Chris Skidmore – 2019 Speech on Research Talent

Below is the text of the speech  made by Chris Skidmore, the Science Minister, at the LSE in London on 7 May 2019.

Good morning. I’m delighted to be here at the LSE today. This is the first in a series of four speeches on how I believe the UK can best achieve our ambition to invest 2.4% of GDP in research and development by 2027. And, later, 3%.

This is an important target, and one which sits firmly at the heart of this government’s Industrial Strategy and our aim to make the UK the most innovative country in the world.

Achieving this goal is going to require significant investment. In 2017, the UK spent almost £35bn on research and development – or R&D – representing just under 1.7% of GDP.

To achieve our target of 2.4%, total UK R&D investment would need to rise to around £60bn in today’s money. More than double our current investment levels. This would require us to have invested an additional sum of over £80bn cumulatively each year from 2017 across the public and private sectors.

But we are on the right track. This government has pledged to increase spending on R&D activities by £7bn over 5 years by 2022. This represents the largest increase this country has seen in R&D investment in nearly 40 years.

And as Minister for research and innovation, I will be making the case for this investment to continue as we approach the comprehensive spending review.

This case is made easier by the fact that we are already quite good at maximising our returns on R&D investment. Despite being home to just 0.9% of the world’s population, the UK hosts more than 4% of the world’s researchers; we have three of the world’s top ten universities; and we produce more than 15% of the world’s most cited research articles.

The UK really is one of the most innovative countries in the world and rightly deserves its title as an ‘innovation leader’, having scored 21% above the EU average in the 2018 European Innovation Scoreboard.

Maintaining and strengthening this position in the face of growing international competition will be key to our success over the years ahead. So, in the course of this series of speeches, I want to take us back to first principles and unpick, bit by bit, what achieving our 2.4% target really means. And in my first speech on this topic this morning, I want to move us away from our usual focus on money and investment, and turn our attentions instead to the people we are going to need to make our ambition a reality.

After all, it doesn’t matter how much money we pump into R&D over the years ahead. It won’t make the intended difference if we don’t have the right people in place. People to perform the ground-breaking research of tomorrow. People to develop world-leading innovations. And people to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.

Ensuring a strong pipeline of talent will be essential for bolstering the UK’s research prowess. This means making sure we have the required number of scientists, researchers and technical support staff to support our pioneering R&D efforts.

The fact of the matter is, if we need to increase R&D spending by more than double our current investment levels by 2027, then we are also going to have to substantially increase the numbers of people we have working in R&D in the same period – perhaps by as much as 50%.

To put that in figures, that means we need to find at least another 260,000 researchers to work in R&D across universities, across business and across industry.

This is a big ask. So, we need to stop and ask some serious questions: where are these highly-skilled scientists, researchers and technicians going to come from? And what are we going to do, not only to tempt people to embark on a career in UK research, but also to get them to stay here and make the most of their talents and expertise?

These are the questions that I want us to address this morning.

Nurturing homegrown talent

As it stands at present, the UK is the third largest producer of PhDs in the world. However, much of that is down to our ability to attract and educate talent from across the globe. When it comes to educating our own students to PhD level, we know we need to do much more. Both to encourage undergraduates to stay on for postgraduate-level study – and to address the gender imbalances and race disparities that continue to haunt the research profession.

Of course, we’re continuing to make progress in these areas. The number of women accepted on to full-time STEM undergraduate courses has increased by almost 30% – largely thanks to the number of girls taking STEM A-Levels in England increasing by over 25% since 2010. But the proportion of women studying Physics is still notably lower than it should be.

And we still have some way to go to eradicate gender pay gaps in the sector and increase the proportion of women in academic and research leadership. Not to mention the number of Black and Ethnic Minority role models that will inspire others and show them a research career can really be for people like them.

As a government, we are thinking hard about the financial incentives that will also encourage more people to continue in higher education and research.

Not only do we have a comprehensive student support system for students embarking on higher education across the UK. But, for students supporting their own postgraduate studies, we introduced Master’s loans in 2016. And these are already having a visible effect on the number of students opting to stay on for postgraduate education.

Research commissioned by the Department for Education into the performance of the Master’s loan in its first year of operation has found the number of England-domiciled students opting to study for a Master’s degree at English universities grew by over a third (36%) in the academic year 2016/17.

It also found that these loans have led to a significant increase in the number of Black students to study for a Master’s degree, a group historically under-represented in postgraduate education. Additionally, almost three quarters of the students surveyed who took out a loan said that they just couldn’t have studied without one. This is welcome evidence that the loan is helping remove financial barriers and supporting individuals from all backgrounds to study for an advanced qualification.

And loans were extended to those studying at doctoral level from August 2018. Where we hope they will have a similar effect.

Attracting international talent

But as well as developing domestic talent, I want us to attract the best and the brightest from across the globe.

As Universities and Science Minister, I am immensely proud that the UK boasts one of the strongest higher education sectors in the world. That it is home to many of the world’s leading universities and research institutes. This is a great national asset and a major draw for international talent.

And this government is serious about making the UK their global go-to place. That’s why we set out a clear ambition in our International Education Strategy earlier this spring: to grow the numbers of international students studying in UK universities to 600,000 by the end of the next decade.

Many of these students will be studying here at the postgraduate level, for Master’s degrees or PhDs. And we will introduce an automatic one-year ‘leave to remain’ period following the completion of all doctoral degrees.

This will give international PhD graduates the time they need to find an appropriate research position after their studies – whether that be by continuing as post-docs or early career researchers in our universities and colleges. Or by taking their skills over to industry and bringing their ideas and innovations to market.

On this, we are making it easier for international graduates to move into skilled work. International students studying for undergraduate level and above will be able to apply for a visa three months before their course finishes. Enabling them to take up skilled work after their degree. They will also be able to apply for a skilled work visa out-of-country under the same preferential conditions as they would experience if they were to apply for a visa in-country.

In addition, a reformed sponsorship system will provide a simplified and more streamlined system. This will be less burdensome for employers and will enable businesses to harness the talent they need more easily.

We are also investing in more international experiences for our own UK students. This will help develop them as ‘global citizens’, and ensure students of all backgrounds can add to our pipeline of talent on their return.

International experiences enrich the education and personal development of our citizens, not to mention break down barriers to social mobility. That is why I was delighted to announce new DfE funding that will support UK undergraduate students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds to take part in short research internships at Canadian universities through the Mitacs Globalink scheme.

And I hope this is just the first partnership of many to help boost opportunities for UK research talent going forwards into the future.

As a government, we want to be doing all we can to protect and grow our share of research talent. And we are serious about working together with the sector to ensure we are giving early career researchers, regardless of where they come from, sufficient opportunities for progression.

Funding PHDs and other programmes

But if we are to attract, retain and develop the research talent we need – both domestic and international – we must ensure we have the programmes we need too.

And we have invested significantly in programmes, delivered by UKRI and the National Academies, to make sure this is the case. In 2017, we announced funding of over £300m over four years to increase the number of PhDs and fellowship programmes.

We have committed more than £100m to the Rutherford Fund to deliver around 1,000 fellowships and placements for early-career and senior researchers.

And, in June 2018, we announced a £1.3bn investment in UK talent and skills to grow and attract the best in science and innovation. As well as £350million for prestigious National Academy fellowships. This included £900million for the new flagship UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships, open to the very best researchers from around the world.

Well, today I am pleased to announce the very first 41 Future Leaders Fellowships. Who will be provided with funding and support. And who will be instrumental in developing the next generation of research and innovations in their chosen disciplines – from the natural environment to big physics.

It’s an incredibly exciting programme and I am delighted to have been able to announce the Fellows today.

And I am just as excited to announce a first call for the new Stephen Hawking Fellowships. Working with the Hawking family, UKRI will support up to 50 postdoctoral scientists in theoretical physics over the next five years. In recognition of Professor Hawking’s exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science. This call is now open. And I would encourage anyone eligible to apply.

Because we need to ensure the very brightest minds are in a position to help us address the huge environmental, social and technological challenges the world is facing today.

That is why we’re focused on supporting highly-skilled people across disciplines to tackle these issues – what, in our Industrial Strategy we have called our Grand Challenges – from Artificial Intelligence to Clean Growth.

In the field of AI, we have recently announced a package of measures. Including Master’s degrees, funded by industry. Alongside an additional 1,000 new PhD students across 16 dedicated AI Centres for Doctoral Training. And new Turing AI Fellowships. The first wave of fellowships was launched earlier this year as part of a scheme designed to attract, develop and retain global AI talent in the UK.

Boosting researchers’ skills and success

But success in research isn’t just about knowing your subject inside out – though undoubtedly this is essential. It’s about other skills and experiences too, particularly when making the move from academia to industry. And we need to encourage these if we are to create the UK research environment we want to see in the future.

Between six and seven thousand PhD students per year are funded through UKRI, through its studentships and training grants – including Centres for Doctoral Training and Doctoral Training Partnerships. These models allow students to be trained in cohort environments and take a collaborative approach. Working with partners – including from industry – to create well-rounded researchers who are able to continue and pursue R&D careers.

Recent investments in Centres for Doctoral Training will support more than four and a half thousand PhD students, in fields from quantum, to medical technologies.

I was particularly pleased last month to see the University of Liverpool leading an innovative new project worth almost four and a half million pounds to boost the success of post-doctoral researchers outside academia. The ‘Prosper’ project is funded largely by Research England and other industry partners. It seeks to break down the barriers facing early career researchers when moving from careers in academia to industry.

Because, to make it in industry, as well as having specialist technical knowledge, today’s researchers need core transferable skills – things like an ability to communicate effectively, to influence, and to work collaboratively.

The Prosper model seeks to give post-doctoral researchers the “soft skills” they need. And, so, should help them develop into the high-performing technical and business leaders of tomorrow.

I also know schemes like the Brilliant Club, whose founders I met earlier this spring, are doing highly valuable work. Not just in reaching out to school pupils from under-represented backgrounds to raise their aspirations. But also by training and developing doctoral and post-doctoral researchers to become highly effective communicators and leaders. These skills won’t just help them if they choose to stay on in education. They are vital for a whole host of business and industry careers too.

Towards better research careers

But as well as ensuring people have the skills they need to pursue a career in research, we need to ensure conditions are such that they want one. Currently, there are problems here.

According to research by Vitae, over 70% of post-doctoral research staff in higher education are employed on fixed-term contracts, with 20% employed on contracts of a year or less.

Many researchers, especially at the early stages of their careers, can find themselves going from one short-term research contract to another, without any job security or, indeed, any inclination of where they might end up next.

It is this uncertainty and insecurity that drives many talented researchers out of academia and perhaps out of research altogether. And this is particularly true of female researchers, who are already under-represented in STEM disciplines and may be unable to realise their full potential.

But it doesn’t need to be this way.

Admittedly, the Roberts Review back in 2002 did much to shine a light on the precarious nature of academic research careers. And thankfully, it led to many UK universities thinking seriously about how they employ and develop research talent.

In many respects, the UK has long been a world leader in this area – not least through its Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, first launched in 2008.

However, with more researchers needed in the future to power our national R&D ambitions, now is the time to increase our support for researchers. And to look again at how we can ensure they have a healthy and attractive working environment in which all researchers can flourish.

I am pleased that an independent review of the Concordat has just taken place to ensure it is up-to-date to meet the needs of today’s researchers. And I look forward to seeing the revised version of the Concordat when it is published later this summer.

As Universities and Science Minister, I am serious about taking the Concordat forward. And I am pleased to be hosting a high-level meeting with the Chair of the Concordat Strategy Group, Professor Julia Buckingham. Alongside Sir Patrick Vallance and other key sector leaders, to discuss how we can further improve research careers in the UK.

I have said it before and I will say it again today: I am keen that postgraduates and early career researchers do not get lost from current and future policy debates – particularly around key issues like mental health and wellbeing.

Post-docs are increasingly the Cinderella of the academic community – being neither students nor conventional academic staff members. So, their stories often go unheard and their concerns unaddressed.

Yet, these are the people who are often juggling job insecurities with poor work-life balance. And all against a culture that many feel prevents them from speaking out and admitting their struggles – for fear they will be perceived as weak and not fit for the job at hand.

Our current research culture relies on dominant power structures, where doctoral candidates and post-docs are largely dependent on supervisors or PIs for references and progression. This puts the power firmly in other people’s hands.

