Implications of the HE White paper

Date: 21 May, 2003
Location: School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London
Event type: Seminar

Programme | Event report

Past event summary

The Subject Centre held an event focussing on policy and strategy issues. This replaced the planned Languages marketing event. Topics for discussion included the government's HE White Paper, the National Languages Strategy and the recent Nuffield document, A new landscape for languages.

The focus of this Subject Centre event was the government’s HE White Paper, ‘The Future of Higher Education’, and related issues in the field of languages.

The morning session foucused on the White Paper. It comprised of presentations by representatives from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN), followed by an open discussion chaired by Professor Michael Kelly, director of the Subject Centre. Read the white paper on line at:

The afternoon was devoted to languages and strategy in HE. Hilary Footitt, chair of the UCML, foucused on the National Languages Strategy and Professor Richard Towell (University of Salford) lead discussions on links between pedagogical research and university teaching and learning. Michael Kelly presented the findings of ‘A New Landscape for Languages’, a recent study conducted for the Nuffield Foundation. Professor David Robey (University of Reading) continued with an overview of the Collaboration Programme in Modern Languages in Higher Education.


10.00 - 10.30 Registration and coffee
10.30 - 11.00 White Paper: HEFCE overview John Selby
11.00 - 11.30 White Paper: LTSN response Cliff Allen
11.30 - 12.00 White Paper: Open discussion Michael Kelly to chair
12.00 - 12.45 lunch
12.45 - 13.30 National Languages Strategy Hilary Footitt
13.30 - 14.15 Linking research and teaching Richard Towell
14.15 - 14.30 break
14.30 - 15.15 'New Landscape for Languages' Michael Kelly
15.15 - 16.00 Collaboration Programme David Robey

Event report

By Diana Jones and John Canning

The morning session featured two informative presentations focussing on the Higher Education White Paper and its implications for the LTSN. These were followed by a lively discussion, chaired by Michael Kelly, the Subject Centre Director

John Selby, HEFCE Regional Consultant for the West Midlands

John Selby started his presentation by acknowledging that many present would find some of the policy directions uncomfortable. However the financial settlement has been very generous by recent standards and it is important not to become over concerned with the detail as this could lead to a decrease in support for HE from the wider community. The concern for research excellence and HE in Business at the start of the White Paper demonstrates the inclination of the paper. Funding allocated for teaching and learning in HEIs is very focused and most of the additional money is not available to be used to increase staff salaries. The Languages, Linguistic and Area Studies communities will need to aim for a more diverse student body. The narrow social diversity of language students is second only to medicine. Our subject communities will also need to diversity provision by developing Foundation Degrees and e-learning, as well as increasing provision for mixed mode and part-time modes of study.

Cliff Allan, programmes director of the LTSN

Cliff Allan’s presentation outlined the LTSN response to the White Paper. He estimated that 80% of academics had had some contact with the Subject Centres and 50% said that the Subject Centres had impacted on what they had done. It is important to note that whilst the LTSN is a UK-wide organisation, the White Paper only covers England so it important that LTSN is not driven entirely by the English agenda. One of the key proposals of the White Paper is to increase the diversity of HEIs. Whilst rewarding teaching and teaching is to be welcomed, the proposals for identifying centres of teaching excellence in HEIs have caused uncertainty and concern. There is insufficient evidence to suggest that ‘beacons’ would actually work in higher education. Moreover, identifying excellence in one part of the Higher Education sector does not mean an increase in excellence across the whole sector.

The proposed “Academy for Higher Education” (the name has yet to be confirmed) will converge the strengths of existing agencies including HESDA, ILTHE and LTSN. In conclusion Cliff Allan said there was now a great opportunity for the academic community. It will be up to practitioners to shape the work of the Academy and it is hoped that academics will be able to influence both policy and its subsequent implementation in the future.


Michael Kelly began the discussion by asking how HEIs could increase collaboration with other sectors when their core educational business is not being funded further. Would the new initiatives take funding away from the core business of HEIs? The speakers noted that some institutions already regarded some of these things as the core business – for example some institutions currently regard reaching out to their local communities as their mission.

Other delegates expressed concerns about the difficulties of funding staff development in an environment which relies heavily on hourly-paid and temporary staff as well as in some cases an actual lack of physical space. John Selby noted that institutions distribute their HEFCE funding and that departments needed to fight for resources within their own institutions, although he did acknowledge that public money in Higher Education was insufficient. Whilst understanding these concerns, Mike Kelly said that the Subject Centre was not a lobbying organisation, but that these concerns could be relayed through UCML (University Council for Modern Languages) and AUCL (Association of University Language Centres). One delegate expressed the view that a PhD was inappropriate training for teaching in a university and that a PhD course should include teacher training. The morning session ended on the positive note that both the presence of HEFCE at the event and an improvement in the quality of the dialogue with HEFCE was an enormous encouragement.

Following lunch, delegates turned their attention to matters of Higher Education policy more specifically aimed towards Languages and Related Studies.

Hilary Footitt, Chair of UCML

Hilary Footitt adopted the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle to talk through the National Languages Strategy. Challenging the use of terms such as ‘National’ and ‘Strategy’ from the outset, she suggested that the document be seen as a work in progress, within which useful elements might already be identified. The sky, or long-term aspiration of the strategy, has already been filled in, but the picture still contains many gaps.

The issue of funding was identified as key, although the strategy itself gives little indication of the financial resources it implies. The speaker argued that the strategic importance of languages must be recognised, along with the particular difficulties and challenges of teaching them. A national architecture for delivering the strategy is also lacking. While the proposed primary entitlement may be delivered locally through school clusters, a more comprehensive plan is required by the other sectors.

