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Vision 2021-26 Strategy and organisational change

As we approach our 200th year, we have developed and published Vision 2021-26, a bold and ambitious new strategy.

Birkbeck campus

We are immensely proud of our heritage. In our near 200-year history of providing education to all for whom it may be of benefit and our record in leading world-class research, we have enriched and sustained the lives of many. We are planning to do so for many years to come.

As we approach our 200th year, we have developed and published Vision 2021-26, a bold and ambitious new strategy which enables us to move forward successfully into our third century. We are adapting to changes in what students want to study and the ways in which they want to study post-Covid. We are broadening our student base in response to the tail off in demand from EU students following Brexit.

We believe our students deserve the best learning experience and we are investing in developing our courses, providing better online provision, and improved central London learning facilities to achieve this. We are also currently consulting on organisational change elements of this strategy, which will restructure and reshape our academic units and processes, and the administrative support in these.

Vision 2021-26 commits us to maintaining our academic breadth whilst continuing to provide education that is accessible to all, alongside conducting world-class research.

Whereas some academic institutions have closed entire departments in subjects where there is declining demand from students, Birkbeck has not chosen to do this. We have proposed maintaining and reinvigorating subjects by bringing small academic units together to create new larger faculties and departments with greater synergies across teaching and research. These will also ensure there is more parity in the staff to student ratio in the subjects we teach.

As a small institution with limited reserves that has run planned deficits to support future planning in a number of recent years, it is important we act now so our deficit does not make us unviable.

Vision 2021-26 was developed following extensive consultation and aims to develop our educational offer, extend the reach and impact of our research, and increase our income in a challenging environment.

What are these challenges?

Successive governments have overlooked the provision of support for lifelong learning, despite the important role it plays in enabling mature students to upskill and reskill. This government has committed to launching a Lifelong Loan Entitlement, which Birkbeck has welcomed. We would like to see the Loan introduced before the proposed date of 2025 to enable people currently seeking to improve their employment prospects to benefit from it.

Mature students tend to have more financial commitments than younger students, making the decision to study even harder with the cost of living rising. They benefit from shorter, more affordable bite size or part-time courses which allow them to work whilst they study. However, successive governments have neglected the importance of supporting these. It is important that the Lifelong Loan Entitlement addresses this. The level of fees for those taking a loan should make provision both viable and affordable; the level of maintenance loans for part-time students should be adjusted to keep pace with inflation; and qualifications should be truly portable between institutions. We also want to see the Equivalent or lower qualification (ELQ) rule, which prevents students from obtaining a loan to cover tuition fees for a course that is at the same level or lower than their current qualifications, removed.

Whilst the cost of providing university education has increased significantly in recent years, universities have only been able to increase their income from undergraduate tuition fees by increasing their intake because the tuition fee has been fixed since 2012, during which time its value has halved in real terms. The pressure this has caused has been compounded by the removal of the student number controls which capped the number of students universities were allowed to recruit. Removing these has enabled some to increase recruitment exponentially, leaving a far smaller pool for others.

The cost of delivering part-time teaching is comparatively higher than full-time because we need to meet the needs of more students at any one time. Part-time students also tend to need more and better support than full-time students. Universities have historically received an additional grant for part-time provision which has eroded over time in real terms. It is vital this grant is increased, if part-time provision, which particularly benefits lifelong learners, is to thrive.

Teaching in London costs comparatively more than in many other parts of the country. London universities used to receive an additional sum in recognition for this additional cost which has now been removed. We would like consideration to be given to providing additional support for delivering higher education in the capital to address this.

As Birkbeck approaches its 200th anniversary, it has published plans to address the challenges it faces and meet the changing needs of the communities it serves. It is innovating in the ways in which it delivers and organises its teaching and supports academics to stimulate research. Whilst increased recognition of the importance of lifelong learning for the economy in the form of additional support would help with this journey, the Vision 2021-26 Strategy and organisational change proposals aim to put us on a stable footing in which to thrive into our third century.

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