Professor David Raffe
Professor of Sociology of Education, University of Edinburgh
Stimulus Paper, September 2013
Our research forms part of the Leadership Foundation membership benefit. Hard copies of this Stimulus Paper have been distributed to all member institutions and the PDF is available for members to download by clicking the image below.
After more than a decade of devolution, vice-chancellors and principals in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have learnt to manage a complex and delicate combination of expectations of the roles of their universities both from the UK government and from their own devolved administrations. Some commentators suggested that it would be useful to share this accumulated wealth of learning and to understand better the experience they have built up, while recognising, of course, that precise circumstances are different.
The Leadership Foundation for Higher Education has members in all parts of the UK and was well placed to help with such an aim. At the beginning of the process, Professor Teresa Rees (director, leadership development, Wales at the Leadership Foundation) sounded out some of the key stakeholders. They were very much in favour of taking an initiative further and Professor Rees provided the energy and enthusiasm to make sure this happened. The Leadership Foundation decided that it would be helpful to have a written analysis prepared as a thinkpiece, followed by a forum to allow discussion and debate on the issues raised. It was agreed that together, these two outputs would provide insight and add value to the work of universities in this area.
This paper by Professor David Raffe, who has undertaken considerable research on the “home internationals”, was therefore commissioned by the Leadership Foundation to inform a round table event held in Edinburgh in June 2013. Participants included vice-chancellors, political scientists and members of thinktanks. The debate was lively and informed and revealed that there was much to be gained from a mature conversation about experiences of the challenges and opportunities of the devolution. The group thought it would be helpful to share the ideas discussed more widely. Professor Raffe kindly agreed to edit his paper to take account of contributions made in discussion and the Leadership Foundation is now pleased to publish Devolution and Higher Education in our current series of stimulus papers.
The paper aims to cover lessons learned around juggling the different sets of expectations, and to explore the experiences of designing an institutional strategy while accommodating two separate governmental higher education strategies simultaneously. Some patterns are emerging on governance, autonomy and government relations which deserve further attention.
I would particularly like to thank Professor Raffe and Professor Rees for their major contributions, and the participants in the round table discussions for a lively and fascinating debate.
We hope you will find Devolution and Higher Education helpful in your own thinking and that you will want to play your part in the proposed next steps. More conversations will follow to ensure leaders in higher education, from all countries in the UK, benefit from the lateral strategic leadership lessons prompted by devolution.
Dr Mark Pegg
Leadership Foundation for Higher Education
This paper discusses the implications of devolution, and of possible further constitutional changes including Scottish independence, for the purposes, organisation and governance of higher education across the UK, and the challenges for leaders at institutional, home-country and UK levels. It poses eight questions focusing on issues such as changes in higher education policies, governance and relationships; issues raised for the shared infrastructure and the provision of common services; implications for how UK higher education can represent itself internationally; and opportunities for mutual learning. To conclude, the paper describes three themes that underlie many of the issues and questions above. Firstly, that devolution is a process and that even if there were no further change to the constitutional arrangement, the relations of governments, universities and stakeholders within and between the UK nations would continue to evolve. Secondly, that the UK dimension continues to be important for all nations due to its brand, the critical mass it provides and the organisational and intellectual infrastructure offered – although interdependence can also be a source of constraint. Thirdly, that there are sufficient similarities in the three devolved territories’ size, policy styles and policy directions, in the role of their higher education systems and, above all, in their status as junior partners in a union dominated by England, for the future dynamic of devolution to hinge on the relationship between these three nations and England.