Ben Dean-Titterrell gives us a rundown of the debate Parliament held on Essex University last week.
Last Thursday the House of Commons held a debate on the University of Essex, and MPs from across the country were present to hear our Uni spoken about in Parliament. The debate was secured by Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex, whose constituency contains the University’s Colchester campus, and granted by the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, who this year became Essex’s Chancellor.
Mr Jenkin spoke first in the debate and gave a long and wide-ranging speech that touched on many issues. There were three interventions from other MPs before Minister for State for Education Anne Milton gave a reply to Mr Jenkin’s speech. He opened by expressing gratitude for the Speaker’s presence at the debate: “I am grateful to you for granting me this debate, Mr Speaker, and it is a pleasure that you should be in the Chair, given that you are also the chancellor of the University of Essex.”
He talked firstly about how Brexit will bring challenges as well as opportunities for UK universities: “As the UK prepares to leave the EU, universities, including the University of Essex, are facing much uncertainty: what access will there be for EU students and academics after the UK leaves the EU? What fees will EU students be liable to pay? Will EU students still have access to the UK student loans system? Will the UK continue to participate in EU research programmes such as Horizon 2020?”
“By levelling the playing field between EU and non-EU students and academics, universities will be better able to compete with all our international rivals — the big US universities and the emerging universities of Asia, as well as the European universities.”
Moving on to the University of Essex specifically he said “Since I was first elected for Colchester, North in 1992, I have had the privilege of representing the University of Essex in Parliament. We have a close relationship, and I am a member of the court of the University. Over the years, I have witnessed how much the University of Essex has contributed to academia, the local economy and the wider community. It continues from strength to strength.”
“Over the years, I have witnessed how much the University of Essex has contributed to academia, the local economy and the wider community. It continues from strength to strength.”
“I make no apology for using this opportunity to set out the University’s progress and achievements”, he stressed. “In June, Essex was awarded ‘gold’ in the teaching excellence framework. Essex was also ranked in the top 15 in England for student satisfaction for the fifth year running in the national student survey, and 22nd in ‘The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018’. Furthermore, Essex was ranked in the UK’s top 20 universities for research excellence in the last research excellence framework.”
Mr Jenkin made a point of how many new students Essex has been taking over recent years: “This is proving to be a record year for recruitment at the University of Essex, with close to 6,000 students starting undergraduate or postgraduate courses this autumn. The University has seen unprecedented levels of interest in student places, with more than 20,000 applications for 4,400 undergraduate student places this year.”
At this point in the debate Will Quince, MP for Colchester, made a short contribution: “Does he agree that the University plays a huge social, cultural and economic role in Colchester’s prosperity? We are incredibly proud to have the University linked so strongly to our town.” To which Bernard Jenkin replied “I certainly agree with my Honourable. Friend. He will be as acutely aware as I am of what a big role the University plays in the civic life of Colchester and the surrounding area.”
During the rest of his speech Mr Jenkin gave many praises including how Essex’s Government Department are ranked number one in the UK for research, how the University was helping Essex County Council make policy decisions, and a tribute to the late Anthony King of whom he said “I would also like to pay tribute to the late Anthony King, who, in 1968, became reader in government at the University of Essex, which gave him the opportunity to shape the department, which now enjoys such a renowned reputation.”
He also raised a couple of policy issues that he hoped the Minister could reply to. He urged the Government to ensure boundaries are not placed on international students coming to Essex after Brexit: “As the UK regains control of its borders following Brexit, I urge the Government to ensure that barriers are not put in the way of universities such as Essex, one of the UK’s great export success stories, continuing to attract talented students and staff from around the globe.”
He also mentioned his hope that UK taxpayers will not have to take the burden of EU students’ loans due to their higher default rate: “It is hard for the Student Loans Company to pursue loans being repaid from abroad. These losses should not fall on the British taxpayer, nor should British students have to pay higher interest rates as a consequence.” In closing his speech Mr Jenkin mentioned his admiration for Essex being the first university in the country to undertake a gender pay gap review and for remaining neutral on the EU referendum last June.
“I make no apology for using this opportunity to set out the University’s progress and achievements. In June, Essex was awarded ‘gold’ in the teaching excellence framework.”
In her reply to Mr Jenkin’s speech, Anne Milton said “We have a world-class higher education system, and the Government are obviously committed to ensuring that that success continues.”
She stated that Essex was “without doubt, an example to other universities” and that its focus on student satisfaction exemplified Government policy placing the issue as paramount. On Mr Jenkin’s questions about EU student fees, she said that guarantees on student finance for EU citizens starting in 2018/19 “will remain as before”. She also expressed joy that Essex had carried out a gender pay investigation: “And there we have it — the University of Essex is a beacon on this subject. This work is really important, because if we do not get it right, we will miss out on the talent and skills of women who can contribute and make sure this excellence continues.”
She closed by saying how sure she was that all the Members who had spoken in the debate would “continue to sing the University’s praises and make sure, as we progress towards Brexit, that all the concerns of such universities are fully reflected in the Government’s response to our leaving the EU.”
As he rose to call an end to the day’s proceedings in the House, Mr Bercow first said a few words about the University of Essex and the debate which had just taken place: “The expressions of commendation and support that have flowed over the last 25 minutes for the University of Essex will be deeply appreciated by everyone at the University and, for that matter, by the occupant of the Chair.” He added “I can also safely say without fear of contradiction that the University has earned every word of that commendation and support.”
You can read the entire debate on the House of Commons record or watch it on the official Parliament TV website.