Is it any wonder, then, that less than half of doctoral researchers report they would be likely to disclose any mental health and wellbeing issues to their supervisors? This closed culture urgently needs to change.

So, I hope future joint work by the Office for Students (OfS) and Research England into the mental health and wellbeing of doctoral researchers can identify good practice to take forward in this area.

I also encourage the OfS, Research England, and UKRI as a whole to look more widely at how the implementation of current policies affect researchers on the ground. The three higher education excellence frameworks – namely the REF, TEF and the KEF – are all integral to the way we govern and fund higher education, science, research and innovation. But we need to make sure they are not disproportionately affecting early career researchers and putting extra strains on their work. The recent headlines about universities spending around £87m on non-disclosure agreements since 2017 doesn’t help us to project an image of a sector that cares for its employees.

Non-disclosure agreements exist for many purposes – such as protecting valuable research findings should a staff member change jobs. But in no circumstances should they be used by universities to ‘gag’ staff after experiencing poor behaviour in the workplace, including bullying, discrimination or sexual misconduct.

Let me be clear. Any use of this sort of agreement to silence people or hide details of unfair practices is an outrage, and risks bringing the reputation of our world-leading higher education system into disrepute. Universities need to wake up to this fact and the very real threat it poses to the reputation of the sector.

The government has recently consulted on proposals to tighten the laws around NDAs and confidentiality clauses for workers. We will be publishing our final proposals in due course. These will make clear in law that victims of harassment cannot be prevented from speaking to the police or reporting a crime. And ensuring they are clear about their disclosure rights.

We need to take collective action now to stop the misuse of NDAs if we are to prevent any more talented people from being pushed out of academia. And the wider research pipeline.

That’s why I strongly support Universities UK in its call to sector leaders to make sure all staff and students have a safe experience at university.

As Minister across both the universities and science briefs, I am keen that we take a cross-departmental and cross-sector approach to the long-term career paths of researchers. And that we work together to tackle some of the systemic issues that are hampering the appeal of a research career, both inside and outside academia.

From academia to industry

On this, a key message I want to get across today is that academia isn’t the only place where talented researchers can have long and meaningful careers.

It is particularly important we recognise this, since very few highly-skilled researchers will stay within the academy.

Research by Vitae in 2017 showed that of the 80% of researchers in the UK who aspire to a future academic career, 60% expect to achieve one, yet only between 5 and 10% will actually ever get one.

But this doesn’t mean that the other 90% or so are not pursuing worthwhile research careers. Over 70% of doctoral graduates in the Physical Sciences and Engineering, for example, work outside academic research four years after graduation.

If we are to stand any chance of meeting our 2.4% target, then we need to make sure this continues and that talented researchers go on to use their knowledge and skills in business and industry.

We also need a good number of researchers embracing their entrepreneurial spirit and starting their own spin-outs and SMEs.

For too long, there has been a stigma in this country around pursuing non-academic research careers. So, we should never look down on early career researchers if they opt for a career outside academia. Rather, we should actively encourage our PhDs and post-docs to see the merits of pursuing an R&D career in other sectors and industries.

For one, we need to stop talking about jobs outside academia as being ‘second choice careers’ or ‘Plan B options’. For our 2.4% target to work, we need people to be actively considering research careers across the entire science and innovation system. And aspiring to become industry employees or entrepreneurs from the get-go.

And to do this I think we need to be positive and passionate about the hugely exciting potential of such work. About the role research – and particularly the point where business and research meet – will play be in helping us to adapt to our changing world.

I have already mentioned our Industrial Strategy “Grand Challenges” – the huge environmental, social and technological challenges the world is facing today. We want to make sure that the UK is leading the way in responding to these challenges.

This will require all of our best minds pushing frontiers of science and research and applying this into game-changing innovations and new ideas. This means helping researchers and academics connect better with businesses and supporting researchers to develop their own ideas. These businesses could become the industries of tomorrow. And it makes it a hugely exciting time to work in industry as a researcher.

But it’s not just about meeting challenges. It’s about meeting the needs of business. We know from the Employer Skills Survey that employers in the UK report a persistent demand for graduates with STEM skills. And we anticipate this demand will only continue to grow over the years ahead.

Across numerous sectors, employers report a significant demand for highly-skilled professionals, especially in IT and Engineering. As well as a need for staff with complex numerical and statistical skills. It may surprise you to hear that over 60% of roles on the Home Office shortage list are STEM roles – primarily seeking either Engineering or digital expertise.

So, isn’t it high time we start to better connect graduates with the evident skills gaps we are experiencing right across our labour market?

Yet, this isn’t going to be easy when many of their main role models inside universities know very little about careers in industry. And are themselves either unaware or unconvinced of the strength of research positions outside academia.

There are schemes that aim to address this issue – such as the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Visiting Professors scheme. This funds senior industry practitioners to participate in course development, face-to-face teaching and the mentoring of Engineering undergraduates at a host university. It is a great programme, but it is not widespread practice.

The difficulties aren’t just on the side of universities. Some employers are unused to recruiting PhDs and don’t fully understand the benefits that those with higher academic qualifications can bring to their workforce. I think of this as the ‘graduate paradox’ – the higher the academic qualifications you have, the less professionally qualified you may seem. This, I feel, is a particular UK problem we need to address.

For too long we have had a culture in this country that doesn’t generally recognise, let alone reward, PhDs outside academia. But this is not the case in other European countries. In Germany, for instance, a PhD is often seen as a prerequisite for progression to senior roles in business and industry.

Yet, here in the UK, people with hard-won PhDs sometimes choose to hide their doctoral qualifications when applying for professional roles outside academia. And many can find themselves having to spell out to sceptical employers the skills and experiences they have gained during the course of their studies.

To get people thinking differently we urgently need to change mind-sets. And to boost the appreciation of postgraduate degrees among employers and wider society.

We need a culture change right across the innovation system. Not just among academics to get them to realise the transfer-ability of their research skills. But among employers – so that they, too, can make it easier for researchers to make the transition into industry-based roles.

Academic research and industry research should never be two distinct entities. There should be transferable pathways between the two. So those with industry-experience are welcomed into academia for their ‘on the job’ knowledge later in their careers. And those with academic experience can venture into industry and back again at any time they choose.

Changes such as this will help keep international researchers in UK R&D long after they have graduated. And also help to boost the numbers of domestic students choosing to stay on for postgraduate degrees and research careers.

As I have argued today, this will be vital to achieving our long-term aim: boosting the numbers of researchers in this country by more than 50%, to cement our R&D success.

Retaining domestic and international talent.

Funding the programmes we need.

Boosting skills.

Improving careers.

And strengthening the links between industry and the academy.

These are the ways we will nurture the talent we need now to meet the challenges ahead. To give the economy the boost it needs. And to help adapt to our changing world.

Thank you.

Chris Skidmore – 2019 Statement on Tuition Fees for EU Students

Below is the text of the statement made by Chris Skidmore, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, in the House of Commons on 29 April 2019.

The Government have repeatedly made it clear that we absolutely value international exchange and collaboration in education and training as part of our vision for a global Britain. We believe that the UK and European countries should continue to give young people and students the chance to benefit from each other’s world-leading universities post exit.

Over the weekend, the media reported on a leaked Cabinet document discussing Government policy on EU student access to finance products for the 2020-21 academic year and beyond. At this time, I want to tell the House that no decision has yet been made on the continued access to student finance for EU students. Discussions at Cabinet level are ongoing and should remain confidential. I will make no comment on this apparent leak, which is deeply regrettable.

Students from the EU make a vital contribution to the university sector. It is testament to the quality and reputation of our higher education system that so many students from abroad choose to come and study here. As I stated earlier, since 2017 EU student numbers are up 3.8% and non-EU student numbers are up by 4.9%. In July 2018, we announced that students from the European Union starting courses in England in the 2019-20 academic year will continue to be eligible for home fees status, which means that they will be charged the same tuition fees as UK students and have access to tuition fee loans for the duration of their studies. Applications for students studying in academic year 2020-21 open in September 2019 and the Government will provide sufficient notice for prospective EU students and the wider higher education sector on fee arrangements ahead of the 2020-21 academic year and the subsequent years, which, as I have just stated, will obviously reflect our future relationship with European Union and the negotiations on that going forward.

Chris Skidmore – 2019 Statement on Education Technology Strategy

Below is the text of the statement made by Chris Skidmore, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, in the House of Commons on 3 April 2019.

Education technology (EdTech) refers to the practice of using technology to support teaching and the effective day-to-day running of education institutions. Technology has become embedded throughout society and yet the use of technology in education is mixed. There is potential for technology to play a stronger role in helping to address some of the key challenges in education.

The Department for Education has developed an education technology strategy “Realising the potential of technology in Education: A strategy for education providers and the technology sector”. The strategy aims to support and enable the education sector in England to help develop and embed technology in a way that cuts workload, fosters efficiencies, removes barriers to education and ultimately drives improvements in education outcomes. It includes support to promote a vibrant EdTech business sector in the UK to provide proven, high-quality products that meet the needs of educators and fosters a pipeline of fresh ideas.

At the core of the strategy is an understanding that the use of technology does not provide a panacea, but when used well, it can be highly effective in helping to deliver improvements and tackle challenges throughout education. The strategy marks the development of a partnership between the education sector, the technology industry and the Government to drive further progress in the use of education technology for schools, further education, higher education and other providers and announces a new leadership group to take this forward.

The strategy makes clear how we intend to build upon existing good practice in the sector through launching a network of EdTech demonstrator schools and colleges across the country. The demonstrator schools and colleges will help showcase the possibilities for technology and will facilitate peer-to-peer learning about the good use of technology to help address challenges facing teachers, leaders and students, be this funding, teacher workloads, meeting the needs of pupils with special needs or more generally to help support teachers to deliver excellent teaching.

It also makes clear that Government will help address the barriers facing education providers and the technology industry, through:

Helping schools to secure the broadband and networking infrastructure they need through accelerating the roll-out of full fibre internet connectivity to schools and providing guidance.

Supporting the creation of opportunities for teachers and school leaders to improve their skills and knowledge about good use of technology through creating opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and through supporting partner organisations to provide free online CPD courses and free nationwide roadshows showcasing products, services and good practice.​
Improving support for procurement of technology, including exploring how to facilitate a better online marketplace for EdTech including through pre-negotiated buying deals, and supporting a digital service allowing schools to try products before they buy.

Helping education providers and the technology industry understand the privacy, security and data guidance and standards they should adhere to.

Helping the education technology industry to understand the full range of support available to them to help grow and scale their business through the Government’s industrial strategy.

Improving the digital services that the Department for Education itself provides.

The strategy also announces 10 challenges to educationists and the technology industry. These cover areas where we think there is real potential for technology to make a difference and where we are seeking to galvanise activity, promote innovation and to prove whether or not technology has the potential to deliver positive outcomes. This includes the use of technology in assessment, administration, learning throughout life, teaching practice and continuing professional development. We will deliver the challenges through research, competitions to promote innovation by industry and the development of test bed schools and colleges.

This strategy marks the start of creating a technology revolution in education in England. We know that delivering this vision will take time, but we are committed to working in partnership with education and industry to deliver this vision.

I will deposit a copy of the strategy in the Libraries of both Houses.

Chris Skidmore – 2019 Speech to UUKi Higher Education Forum

Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Skidmore, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, to the UUKi Higher Education Forum on 27 March 2019.

Good afternoon. And thank you for inviting me to speak at this year’s International Higher Education Forum here at Imperial College London on the importance of staying international. Please accept my apologies for not joining you in person. And all credit to the organisers – this Forum is certainly timely! We are now just a few weeks away from the UK’s departure from the EU. So, it is certainly important for us to be looking to the future and considering our relationships with the wider world.

Let me begin today by reaffirming our commitment to remaining international. Brexit may well mean that we are leaving the European Union soon, but it certainly does not mean that we are leaving Europe or, indeed, any of our global partnerships behind.

If anything, Brexit means we now need to be thinking and acting more globally than ever before. Our world-leading universities and colleges are international at their core. Our higher education sector relies on – and indeed thrives on – international connectivity, collaboration and partnership, and I want to see all those things continuing to flourish.

As it stands politically, we still wish to have a deal with the European Union, guaranteeing certainty until the end of the Implementation Period and continuing to participate in the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 framework programme until then, while negotiating the terms of our Future Economic Partnership.

