An interview with Mark Leach
Mark Leach is Founder, CEO and Editor in Chief of Wonkhe. Mark joined Middlesex University’s Board of Governors in 2019.
How can the sector prepare and work together to prepare for the demographic boom?
One of the learnings, not just from COVID, but the last several years of the drip, drip of money leaving the system is that it’s not very efficient. We obviously don’t have the luxury of designing it from the ground up, but it seems to me to be fairly obvious that universities could collaborate much more closely to design, learning and skills needs of local, regional and international populations.
I went to Australia recently and they’ve got about a third of the amount of universities with three universities in Melbourne with 100,000 students each. They’re able to get all sorts of economies of scale by working on such a large level as their buying power is immense. It means that they’re able to put things into their innovation pipeline and do things for students that are just much more expensive for lots of little universities.
What do you think the Government narrative on vocational education means for the future of the sector and its relationship with that part of the education system?
Things have been bad in higher education but it’s been absolutely terrible for the further education sector for a long time and they’ve had shake-up after shake-up and each one has taken that sector to a worse and darker place. Further education should be delivering all sorts of important things for people who need them, and for businesses that want to train their workforce in areas where universities don’t traditionally have the expertise.
As a relatively new member of the Board of Governors, what are your impressions of Middlesex?
I’ve been very, very impressed with the dedication of everyone that works at Middlesex. I’ve been really impressed with the quality of debate and leadership around the big questions.
The University has clearly suffered from changes of strategic direction over the years. One observation I would make is that there’s far more baggage than there should be given there are lots of really forward-thinking people with a really exciting agenda at Middlesex. I see decisions made a long time ago that are holding things back and it’s a real shame because I’m keen to shake off all that historical baggage. There are lots of really forward thinking people at Middlesex trying to do that and doing that every day. We need to make decisions about the future based on the facts today, what students need today and where the university is going, and what its place in the world is.
Looking ahead to the student of 2030, who is that student and how might a university like Middlesex adapt to their needs?
There’s a few mega trends that I think are important. Online learning and microcredentialism, for example. Where I depart from a lot of people is the notion that the traditional university is dead and the whole thing can be online. The demand for the full time undergraduate on-campus experience remains strong because students get all sorts of other social things from being with their peers in real life, social activities, clubs and societies, learning resources, emotional support, friendships etc. It offers a rounded experience and not just for 18 year olds who want to live on campus. I think demand for that kind of wide university experience will stay strong and I’m very cautious of throwing the baby out the bathwater. There’s a danger of playing into the government’s agenda where you start to see a degree as less important and something you can do on a subscription basis, like Netflix.
Could we be doing more to help people into higher education or to move between universities, between types of courses, between higher education and further education? There are plenty of approaches, like credit transfer systems or making it more modular, that could be deployed to make higher education more flexible, adaptable to people’s skills, open and accessible without unravelling the degree.
What are your views on Middlesex’s international presence and global profile?
Middlesex has a really strong reputation in particular markets around the world but that hasn’t been leveraged enough. It seems obvious that there’s more to do there.
I think the international presence is good because it should be able to add richness to the overall offer, particularly as students can move around and experience things in different parts of the world.
Four key phases to developing our new strategy:
- Ideas generation, visioning and planning for the development of the consultation website and paper
- Engagement on the consultation with staff, students and stakeholders to develop ideas and refine our thinking into an enhanced proposal paper (Autumn 2020)
- Testing and consultation on the proposal paper to develop final strategy documentation (Winter 2020-21)
- Drafting, approval and design of MDX 2031 Strategy (Spring 2021)
Engage with our strategy
These ideas are a starting point – now it is over to you. Have some fun and tell us what you think of this proposal.