IHE Annual Conference Roundup

IHE Annual Conference Roundup

14 October 2021

We were delighted to welcome our members and sector representatives for our annual conference – returning in person with a fantastic turn out and a far-reaching policy discussion.

The leading market research company Britain Thinks got us off to a great start by taking attendees through recent changes and trends in public opinion – including attitudes to education, COVID, jobs and the record of the Government. Britain Thinks focused on the highly changeable public mood; how societal divisions have grown; and the lack of confidence in political leadership.

Whilst offering a sober start to the day, highlighting many negative issues and economic threats facing the UK, the presentation also demonstrated where higher education can act as a positive force and offer solutions and answers to public anxiety about the future.

Jonathan Simons, Partner from the influential consultancy Public First, set out how he sees the current debate around higher education – in all its forms. He believed that the Lifelong Loan Entitlement offered an opportunity for the sector to build a genuinely tertiary system – where independent providers could prosper and perhaps even grow and develop in size, shape and form.

Many of his opening remarks were echoed by other speakers, including Tom Richmond from the EDSK think tank, who emphasised what became one of the key themes of the conference – partnership and collaboration (perhaps at both the local level and in the digital space) to create pathways for students. Sharon Watson, CEO of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, supported these ideas but suggested we needed to be more ambitious about what these pathways could look like – they do not have to be ‘linear’.

The Ministerial speech from Alex Burghart MP, followed on from the debate by restating the Government’s ambitions for the ‘wholesale reform’ of the higher education (and skills) sector, as well as doubling down on the need for local work and close ties between education and employers – a theme picked up on in a later conference session on industry collaboration and community engagement with the National Centre for Universities and Business. The Minister thanked IHE for its constructive engagement with the Department during the pandemic and we look forward to working with him on skills, lifelong learning and the post-16 bill. See Nick Hillman’s recent blog for a very positive take on the Minister.

You can view the Minister’s speech here.

‘Fierce’ regulation…

Susan Lapworth, Director of Regulation, set out the OfS’ current consultation on quality and standards and reminded attendees that they are a principles-based regulator, but that enforcement remains a key area of focus for the OfS. See Wonkhe’s write up of the conference for a further discussion of this – “Susan fierce” – as well as the ‘prioritisation’ process the OfS is developing. Members can see our recent response to the standards review here.

Wider themes and discussions from the day

The conference marked the publication of IHE’s new Code of Governance, as well as the OfS funded ‘Many Hands’ mental health platform – two significant and collaborative highlights from 2021.

A key session at the conference was the ‘Building a Sponsorship system fit for the future of work and study’ which included contributions from senior officials at the Home Office on setting out the roadmap for these reforms and improvements. The discussion reminded us of the cross-departmental footprint of the IHE membership, and the need to continue to build a strategic relationship with the whole of government.

We held a great session with our sponsor Ellucian on how small providers can manage regulatory requirements whilst also delivering on student experience, and other sessions included data; recruitment; as well as an excellent contribution from the Quality Assurance Agency on academic integrity and the threat of essay mills.


We were delighted to be joined by Rupert Daniels, Director at the Department for International Trade, who outlined the importance of UK education exports. Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, spoke to the data disparity between education exports and other key export markets, and the importance of working collaboratively across the sector to make progress in strengthening data collection, analysis and the evidence base for the sector, not least given the determining role of the Treasury in funding higher education.

The recent update of the International Education Strategy that was released in March 2021 was also discussed and the panel agreed the crucial importance of the whole sector continuing to keep our feet down on the delivery pedal – a shared enterprise given the diversity of education exports.

The IHE Strategy

Our chief executive, Alex Proudfoot, concluded the conference by setting out the newly published IHE Strategy (2021-24) – focused on leadership, innovation, staff development, expanding international markets, as well as shared services and collaboration. The Strategy was developed in partnership with our membership and we look forward to working with you all on delivering its objectives and living its values over the coming months. You can read the new IHE Strategy here.

Thank you to all our sponsors and members for attending. It was great to see you all after a difficult year but one where IHE and its membership continued to move forward and contribute to the sector and its students.

A gallery of event photos is here.

  • On 19th October 2021