But we do face the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal. This is not what we want, but if it were to happen Government would be determined to make the best of it, continuing with our ‘no deal’ preparations and ensuring the country is prepared for every eventuality. As I said before, this does not mean we are leaving Europe and Europe will always remain a close partner to the UK. In the event of a no deal, and in order to mitigate the worst, we will administer the Government Guarantee for those participating in Erasmus+ and the Horizon 2020 framework programme.

However, what is certain for all of us is that we still need clarity on our future direction of travel, and we all need to come together – the Government included – to set out a positive vision for what we want UK higher education to achieve on the global stage.

There must be principles to underpin that vision, and to inform how and where we prioritise our internationally focused efforts. The International Education Strategy sets out only part of this vision. So, today, I want to set out my wider vision for the UK’s global higher education ambition and the principles at the heart of it.

The first of these principles is to build and amplify the UK’s role on the global stage. This means not only bolstering the quality and standing of UK higher education but to promote it abroad as a global leader and as a centre of international excellence, and strengthening our credentials to become an international partner of choice.

And we are starting from a great position. The UK higher education system already has a global reputation for quality. According to the QS World University Rankings, our institutions are globally recognised, with 4 providers in the top 10, and 18 providers in the top 100.

Our research also has truly global reach. In 2014, the UK produced 15.2% of the world’s most highly cited articles and, on indicators of research quality, the UK ranked above the US, Canada, Germany, Japan, Brazil and China.

We must champion and protect this reputation if we are to continue to attract talent from across the world, and continue to grow the sector’s international partnerships and collaborations.

A strong international reputation is vital for our ‘soft power’ and strengthening the role and potential of the UK overseas. According to the Soft Power 30 index, the UK is ranked first for global soft power, with education – and higher education in particular – being cited as key to our success.

It is success like this which helps the UK strengthen important trading links – such as those with emerging economies, which value English language skills, education reform or research co-operation.

Co-operation in these areas is not only important for trade but also opens up opportunities for UK providers to become increasingly international themselves. That is why the International Education Strategy, sets out our intention to appoint an International Education Champion – specifically to amplify the global reputation of UK higher education and help generate further international opportunities including through tackling and breaking down in-country barriers.

And quality is already our watchword. The key to maintaining a strong brand for UK higher education is the UK Quality Code, which sets the core quality standards that providers must adhere to.

Of course, higher education in the UK is a devolved matter, so it is only right that different nations will take slightly different approaches to applying the Code. However, all UK providers are required to meet the Code’s expectations, and it is this which ensures we can continually set a high threshold for quality across the country.

In England, the new regulator for the higher education sector, the Office for Students, has placed the UK Quality Code at the heart of its regulatory framework. And it has also gone further, by adding an additional requirement for providers to deliver successful outcomes for all students, which are either recognised and valued by employers or enable further study.

This focus on delivering successful outcomes is reflected across our entire approach to co-regulation in England: setting clear expectations for quality, whilst respecting institutional autonomy and creating the space necessary for providers to innovate.

But we must never be complacent, and I recognise that some quality issues remain. This is why we must work with the sector to protect and improve the quality of higher education in England, including tackling issues such as essay mills, and artificial grade inflation whilst rightly celebrating genuine grade improvements. These measures will help us to protect the quality of our qualifications and ensure they, and the UK’s Higher Education sector’s reputation for excellence, retain their value over time.

We should never turn our back on improvement. And we are lucky to be in a position where we can learn from our partners around the world, just as they can learn from what we are doing here in the UK. This mutual exchange of knowledge and good practice is at the heart of strong international relationships, and has the benefit to further strengthen UK higher education, as well as the institutions, systems and countries around the world that we partner with.

Having just put down an important marker with the new International Education Strategy published just under two weeks ago, I am keen to make sure UK higher education can internationalise further. This can be done by my second core principle – namely to enable UK higher education to maximise and benefit from the full range of international opportunities and interconnectedness available to it.

The first way we can do this is by increasing international activity or transnational education (TNE), as set out in the International Education Strategy. TNE warrants our attention, not least because it has significantly increased in value since 2010. And as the sector can attest, the value of TNE goes well beyond economic benefits. These partnerships help to support the pipeline of talent of students and researchers powering UK higher education, and can lead to potential increases in student enrolments.

TNE is nevertheless just one way in which UK higher education can enhance its internationalism. There is a broad fora of frameworks and platforms beyond this, particularly in the research and innovation space, which also help our international connectedness to flourish. And, of course, there is always more we can do support and strengthen these frameworks for collaboration and engagement.

Research Infrastructures are just one key way that researchers from any country can work together to tackle complex scientific and research challenges. Within Europe, such collaboration is often facilitated by European Research Infrastructure Consortia, known as ERICs.

UK participation in ERICs gives UK scientists and companies access to facilities, data, knowledge and contracts that would otherwise be inaccessible. And the outcomes of these projects feed directly into research communities across the UK and beyond, in fields such as marine science, astrophysics, human health and welfare, and societal change.

We are committed to ERICs, and we want to continue to host and be members of ERICs after Brexit. I am therefore pleased to confirm today that the UK will continue to meet the obligations needed to be members of ERICs after we have left the EU, irrespective of how we leave the EU. This decision will enable UK scientists and researchers to continue working on scientific challenges with our European partners just as they do now.

We are also working hard to maintain close collaboration in other European research frameworks – not least on the issue of the European University Institute (EUI). The EUI is an good example of European collaboration on education and research and I recently spoke with the President of the EUI, Professor Renaud Dehousse and we agreed to work closely together including on potential options for future participation in EUI activities. Our funding programmes to support international collaboration on science and innovation and our international representation, led by the Science and Innovation Network in British Embassies and High Commissions are ways we can deepen UK engagement globally.

To demonstrate our long-term commitment to this global engagement, we will publish an International Research and Innovation Strategy that will set out our ambition to remain the partner of choice for international research and innovation. And we will support early and effective implementation of the Strategy through an independent review of our future frameworks for international collaboration, as announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement earlier this month.

Whatever happens after Brexit, the UK is a key signatory of the Bologna Declaration, which creates a common frame of reference within the European Higher Education Area to promote and support mobility for students, graduates and teaching staff. And it does this mainly by creating a common approach to qualifications. I’d like to use this occasion today to reassure you the UK still remains committed to close collaboration on European higher education with our EHEA partners.

And that takes me on nicely to my third principle, through which I want the UK to provide a world leading offer to international students and staff. As Universities Minister, I want us to give international students the best possible experience of UK higher education and maximise the benefits they bring to institutions, as well as to our own domestic students.

It is well known that international students bring huge benefits to the UK and are integral to our higher education system. In 2016, international students accounted for 60% of all education exports, bringing in nearly £12 billion to the UK economy through tuition fees and living expenditure alone. The presence of international students in the UK is worth an estimated £26 billion in direct and indirect benefits.

International students help to generate jobs and support local businesses in the areas that they study – sustaining over 200,000 jobs in all parts of the UK. They bring cultural diversity and enrich the learning experiences of domestic students. And, as acknowledged by the Migration Advisory Committee, UK students genuinely value the positive impact that international students bring to their overall university experience.

And the benefits of international students don’t stop there. Hosting students from other countries can provide us with vital cultural and business links for the future and the Soft Power I referred to earlier.

According to research by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), as of summer last year, among the serving monarchs, presidents and prime ministers around the world, 57 of them were educated in the UK. This is second only to the US, which just pipped us to the top spot by educating 58 of them. And according to British Council Research, of the Nobel Laureates who have studied abroad, 38% of them did so in the UK, showing how opening our doors to others can give us friends and opportunities to influence and engage around the world.

That is why we are taking a number of actions to ensure the UK continues to attract international students and the budding global leaders of tomorrow. The International Education Strategy, published just last week, sets out the scale of our ambition, with an aim to increase the numbers of international higher education students studying in the UK by over 30%, to 600,000 by 2030.

This ambition is supported by actions, which will enable us to attract these students in the face of international competition – such as increasing the post-study leave period and making it easier for students to move into skilled work after graduation.

But attracting international students is only one half of the equation. We also need to ensure that when international students come here, they are supported to make the most of their employment prospects in this country and in their home countries too. That is why the commitment made by UUKi to work with Government to improve the employability of our international students in the Strategy is so important. We rightly measure outcomes for our domestic students and we should do the same for international students too.

Beyond economics, we also have a duty of care. If this principle applies for our domestic students, it must also apply to students from abroad. We must ensure that while they are here, they are fully supported. On Monday, I set out in a keynote speech my new STEP framework, working with the sector on ensuring we deliver together the best student experience possible. I mentioned international students, Support for international students is essential especially in the area of mental health and wellbeing – something which is a clear priority for this government. And it is why this government is working closely with UUK on embedding the ‘Step Change’ programme within the sector, which calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority and adopt a whole-institution approach to transform cultures for domestic and international students alike.

It is also why we are backing the development of the University Mental Health Charter, which will drive up standards in promoting the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff wherever they come from in the world. And I implore all higher education leaders to engage with the work of the charity Student Minds as it leads development of this Charter.

Too often students, who have uprooted themselves to come to the UK for a high quality higher education in a diverse, international learning environment, find themselves isolated or entirely cocooned – with only their fellow nationals as companions, and not knowing where to turn to after their studies are complete. I was struck by the event on Monday, which demonstrated one in five international students do not have a friend when they’re at university.

So, my challenge to the sector is this: can you do more to help these students get the most out their experience in the UK and help them to integrate fully into the community, so that they too can go on to become lifelong advocates for UK higher education and for the UK more generally?

And, for my fourth and final principle, I also ask the sector to help us develop the ‘global citizens’ we need by providing increased international connectivity and opportunity. We want all domestic higher education students to benefit from an international experience.

Cultural exchange helps build important business, political and diplomatic bridges around the world, not to mention life-long friendships. Supporting students to study abroad helps us to create a new generation of globally mobile, culturally agile people who can succeed in an increasingly global marketplace. By supporting students to study abroad, they get first-hand experience of different cultures, helping them to broaden their horizons, their ambitions and their life-long opportunities, as well as breaking down barriers to social mobility.

This government, and the Department for Education in particular, share the conviction that international experiences enrich the education and personal development of UK students. And that is why the DfE supports and provides a number of outward mobility programmes to broaden access to international opportunities – such as the Fulbright and Generation UK China schemes; both of which have been expanded with increased funding over the last year.

My particular priority here is in improving outcomes for students from disadvantaged or currently under-represented backgrounds. That is why our funding for the Fulbright Scholarship and Generation UK-China specifically focuses on efforts to support disadvantaged students. I am actually set to go to China in a couple of weeks and look forward to meeting students on the Generation UK-China scheme and hear first-hand the difference it has made to their lives.

I realise part of the solution is making outward mobility more accessible and we, in government, are actively working on doing this by enabling eligible students studying in the United Kingdom to study abroad for up to 50% of their course and still be eligible for support from Student Finance England.

But having the means is no good if students don’t have anywhere to go. So, my challenge to the sector on this is how can you ensure students from disadvantaged backgrounds are getting their fair share of international opportunities?

We believe that, irrespective of the outcome of EU exit negotiations, the UK and European countries should continue to give young people and students the chance to benefit from each other’s world leading universities post-exit. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement UK entities’ right to participate in the Erasmus+ programme during the current Multi-annual Financial Framework will be unaffected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. We are also open to exploring participation in the successor scheme to the current Erasmus+ Programme.

In the event that the UK leaves the EU with no agreement in place, the Government has guaranteed that it will cover the payment of awards to UK applicants for Erasmus+ bids approved before exit day.

We are also considering a wide range of options with regards to the future of international exchange and collaboration in education and training, including a potential domestic alternative to the Erasmus+ Programme. The potential benefits of the UK establishing its own international mobility scheme would include the ability to tailor the scheme to UK needs and target the funding where it is most needed. I will be driving forward this work in the coming months.

As the Minister for Higher Education, these will be my guiding principles for international higher education activity going forwards into the future. They will steer my priorities and underpin the ways in which the Department for Education will drive activity.

As I have hopefully made clear, there is an important role for the sector here, in setting out your own international ambition and driving forward your own international activity building on what is already a global success story with, as I mentioned, nearly £12bn of higher education exports and an additional £1.9bn in the form of TNE, in 2016 alone. A proactive and engaged government can of course support and enable this, and I know there is more we could do to join up and Government stands by to support you.