Work done on graduate employability and studies of the various categories of languages and modes of language study were identified as invaluable in clarifying the sorts of language provision required. The notion of entitlement needs to be clearly defined and information must be shared across all agencies involved in languages provision. This includes increased dialogue between HEIs (and Subject Associations) and Regional Development Agencies and the Further Education community.

Hilary Footitt’s thoughts on Deconstructing the Jigsaw: the National Languages Strategy and Higher Education may be read in issue 6 of the CILT Higher Education Bulletin. This will soon be available online at


The Strategy’s use of the term ‘Languages’ was challenged. Ironically, the point was made, NLS also stands for the National Literacy Strategy. But Languages and Literacy do not appear to be implicitly linked within the document in question. It was noted that initiatives at primary level are underway to link Languages and Literacy.

Tim Connell indicated that longitudinal surveys on graduate employability are also underway.

Richard Towell, Professor of French, University of Salford

Boundaries are shifting in Higher Education in the UK, giving rise to a raft of policy questions which call for a reconsideration of our notions of ‘research’ and ‘teaching’.

Research: The RAE increasingly influences our research output, although colleagues in Languages and Related Studies might be surprised at the range of output recognised by the exercise. Even within RAE definitions there is a huge variation in what constitutes research. Beyond the RAE, ‘enterprise’ research commissioned by external bodies including the business community, European agencies and RDAs.

Teaching: Education, or the development of humanistic values and reasoning ability; and Training, which transmits skills relevant to a definable sector of employment; are both implied in the notion of ‘teaching’. Degrees awarded by HEIs would be expected to include a mixture of the two.

Traditionally, teaching and research have been seen as intrinsically linked by the HE Languages community. However, as policy decisions seek to define these activities independently of one another, the links between them must be reconsidered. Richard Towell indicated that the White Paper questions the need for ‘teachers’ in HEIs to be engaged in research. It proposes the loose notion of ‘scholarship’, understood as keeping up with developments in research conducted by others.

The White Paper fails to ask the key question: What combined pattern of diversified research is the one that Britain should be achieving? In this way, Professor Towell argued, the structure proposed by the document reinforces the status quo without questioning it.


The discussion focussed on the funding implications of the division of teaching and research. It was observed that funding would be likely to be allocated at departmental (rather than institutional) level and that HEIs were unlikely to be forced to chose between their teaching and research activities. It was noted that departments have, in the past, allowed themselves to be driven by funding and that they have been complicit in shaping the RAE process and its implications. The academic community needs to reclaim its own territory. As Michael Kelly observed: the community needs to be able to articulate clearly why limited resources should be apportioned in a certain way for the good of the greater community.

Michael Kelly, Subject Centre Director and Professor of French, University of Southampton

Michael Kelly presented the findings of A New Landscape for Languages, a report written with Diana Jones on behalf of the Nuffield Foundation earlier this year. Far-reaching changes have taken place over the past few years, and a new landscape for languages is emerging. Even greater changes are likely in the next five years. Educators and policy makers need to be more aware of what is happening, and need to address some important issues. He emphasised the likelihood of a continued decline in the study of languages in post 16 education and the need for the HE community to take action now to control the trend.

Four priority areas were identified:

  • Clearer rationales are needed for studying languages, in order to inform public opinion and guide curriculum development.
  • The growth of more differentiated provision needs to be managed more effectively.
  • Increased collaboration is needed between education sectors, and between institutions.
  • ‘Deschooling’ needs to be better understood, where languages are provided on the margins of the curriculum and supplemented by private provision.


It was observed that greater awareness of trends across Europe and worldwide would be of benefit to colleagues in the UK.

The need to consolidate the UK’s existing language ability was raised. For example, through encouraging the study of strong community languages such as Hindi, rather than artificially stimulating the take-up of languages such as German.

The question of ‘entitlement’ was again raised, as was the need to articulate the rationales for studying languages. It was noted that the UK is not really marketed as a place for foreign students to come and study other foreign languages although our capacity in this area is evident. It was suggested that this capacity be promoted as a feature of overseas study in the UK, rather than hidden as a guilty secret.

David Robey, Professor of Italian, University of Reading

In his presentation on the Collaboration Programme in Modern Languages, David Robey discussed how the Collaboration Projects illustrate aspects of policy and strategy raised in the course of the day. He highlighted from the start the need for collaboration at all levels including:

  • Collaboration between languages
  • Collaboration between HEIs
  • Collaboration between academics and policy makers

He indicated that the need for consortia of departments working across a defined subject area was well established and recognised by HEFCE. However, he indicated that decisions made at the level of the institutions were not always in-line with the collaborative philosophy. Hence, one department involved in a HEFCE-funded collaboration project had been closed following a decision made at institutional level. This example illustrates the need for formal agreements between institutions. Although collaboration at departmental level is in many ways the most effective form of partnership, external funding may be put at risk if institutional policy does not take it into account. Once again, the need for effective dialogue between all parties was emphasised.

Links to Documents Quoted

The Higher Education White Paper

Response by the LTSN

The National Languages Strategy

A New Landscape for Languages

Collaboration Projects

Presentations to download

  1. John Selby (PowerPoint 151Kb)
  2. Cliff Allan (PowerPoint 98Kb)
  3. Richard Towell (PowerPoint 69Kb)
  4. Michael Kelly (PowerPoint 405Kb)