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Political Factors

The political PESTLE dimension relates to the key political drivers which could influence an organisation. JISC infoNet advise that for the HE and FE sector these are likely to include worldwide, European and government directives, funding council policies, national and local organisations' requirements and institutional policy (JISC infoNet 2009). The Work-with-IT PES(T)LE investigation identified four broad categories of political factors currently influencing or likely to influence institutions in the near future: central or devolved government policies; local policies; efficiency drives; European Union and other international policies. Political policies are of course intertwined with associated economic factors and together political/economic funding drivers can have a major effect upon institutions. While funding policies could also be attributed to the political dimension, they are dealt with under the economic dimension.

Cutting across these factors is a potential change of UK government. While at the time of the PES(T)LE investigation – April-June 2009 – the participants were unclear regarding exactly how this might play out, there was a strong feeling that a change in government would bring a significant change in education and employment, research and business policies and efficiency drives. The resultant uncertainty regarding the political landscape was expected to drive institutions to assess how they might be affected by a variety of potential policy changes.

Central and devolved government policies

Political policies such as education, employment, business & industry, science, environmental and economic policies set sector trends that impact upon the types of student institutions target, the modes of curriculum design and delivery and the research activities they adopt. Government initiatives surrounding employability, graduate attributes, lifelong learning and wider issues such as health and education in the community can have a transformative knock-on effect upon institutions.

A key PESTLE factor for Sheffield Hallam University and its Digital Fluency initiative surrounds graduate attributes and employability. This is leading to a general push towards alignment of the learner experience with these policies. This shift is led by the institution to a certain extent but more so by prior experience and changing expectations of the individual learners.

Digital Fluency case study, Sheffield Hallam University

Research policies of the funding and research councils and knowledge exchange initiatives emanating from the funding councils are also significantly changing the research practice and business community engagement of institutions. For example, research pooling initiatives funded by the Scottish Funding Council are transforming the research landscape and encouraging collaborative working across institutions (SFC 2009). Similarly, the HEFCE-funded Centres for Knowledge Exchange are encouraging institutions to develop innovative partnerships and good practice between institutions and business within specific localities, regions or sectors (HEFCE).

Funding made available to institutions, usually through dedicated project work sponsored by organisations such as the funding councils or JISC, can spark research and innovation across many areas of practice and this can in turn lead to new approaches and processes that eventually become embedded in institutions. While government policies and initiatives encourage or in cases mandate institutions to align their strategies accordingly, as the Work-with-IT case studies illustrate, resulting institutional initiatives arise from a complex range of interrelated factors.

The National Rural project uses the power of the Internet to help rural organisations, networks, societies and universities, to pool and share information about their knowledge transfer events and activities. While social drivers such as communities of practice, the change in demographic of the student population, lifelong learning and location independent working while managing work life balance are all factors in the development of the project, the project itself is very much dependent upon political will – which comes in the form of funding from HEFCE and other funding bodies.

Knowledge Exchange across Rural Borders case study,
National Rural Knowledge Exchange

The PES(T)LE investigation also highlighted that government and funding council policies relating to graduate attributes and employability have been particularly influential in developing a new focus for curriculum development within HE and FE. Similarly, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and the new Research Excellence Framework (REF) are directing institutional approaches to research excellence. However, it is unclear how these policies might be affected or indeed what new policies might be introduced if there is a change in government.

Efficiency drives

Political influences, be it in the form of government or funding council directives, often focus on streamlining educational provision to improve both quality and efficiency. As the Work-with-IT Regional Management Information Systems case study (North West Regional College 2008-2009) illustrates, government decisions to encourage or indeed enforce merging of resources and systems are often dependent on wider environmental factors.

At North West Regional College political factors were very influential. Government bodies wanted a common Management Information System (MIS) that would provide records on which future college funding could be based. To achieve this, the government provided the development with funding and directed the roll-out of the new system. Economic factors also therefore came from this political back drop as the government were heavily involved in the distribution of funding. The MIS development was related to the government strategy of college mergers in Northern Ireland at the time to ensure more economic and business focussed provision. It is believed that while this may have been extremely difficult to achieve in the past, the new political stability in Northern Ireland probably made it easier for the colleges to merge and work together. It could be said that there is also a vested political interest in maintaining good relations and continued funding of similar initiatives (surrounding collaborative working practices and systems) that in turn help preserve political stability.

Regional Management Information Systems case study,
North West Regional College

The PES(T)LE investigation participants felt in general that there would be an increasing focus on efficiency drives, something which was unlikely to change should a new government take office.

Local and regional policies

At a regional or local level, political policies and initiatives designed to address local needs also significantly influence HE and FE institutions. Local economic and social issues are often a driver in areas of high unemployment such as inner cities or rural areas. For example, in the Work-with-IT case studies, political initiatives that provided funding to explore knowledge exchange and cross-boundary working were often born out of attempts to bring geographically disperse communities together, while taking into consideration possible benefits to wider areas of concern such as agricultural and rural communities and ‘rural health and well-being’.

Political agendas such as local education provision and the wish to develop and retain a highly employable workforce within the Highlands and Islands region are key drivers for the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) Millennium Institute and their on-line course provision. Similarly political agendas to improve rural health and well-being of children also indirectly influenced the courses provided here.
UHI Millennium Institute

The PES(T)LE investigation suggested that there may also be further moves towards local initiatives and partnerships, especially in FE, where links with local industry and commercial business often provide much needed funding and community engagement.

From a political/economic perspective, local partnerships or initiatives designed to address unemployment and employability are also expected to be formed at West Lothian College.
West Lothian College

European and international policies

National policies outside the UK can also affect institutions, especially when they are reliant on overseas students for funding. For example, a change in policy that may see a switch from a country sending its postgraduate students abroad to building its own local provision, could significantly impact many HE institutions. Further, more specific policies such as only funding students to attend top 10 ranked UK institutions can have significant implications for institutions should their position in national rankings drop.

From a European perspective, student mobility, research funding and regional development policies have a significant impact on HE and FE in the UK. For example, the Bologna Process aims “to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, in which students can choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures” (European Commission 2009). One immediate impact of this is that UK institutions who wish to participate in student exchanges in the EU need to structure their course credit system to be compatible with the European Credit Transfer System. Similarly, EU Research Framework programmes are designed to develop the research profile, the knowledge economy and society in Europe. The funding streams available significantly direct the research foci of many HE institutions and open up opportunities for European collaborations.

Research is inherently a very international field and European funding will continue to be very important source of income for the E-Research Centre at King’s College. The research technology and infrastructure can only be build properly in an international context and that there is a general trend for more international research collaboration and therefore King’s College need to work with people with similar backgrounds and needs to continue to be successful.
E-Research case study, King’s College London


European Commission. (2009). "The Bologna Process - Towards the European Higher Education Area."   Retrieved 18/01/10, from


HEFCE. (2009). "Centres for Knowledge Exchange."   Retrieved 18/01/10, from

JISC infoNet. (2009). "PESTLE and SWOT Analyses." Tools & Techniques Retrieved 07/01/10, from jiscinfonet.


North West Regional College. (2008-2009). "Regional Management Information Systems." Work-with-IT: JISC Study into the Evolution of Working Practices Retrieved 07/01/10, from work-with-it


SFC. (2009). "Research Pools."   Retrieved 18/01/10, from