But the challenge is not only ours. We need you to consider what more the sector can do to realise our full international potential and tell us how we, in government, can help you achieve these ambitions. I can assure you that we are listening. And I look forward to continue working with you as we make our way into a truly global future.

Chris Skidmore – 2019 Statement on the Adrian Smith Review

Below is the text of the statement made by Chris Skidmore, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, on 26 March 2019.

I am pleased to announce that I have commissioned Professor Sir Adrian Smith, Director and Chief Executive of the Alan Turing Institute, to provide independent advice on the design of UK funding schemes for international collaboration, innovation and curiosity-driven blue-skies research.

The UK is a world-leading research nation with a globally connected research base. Collaboration with European and wider international partners is key to our strength in science and research: more than half of the UK’s research output involves such collaboration. The UK is in the top four of global innovation nations and we draw in more internationally mobile research and development (R&D) than other large countries, with a total of 16% of UK R&D investment financed from abroad.

This Government are bringing forward the largest investment in R&D on record. As outlined in our modern industrial strategy, we are committed to reaching 2.4% of GDP invested in R&D by 2027, and 3% in the longer term. International partnerships and collaboration will play an important part in helping to achieve our ambitions, including in supporting the industrial strategy’s grand challenges to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future. Professor Sir Adrian Smith’s advice will help set the direction for the implementation of the Government’s ambition to ensure the UK continues to be a global leader in science, research and innovation, and an attractive country for individuals to study and work. Furthermore, Sir Adrian’s advice will help inform the upcoming spending review.

The terms of reference, outlining the scope, timescale and reporting of this work are below.

Terms of reference for the Commission of Professor Sir Adrian Smith


The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has commissioned Professor Sir Adrian Smith to provide independent advice on the design of potential future UK funding schemes for international, innovation and curiosity-driven blue-skies research, in the context of the UK’s future ambitions for international collaboration on research and innovation. This document outlines the terms of reference for this work.

The global landscape for science and innovation is changing, and access to knowledge, markets, skills and partners now takes place on a global basis. Global research and development (R&D) capacity is expanding and non-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries account for a growing share of global R&D, both in terms of researchers and investment. Better understanding is needed on whether the UK’s current funding mechanisms, resources and bilateral and multilateral partnerships will be fit for purpose when set against the projected trends in international ​research and innovation, and against new technology and industry roadmaps and the forecast social, economic and environmental trends.

The UK’s participation in Horizon 2020, the current European Union (EU) framework programme for research and innovation, has benefited the UK’s science, research and innovation landscape. It provides opportunities for UK entities to collaborate with EU and international counterparts and funding for multiple elements including innovation, international collaborations and partnerships, and curiosity-driven ‘excellence’ based research. Horizon Europe is the successor to Horizon 2020 and will run from 2021 to 2027. The UK remains committed to ongoing collaboration in research and innovation with partners across Europe. To this end the UK would like the option to associate to Horizon Europe and is continuing to actively shape the development of that programme. However, we are also exploring in parallel credible and ambitious alternatives to deliver positive outcomes for science, research and innovation in the event that the UK chooses not to associate.


Professor Sir Adrian Smith has been invited to provide independent advice on how funding future international collaboration, from curiosity-driven ‘discovery’ funding through to innovation, can best be designed to positively impact science, research and innovation in the UK, and to support the Government’s strategic objectives, including the industrial strategy and its commitment to 2.4% of GDP invested in R&D by 2027.

In the immediate term, Professor Sir Adrian will be asked to advise on the design and delivery of elements of the potential alternatives to Horizon Europe association. This will include the Discovery Fund, which aims to provide a UK alternative to the curiosity-driven and excellence-focused elements of Horizon Europe.

On the Discovery Fund Professor Sir Adrian Smith will be asked to consider:

The design of UK alternative funds i.e. the scale, scope and any international elements of proposed funds, and how they could complement the current UK funding landscape;

The delivery of UK alternative funds i.e. how strategic direction could be determined, how proposals could be reviewed.

On international collaboration, Professor Sir Adrian Smith will be asked to consider:

How funding mechanisms, resources, and international partnerships can remain fit for purpose for our global ambition to support the international research and innovation strategy, which will be published in the coming months.

How international collaboration can best support the Government’s industrial strategy and 2.4% target.

Professor Sir Adrian’s advice will help inform the upcoming spending review (as announced in the spring statement) and longer-term value-for-money considerations on international collaboration for research and innovation.

Professor Sir Adrian will have the independence to engage with relevant stakeholders and seek expert advice as he sees fit.


It is anticipated interim findings will be presented to BEIS Ministers in the summer of 2019.


Professor Sir Adrian Smith will report to me as Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. Professor Sir Adrian will provide an update on progress on a regular (monthly) basis, to BEIS officials. A summary of his interim findings will be published by BEIS.

Chris Skidmore – 2019 Speech on Access to Higher Education

Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Skidmore, the Universities Minister, at Nottingham Trent University on 28 February 2019.

I am delighted to be here at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) this morning to make my first speech on access and participation. And what better place to do so than at a University that is genuinely leading the way in delivering equality of opportunity to students.

NTU has earned a national reputation for innovation and quality in advancing the social mobility agenda, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity this morning to tour the University’s facilities and to speak to some of the staff and students at the heart of this dynamic community.

I’m also pleased that NTU has today been recognised for its efforts by the Office for Students (OfS), which has awarded the contract for its new ‘Evidence and Impact Exchange’ to a consortium of NTU, Kings College London and the Behavioural Insights Team.

The Evidence and Impact Exchange aims to support a culture of evidence-led policy around access and participation, and will develop and share good practice. As Universities Minister, I look forward to seeing what comes from this project. And I want to use this occasion today to outline my own five-part vision for the access and participation agenda – to help set a strategic direction for the sector and support the OfS in holding providers to account on these vitally important issues.

When it comes to widening participation, I know NTU isn’t alone in its efforts to support more people from currently under-represented groups to go university and succeed. I recognise considerable progress has already been made right across the sector, and we should all be proud of just how far we have come.

Today, there are over 2.3 million students enrolled at higher education providers across the UK – all from different walks of life and all with a wide range of prior attainment and experiences behind them. But it wasn’t always this way. When I started university twenty years ago, the higher education landscape was very different – with student number caps the norm, and a diversity of backgrounds and circumstances relatively scarce. I know I was one of the lucky ones.

We have thankfully come a long way since then, and the dream of a higher education has become a reality in this country for more people than ever before. Since 2009, we have witnessed a proportional increase of 52% in the entry rate of disadvantaged 18-year-olds to full-time higher education. And I’m proud to be a member of the Party and a Minister in a Government that has made this all possible.

Expanding access to education has always been the key to this country’s prosperity and success. By allowing more people to flourish and succeed, the UK is now home to a vibrant knowledge economy, which is powering British business and industry, and enabling us to go from strength-to-strength as we make our way into the digital age.

Investing in education is undoubtedly the best way to bring about positive returns for society – from boosting creativity and inspiring innovations, to generating wealth, tackling the grand challenges, and enhancing our health and wellbeing. As Universities Minister, I am proud the UK boasts one of the best higher education systems in the world – as testified to just yesterday by the QS World University Rankings, in which UK universities took the top spot in 13 subjects, ranging from Anthropology to Veterinary Science. This is indeed a fantastic achievement, but it needn’t be “the high-water mark” for the sector and I fully believe the sector can build on these accomplishments and carry on going from strength-to-strength.

I’m pleased to see so many people opting to study at one of our world-class institutions, from both the UK and across the globe. According to data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), over 560,000 people applied to start a full-time undergraduate course in the UK as of 15th January this year. That’s almost 2,500 more than at the equivalent point last year.

What’s more, the gap between the most and least advantaged applicants is narrowing – with the rate of disadvantaged 18-year-olds applying to university up by 1.3 percentage points, compared to the one percentage point growth in the most advantaged applicants. All this is good news and a welcome move away from the days when going to university was just for the fortunate few. Yet, we all know that behind the positive headlines lies a much more complex picture of inequality and progress is not as rapid as it should be.

And that takes me on to the first point in my plan – namely that we now need a more nuanced approach to ‘access’ and a greater recognition of the true access gaps. Major themes I want to see the sector and the OfS addressing are geographic disparities and widening access for specific groups, including White working-class as well as Black and minority ethnic students.

In this day and age, it pains me that where you come from and who you are can still make a huge difference to your prospects of progressing to higher education. While 42.4% of 18-year-olds from London entered higher education in 2018, only 31% of 18-year-olds from the East Midlands progressed to university, revealing the extent of the disparities across the country. When we add to this known measures of disadvantage, such as free school meals and ethnicity, then the inequalities become even greater. Here in the East Midlands, only 14% of White pupils on free school meals entered university by the age of 19, compared to 38% of their non-disadvantaged peers. And there are also significant variations between local areas. In Nottinghamshire, 18-year-olds from Rushcliffe are proportionally almost twice as likely to enter higher education than their peers from the neighbouring Nottingham East. It is exactly these types of burning injustices, which I want to help wipe from the map of twenty-first century Britain.

I also want to reverse the trend of students from currently under-represented groups being less likely to apply to high-tariff universities. In 2018, 17% of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7% of them enrolled at high-tariff providers. Now, I’m not saying that high-tariff institutions are necessarily the best option for everyone. Plenty of excellent lower-tariff providers offer students a first-rate education with exceptional graduate outcomes, and are the right choice for many. But what worries me is that some people may not be considering high-tariff providers even when they could clearly benefit from them – showing how prior social and educational experiences can all impact on an individual’s life choices.

I am genuinely saddened when I hear people hesitating about applying to one of our world-leading providers because they simply don’t believe that going to a university like that is really for people like them. We need to be empowering individuals to be the best they can be and doing all we can to encourage more people from currently under-represented groups to have high ambitions from the start.

The UK is blessed to have a diverse, multi-cultural society, and it is simply not right that, despite displaying obvious talent, some people still feel a ‘top’ university education is out of reach for them. I welcome moves like that from the rapper Stormzy, who set up a scholarship programme at Cambridge last year specifically to encourage Black UK students to follow their dreams and apply to one of the best universities in the world. Moves like this are about much more than the financial assistance they provide; they are about breaking down the toxic image barriers that wrongly tell so many people, “you can’t go there, you just won’t fit in”.

This is why I also welcome the fact the Duchess of Sussex recently added public prominence to this issue when expressing shock that too few professors in the UK are from diverse backgrounds. She is right – as she herself said, “change is long overdue”, and if we want our student communities to reflect our wider population, then we have to start thinking seriously about the role models and examples we are setting them.

The second point in my plan has to do with making the shift from simply widening access to higher education towards thinking about what it takes to enable students to participate fully and succeed. Measures by previous governments have undoubtedly been good at galvanising effort in expanding access to previously under-represented groups, but now is the time we also think about what constitutes successful participation for these students. The new frontier needs to be about enabling students to complete their studies and succeed.

For too long, disadvantaged students have been less likely to complete their degree, and Black and mixed race students more likely to withdraw from their course. It’s a scandal that there is currently an unexplained 17 percentage point gap between Black students attaining a first or 2:1 degree and their White peers. It’s a scandal that, even after completing their degrees, graduates from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are still five percentage points less likely to be in highly skilled work or further study than their most advantaged counterparts. And it’s a scandal that, even ten years after graduation, graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds earn much less than their peers from more affluent backgrounds, even after completing similar degrees from similar universities.

Clamping down on injustices like these is exactly why this Government passed the Higher Education and Research Act in 2017 – an Act which gave rise to the OfS and expanded the traditional focus on widening access to include the full student journey as well as graduate outcomes. One of the main weapons in this fight is the new Director for Fair Access and Participation, whose job it is to approve Access and Participation plans required from all registered providers seeking to charge higher tuition fees. It is expected that providers will use these plans to set out how they will improve equality of opportunity, not just in improving access to higher education, but also to enable progression, retention and success.

And this week marks a significant milestone in the development of the OfS: Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Education sent our own guidance letter to the OfS setting out what we expect over the year ahead. And today, the OfS has also published its own guidance on what it expects Access and Participation plans to look like for the academic year 2020/21.

In the former, we have asked the OfS to secure greater and faster progress in access and participation, including at the most selective providers, as well as for key target groups, including disabled students and care leavers. We are also specifically looking to the OfS to ensure that providers focus on those parts of the country experiencing the greatest challenges, including in our twelve Opportunity Areas, which encompass Derby and Stoke-on-Trent here in the Midlands.

