Festival of Higher Education: Recap (Day 2)

Festival of HE - University of Buckingham VC Anthony Seldon and Minister for Universities Sam Gyimah

Catch up on perspectives from Day 2 of the Festival of HE, including sessions on the skills that graduates will need in 2030, student mental health and an address by Minister of State for Universities Sam Gyimah, MP.

As he kicked off day two, University of Buckingham VC Anthony Seldon struck the keynote again for tone the festival: a (mostly) PowerPoint free zone with short expositions from panellists, and engagement and discussion with the audience.

Focus on student mental health

Two panellists spoke eloquently and emotively on their experiences with mental health and studies. A parent who recently lost his student son to suicide challenged universities to consider their policies and processes regarding:

  • contacting parents in situations where there are mental health concerns
  • students' transition into university, and
  • the support for vulnerable students.

A student and author read from her collection of mental health experiences, and recounted how mental health issues at university can be met with a lack of empathy.

Sam Gyimah, MP, minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation, took to the stage following this session. He also commented upon the importance of student mental health, and how universities should consider themselves in loco parentis in situations when students are in danger due to mental health issues. 

The value of holistic education was touched on again as it was on day one of the festival. In this context, attendees discussed the value of a supportive environment to staff and student productivity.

Supporting the transition into HE

Transition was a key theme throughout the conference. New students are often moving away from their support networks and taking on new responsibilities. Although intellectually independent, new students can equally require an emotional maturity and access to pastoral support as they start their studies. 

Sam Gyimah, MP, also flagged a new green paper on those aged between 16-25 and how to align public services, including healthcare, as young people transition and change location. 

Wider issues in HE

Further to mental health, the minister briefly addressed a number of wider issues in the sector. On free speech he referred to the “creeping culture of censorship” and the “tendency towards monoculture on campus”. He noted that the debate around free speech tended to be focused on individual events rather than on culture. Gyimah said that unpopular, unfashionable views are blockaded using the frameworks originally created to foster free speech. 

@PearsonHEUK Twitter poll

He is working with the Equalities Commission and National Union of Students and others to create guidance on how to promote free speech on campus.

Gyimah also addressed the independence of HEIs, and how universities can play more of a leading role in governance in the sector.

Anthony Seldon polled the sector wide issues in the room, including international student visas, employability and widening participation, to gain a sense of which issues mattered most to attendees. Pearson also polled a number of these issues on Twitter.

The HE application process 

A range of panellists led a debate on the process for application to higher education in the UK and abroad. The discussion covered whether the deadlines could be simplified and more closely aligned to the student experience, and whether the application process favours students who already have support to navigate the process. It also touched on how students will expect a degree of personalisation and automation that UCAS does not currently integrate, and compared the British and Dutch application system approaches to unconditional offers. By and large, a headteacher panellist said, the stsyem works well.

The skills graduates will need in 2030

Pearson hosted a discussion on which jobs will exist in 2030, the skills that employers will need graduates to possess, and whether university students feel prepared for the workplace. You can follow the discussion in this video. You can also download the full Future of Skills report by Pearson, Nesta and the Oxford Martin School.

About the author

Chimaechi Allan is passionate about education for social mobility and manages content marketing for Pearson's higher education division.