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The new Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, gave a speech at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) on 31 January 2019 to set out his vision for the future of higher education, highlighting, given the location of his speech, that the UK is a “global leader in the creative arts”. In terms of the importance of the role they play in civic society, he emphasised that “universities and colleges up and down the country are vital pillars of their communities”. As to their core activities, the Minister spoke about the role of higher education institutions in educating undergraduates - providing our “world-leading industries with vital knowledge and skills” - and “pushing the boundaries of what is possible with ground-breaking research”. Reassuring messages were given about the importance of institutional autonomy and that value for money needs to be defined not purely in economic terms, otherwise “we risk overlooking the vital contribution of social value”. The Minister affirmed some current challenges facing higher education and the need to do better, emphasising in particular that there is more to be done for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and in respect of student mental health. Several times the Minister noted the importance of the UK Industrial Strategy and the key role to be played by higher education in a broader vision for a post-Brexit Britain. We must wait to see whether this vision becomes a reality.
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