In terms of what the OfS expects of the sector, I welcome the ambition it has shown in its guidance. Aiming to reduce the gap in participation between the most and least represented groups from a ratio of 5:1 to 3:1 by 2024/25 is the right thing to do – as is reducing the gap in degree outcomes between White students and Black students. On this, I am particularly pleased to see the OfS heeding the call from the most recent Race Disparity Audit initiative I launched earlier this month alongside my colleague David Lidington. In it, we called for the OfS to hold universities to account for attainment disparities through their Access and Participation plans and, if necessary, to use its powers to challenge any provider failing to support equality of opportunity.

I’m also pleased to see the OfS focusing on reducing the gap in degree outcomes between disabled students and non-disabled students – an area I care passionately about. Shortly after becoming Universities Minister, I made it one of my first priorities to go out to Brunel University to see for myself how it is improving the campus experience for disabled students. I also met representatives from Vision UK and the Thomas Pocklington Trust, who are working hard to enhance university life for the visually impaired, and I shall be heading to the University of Birmingham in May to host a roundtable at VICTAR, the Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research, with visually impaired students to better understand their concerns and needs.

I’m also progressing work alongside my colleague Nadim Zahawi to improve support for care leavers across the entire education system. Even today, only around 6% of care leavers go on to university and, once there, these students are more likely than most to drop out, given the whole host of financial and domestic challenges they face. I was fortunate to meet care leaver students during a recent visit to Kingston University and to see some of the exemplary work done by its dedicated ‘KU Cares’ support team. I want work like this to be the norm, and I trust the OfS will do its utmost to ensure care leavers are getting the attention they deserve in the wider access and participation agenda.

The third point in my plan has to do with making better use of evidence. Higher education in England is in a unique position, in that providers plan to spend £860million in 2018/19 on access and participation activities across the sector. This is largely thanks to this money having been dedicated for these purposes. £860 million is not an insignificant sum and, so, I believe it is essential that this money is used well, and that any future spending is underpinned by clear evidence and evaluation. Although some providers already do this, for too long the sector as a whole has been too slow in using evidence to inform its approaches and to understand what really works. This is why I want to see the OfS taking a lead in this area, and why I particularly welcome the launch of the Evidence and Impact Exchange today, which will harness existing sector expertise, including from here at NTU.

But let’s be clear: this is just the start of a long process. If the Evidence and Impact Exchange is proven to add value, then I want to see it becoming an established part of the higher education landscape and something I expect all providers to use to inform their decisions in the future. I shall also be actively working with established access and participation charities myself to find out what more can be done to better target access and participation spend, and I shall be hosting my first roundtable with these organisations this spring.

The fourth point in my plan has to do with increasing collaboration across the sector. Despite numerous providers undertaking excellent work in the access and participation space, by and large, the sector has been too piecemeal in its approach and too many providers have got used to doing their own thing. I will be the first to admit that this may well be a logical consequence of policy development – with an emphasis on market-style activity, a lack of data-sharing, and too little infrastructure to encourage collaboration. But now is the time for this to change.

In this respect, I’m pleased to see the OfS has announced an expanded remit for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP), which is aimed at boosting participation in local areas. I’m delighted the OfS has agreed in principle to provide funding to support the NCOP for the next two years – allowing universities and colleges across the country to come together and work with local schools to boost young people’s prospects. I recognise the concept of place is extremely important in the access and participation debate, and in my ‘civic university’ speech earlier this month, I called on the OfS to consider what more can be done to recognise and appreciate the many ways in which universities contribute to social mobility in their regions.

I’m pleased to hear the University of Nottingham and NTU have been inspired by the UPP Foundation Civic University Commission’s work to come together on a new approach to their combined civic impact. And I’m delighted that both Nottingham’s world-class universities are leading the sector’s response to this important agenda, and are even working with different primary schools in the city to avoid duplication and extend their reach.

Later today, I shall be visiting the University of Nottingham, along with Treasury Minister Robert Jenrick, to announce further funding for University Enterprise Zones. This investment should help universities across the country, just like those here in Nottingham, to come together with local business and industry – not just to work on creating new products and services, but to boost jobs, support local economies and, in doing so, raise aspirations and opportunities.

My fifth and final point in my plan has to do with enhancing accountability and transparency around access and participation. Historically, largely due to the way policy has evolved, higher education providers have focused less on the outcomes of their disadvantaged students than they should – particularly when compared with schools. Differing approaches have not helped. The key measure to drive widening participation in higher education has traditionally been POLAR, which reflects the likelihood of someone going to university based on where they live. The POLAR system has many strengths, and the insight it has provided has helped lead to genuine progress in opening up access to university. Yet, it is also known that POLAR doesn’t always overlap well with other measures of disadvantage – such as eligibility for free school meals which, of course, is the principal measure used in schools and forms the main basis for extra support and funding.

This is why I have been very interested to see the work being led by UCAS to look at new and better predictors of disadvantage in higher education that take account of much more than just where someone grew up. It’s also why I welcome the OfS’s commitment in its access and participation strategy to work with providers to look not just at POLAR, but other aspects of disadvantage to ensure this work can really transform the life chances of young people.

For me, data is vital to shape good policy, so I am glad to see the OfS implementing the Transparency Duty enshrined in the HERA, which will require registered providers to release data on the application, offer, acceptance, completion and attainment rates of students, divided by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. Having detailed information like this will undoubtedly help the OfS track progress and encourage further activity in this area. And on this, I further welcome the OfS’s requirement that providers set out their ambitions for improving access and participation for up to five years and report annually – something which I hope will keep everyone’s eye on the ball and prevent us from becoming complacent.

When it comes to data, I know there is a saying that ‘what gets measured, gets managed’. This makes it essential that we measure the right things, and that we do so with a full appreciation of the strengths and limitations of those measures. For data to inform policy effectively, I am aware we need to understand not only what data shows us, but also what it does not. This is one reason why I recently announced the formation of a Data Advisory Committee, to help me ensure we are not only using the right data to shape the access and participation agenda, but are using it in the right way. I therefore look forward to working with the OfS, this Committee and the wider sector to find ways to refine and advance the data we use.

Finally, I am aware this year is going to be a big one for higher education – not just with Brexit, but with all eyes fixed on the forthcoming Review of post-18 education in England. I know many in the sector have been critical about what could emerge from the Review’s recommendations and its potential impacts on access and participation activities.

Let me reassure you today that progressing access and successful participation remains a top focus for this government and it will be a key lens for me and others in government as we decide how to take the Review forward. My key outcome for the Review is that we create a truly joined-up system, which is even better at promoting social mobility and countering childhood disadvantage. I also encourage us to view the post-18 Review as an opportunity to think again about how we view disadvantage, to ensure we are putting our energy and investment where it is most needed.

In my first higher education speech in January, I spoke about bringing about a unity of purpose in the sector, and I hope this approach has also been reflected in my thinking on access and participation this morning. Only by tackling key areas of disadvantage as part of a broader access and participation agenda can we move forwards together as a truly inclusive higher education system. I welcome today’s moves by the OfS to bring social mobility efforts together in this way, and I look forward to working with it, as well as with the wider sector, on the important work already started in this area.

Thank you.

Chris Skidmore – 2019 Speech at the UPP Foundation

Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Skidmore, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, at the UPP Foundation launch on 13 February 2019.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at the launch of the UPP Foundation Civic University Commission report this afternoon. I’d like to thank the Commission for all its work on this important topic. The Commission’s findings provide an invaluable opportunity to showcase some good examples of universities’ civic activity, as well as highlight some ideas for how universities can make further progress in this area.

As many of you know, since becoming Universities Minister, I have made it a commitment to get out and visit as many universities and colleges as possible. I’m now well into double digits, having visited around a dozen different providers so far. And, already, it has become abundantly clear to me just how much our universities contribute to the UK – not just through their invaluable global relationships, but also through their national and local activities.

At a basic level, universities are often one of the largest employers in a local area. They are particularly important employers within deprived communities, and can play a significant role in regenerating regions. I know, for example, that Coventry University has opened a new facility in Scarborough as part of a £45million development in the Weaponess area of the town. This is a great illustration of the transformation that can occur when a strong, civically-minded university creates jobs and raises aspirations in a local community.

In my own constituency city of Bristol, I’ve also recently visited the Temple Quarter Quays development, where the university is finally taking action to remove the derelict former Royal Mail sorting office – a building which David Cameron once said made the city look like a “war zone”. The site is set to become a new £300million campus for the University of Bristol – proving that if you want something doing, you have to look to universities to get things moving.

The skills universities deliver to local people are absolutely vital for our government’s Industrial Strategy – to allow us to succeed in our long-term plan to boost productivity and earning power across the country. These skills can be technical and vocational, but crucially they are also transferable. Not surprisingly, demand for highly-skilled graduates shows no signs of decreasing in an economy that is increasingly becoming a knowledge-based one.

This is why a key part of our Industrial Strategy includes a truly place-based approach, and we see universities’ contribution to their local areas as being an increasingly important part of this. Manchester was, in fact, the first city I visited outside London in my role as Universities Minister, where a joint initiative by Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester, called ‘The Works’, has helped over 5,700 local residents from the most deprived areas of the city to find jobs, develop skills and access training. I want to use this occasion today to express my commitment to working with universities across the country to ensure that they are able to play pivotal roles in their local economies.

I know as well as you do that universities are crucibles of their local communities and are best-placed to help set up coordinated plans for local industrial strategies. Just last week, I was pleased to read about Keele University’s commitment to its ‘New Keele Deal’, designed to deliver a local industrial strategy for Stoke-on-Trent and the wider Staffordshire area, in partnership with Staffordshire University, local authority partners and the private sector.

Universities can, and already are, using their resources to help local businesses in a diverse range of ways. One way of doing this is via Skills Advisory Panels to pool knowledge on skills and labour market needs with local employers. I welcome initiatives such as the University of Nottingham’s free ‘Languages for Business’ service, which provides language skills and cultural expertise for small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, to help them succeed in the global marketplace.

Too often universities are not given the credit they deserve for the innovations they have stimulated. In this respect, the ‘Made at Uni’ campaign, initiated by Universities UK, is a really important intervention to show the UK public just how pivotal universities have been to the life-changing developments that we often take for granted. The research that universities undertake can be civic in so many ways: some of this research has obvious impacts on our health and wellbeing, such as the major role played by the University of Plymouth’s research into health education across the South West of England. Other research can also support local economies, like the University of Lincoln’s Institute of Agri-Food Technology, which focuses on research into greater productivity in agriculture and food production.

This government has continuously looked to put university research at the heart of regional growth. Schemes like the Leading Places Programme and the Strength in Places Fund take a place-based approach to research and innovation and encourage partnerships between universities and other public and private sector bodies. One great example of what can be achieved is in the North-East of England, where a collaboration between Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, Newcastle University and Northumbria University is actively exploring ways, using digital technologies, to tackle obesity through the promotion of healthier environments.

As a government, we have always been committed to encouraging universities to make the most of their civic engagement. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) was the first sector-wide exercise intended to help universities assess the impact of their research outside academia by rewarding institutions delivering research with significant local relevance. As part of the last REF (REF 2014), over 6,600 individual Impact Case Studies were submitted by higher education institutions to evidence the wider impact of their work. With all eyes now firmly fixed on the REF 2021, I look forward to seeing just how much this impact has developed and increased. I am also hugely encouraged to see the emphasis that the REF 2021 panels have placed on local impact, alongside national and international impact, in their recently published guidance.

To further encourage universities in England to enhance their contribution to cities and regions, we have also introduced the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) to support our Industrial Strategy and equip higher education providers with new ways to benchmark and share their knowledge and expertise. As the Minister overseeing the roll-out of the KEF pilots, I am pleased that so many universities have expressed an interest in taking part – with a total of 21 universities now in the KEF pilots.

The consultation on the KEF metrics is also currently underway, giving all English higher education institutions a say in how the KEF could work. The consultation is open until 14th March and I encourage all universities and the Commission to complete the survey and make their views heard. This is your chance to help co-create an exciting moment in the history of the English higher education sector and show how you want to help shape it for the future.

As a Minister in BEIS as well as the DfE, I understand the power of knowledge exchange and that it is not just about universities transferring their resources to local communities, but about universities absorbing lessons from their communities and embracing their expertise. As a new Minister, I want to be the Minister demonstrating and delivering why the KEF matters, and how it can help to publically communicate the value of our universities going forwards into the future.

