What even is higher education? If you’re not familiar with it you might think of universities, people in lab coats, and libraries where people are working away on the esoteric and obscure. If you’re sceptical about universities you might think it’s about cancelling things, reading lists, and as one recent higher education minister said, about Harry Potter studies. Or if you’re in government, the civil service, or a local authority, you might take a more dispassionate look and see enormous employers with a cumulative workforce which is larger than fishing and mining, combined.
If you work in higher education, you will likely have a different view still. It’s no secret that it is just really difficult to work in universities at the moment. There is a regulatory regime which is tightening targets and access. A media narrative which flits between universities as national security risks and hotbeds of ‘wokery’. And, there is a forever changing set of expectations for universities to power levelling up, moonshots, and be anchors of regional economies.
The thing with universities is that they can be lots of things at once. They are reflections of society and like the rest of society, they contain multitudes. It’s easier to consider them as ecosystems than they are institutions. They are collections of people who are researching, teaching, and administering, a set of local, national, and global targets, and students who want to have a great time, get great jobs and learn great things, all at the same time. An approach to supporting the sector must recognise its complexity and not shy away from it.
At Counterculture our work lives between the intangible and life-affirming in culture in its widest form and our practical work to make organisations prosper for their people and places. Our approach to higher education advisory is no different. We bring creativity, respect for difference, and ambition for public institutions with a deep knowledge of higher education and its regulatory environment. As a bonus, we also bring our usual expertise across law, HR, finance, audit, and other advisory matters, as part of our approach. We are creative and we are incredibly thorough.
Most of all we cannot wait to work more closely with the people who make higher education what it is. Higher education is about the staff and students together who are researching, teaching, learning, working, administrating, and maintaining, this wonderful and complicated ecosystem, and we cannot wait to become an even greater part of it.
James Coe is head of our higher education advisory services. James is a partner at Counterculture, he is the associate editor for research and innovation at Wonkhe, the former Head of Sustainability, Policy, and Civic Engagement at the University of Liverpool, a former Governance Manager at NUS, and the author of The New University: Local Solutions to a Global Crisis. He holds an MPA in which he specialised in the resilience of the public sector after COVID for which he was awarded a Distinction.
James works with higher education clients on policy, communications, and a range of advisory issues. At Counterculture, we pride ourselves not only on our expertise but our ability to bring the flair, creativity, and passion for place-based policy, which are the hallmarks of all our work. James is currently working on issues including regulatory reform, research and innovation, policy advice, and communications. James is a real policy expert and has worked on issues from bursary reviews, admissions, sustainability, access and participation plans, cultural strategies, and much more in between.
It is no secret that Counterculture has been growing in recent months and years. Today, we are taking another step forward in bringing our expertise to higher education. A full list of our services is here and you can contact James on the details provided. We can provide advice across the full suite of higher education issues coupled with professional advice. We are particularly keen to work with the people, institutions, and universities, who have some big ideas that need a bit of shaping, refining, and implementing. This might be how you want to make a bigger difference in your place, the policy challenge which needs a bit of external support, or those intractable issues which need a new set of eyes. We love the big, scary, unusual, and the people who want to do something different.