I had a quick look at the Higher Education Power List 2016, over at Wonkhe. I soon realised I’d need a longer look, as the list is a different beast to last year’s offering.
27 out of 50 entries are new to the list. More than half. Let that sink in for a second.
Volatility is a big part of HE right now. It’s no wonder the short-term focuses more than long-term plays.
Only seven entries rise in the list, with three in the same place. 13 entries fall, meaning that most people who remain on the list since last year aren’t seen to be as influential as they were.
Richard Brabner says that judging who shapes the sector with their power and influence, “is not a science. It is subjective“. What we can see here is how consistency isn’t currently on higher education’s side. The HE Power List is an example of a lively—perhaps erratic—situation.
Higher education is not shielded from current events and wider politics either. Aaron Porter explains:
“For higher education the politics are significant. Not least because the Higher Education and Research Bill is making its way through Parliament, but also because it provides the crucial context and backdrop for the sector.”
Porter adds, “The world is a very different place, and so is the political composition of the 2016 list”.
Jonathan Simons echoes this. He concludes that, “making predictions as to what will happen over the forthcoming year is a mug’s game”. While David Morris talks of “The strange and sudden unravelling of the ‘Osborne Supremacy’” that has seen George Osborne go from top of the Power List to not in it at all from one year to the next.
And what about the student angle? Smita Jamdar says that “the student-university relationship [has] been pulled in many different legal directions”.
Jamdar explains that while students aren’t new to protest, they are focusing on more targets and looking more widely around the world. When you add social media power and the need for institutions to listen to their ‘consumers’, students are in a position to make things happen.
Student influence is not currently in the direction of paying lower fees (or getting rid of them in favour of another model). Their current influence is in changing the layout, experiences, and atmosphere of student life.
Although students have not made the Power List this year, is it only a matter of time before we see the student collective making an appearance?
The HE sector is being pulled in all directions. Perhaps volatility should top the Power List. Unlike George Osborne, chances are it would stay at the top of the chart the next year too.