With both the REF and the KEF defining the impact of universities broadly – from the local to the global – there is no reason that either Framework should be seen as barriers to a university contributing to their local area. As a government, we believe both these Frameworks should be wide-ranging in terms of what they are assessing. Universities know their local regions and areas of expertise better than anyone else, so it is not up to us to be overly prescriptive about what activities they should undertake and how they should approach them.

Instead, our role in government is to enable universities to best meet our broader ambitions to improve productivity and social mobility. In my first HE speech last month, I outlined a vision for higher education by 2030 moving towards a unity of purpose. To make this vision a reality, it is important the relevant sector agencies also move towards a unity of purpose when it comes to supporting place-related developments. To this end, I welcome on-going cooperation and unity of purpose across Research England and the Office for Students (OfS). Between them, they can play a major role in improving our understanding of how students and teaching contribute to knowledge exchange activities and inform future strategies, including the Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF).

I recognise universities do not operate in a vacuum, and I welcome measures which allow them to highlight their particular local contexts – such as the provider submission element of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), through which providers can detail wider civic activity, their local mission and regional engagement. As a historian by background and someone who understands the importance of narrative, I believe these provider submissions are key to emphasising geographical differences, and are likely to help universities reflect their individual contexts more accurately than any more formulaic approach.

Widening participation is a priority for this government. As I said in my first HE speech last month, I recognise that going to university might not be right for everyone. But I also recognise that anyone with the capability to benefit from it and succeed should have the opportunity to go.

Universities can play a key role in raising aspirations. Through their access and participation plans many higher education providers are working with schools, colleges and other local partners to raise awareness of the benefits of higher education. In addition, the OfS provides funding for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP), comprising 29 consortia delivering sustained and progressive outreach in local areas. And I also know there are many other examples out there of good practice – such as the ‘South Yorkshire Futures’ programme, led by Sheffield Hallam University, which is committed to improving education and raising aspiration for young people in the South Yorkshire area.

Universities make a real difference to local communities, not just by getting people into higher education, but enabling them to progress into meaningful work afterwards. The Challenge Competition, administered by the OfS, specifically helps providers develop projects to support graduate employability and improved outcomes for graduates who choose to remain in their local area. I look forward to working with the OfS and the Director for Fair Access and Participation over the year ahead to consider what more can be done to recognise and appreciate the many ways universities contribute to social justice and mobility in their individual regions.

As for the UPP Foundation Civic University Commission report launched this week, we, in government, will be sure to study the report’s recommendations in detail and look at how some of the proposals can be integrated into work that is already being planned or undertaken – either by Research England, the OfS, or wider government departments.

I’m truly grateful to the UPP Foundation for commissioning this important project, and I hope that the Foundation will continue to lead the agenda and debate on the civic university going forwards. I particularly welcome the suggestion for new initiatives such as civic agreements, which aim to encourage universities to take a more strategic approach to their civic activity. It will be important that universities do not create these in isolation, and that we consider further how universities can be encouraged to join up with other key actors in their local areas to create agreements that best serve their entire community.

As a Minister across two Departments, I’ve asked officials in both the DfE and BEIS to work further with the Commission and the UPP Foundation to look at how we can take their work forward into the future. For now though, I want to thank all of you again in our universities and colleges for your truly transformative work in our cities and regions across the country. And I look forward to working with you in the year and months ahead to help enhance your positive impacts on the ground.

Chris Skidmore – 2019 Speech on Higher Education

Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Skidmore, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, on 31 January 2019.

Thank you for inviting me to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) to give my first speech as Universities Minister. As one of the oldest and most prestigious centres of dramatic art training in the UK, I’m delighted to see how RADA is not just producing exceptional talent for our world-leading dramatic art sector, but extending its reach far beyond the Academy’s walls through community partnerships and industry collaborations. And I know the same approach is true of many higher education institutions across the country.

I may have only been Universities Minister for several weeks, but even in this short space of time I’ve seen plenty of instances of universities and colleges up and down the country acting as vital pillars of their communities: educating the next generation of students; feeding our world-leading industries with vital knowledge and skills; continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible with ground-breaking research; and working closely with local businesses to create jobs and help solve some of the greatest societal challenges of our time.

I feel very privileged to be Universities Minister. My predecessors have said they felt it was the best job in government. And I have to agree. Having begun my career as a historian and university lecturer, I understand the power of higher education and want to use this occasion today to outline to you my early priorities and vision for the sector, and how we can work together to meet the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

I understand I am speaking to you at an unprecedented time of change, what with Brexit coming ever closer and the uncertainties this causes in terms of future recruitment, staffing, student numbers and funding. I also understand the uncertainty caused by the ongoing Review of post-18 education, which is looking at how we can ensure post-18 study routes in England are joined up and supported by a system of funding that works for students and taxpayers alike.

I want to reassure you today that I hear your concerns and I am keen to work with you during this difficult period. I have already started having conversations with many of you about these important issues and I am eager that these conversations continue over the weeks and months ahead. I know there is much to discuss. I am also certain there will be an appropriate occasion for me to address these issues in detail in the future. But, for the purposes of my speech today, I want to look at the broader themes unpinning higher education and their impact on the continued health of the sector.

Let me start by start by taking a step back. Over the past few months, hundreds of thousands of prospective students have made some of the biggest decisions of their lives when preparing their UCAS applications to university. Twenty years ago, I was in the very same situation.

Clearly, there have been many significant changes to higher education since my days as an undergraduate: the student finance system has evolved, student number controls dropped and a range of new regulatory instruments advanced and developed. The coming into effect of the Higher Education and Research Act in 2017 means plenty of changes are still afoot.

As the first major regulatory reform of the English higher education sector in 25 years, the HERA created the Office for Students (OfS), a new body to regulate and fund higher education providers. It also created UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which brings together the seven UK research councils, Innovate UK and Research England to take a strategic approach to research and development activities across the country. With these changes has come increased accountability. And it is now more important than ever that our higher education system delivers for students.

This means providing value for money – not just for students and graduates, but also for government and taxpayers who contribute substantially to the way the sector is funded. It also means providing a first-rate student experience to ensure that all students, of all backgrounds and circumstances, receive a top-quality education and a fulfilling university experience that will enrich their lives and future careers.

On that point, I would like to thank my predecessor for his invaluable work on enhancing student mental health support and helping to drive a significant step change in the way universities are looking out for student wellbeing.

This includes the three pillars of the government’s new deal on student mental health. The first is the University Mental Health Charter led by the Charity Student Minds; the second is tackling the transition issues students face, especially when moving from school or college into university; and the third is looking at improving information sharing so that institutions can get better at involving families and friends in supporting students in difficulty.

As a constituency MP, I have seen first-hand the devastation that is caused when a student slips through the net. So, I intend to continue my predecessor’s good work in this area. In March, I will be hosting a roundtable on University Mental Health Day, and I will correspond with the Chair of the information sharing task group to ensure meaningful improvements are being made. I am also interested in listening further to the wider issues around transition to university, including students’ experiences of the private rental market, and receiving the healthcare and support they need both in and out of term-time.

My vision for our universities and colleges is a positive one. I’m not going to be a Minister who comes in and beats up or needlessly berates the sector. Instead, I want to restate my commitment to you today to work in partnership with you to ensure our higher education sector remains one that works for everyone and of which we can be proud in generations to come.

Today in England, 18-year-olds are entering higher education at a record rate, including 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds. I celebrate the fact that more people are going to university. It may not be the right option for everyone, but anyone who can benefit from it should be supported to go. Just last week I responded to a tweet by a mixed-race girl questioning whether going to Oxbridge will be right for her. Of course, I tweeted straight back saying “yes, go and make the most of a wonderful opportunity”!

Despite the evident progress that has been made, her hesitation shows there is still much more to be done to improve access to higher education. It is clearly not acceptable that, in this day and age, where you come from, or who you are, can still determine your life chances and likelihood of going to university. It is not acceptable that only 13% of white boys in receipt of Free School Meals go on to higher education. It is not acceptable that only 18% of pupils in the North East of England on Free School Meals go on to university. And it is not acceptable that only 28% of Black Caribbean boys in receipt of Free School Meals progress on to higher education, compared to 51% of Black African boys and 64% Chinese boys.

There is clearly still much work to be done. I want to see a world where the percentage of students with disabilities is more reflective of the percentage in wider society. I also want to see more people going to university from care backgrounds, from military households, and from other currently under-represented groups. These are just some of the “burning injustices” that the Prime Minister pledged to tackle when she assumed office. And now that I am Universities Minister, I am determined to help her break down these barriers relentlessly.

Given the extent of recent regulatory changes, I understand the prospect of increased government intervention may raise alarm bells in the sector. But let me reassure you today that, as a former academic myself, I fully appreciate the concept of institutional autonomy. And I believe so much of what is good about our universities today has come about because of the freedom they have been able to exercise.

But we must be honest with ourselves and face facts: this government invests substantially in higher education and has a responsibility to see that it works for everyone. We cannot just sit back on our hands and wait for more progress – especially when there is a clear and urgent need to equip people with the skills this country needs for the future.

With the UK’s departure from the European Union coming ever closer, all eyes are turning to creating a new vision for life in a post-Brexit Britain – a vision not just for jobs and our economy, but a vision for our future education, knowledge and skills. I want to reassure everyone in the sector today that I am committed to placing higher education right at the heart of this vision.

Determining this vision comes down to the question of what we want our post-18 education system to look like – not just by next year, but by the end of the next decade, by 2030. To make real progress, it is imperative we have a long-term plan.

Thanks to advancements in data collection and insights, we already have a very good picture of how far the sector has come. We have already published 10 years’ worth of Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data and, by 2030, we’ll have published 10 years more. Through data such as this, we are becoming ever richer, and an advanced analysis of this data is going to be crucial as we shape the sector going forward.

As Universities Minister, I recognise the power of LEO data to generate positive headlines and provide an important source of information for students who want to see how much they could earn after graduation. To improve students’ access to this information, as well as other open HE data, we are already running the Higher Education Open Data Competition, which supports the development of cutting-edge and innovative digital tools to help present this data to prospective students in an easily accessible and comprehensible way.

I also realise the LEO data could be developed further. So I am keen to engage with the sector to explore how to make the most of this data going forwards. For one, I want to look at ways of making this data more readily available to the academic research community to allow for more in-depth analysis. I also intend to set up a Data Advisory Committee to help me ensure, as Minister, that we are making the most of the opportunities thrown up by these rich new datasets and that they are being used in the best way possible – to ensure they are reaching those who could benefit from them; that they are being used in context; and that their insights and implications are being fully understood.

Having more data in higher education ultimately provides us with new and exciting opportunities. The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), which is leading the way in providing students with greater transparency and choice, is another example of positive change. We are now firmly in the throes of institutional TEF Year 4, as well as the first pilots of the subject-level TEF.

Although I appreciate the TEF has raised questions, no university should shy away from it. The independent review of the TEF, which launched earlier this month and is chaired by Dame Shirley Pearce, provides an important opportunity to take stock of the TEF from a constructively critical perspective. As part of the review, I am pleased to note that Dame Shirley has commissioned the Office for National Statistics to carry out an analysis of the statistical information used in TEF assessments and its suitability for generating TEF ratings. This review gives us the best chance to look at the TEF from all angles, and I hope that you will take the opportunity to make your views known to Dame Shirley over the consultation period ahead.

As much as I see the value of more data, I am also aware of concerns it has given rise to about the value for money of certain courses, disciplines and institutions. On this, I believe we need to take a step back and ask what exactly value for money means in the context of higher education. Successful outcomes for students and graduates are about much more than salary: if we are to define value purely in economic terms, based on salary levels or tax contributions, then we risk overlooking the vital contribution of degrees of social value, such as Nursing or Social Care, not to mention overlooking the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – the very disciplines that make our lives worth living.

How you define value for money depends heavily on how you envisage the kind of world you want to live in. For my part, a society without people to care for each other; to support each other; to teach the next generation; or to step in selflessly in times of crisis is a very sad society indeed. Equally, although I am officially Minister for Science, I take great pride in wanting to be Minister for the Arts and Humanities as well – disciplines which enrich our culture and society, and have an immeasurable impact on our health and wellbeing.

As we move forwards into the future, the last thing I want to see is value judgements emerging which falsely divide the Sciences and Engineering from the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. To do so would be a travesty. Our future success depends on all these disciplines being completely intertwined.

