UUK President Drummond Bone's Exclusive Interview

Universities UK is the representative body for the executive heads of UK universities and is recognised as the umbrella group for the university sector. It works to advance the interests of universities and to spread good practice throughout the higher education sector. read more..

In February, Dajiatan.com has the honour of interviewing Professor James Drummond Bone, the President of Universities UK and the Vice Chancellor of the University of Liverpool. He is also the chairman of the Liverpool Culture Company. Previously he was the Principal of Royal Holloway College and pro-vice-Chancellor of the University of London, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and, later, vice-Principal of Glasgow University. He is an acknowledged expert of Lord Byron's work and is Vice-President of the Byron Society, and a member of the Steering Group of the Council for College and University English, a Fellow of the English Association, and an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. is the President of UUK and vice-chancellor of Liverpool University.

By Wing Zheng
24 February 2006

Wing: Mr. Bone. We're a non-profit online website and forum, providing Chinese students and professionals in the UK with up-to-date information. We first of all, are very interested in what your main functions are, despite from the CMU and the Russell Group.

Drummond: Well, UUK is the umbrella organization, which actually represents all universities and some other institutions too in The United Kingdom. So I think we have 127 members, and that includes the Russell Group and CMU. It's a central voice of all these universities. We represent the universities to the government; we represent the universities to the wider world; and we try and spread new practices as well among all universities. And I suppose, too, we as well function as a support group, particularly for the heads of the universities; so they get information from us and they know what's happening.

Wing: Are you mainly speaking for universities with strong power, or are you weighting them equally?

Drummond: Oh, we represent all universities. It’s a membership organization. So all universities can actually belong to UUK, and they all do it at the moment; but I think one or two of the universities are not quite joining yet; really nearly all.

Wing: Does the UUK have anything to do on the students' side within your functions?

Drummond: Well obviously, students are the major part of the universities. So yes I mean we clearly get involved in all kinds of things. I mean obviously we have views on the student service, and we have views on spares on the way, which spares to equations, and the way, which universities should look after students.

Wing: Now we are talking about student recruitment. Is there any plan or strategy of future recruitment of international students?

Drummond: Well I think obviously Universities UK has been a bit upset by the resent changes of the visa prices, for example. And clearly, we’ve been working with the government to try and minimize the effect of the price changes. But perhaps more importantly by to introduce better arrangements for students, in terms of the way in which their visas are actually for the right length to study, so that they don’t need to get renewal of their visas at the middle of their study. That’s one of the things we’ve certainly been lobbying very hard for. And we’ve also been lobbying very hard for the students to have the right after graduation to remain to work in the UK. I know that’s something, which interests a lot of overseas students. And we’ve been really pleased with seeing that the resent announcement by Gordon Brown that it looks there’s going to be progress to allow students to remain after graduate to work.

Wing: You said you’ve been lobbying very hard against the government’s decision to raise the extension fees for student visas, how is it going?

Drummond: I don’t think we are going to make much progress on the costs, but we had made progress on the arrangement surrounding visas and for particular the government will shortly be introducing a whole new system and in fact of variegating for visas for students. We hope that’ll be much present to our business at the moment. And on the stage we also made progress on the rights to remain after graduation. I think it is important to be able to work for sometimes after graduation. That’s been something that’s been available in Scotland in than say in the UK, will now be rolled out in a slightly different way but rolled out across the UK. So that’s the progress.

Wing: Is that to be for students on some specific major or fields?

Drummond: There are going to be some subjects as exceptions, but it’s not quite clear yet what. And we don’t think they’re going to be very significant.

Wing: Do you know about any of the frames of these new rules about the right to remain and work?

Drummond: We understand that the details are going to be announced very shortly. I mean, within a month. We had a meeting with the minister just last week, and we think he was very hopeful that there would be an announcement very soon.

Wing: So it is not for sure yet?

Drummond: It is for sure. The actual principle was announced by Gordon Brown in his pre-budget statement. Last December. But the details are not yet available, and when is it going to start, we’re not quite sure. We hope that the announcement of the details would be made very very soon now.

