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Over a series of weeks, experts from across higher education are visiting Solent University, Southampton to explore the most pertinent subjects in the sector right now.

16th May 2024
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Designed to inform Solent’s 2035 strategy, the series puts collaboration and conversation first. From social mobility to the use of generative AI – text, image and video creation tools – here’s a rundown of what’s been discussed so far.

Driving social mobility with Rt Hon Justine Greening

Rt Hon Justine Greening kicked off Solent’s Strategy 2025 Series, highlighting the purpose and value of university in the context of social mobility. Urging everyone in the sector to pursue opportunities that can drive positive change, Justine acknowledged that there are many different headwinds facing our sector right now, and universities must stay committed to driving change at a regional and local level.

As a champion of social mobility, Justine outlined the total importance of collaboration to boost outcomes for students and graduates, spotlighting education as a means for improving prospects. For Justine, education means opportunity; universities are a talent pipeline, and they have a key role to play in removing barriers to success.

Strategy development with Professor Sir Chris Husbands

The series continued with a lecture by Professor Sir Chris Husbands, an academic, educationist and former Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University. In his talk, Sir Chris offered a compelling analysis of strategic development in higher education, distilling the process into two key elements. He emphasized that crafting a strategy is fundamentally about choices – on actions to take and those to avoid – and strategic delivery – the relentless pursuit of those choices.

Chris spoke about the need for higher education strategies to evolve in response to current challenges and argued that the era of a one-size-fits-all university strategy is over. Instead, institutions are urged to tailor their strategic choices to their unique circumstances and data insights.

On strategy implementation, Chris shared insights from his experience at Sheffield Hallam University, attributing the successful execution of their strategy to the careful alignment of resources and the establishment of a robust infrastructure for delivery.

Artificial intelligence with Heidi Fraser-Krauss

In the University’s latest lecture, Heidi Fraser-Krauss, CEO of JISC – a digital, data and technology agency for tertiary education, research and innovation – brought the subject of artificial intelligence to the table.

A topic which brings out strong, often contrasting, opinions, artificial intelligence is rapidly progressing and, as Heidi pointed out, must be embraced rather than outrun. During the lecture, Heidi discussed the evolving attitudes towards generative AI tools – from opposition and curiosity to regular use – and why these matter in the context of higher education.

Heidi suggested that universities must consider the principles of AI, while understanding the attitudes of students towards the tools at their disposal. Discussing the accessibility of generative AI, Heidi said this: at any hour of the day, a tool such as ChatGPT is at the fingertips of a student. The available nature of such a platform is a draw for learners, but research led by JISC also indicates students are conscious when it comes to balancing the use of AI and their own intellectual development.

Exploring the journey of AI since language tools began to gain public attention, Heidi highlighted the opportunities that these resources can offer. From boosting soft skills, such as interview and presentation techniques, to diversifying the way a student learns in a judgement-free way, Heidi addressed that there are many pros here, alongside lots to think about.