We are delighted to announce the first of our fantastic plenary sessions for the 2023 SRHE Conference:

Re-shaping Tertiary Education

Chair: Professor Peter Scott, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education Studies, UCL

Contributors: Professor Huw Morris, University College London; Professor Ellen Hazelkorn, Technological University Dublin; Professor Chris Millward, University of Birmingham; and Professor Andy Westwood, University of Manchester

Higher education co-ordination is often characterised as a relationship between universities, the market and the state.  In the United Kingdom, the role of the state is significantly influenced by devolution, which enables national governments and agencies in Scotland and Wales to diverge from policy in England.

In England, the 2017 Higher Education and Research Act has separated government oversight of higher education between its interests in education, which is regulated by the Office for Students (OfS) and seeks to establish baseline conditions for student choice and competition, and research, which is funded strategically by Research England within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). There are separate accountability arrangements for further education, adult learning and apprenticeships across England.

In Scotland and Wales, the agencies overseeing higher education have retained oversight of both education and research; indeed policy is increasingly oriented towards tertiary systems, which bring universities together with vocational and technical education.  These developments aim to balance individual and institutional interests – which are embodied in choice and competition and often lead to vertical stratification favouring the most research-intensive universities – by promoting collaboration and horizontal coherence across all types of universities and colleges to address public priorities. Other countries with comparable populations, such as New Zealand and Norway, have also implemented or are exploring unified tertiary oversight arrangements, and there are discussions about similar arrangements in Ireland and Australia.

There is now a movement in England to devolve powers and funding to local areas, with the aim of empowering local leaders to align a greater proportion of decision-making and investment with local priorities. Greater devolution is supported by both the current Conservative government and by the Labour opposition, so it is likely to continue until at least the end of the decade. As devolution grows, it raises questions about the relationship between national and local priorities for further and higher education, including the balance between competition and collaboration.

This plenary will consider theoretical frameworks for understanding tertiary system models, how they relate to evidence on practice at different levels of geography and governance, and the potential lessons from this for future governments in England and beyond.

Chaired by Peter Scott, the plenary will address this through discussion of three key areas of interest:

  • Huw Morris will compare theories for understanding models of tertiary education with practice across the UK nations
  • Ellen Hazelkorn will review major trends impacting on post-secondary education, including the policy shift towards tertiary eco-systems, and putting forth propositions on governance, design, delivery and funding, and
  • Chris Millward will explore the lessons for tertiary education oversight from UK Labour governments in power


Clark, Burton R. (1983), The higher education system: Academic organisation in cross-national perspective.

HM Government. (2022), Levelling Up the United Kingdom.

McCann, P., & Ortega-Argilés, R. (2021). The UK ‘geography of discontent’: Narratives, Brexit and inter-regional ‘levelling up’. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 14(3), 545–564.

Shattock, M., & Horvath, A. (2020). The decentralisation of the governance of UK higher education: The effects of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and on England. Policy Reviews in Higher Education, 4(2), 164–178.

Plenary speaker bionotes

Professor Ellen Hazelkorn is Joint Managing Partner, BH Associates education consultants. She is Professor emeritus, Technological University Dublin (Ireland), and Joint Editor, Policy Reviews in Higher Education. She is, inter alia, member of Centre for Global Higher Education Advisory Board/Research Management Committee; Quality Board for Icelandic Higher Education, and EU Higher Education for Smart Specialisation Advisory Group. Ellen was a member of the Commission for the College of the Future (UK) and reviewed Post-Compulsory Education in Wales recommending the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER), now being established by the Welsh Government. She is UNESCO Lead/Coordinator, CFITT project to develop higher technical education in six African countries.  Ellen is currently undertaking a review of the Irish Further Education and Training Strategy, and advising the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Ireland) with respect to Progressing a Unified Tertiary System for Learning, Skills and Knowledge

Chris Millward is Professor of Practice in Education Policy at the University of Birmingham.  He was England’s Director for Fair Access and Participation from 2018-21, held senior roles at the Higher Education Funding Council for England from 2006-2017 and was Head of Research Programmes at the Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2002-2006.

Huw Morris is on secondment from the Welsh Government to the University College London (IOE – Faculty of Education and Society) as an Honorary Professor of Tertiary Education. Prior to taking on this role, he was Director of Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning in the Welsh Government for nine years after twenty-five years as an academic in a variety of roles from research assistant to Deputy Vice Chancellor in universities in London, the home counties, Bristol, Manchester and Salford.

Andy Westwood is Professor of Government Practice at the University of Manchester. An expert adviser to the EU, Andy has worked regularly for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as a specialist adviser to the Select Committees on Economic Affairs and Digital Skills in the House of Lords. He writes regularly for Wonkhe, the Times Education Supplement, the Times Higher Education magazine and The Guardian. He was a special adviser to education and science ministers in the last Labour government and also worked as an advisor at the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Peter Scott is Professor of Higher Education Studies at University College London (IOE – Faculty of Education and Society). He was Scotland’s first Commissioner for Fair Access (2016-22), Chair of the Council at the University of Gloucestershire (2011-15) and Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University (1998-2010). He was also a member of the board of the (former) Higher Education Funding Council from 2000 to 2016.