. Thank you to all my guests, George, Ian, Dani as well. You’ve been an absolutely great panel. I want to say thank you as well to Jen Steadman and Ed Palmer who make this all happen, and thank you to you for listening.

If you found this useful, please do share it with colleagues, and if you listen at night because our voices are very soothing, then that is perfectly valid too and very relatable. Do get in touch if there are topics you’d like us to cover – or if you’d like to be a guest, we would love to hear from you. We’re going to be back in due July talking about the class of 2024, what we can expect from them and what our Applicant Index is telling us. So lots and lots of fascinating insights to get into. But until then, you take care.

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