President McAuliffe Addresses the Heads of the United Kingdom’s Universities

Posted September 16th, 2009 at 4:16 pm.

Bryn Mawr College President Jane McAuliffe recently returned from the Universities UK (UUK) Annual Conference in Edinburgh, where she gave a speech outlining the effect of the global economic crisis on U.S. colleges and universities. UUK is the membership organization for the heads of all the universities in England, Ireland, and Wales.

She called on higher-education leaders on both sides of the Atlantic not to retreat to academic isolationism or withdrawal from collaborations with struggling institutions in parts of the world “where even modest efforts can have major impact.”

In talking about the impact of the economic crisis on U.S. students, McAuliffe told the gathering, “More students will rely on financial aid. More will live at home and attend a nearby institution. In fact, the number of students living at home has increased by nearly 20 percent since 2007. Of still greater concern, a university education is now a dream deferred for many Americans who await the return of better times.”

However, the coming years are not as bleak for future college students as they appeared at the start of the crisis, she told her U.K. colleagues as she summarized higher-education initiatives put into place by the Obama administration as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“Stimulus funds will help make college more affordable for about seven million students. A substantial increase in funding for Pell Grants, the largest single source of financial aid, will boost individual grants from $4,850 to $5,350. Nearly four million students will be able to take advantage of a tax cut linked to tuition expenses,” said McAuliffe.

In her speech, McAuliffe described the challenges that the economic crisis presented Bryn Mawr College to exemplify what has been happening at U.S. colleges and universities during the last year. At the same time, she highlighted the opportunities for innovation also presented by the crisis.

“Our primary challenge was the need to balance a quick response with the need to secure involvement and support from throughout the Bryn Mawr community. Transparency was essential … We kept our core priorities—faculty compensation and student financial aid—at the center of these discussions.

“The work continues. One area we are currently exploring involves reducing costs and improving student services by merging some administrative functions with nearby Haverford College,” she said.

McAuliffe was invited to speak at the event by Rick Trainor, the former president of Universities U.K., with whom she served on the U.K./U.S. Study Group on Higher Education in a Globalized World.

Over the summer, that group released a report advocating a number of ambitious initiatives to strengthen collaboration between the colleges and universities of the United States and United Kingdom and to foster the growth of an open, competitive, and accessible higher-education sector in other nations.

McAuliffe concluded her speech by touching on the “special relationship” that has created bonds between U.S. and U.K. colleges and universities.

“With their extraordinary demographic diversity, many of our campuses are already microcosms of the global cosmopolitanism that this century is creating. As all of us struggle during this deep economic downturn to conserve the core enterprises of our individual institutions, let us continue to reach out to each other and to institutions around the world. While sustaining existing relationships, we can take the first steps in creating new partnerships and collaborations that will flourish and bear good fruit in the future.”

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