Dr Wendy Piatt
Director General of the Russell Group
The economic outlook for the UK is uncertain and we worry about further belt-tightening in key areas of government investment


Dr Wendy Piatt

The UK’s leading universities are envied across the world and key to the country’s prosperity.

We provide an outstanding education for students which is enhanced by first-rate facilities and delivered by world-class academics. The research that these academics conduct is pioneering, helping to cure diseases, improve our society and drive innovation.

Russell Group universities are proud to challenge students, instilling the independence and rigour of thought that is vital to producing graduates of the highest standard – which means they are in high demand by employers. However, we are far from complacent, continuing to invest millions improving teaching and learning, while ensuring our doors are wide open to talented students from all backgrounds.

Huge progress has already been made with increasing numbers of disadvantaged students coming through our doors but we will continue investing heavily to ensure those with the right grades in the right subjects know a place is well within reach.

The combination of teaching, research and innovation excellence in our universities creates the ideal learning environment to produce work-ready students. That mission will remain unchanged but institutions are now being challenged to do more.

We will soon have more detail about the Teaching Excellence Framework which must reflect the huge amount of time, effort and resources devoted to improving the student experience at our universities. The new system must also assess teaching quality fairly and accurately without adding to the regulatory burden.

This year’s review reflects upon an uncertain time for universities. Innumerable policy announcements and reviews will significantly reshape the sector, not least the Higher Education and Research Bill, which introduces the Office for Students and UK Research and Innovation.

Overshadowing all this is the decision to leave the European Union which may have a profound effect on universities as well as wider society. Our institutions have long thrived on global collaboration, leading networks of the best researchers across Europe tackling big social and scientific challenges.

The prospect of leaving the EU opens up many questions about how this will continue. What are the long-term prospects for free movement of people, particularly the talented staff and students at our universities? How can we continue to maximise access to research funding, infrastructures and collaboration opportunities?

The economic outlook for the UK is uncertain and we worry about further belt-tightening in key areas of government investment. A long-term commitment to science, research and innovation, focused on excellence, will pay dividends in providing stability for the future and real economic and social impact. We will work with the Government to ensure the best possible outcome for our universities, staff and students in forthcoming negotiations but we must continue to emphasise that we remain just as open and welcoming as we were before the referendum. In terms of our global outlook, nothing has changed.

Despite these challenges we are determined to remain at the forefront of global higher education, punching above our weight and maintaining our edge in an increasingly competitive world.