REPOST (from WONKHE): Advocating for Higher Education in Parliament

Originally published on (view article here)

I recently attended an APPG on students’ skills and employability as a panellist to provide insight into a project that I lead at the University of Law Student Union – called InspireX.

My goal as a panellist at this parliamentary forum was to promote the role that universities can play in the development of student skills and in achieving favourable educational outcomes for the country.

With the increasing spotlight on alternative ways to develop skills such as apprenticeships, there has been a growing conversation about the capability of universities to deliver needed educational outcomes for students who choose Higher Education.

And when they do, there’s a parallel conversation about whether Universities are able to deliver these outcomes with value for money for all stakeholders involved.

The points I made

My position on the panel was this – that despite the various issues that might be facing the sector at the moment, universities still play an important role in delivering needed educational outcomes for key stakeholders, especially in relation to younger students and international students.

I suggested that we needed to see more of a collaborative relationship between educators and student voice advocates in co-designing methods and approaches that produce the expected high academic achievements that the sector has been known for.

My focus was on interest-based activities on campuses and the platform they provide for skill development initiatives, which can easily translate to favourable employment transition outcomes for both institutions and students themselves.

InspireX is a SU project with the aim of exploring the function of student societies in providing avenues for developing practical skills in students. The goal is to complement the learning students have in the classroom and capitalise on the natural tendency students have for social interaction and building groups around interest-based activities.

We are interacting with senior stakeholders from the university to build in input from educators as to what will constitute a feasible plan with academic goals and employability taken into consideration.

Having interacted with societies at the University of Law, we hope students will have gained measurable skills which will easily be transferable and useful in various working environments.

How the event went

The APPG forum was put together by The NUS and this was the second time I was attending a forum on students in Parliament. (However, it was my first time as a panellist) I got there early, went through my notes and got mentally prepared.

Minutes went by, and eventually, I was joined by colleagues from the University of Law London and Birmingham campuses. The two SU co-presidents were present as well. We met various NUS representatives in the room including the VP Liberation & Equality – Nehaal Bajwa.

The panel was made up of 5 panellists and we were joined by Lord Willetts – member of the House of Lords, as Chair. He stood in the stead of Paul Blomfield MP who we were all expecting, but Paul had a voting session on the house floor at the time.

All of the panellists were given an opportunity to speak on the issue at hand. I was the 4th to speak. “The future of learning, skills development and the future of education for our young people in the country, remains in Higher Education” this was how I had started.

Immediately after delivering all my points, I was wondering if anyone could make sense of what I had said and I was worried if my points could be understood by all. I was relieved quickly when Lord Willetts – the chair, said to me shortly afterwards “As a former Universities Minister, I understand what you are saying.” I felt accomplished.

There was an opportunity for other students in the room from various educational backgrounds to speak on the topic as well. We saw the conversation from these students go towards Artificial Intelligence, Online Learning and Virtual Reality, Apprenticeships and T-Levels, curriculum design and flexibility – it was wide ranging.

Grab the opportunities

Overall, it was a great experience. I was incredibly proud that I went to parliament and stood up for the higher education sector boldly with some of the most senior policymakers in Westminster – especially at a time when there has been constant negative coverage of the HE sector in the UK from all sides.

It needed a voice, and I hope I have been able to contribute positively to the narrative. Echoing the sentiments of Professor Nick Jennings in his open letter to the sector:

We can’t assume that everyone knows the breadth and depth of the impact universities have on communities, economies, and lives around the world. The onus is on us to change the narrative.


Universities and SUs working together to create opportunities where students can engage in meaningful projects that build employability skills demonstrate the continued relevance of higher education in preparing students not just for employment, but for thoughtful, engaged citizenship. My advice would be that students should leverage extracurricular opportunities to develop a diverse skill set and network with peers and professionals. Engaging as fully as they can in wider university life sets a solid foundation for future success. 

Patrick Johnson, Pro Vice Chancellor – Diversity, Inclusion and Students


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