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The ‘value’ of higher education is too important and multifaceted to reduce to mere metrics

Colourful textiles work with people in background
Colourful textiles work with people in background
Textile designs by Sara Kelly, MA Textile Design at Chelsea College of Arts
Written by
Anna Tsekouras
Published date
25 November 2019

Quoted in Times Higher Education and in the Higher Education Policy Institute blog, Nigel Carrington reflects on the shortcomings of the Government’s narrow approach to measuring value in higher education.

In six points, he sets out a bold new vision for a better understanding of how universities generate value.

Nigel’s six arguments outline how the Government’s current approach to measuring value in higher education, led by the Office for Students, falls short, and what policy-makers need to consider to improve it.

  1. When this Government talks about value to students, it often means return on investment (ROI). It is reasonable for Government to want to measure graduate earnings. But we must acknowledge that the graduate earnings data in Longitudinal Education Outcomes has many limitations, which are particularly serious for graduates from creative subjects.
  2. Value to students is not primarily about return on investment in cash terms. The evidence, including research conducted for UAL, shows that value for students means the acquisition of knowledge and skills to succeed in the modern and future economy, and the quality of their career.
  3. Any forthcoming Spending Review should describe value for money, knowledge and skills outcomes with a much broader perspective. More thought needs to be given in particular to understanding the skills and benefits generated by higher education. Creativity, for example drives social as well as individual happiness.
  4. The benefits to graduates are only part of the story. By following particular careers, graduates also contribute value towards Government priorities such as industrial strategy, societal and economic wellbeing and productivity. The blog highlights evidence of the scale of these spill-over effects for those working the creative industries.
  5. We need a much wider framework for value, beyond students themselves. As well as teaching, universities benefit their local community, add value through advances in research, share their knowledge with industry, and add to the UK’s global soft power.
  6. So students are at our heart – but the contribution of universities goes much wider, and metrics are not always the answer. Government must develop a more sophisticated narrative around the social and economic benefits delivered by universities to the individuals and communities they interact with.

Read the HEPI blog

Read extracts in Times Higher Education.


Image shows textile work by Sara Kelly, MA Textile Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL.