Prof Patrick McGhee

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Arts and The Creative Industries: Speech at the 2012 Professional Doctorate in Fine Art Exhibition

In Blogroll, Uncategorized on January 27, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Text of Speech for Exhibition Show for Professional Doctorate in Fine Art

27 January 2012 – Check Against Delivery

The UEL Professional Doctorate in Fine Art

Students, colleagues, external guests and practitioners:  Welcome to our Professional Doctorate Programme in Fine Art Exhibition. This doctorate is a practice-based research degree, pretty unique to UEL. With its greater emphasis on practice, it is more appropriate for many artists than a PhD. The programme aims to enable students develop and demonstrate a high level of professional practice through research and creative practice. The written element supports and reflects on the practice, which represents the main part of the original research. Many of the students on this programme are already recognised practitioners, and several students are experienced lecturers in Art at other institutions. This programme is a sign of the networks and the mobility of staff and students – and therefore of ideas and practice – around the capital. The roll call of students, staff, visiting lecturers, and alumni reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of London and UK art, design institutions and other specialist schools:  Chelsea, Royal College of Art, The Royal Academy, Slade, Camberwell, University for the Creative Arts and the University of the Arts, London and constituent colleges. Internationally, we have student representation this year from the  San Francisco Academy of Art University.

The Funding Landscape for Arts

Last year at the ukadia conference David Willetts made a commitment to small and specialist higher education provision in the arts and acknowledged the contribution of arts education to the UK economy and society. However, the direct teaching grant from HEFCE is becoming a smaller and smaller part of funding for Fine Art, Art & Design, Performing Arts and creative industries programmes. We should not forget that these studio based disciplines lose all of their teaching funding from next year, with the costs being met by students’ fees. The cost base of these studio disciplines is high, but so is demand and so is the contribution to our culture and our cultural economy. We have much world-class provision in arts nationally in this country, with a particularly high concentration in London. We find this excellence in larger Schools and Departments, as at UEL, where interdisciplinary developments can be developed, but also of course in the smaller specialist institutions with their distinctive cultures; both kinds of provision must be supported and protected. There is more work to be done by HEFCE, DBIS and UUK in ensuring that provision in the Arts does not fall victim to unexpected consequences of broad-brush policy initiatives. For example, this week’s announcements about AAB+ where students with high qualifications are effectively ‘up for auction’, threaten the stability of recruitment in these areas where portfolios are at least as important as paper qualifications. The last thing we need now is more uncertainty for students, for their advisors, and for universities.
I know there is also considerable concern in the university arts communities about how post-qualification admissions will pan out. The turn-around time implied by the UCAS proposals could throw into stark relief the potential administrative nightmare that is auditioning or interviewing entire cohorts of students over a few short weeks in the summer. Where institutions are small, resources are not as easily assigned to deal with such problems. We need to find a practical solutions together.

Excellence Through Diversity
The university arts community in London has a long history of working together through organisations like the National Arts Learning Network and the UEL-led Creative Way network, and now is a time when that mutual support is more important than ever.
In many larger universities creative arts are distributed across the institution potentially reducing critical mass and undermining distinctive identity. At UEL we have brought all these key areas together in one new School of Creative & Digital Media to build strength and raise visibility. Equally, specialist institutions in the visual and performing arts, who have over the years built up distinctive international reputations and paninstitutional cultures but now rightly reaffirm their autonomy in the new marketised higher education sector.  To my mind, the UK and London in particular is stronger for the excellence through diversity that such arrangements promote. We lose such diversity at our peril, and once lost may be impossible to recover.
We see here this evening the fruits of the labour of a wide range of talents, from all over London, the UK and globally. Let’s celebrate that community of practice and of achievement and resolve to promote its value even further.
Thank you.


3 Steps The Government Can Take Now to Improve the Tuition Fee Scheme

In Blogroll, Politics, Uncategorized on August 12, 2011 at 9:39 am

Next week’s A-level results will get higher education back on the mainstream news agenda.  Those students enjoying examination success will look forward in most cases to university enrolment. The front pages of most newspapers will be filled with pictures of happy smiling students.