The government has already acknowledged this fact in our approach to the Industrial Strategy. As a joint Minister in BEIS, I am taking forwards work to alleviate the grand challenges, whose success depends not just on advancements in science, but on a recognition of the human condition. To achieve our ambitions, we don’t just need scientists and engineers, but a whole host of people with the human and cultural skills to make the science work.

Institutions like RADA are performing a key role in nurturing the creative talent this country needs. Just last week I met students enrolled on creative arts courses at Ravensbourne University and was struck by the power of their discipline to enhance other sectors and industries as well as fuel its own.

The UK is a global leader in the creative industries. The UK video games industry, which combines the best of advancements in science and the Arts, is the largest in Europe, contributing over £1.5 billion to the UK economy. It is no coincidence that over 60 universities in the UK are offering courses to feed this booming industry. Innovation doesn’t distinguish between creative skills and scientific knowledge; indeed it thrives on it. So, we should be doing all we can to ensure our higher education sector continues to provide the pipeline of creative talent our research and development needs.

This takes me on to my next point, which has to do with the breadth and depth of course provision. As knowledge progresses, so too does innovation. To be fit purpose in the future, it is vital the sector continues to develop not just the subjects people study, but the way in which they study them.

Just this week, Parliament approved regulations to enable more universities and colleges to offer accelerated degrees. These are identical to conventional degrees in every way but one: they can be completed one year sooner than the standard equivalent. Accelerated degrees allow students to save significantly on tuition and living costs, as well as save on time, as students can start or return to work a year earlier than their counterparts on standard three-year courses.

I realise accelerated degrees are not for everyone. But they certainly work for the students I met recently who are enrolled on two-year courses at both Middlesex University and St Mary’s University Twickenham. And they are just one way that the sector can expand its offerings for those who are looking for something different from their higher education experience.

Three-year, classroom-based degrees are not necessarily the norm, and they certainly won’t be the norm in the future, as we strive to enhance graduate employability and tailor degrees to the needs of the future workforce. The rise in popularity of Degree Apprenticeships is certainly showing us that we can break the traditional mould around higher education, by giving people a chance to earn while receiving first-class degree-level education. Having held a roundtable with students on Degree Apprenticeships at Manchester Metropolitan University last month, I have seen for myself how Degree Apprenticeships can provide high-quality routes into sustainable careers.

I know as well as you do that the work of our universities is not just about purely academic pursuits detached from the real world, and that being academic can also mean being technical and vocational. There is a strong track record of collaboration and joint working between universities and businesses in this country, and plenty institutions are now offering industry placements or sandwich years. Aston University, for one, has strong links to employers, and more than 70% of its students undertake a year in industry as part of their degrees.

Our modern universities are particularly well-placed to be supporting businesses in their local areas – producing 63% of all graduate start-ups and supporting almost 23,000 SMEs. These institutions are key to our economy and key to unlocking people’s potential, with their wide range of high-quality Level 4 and 5 qualifications. Technical qualifications like these are crucial to meeting the skills requirements of industry, as well as giving students the flexibility and portability of qualifications they need. I am keen that universities are supported to develop their technical education offerings, and I have been delighted at the way in which universities have engaged so extensively in the current competition to develop a network of new Institutes of Technology (IoTs), which are set to play a key role in delivering the higher technical training our country needs.

For too long, the university experience has been seen as something for the young. But I know not all undergraduates are under 20 and I have met many students over recent weeks returning to university later in their lives. As we head towards the future, we have an added imperative to ensure that higher education works for everyone and that mature students cannot just re-skill, but re-re-skill themselves at whatever point in their lives they choose to do so. We must never close the door on that dream.

In my vision for the sector, people should be free to embark on higher education at any time that is right for them. We should build bridges to make this happen. By 2030, I want us to have built a post-18 education system that gives people the flexibility they need – so that no-one who has quit higher education, for whatever reason or circumstance, has to feel they have dropped out with no routes back in later in their lives.

Building these bridges requires a ‘student-centred’ approach. This is why we should all be thinking about how to redouble our efforts to enhance participation in higher education to ensure all students have the best chance at staying the course.

Higher education providers plan to spend over £860m this year on access and participation activities across the sector. This is a significant amount of money that could make a real difference to people’s lives. I want to ensure this money is being used in the right way, in the areas that need it most – not just to raise aspirations to get people into higher education, but to ensure university works for them while they are there. To continue the positive efforts my predecessor started in this area, I am keen to host a roundtable with leaders across the access and participation space to understand how we can work together to make this happen.

The Office for Students (OfS) is also rightly taking the lead in this area, as well as in some of the big issues facing the sector at the moment, including grade inflation and the large rise in unconditional offer making. The high standing of UK higher education is in our gift. To preserve it, we must be guided by what is right for students. The OfS is guided by exactly that, and I encourage all of us to work with it as it makes sure the next generation of students can access higher education, participate and succeed.

As Minister for Science and Research as well as Universities, I recognise that universities are not ‘big schools’. With research and innovation functions, I understand that higher education institutions are complex ecosystems, which rely on the success of post-graduates as well as undergraduates. For that reason, I want to ensure that Masters and PhD students are not lost from the access and participation debate, and I urge you all to look at how we support our thriving post-graduate communities to enhance our future prosperity.

As part of the Industrial Strategy, the government has committed to achieving 2.4% investment in R&D by 2027. But this money is not going to make a difference without a strong talent base. That is why we need to be thinking now about how we can get more people staying on for PhDs in the future.

I understand the present climate may be one of unpredictability. But let us not forget, today, that we share a common goal and a common mission to create and maintain the best, most innovative and most flexible higher education sector in the world. Let us be guided in creating this vision by what is best for the common good – and ultimately what is best for individual students and our country.

So, I ask you now: by 2030, when we think about the higher education sector we want to see, will it still be appropriate to talk about academic education versus technical education; to talk about Science versus the Arts; or indeed to talk about FE versus HE? Will we still be thinking about undergraduates over postgraduates; about school-leavers over mature learners; and about those on traditional three-year degrees over other modes of study?

By 2030, I hope not. And I sincerely hope, that when it comes to creating the higher education sector of tomorrow, we will no longer be talking about parity of esteem but, instead, be driven in our mission by a unity of purpose.

Chris Skidmore – 2019 Speech on Making Science Work

Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Skidmore, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, on 25 January 2019.

Thank you for inviting me here to Culham today. On a chilly day, it’s a pleasure to visit what Ian Chapman tells me is hottest place in the solar system! And this isn’t the only superlative that Culham can claim. The Joint European Torus is one of the most impressive international scientific facilities not just in the UK, but perhaps in the world. It symbolises the application of world-leading research and engineering to tackle one of the world’s greatest challenges: the challenge of clean energy. At the same time, it’s providing the skills our country needs for the future, training both the next generation of nuclear researchers and apprentices for businesses across Oxfordshire and beyond. What could be a better place to give my first speech on science, research and innovation?

I feel very fortunate to be Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. Several of my predecessors have said they felt it was the best job in government. It has a special significance for me because I began my career as a historian: I profoundly believe in the importance of research. I recognise the joy, and the occasional frustrations, of the pursuit of knowledge. And I deeply respect the passion that drives people to dedicate their lives to it.

Science, research and innovation represent this country’s best hope for the future. From an economic point of view, scientific developments underpin prosperity and growth and help create rewarding, high-wage jobs in every part of the UK. From a societal point of view, they offer ways to tackle the grand challenges of the future. And crucially, they are valuable in their own right. Pushing the boundaries of knowledge, seeking to understand the universe, the human race, our past and our future – these are all things we should be proud to invest in.

I’m proud of Britain’s world-leading scientific and technological heritage. And of our wider strengths: the invaluable work done in the arts, humanities and social sciences; the ground-breaking interdisciplinary research that goes on in our universities; and the R&D done outside academia – in businesses, independent research institutes, charities and public labs.

Today, here at Culham, I will be visiting a remarkable firm called Reaction Engines that is designing a new type of engine called SABRE, which could revolutionise air and space travel and make it possible to fly from the UK to Australia in just four and a half hours. The development of the engine, which has had £60 million in backing from the UK Space Agency and £50 million from the private sector, is a clear example of the UK being at the forefront of technological and scientific discovery, and exemplifies the aims of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy.

There is no better backdrop to talk about my priorities and ambitions for science, research and innovation in the UK, and how we can work together to make it a reality.


I believe there are two overarching priorities for UK science and research in the year to come.

The first is the most urgent: ensuring, as the UK leaves the European Union, we have the right relationship with European research programmes and with the wider world of science and research.

The second may be less urgent, but it is no less important. How we chart a path to an economy that invests more in science, research and innovation, and puts R&D at the heart of our economy.

This second goal may seem to some to be a distraction from the issue of Brexit. But it is crucial to the future not only of science and research in the UK, but to our wider destiny as a country. And we would be unwise to put it off.

The decisions we take now, ahead of the Spending Review later in the year, will be crucial to our ability to invest more in R&D, and to crowd in investment from business and from overseas.

Today I’d like to talk about these two priorities in turn.

Brexit and the future of UK research

First, the urgent question that is on so many of our minds: the question of the UK’s place in the global research community as we prepare to leave the EU.

My thinking on this is guided by an old conservative principle: the idea of Chesterton’s Fence. It was 90 years ago that GK Chesterton came up with this warning to political reformers: never tear down a fence, he said, until you understand why it was there and what its purpose was. This is especially pertinent today as we inch towards Brexit.

With this in mind, I’ve been grateful to the researchers, universities and National Academies who have taken the time to speak to me and my officials about this, as well as to the participants in the High Level Group on Brexit set up by my Ministerial predecessors.

The message I’ve had is clear: participation in EU framework programmes is vital to UK researchers and innovative firms for a host of reasons.

The money is one: through our EU membership, the UK gains £1 billion of R&D funding each year. The fact we are so successful is a measure of our excellence. But I know it is not just about the money: Horizon 2020 connects our labs, universities and businesses to researchers across Europe. I also recognise the importance of the prestige of ERC grants or the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions.

I acknowledge the importance to Britain’s labs and universities of researchers and staff from overseas, including from the EU. Indeed, I want to express my gratitude to the tens of thousands of researchers, whether from elsewhere in Europe or the wider world, who have chosen to make the UK their home, and bring their talents to work here.

Leaving the EU with a deal remains our top priority and the PM has been clear that we want to have the option to associate to future EU programmes including Horizon Europe and the Euratom Research and Training Programme. But we are also preparing in the event of no-deal. The government’s underwrite guarantee will cover the payment of awards for all competitive bids to EU funding programmes submitted before Brexit. We’ve taken steps to ensure that this will work as smoothly as possible if it needs to, notably with the UKRI grant registration portal that was set up in September and which already has 5,000 registrations. I urge all researchers working on EU-funded projects to make sure their project is signed up.

I’ve heard loud and clear the message that leaving the EU presents unique challenges to science, research and innovation in the UK. So, I ask you and your fellow researchers and innovators to work with me to deliver a Brexit that works for your sector, and to help design the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU that builds on our scientific strengths and ingenuity.

At the same time, we continue to strengthen our relationships with researchers across the world. As I announced earlier this week, we are investing more than ever in partnerships with both the leading science and innovation nations and with the developing world. Joint projects which bring together the best with the best enable us to further our ambitions under the modern Industrial Strategy and to tackle the global challenges which affect the poorest and threaten the future prosperity and security of us all. To support such joint ventures, we will build upon our global strategic partnerships at government level, for example with the US, Canada, Israel and China – the latter of which I intend to visit in the coming months to progress our Joint Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy.

Making 2.4% target a reality

My other priority for the coming year is how we ensure a bright future for R&D in the UK. In particular, how we deliver the commitment this government has made to increase the amount the UK invests in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and 3% in the longer term.

Measuring R&D in percentages of GDP is perhaps not the most vivid way to capture the wonders of science, the power of technology, or the ingenuity of innovation. But the change it will make will be truly transformational. 2.4% of GDP may sound like a dry statistic: but if we can realise it, it will represent national renewal. Increasing our R&D investment to 2.4% is equivalent to around 3 new GlaxoSmithKlein and 4 new Rolls-Royces and 5 new Unilevers. This will help keep the UK’s economy competitive, and create good, meaningful jobs and prosperity across the country.

It will also help us make great strides to tackle the big societal challenges facing Britain and the world at large.

