Magazine article Times Higher Education

Rather a Bumpy One

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Rather a Bumpy One

Article excerpt

Brexit. Trump and a howling troop of climate changers. A sector bête noire as PM. The TEF. Turkey. Ed Balls cutting a rug. It's been a year, all right

The Chinese zodiac has 2016 as the year of the monkey. It certainly had a monkey on its back. Make that a troop of monkeys, with yellow comb-overs.

At Times Higher Education, we started a year of political shocks interviewing a man who was later to stun the nation with his interpretation of Gangnam Style: Ed Balls, the former chancellor of the Exchequer. In January he had yet to appear on Strictly Come Dancing, so we talked instead about higher education funding.

Balls admitted to us that the Labour government he served in "clearly didn't find a sustainable way forward for the financing of higher education". This "blot on Labour's copybook", as he put it, was seized upon by David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions, who quoted our Balls interview at the dispatch box, adding that he "rather missed" his former opponent. He, too, is now missing from the parliamentary chamber.

In February, we followed Balls with a one-to-one with Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader told us he was still keen on his personal goal to scrap tuition fees, but acknowledged that it was a fraught topic that would require "serious debate within the party". In the months since there has been debate aplenty within Labour - but little of it on higher education.

Early warnings about what Brexit would mean for universities began in March, when we visited Berlin and Munich to talk to German vice-chancellors. "To have Britain no longer belonging to the EU would be a disaster for international research in Europe," said Horst Hippler, president of the German Rectors' Conference.

The portents of things to come continued a month later, when we reported on declines in the international students coming to the UK from seven of the top 10 countries for recruitment.

In another story, which also seems prophetic, we reported on a growing outcry over the treatment of scholars in Turkey. This was three months before the attempted coup, which was followed by an iron-fisted crackdown, including the sacking of 1,500 deans across Turkish universities.

In May, the higher education White Paper was published, with detailed plans to open up degree-awarding powers to private providers. Jo Johnson, the universities minister, was adamant that this would lead to a "net gain in quality", telling THE that the Office for Students would "operate a very, very high quality bar".

Nothing happened in June. …

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