Birkbeck students help shape the future of higher education with visit from Sir Michael Barber

Sir Michael Barber, who will lead the new regulating body for higher education from April 2018, met with Birkbeck students to discuss their hopes for the future of the sector.

Sir Michael Barber met Birkbeck students this week to discuss how best to shape the future of higher education, ahead of taking up a new role as Chair of the Office for Students (OfS) from April 2018.

Sir Michael visited the College to meet Master of Birkbeck David Latchman and to hold a roundtable discussion with a group of 10 students to discuss the challenges facing the sector and hear their personal stories of coming to study. The diverse group included international and home students, as well as mature learners, with studies such as law, contemporary literature, mathematics and linguistics.

A leading authority on education systems and reform, Sir Michael asked students to share their experiences and welcomed questions on topics ranging from Brexit to the culture of marketing university courses for employability purposes. He said he found the Birkbeck students an inspiring, diverse group full of enthusiasm for learning and that his focus was firmly set on hearing the voices of students across the sector.

Sir Michael added: “The OfS doesn’t want to impose a model of how the higher education system should be – we want to produce an environment in which institutions create their own future, with the freedom and capacity to make a difference themselves.”

Birkbeck’s outreach and widening participation efforts were also highlighted in the meeting, with Widening Access Manager Sahar Erfani providing an overview of the college’s work to provide opportunities to students who are typically under-represented at university.

Sahar told Sir Michael that Birkbeck prides itself on raising attainment: “We have long established partnerships with further education colleges across London. They are critical in delivering learning to students who are taking non-traditional qualifications and routes into university. Birkbeck identifies and works with students who would benefit from academic study skills workshops to ensure they’re ready for the next step.

“We’re also unique in the way we raise the aspirations of not only young people but their parents or carers as well. When prospective mature learners realise that everything university life has to offer an 18-year-old is available to them as well, the looks on their faces are priceless.”

Professor Latchman briefed Sir Michael on a range of issues including Birkbeck’s three-year degrees, its outreach work in Stratford and Tottenham and the new Teaching Excellence Framework. Sir Michael was particularly interested in Birkbeck’s long history of teaching working adults and giving second-chance opportunities to those who need them.

Once fully operational in April 2018, the OfS will replace the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). The board aims to recruit a student representative, who will have a crucial role in bringing a student perspective to the table. 

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