But reaching the 2.4% target must not be an end in itself. It is the opening of a new chapter for UK R&D and the cornerstone to building a great future based on the collective strength of science, engineering, technology, the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Just this week, we have seen an extraordinary project announced by the University of Strathclyde with the potential to help patients suffering from osteoporosis. Experts will use technology originally used to help measure the collisions of black holes in space to vibrate stem cells in people’s bones to turn them into new bone. This is an example of government funded, interdisciplinary research having real world benefits to help people living, longer, healthier lives.

On Tuesday, we also announced 28 new international research projects, backed by £279 million of government funding. Many of these projects are led by experts in UK universities and tackle global challenges, from reducing the impact of oceans pollution, to controlling the spread of infectious diseases.

The work of the UK Atomic Energy Authority here at Culham is a great example of what we want to achieve. World class science, tackling a big global challenge, deeply embedded in the real world and in its community. I’m especially glad that the government has committed to double down on our ambition when it comes to nuclear fusion, committing £20 million to begin development of a new UK based Nuclear Fusion reactor, STEP the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, paving the way to practical, energy-producing fusion power.

The UK already leads the world in innovative, compact fusion devices; the Duke of Cambridge turned on the UK’s upgraded fusion test reactor, the Mega-Amp Spherical Tokamak, just last October. The work of UKAEA here at Culham will help make British fusion power a reality – this kind of national endeavour is a great example of the vision we need to pursue to deliver the 2.4% R&D target.

In the coming months, we will be developing and publishing our roadmap on how to reach the goal of investing 2.4% of GDP in R&D. We have already shown that we are serious: the £7 billion of additional funding we have announced in recent years represents the biggest increase in public R,D&I funding for four decades.

I want us to go even further. Making the 2.4% target a reality will be a top priority for me in the coming year, as we manage our departure from the EU and agree the terms of the Spending Review that will dictate public investment over the coming years.

A few principles will guide my thinking here.

The first is the right public investment. While it is too early to pre-judge the results of the Spending Review, analysis by both my own officials and by others, including the National Academies, shows that meeting 2.4% of GDP will require significant increases in public investments in R&D across the UK.

OECD statistics show that the UK’s mix of public to private R&D is relatively strong: for every pound of public R&D we fund, the private sector funds around £2.60. This compares favourably with many other rich countries: it is slightly more than Germany and Finland, and quite a bit more than Canada, France or the Netherlands, but somewhat behind that in the USA or Switzerland.

An important takeaway from this is that even if the ratio of private to public contribution were to increase to that of the US or Switzerland, but public investment kept at the same level as a proportion of GDP, we would still be some way from meeting the 2.4% target. This means that to meet the target, an increase in public investment will almost certainly be required. This is the case I will be making to the Treasury, and I’d call on everyone who cares about the health of research and innovation in the UK to work with me to do so.

Yet, it is also clear from the statistics that the public sector cannot meet the target on its own. Innovation and R&D happen in an ecosystem, where government, academia, businesses, and other institutions all have complementary roles to play.

We will only meet the target if businesses and charities also increase their investment in innovation. That’s why we have been working and will continue to work with businesses to identify what policies will help them commit to investing in R&D across the UK in the decade to come. This is also why we have developed new funding streams to back important and impactful work, including the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the Strategic Priorities Fund, which support research with the potential to transform the economy and the world.

The willingness to invest in innovation will also be determined by the quality of our institutions, the relationships between them and the way we approach the culture that underpins them.

For example, how we can ensure greater access to research careers. How we can ensure the UK’s research community leads the world on research integrity. How we will make sure we adopt digital technologies to do better research. How we will assess and manage research effectively. And how we can build the right links between the worlds of research and practice, and between science and industry.

In this respect, the establishment of UK Research and Innovation, planned and launched by two of my predecessors, will be vital.

UKRI are in a position to use analysis and the wealth of data they possess to work with researchers, businesses and policy makers to understand where our research and innovation strengths are, how our interventions are enabling the growth of high-tech businesses, and how we are delivering against our four Grand Challenges.

UKRI also has the potential to tackle the cross-cutting issues that will determine the health of the UK research and innovation system in the years to come.

One of these is research integrity. If we are relying on research to boost our economy and tackle societal challenges, we need to know the system is working. Research that is not replicable or that fails to meet ethical standards is not just bad in itself: it is a waste of resources that could have contributed to the common good.

Similarly, we need to ask ourselves whether we are making the most of our talent. Recent economic research has documented the phenomenon of “Lost Einsteins” – people who could have been researchers or inventors but who seem, by reason of background, to have missed out on the opportunity. We also hear accounts of those driven out of promising research careers by harassment or bullying. These issues matter both for their own sake – as they are the kind of “burning injustices” this government has set out to tackle – and because tackling them will make for better science and research, from which society at large will benefit.

Finally, UKRI should work toward making sure the benefits of research and innovation are felt widely across the country and across society. This is partly a matter of involving the public effectively in the processes by which decisions about science and research are made. In an age when technologies from AI to robotics are raising big social questions, public engagement is important both from an ethical point of view and from a democratic one.

It also has a bearing on where UKRI makes investments. Historically, public research funding has been concentrated in particular places, notably the Golden Triangle between Oxford, Cambridge and London. It is right that we fund excellence and support successful clusters. But we need to make sure we recognise the potential of other areas and the case for investing in them. That’s why we recently launched the first round of the Strength In Places Fund, to back excellence broadly across the UK.

Another necessary complement to a strategic UKRI is the diversity of funding at the institutional level, including the charitable sector. With this in mind, I recognise the great value of Quality Related (QR) funding, and the role it plays in both building research capability across the disciplines and in providing additional sources of intelligence in our funding system.

I will be working closely with UKRI to make the most of their potential – and aiming to make sure they become recognised as one of the world’s great funders of research and innovation, and a lynchpin in a successful knowledge ecosystem.

So, I’d like to finish with an appeal to anyone dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.

We have the opportunity to make a step-change to the world of science, research and innovation in the UK – with more investment, better training, and a renewed focus on changing the world. To do that, we need to work together, both to make the case for investment, and to make sure that investment has the greatest possible effect. The next few months may be a time of political uncertainty. But if we work together, the best days for research and innovation in the UK could well be ahead of us.

Chris Skidmore – 2017 Speech on National Democracy Week

Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Skidmore, the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, on 15 September 2017.

Thank you all for coming today.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the International Day of Democracy by the United Nations General Assembly.

In November 2007, the Assembly resolved that the 15th of September should be marked as an International Day of Democracy, with all member states invited to commemorate the day in an appropriate manner that contributes to raising public awareness of democracy.

I thought it would be fitting for us to meet here today, not only to share with each other what progress has been made over the past year in promoting democratic engagement and participation across the United Kingdom, but to recognise that the promotion of the importance of democracy cannot be achieved by government alone.

Indeed, the resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly in November 2007, noted that there was a ‘central role’ for the ‘active involvement of civil society organisations’ in celebrating and promoting democracy, equality and freedom.

I recognise too the crucial role that you and your organisations here today play in creating what should be termed as our Democratic Society.

Which is why I have invited Women’s Aid and Mencap to share their experience of working with Government to ensure all voices can be heard. I am very pleased that Sian Hawkins from Women’s Aid and Matthew Harrison and Ismail Kaji from Mencap are able to join us today to discuss the progress we have made on the anonymous registration process and the steps we are taking to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.


Women’s Aid – anonymous registration
Mencap – call for evidence on accessibility to elections

Thank you both, your work is not only valued— it is vitally important that we should continue to work together in partnership, as we continue our pursuit of increased democratic participation. We all know that this work cannot stand still.

It does not begin or end in the run up to and at the end of an electoral cycle. It must be sustained and be seen to be sustainable, if we are to ensure that as a society, our democratic processes are to be safeguarded and confidence in our democracy renewed.

Since I was appointed the Minister for the Constitution over a year ago, I have had the opportunity of not only meeting many of you personally, either at the many ministerial roundtables that I have held in the Cabinet Office, or on my Every Voice Matters tour that has taken me across every region and devolved nation; I have also had the privilege of working with you in our common and shared goal.

That endeavour, simply expressed, has been to ensure that, regardless of background, gender, disability or race, we all want the maximum number of citizens who are eligible to vote, to register to do so and to have their say at the ballot box.

And I have been grateful to charities and civil society organisations such as Bite the Ballot, Patchwork Foundation, the Citizenship Foundation, Voices 4 Change here today – to name but a few, who have not only given their time and effort to attend the several roundtable discussions that I have held in the Cabinet Office, helping to shape our plans for what more can be done to improve and increase democratic engagement, but have also worked hard to demonstrate what can be done, and what new approaches can be taken, to reach out to those groups in society who are under-registered, and do not participate in our elections.

All of you have done so much to give a voice to the voiceless; your passion and energy for what you do and have achieved has been clearly evident to me, and I hope that we continue to work together in our shared activity of ensuring that we have a democracy that works for everyone.

Next year, we will celebrate the centenary of women getting the right to vote, with the passing of the Representation of the People Act on 6 February 1918.

Not an equal right to vote— importantly, that would only come ten years later, when in July 1928, the Equal Franchise Act was passed. Even so, this milestone in our democratic history increased the proportion of adults qualified to vote from 28% to 78% and opened the door to the modern democratic age.

Whilst we can talk of our democratic system being one of the oldest in the world, revere our institution of Parliament and traditions of freedom enshrined in documents such as Magna Carta, the fact that we will be celebrating the fact that the equal franchise was created only 90 years ago, highlights that our modern democracy is in fact a very new one.

The Government has already confirmed that it intends to mark the Suffrage Centenary with the significant investment of £5 million, announced by the Chancellor at the last budget. Cabinet Office are proud to be collaborating with the Government Equalities Office who are leading on this work, and I know that further announcements will be made in due course on how the government intends to both commemorate and celebrate the achievement of women getting the right to vote.

It is an achievement we must never forget, for their struggle against the burning injustice of their situation demonstrates how fortunate we are in a modern democracy to live with the democratic freedoms that are ours today. Many in the world still do not, and it is right that the International Day of Democracy today gives all democracies in the world the opportunity to reflect upon the importance of our values, often taken for granted.

For myself, the legacy of the past, of the achievements of those women who fought tirelessly for the vote and to have their say, must also be reflected in our commitment to the future.

A commitment to future generations, to ensure that the importance of the vote and each individual voice is never eroded; a commitment to those vulnerable groups and people who find that there are still barriers that prevent them from participating in our democracy; and a commitment to ensuring that as a democratic society, though we recognise our differences are part of a healthy democracy, that should not prevent us from coming together to promote a democracy where every voice matters.

That is why I am delighted that you have been able to join me as I announce today that next year, in the 90th anniversary year of the establishment of the Equal Franchise, the Government intends to establish a new National Democracy Week.

I aim to establish this as an annual event of national significance, with the inaugural week taking place from 2-6 July 2018, in commemoration of the passing of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act on 2 July. In its first year National Democracy Week will complement the Suffrage Centenary Programme, expanding on the themes of inclusion and representation that underpinned women’s struggle for their right to vote.

My ambition is for National Democracy Week to increase the number of people who understand and take part in our democratic process. This includes those who feel excluded from the democratic debate, face barriers to participation and are less likely to be registered to vote.

Many of our partners have told us a focused week of activity is needed to help amplify their messages and build on the momentum of democratic participation in our most recent electoral events.

There will be many opportunities for organisations from all sectors to take part and I am confident that the creativity, enthusiasm and experience of our partners will be vital in helping achieve our shared objective of a democracy that works for everyone. That is why I believe that stakeholders should have a key role in National Democracy Week and we will announce in due course our plans for formal involvement.

In the meantime I welcome your ideas for making National Democracy Week 2018 a success and look forward to discussing these with you. We can make a start today: please take a moment if you can to share your first thoughts using the board behind you.

As we plan ahead, I hope to obtain cross party support for National Democracy Week. I have spoken with the shadow spokesperson on voter engagement, who is happy to support the event in principle, while I am also delighted that the Speaker for the House of Commons has also given his backing. I hope that all MPs, indeed all elected representatives, regardless of their political party, will feel able to get involved in National Democracy Week, and I will be actively encouraging them to do so.

It is vital that we recognise that when it comes to or democracy and increasing democratic participation, while we as politicians and political parties may disagree on details of policy, we do, in the words of Jo Cox, have more in common than that which divides us. It is in the spirit of those words that I hope everyone who is part of our Democratic Society, regardless of their political allegiance, will embrace National Democracy Week.

Thank you.