They will of course be the final cohort before the new fees regime is introduced, with tuition fees set in most cases at or near £9,000. As I have made clear as co-signatory to a letter in the Telegraph last year I am opposed to the Coalition’s new fees arrangements for university tuition.  My opposition is both on the grounds of principle and practicality. As I highlighted in a recent article in the Guardian online, I am particularly concerned about the way in which the values of the parameters of the new system could be changed in the future, particularly if this, or any future administration, comes under financial pressure.  For example, the parameter ‘Amount to be Paid Up Front’ could be changed from its present value of zero to something much higher.

The vulnerability of student repayment arrangements to direct financial pressure, or to pressure refracted through a polarised bipartisan political agenda, can be seen in the concessions extracted by the Republicans from the Obama administration as part of the larger settlement on the US Debt Ceiling crisis. Subsidised loans are effectively abolished and, even with a $17bn cut, the Pell Grants Scheme potentially faces a $1bn shortfall in 2012. The impact of the settlement affects students in many different ways, as this analysis by Candice Choi highlights, but, as usual, it is the disadvantaged and underrepresented who will be most badly affected.

It is essential therefore that in the UK we make sure that we look carefully at the system that has been set up for student repayments. What can we be doing now to make the system being put in place fairer, more robust and less vulnerable to political reshaping?

There are three specific areas of reform which I would like to propose. They reflect a need for greater stability, focus and consistency.

  1. Make a commitment to stability in student financing arrangements. The Coalition should commit to a no compulsory upfront payment requirement for the rest of this Parliament and enshrine in law a three-year notice period of any changes to the values of the key parameters in the model that are detrimental to students, their families or sponsoring employers. This is important because the preparatory work for HE students prior to enrolement is signficant be it A-levels, access to HE programmes or other routes. Further, sponsors after all need a degree of stability in the thing they are being encouraged to sponsor. Additionally, such a commitment would provide a greater level of predictability for universities. The last thing we want right now is further complications or deterrents for students, or even just the prospect of such a changes.
  2. Encourage optional early repayment.  One of the cuts made in the US deal was the abolition of a discount for early repayers of Federal loans. In the UK this is a touchy subject. In the lead up to the fees debate in November 2010 Liberal Democrats generally were against the idea of any upfront repayment at all as it enabled wealthier students and families to avoid any accumulating interest on the tuition fee ‘debt’.   I have an open mind on this. We don’t get exercised about the fact that people can pay upfront for a whole range of other goods and services. Furthermore, sponsors don’t want to be making payments towards interest or to have payments structured complexly over time. They often want to make a one-off up front payment. Making everyone pay more and taking longer to do it is not self-evidently an optimal arrangement.  In any event, there are larger issues of fairness and transparency to be addressed. So let’s put that matter to bed and create space for the wider debate.
  3. Include all graduate income in calculations. At the moment the key feature of the repayment arrangement is that graduates only start to repay their loan liability at a rate of 9% on earnings above £21,000. I take the view that if we are to have a repayment system with these parameters, then these values, (9% at £21k)  are manageable for graduates. However, as far as can be determined from the DBIS website on student financial support ‘income’ is only considered in terms of salary earned through paid employment. Surely all taxable income, including unearned income from shares, rental properties and trust funds should be included? This would be affordable (it’s actual income for the graduate) it helps the Treasury (faster rate of loan recovery) and, even if objectively the financial benefit was marginal, it’s fairer.

This time next year we welcome students under a very different financial model. As misconceived as it is in my view, we can still make that model more stable, more transparent and more fair. More to the point, we need to be seen to be doing so.

Of course, what we should really do is rework the model and its parameters, and not just the values of those parameters. Teaching funding should be subject to a cut of no-more than the 25% or so being visited upon other Government Department’s spending budgets, with the balance made up of revenue from a Graduate Tax. But to have that, in turn, as an interim position until such time as we can construct a model of free higher education at the point of use for all who can benefit from it, given that UK society as a whole enjoys such a significant and enduring dividend from high participation in one of the best higher education systems in the world.

That would indeed be something for us all to smile about.

Professor Patrick McGhee

Twitter: @VC_UEL