President Post: Education and international understanding

7 December 2015

Last week was one of Council and Governing Body meetings – the problem of being the last week of term. I’ve been elected onto the University of Oxford’s governing Council, so last Monday (Nov 30) was my first meeting – and the last to be chaired by our current Vice-Chancellor, Prof Andrew Hamilton, before he departs at the end of December to become President of New York University. He will be replaced by Prof Louise Richardson, currently Principal and Vice-Chancellor at St Andrews, and before that at Harvard.

The University Council meeting had two major strategic issues to consider. The first was the Government Green Paper on Higher Education, which proposes to introduce a ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’, to evaluate teaching quality at universities. There are several potential problems with this, not least the ‘metrics’ that may be used as proxies for teaching quality, and also that it may not capture much of what is important in teaching; the danger therefore is that it won’t measure teaching excellence, and isn’t a framework.

Also, the Green Paper makes much of access and widening participation, yet barely mentions part-time students or mature students. Most peculiar.

Council agreed a draft response, which is now being consulted on across the University, before our new VC will sign off the final submission in January.

The other strategic item was a Report from the Vice-Chancellor’s Working Party on Student Numbers. The issue is that departments, faculties and schools across the University are keen to innovate and to develop new courses, often in emerging interdisciplinary areas. In addition, Oxford has been impressively successful at attracting funding for doctoral students. All this creates a pressure to bring in additional students, but any such increase must be matched by a concomitant increase in resources and facilities, including in the colleges, to ensure that the student experience isn’t jeopardised.

Again, after a discussion of the issues, Council agreed that the Report should be consulted on across the University.

Thursday was the Council meeting for the Academy of Social Sciences, which discussed future strategy for the organisation. Lots of good ideas, including the need to nurture the next generation of social scientists.

The day before had been Kellogg’s Governing Body meeting, at which we had our annual review of the College Research Centres, which are doing great things, from organising talks and seminars in College which students and others can participate in, to raising funds for student scholarships, to publishing books, academic papers and reports that not only contribute to the academic areas, but also often influence public policy for the better, and attract positive media attention.

Alongside these and other meetings, there was a fantastic event on Monday evening at the House of Lords where students from UWC Atlantic College spoke passionately on the need for greater international understanding to promote a more peaceful and sustainable future. In closing the event, I said (as Chair of the Board) that the terrible events across the world made the importance of education – and an international education – more important than ever, which I’m fortunate to be able to support at Kellogg, and also at UWC Atlantic College.

Jonathan Michie