This time, from the Higher Education Academy, consulting across the sector on its strategic direction for the next five years. After some persistent nudging from SHED-SHARE and others, I gave it a go. I thought the questions sensible and apt. For example:
About the HEA – What new challenges do you anticipate in the next five years arising from changes in funding, student expectations and other external factors?
Working principles – What other principles should guide the HEA’s work?
HEA strategic aims – What are your views on these aims?
HEA objectives – Do you agree with these priorities? If so, why? If not, why not?
There was, of course, text to provide the background to these questions. I thought that too much of this had a timeless quality to it, such that much of it could have been written in another era, and it did not acknowledge the existential issues we all face. The nearest it came to this was with this inward-looking context statement:
Changes in funding and in student expectations create new challenges for HEIs in managing and delivering higher education to an increasingly diverse student population. Student mobility, internationalisation and the growth of private providers are making higher education increasingly competitive.
Yes, indeed, but what about ... , I found myself asking – and then writing:
HEIs will need to work (with co-stakeholders such as NUS and professional bodies) to broaden students' understanding of key issues that face them as they graduate into the workplace. Prominent amongst these will be the seeming relentless pressures on environmental services across the globe, and the threats to aspirations for a decent quality of life that these bring for societies everywhere.
... institutions and "the sector" do not exist in a socio-economic vacuum; ideally, therefore, the existential threats to human fulfillment ... should be acknowledged as a context for all HE. For example, all this could have been written in 1991. The world has changed, however, and the evidence from NUS surveys is that students know this. To pretend otherwise seems self-defeating.
A few months back, there seemed to be evidence that the Academy was preparing to be brave enough to grasp the sustainability nettle, but I am now wondering what has happened to this, and am fearful that the sniffy and precious attitude that many of us took to its texts, may well have contributed to this shift (hand held up here). I hope not.