University of Sheffield Vice-Chancellor addresses the All Party Parliamentary Group on Foreign Affairs

Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, this evening (10 July 2017) called for a rethink of higher education globally as he addressed the All Party Parliamentary Group on Foreign Affairs.

President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Keith Burnett FRSSir Keith was approached by the cross-party body to speak to the parliamentarians on Education Reform and the challenges facing communities across the world. Reflecting on discussions with educational institutions, governments and companies in China, India, South East Asia and South America, Sir Keith described the global need for communities to develop education which supports local economies and productivity, but which also creates opportunities for the young to flourish.

"From Brazil to India to China, people are desperate to find ways to lift the young people who will not be able to fly to the UK to study at a University like Sheffield or Oxford. I have also seen in my own home community in South Wales and now in South Yorkshire the need to rethink higher education so we provide the highest quality opportunities for young people without high-levels of debt. The communities may be different, but the desires of young people and their families for a better life are common across the world."

Sir Keith – who is President of the UK Science Council and the author of a report into Advanced Vocational Education – used his speech to call for a fundamental rethink of ‘a false divide between technical and academic education.’

"As a scientist, I know that the idea that we separate the world into those who think and those who make is a terrible error. Many of the great breakthroughs in science and engineering are only possible because of the skills and understanding of those who can unite the mind with advanced technical experience. And in our modern world of AI and big data, what a nonsense it is to separate out peoples."

Sir Keith called on the UK parliament to learn the lessons of those countries from whom he believes we have a lot to learn.

"Germany is one – it has always invested in a high-quality technical education and its industry and productivity speak of the results. It is investing in people, the skills of the future and its economy."

Reflecting on his own experience as President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, he said: "This is something we are also taking seriously as we partner with global companies and their supply chains and, in doing so, we are opening up opportunities, high-skilled employment and access to higher education to young people who may have otherwise thought that University simply was not for them. We need to think in new ways about what higher education is for, and who it is for. Education can change lives, but our thinking needs to change with it for the good of all our children."

Additional information

The University of Sheffield
With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


Shemina Davis
Media Relations Manager
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 5339