Lord Mandelson delivered the keynote address at the Lord Dearing Memorial Conference held at the University of Nottingham in February 2010.
Lord Mandelson commented on Lord Dearing’s contribution to higher education:
Lord Dearing was very clear that our higher education system was central to what made our society intellectually curious and critical, what made it socially just and humane. It is the place where we define and redefine our sense of ourselves and the forces that shape us.
The main thrust of his speech though was about the consequences of the cuts in HE funding he had recently announced. In essence, he was uncompromising in presenting the reductions as a necessary contribution to wider public finance savings and as an opportunity to universities to reconsider their spending and help to “focus minds” on the need to seek out new sources of funding (and he also commented specifically on the University of Nottingham):
Universities have been able to leverage a steep rise in non-state funding. They have widened their sources of income by exporting their teaching brands, opening their doors to fee-paying international students. Higher education is now a major export industry for the UK and a key comparative advantage – some £5.3billion in exports in 2008. Nottingham has done this very well. The best university systems in the world are defined by a wide range of public and private funding and British universities need the same diversity. I recognise that sources of additional business income are not limitless and can be irregular, especially during a downturn. But even a small expansion in this work would go a long way in closing the gap created by a period of fiscal constraint.
But a large part of the speech was dedicated to discussing the extension of part-time study and two-year intensive degrees with the argument being that these are creative ways to reduce spend:
The push to save costs can and should actually push the system in the direction of the modes of study I have been advocating. Part-time degrees, shorter and more intensive courses all offer the potential to lower student support costs, use resources more intensively and improve productivity.
Not terribly convincing. Whilst strong arguments about the need for savings can be made, the proposals around alternative modes of study are much less persuasive.