Wing: in my interview with Michael (executive director of the Russell Group) and Pam Tatlow (Chief Executive of the Campaign for Mainstream Universities (CMU)), they both tried their best to encourage students to go and study in their universities, which is fair enough. We just would like to hear your opinion, which universities stand what strength as well as weakness.

Drummond: Well I think obviously Universities UK represents all universities in the UK, and I think the key thing for students is to understand which universities are going to be best for them. And so that’s a question really, of understanding the courses, the kinds of facilities students would like to use., which will benefit the students. To some extend what kinds of courses students might want to go in to, because different universities will have different kinds of connections with different employers and different industries, different businesses, so I think the key advice to give to students is to talk to the universities, all universities they might be thinking of going to, and get as much information as possible. If the student’s in the UK, to visit the universities, and if they’re not, to talk to people in their countries who’d been. Because I think, graduates from universities will be able to tell it as it actually is.

Wing: As an international student, I know that many of us, particularly from China, try to get as much information as possible. But sometimes they still lack confidence, because sometimes information can be too much and overloaded, and they don’t know who and what to listen to.

Drummond: Well again,, one of the things which UUK tries to do as I say, which I say to others, is to stay with practice. So we try and make sure that all our members are aware of the best ways to get in touch with the students, and all the kinds of things that students want to know. And as you say, that people don’t overload them with all the staff around. I think it is very important that the information students can get is factual, as detailed; but as you said, not overwhelming.

Wing: Most prospective students in China mainly get information of universities from the internet, which is not always the fact or accurate.

Drummond: There are quite strict laws on advertising in the UK. You’re not allowed to say something, which is not true. Prospective students should go to the official websites of the universities, which are controlled.

Wing: Could you suggest any activities held in China, to help students to understand more, and get useful and accurate information about UK universities?

Drummond: Well I think again, that the British Council represents the British universities overseas. And I think it would be advisable for people to get advice from the British Council. The British Council is neutral. Again it doesn’t represent one university but all universities. It’s able to give accurate information. And I agree that face to face is very important.

Wing: What are the main factors and key points to look at in terms of choosing a course?

Drummond: Well I think first of all, students are to convince themselves that they have actually genuine interest in the field. That’s the most important thing. And of course you asked questions about what are you going to do after the course study’s over I think you have to look at the facilities. Well that libraries and whether there’s computing facilities, or there’s lab facilities. And to make sure that they’re as good as you could want, and are appropriate for what students want to do. You also want to look at the members of the staff, and find out whether they’re distinguish enough, and in the right kind of fields to you as well. And then I think, even you’re concentrating on the course, you do want to as well consider what kind of environment you want to study in, what kind of environment you’d like to live in. some people are more comfortable living in big cities, and some people might find it more comfortable living in campus environment in the country.

Wing: As the interactions between Chinese and UK universities are becoming more and more frequent, some UK universities are setting up their campus or new cooperated universities in China, like Liverpool University’s done. What do you think of this trend?

Drummond: Well obviously as the vice chancellor of the University of Liverpool, I think it’s a good idea. But I think there’s going to be only 2 universities in fact actually, the University of Nottingham and the University of Liverpool, are sanctioned by the Chinese Admission of Universities to actually run a full scale universities. But there are of course many institutions which have close links with institutions in China, and which help them deliver courses and so on. I think this is a good idea, because I think in a world, which is essentially, globalize, the more interactions we can have. And the interactions with China shouldn’t all be inside the UK, it should be in China as well. It all helps to improve understandings, and it also increases the possibilities to future business between the two countries.

Wing: And many talented students might not be able to afford to study in the UK.

Drummond: Absolutely. I think a thing that obviously interest Chinese students is the costs of living in the UK; and it’s not just a question of the university fees. Lots of my colleges and chancellors are working closely with partners in China.

Wing: Thank you. At the end of this interview, is there anything particular you want Chinese students to know?

Drummond: Well I think the only other thing I would like to say is how much the UK value overseas students, and I don’t just mean financially. It would be silly to say, our interest is obviously in student fees; but the main thing is that question going back to the globalize world that we are actually in at the moment. And it’s important that all students meet people from other countries, and actually study with them. I think that’s important for the long term future of both sides. That’s what I would like to get it close on.

Wing: Thank you very much.