Category / Student Engagement

BU Undergrads showcase their research in Sheffield at BCUR 2018

A year on from BU hosting the prestigious British Conference of Undergraduate Research, the annual BCUR 2018 gathering this year was hosted by the University of Sheffield last week.  On the heels of a successful SURE 2018 at BU in March, 7 undergraduate students from across all faculties were supported to showcase their research at BCUR 2018 among close to 600 delegates.  Atanas Nikolaev, a SURE sponsored student and recent graduate of Sports Management did a presentation on his ethnographic study of Embodied Experiences of Women at Leisure Centres, “The most interesting aspect of the conference to me was the opportunity to engage with like-minded people across various scientific fields. It was a great way to get exposure for my research project and be challenged with ideas that could potentially lead to future developments. BCUR was great to learn about research that was of interest to me and to potentially build lasting relationships with young researchers from across the country”.

Bethan Stephenson, an FMC student studying English presented a piece of research entitled ‘The Changing Space of Warwick County Museum’ which challenges notions of memory and how historic accounts are valued.  Bethan said “I really enjoyed the experience of attending the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) at Sheffield University, and found it very illuminating. I got there not really knowing what the conference fully entailed, and so was very pleasantly surprised. As a final year student, I’ve been recently contemplating post-graduation options, and the introduction to BCUR was incredibly informative. They discussed the importance of research-based careers, and the opportunities this can lead to. I’ve always loved research, and have multiple fields that I’m passionate about, and so I really feel like this introductory talk helped confirm my desire to undertake a masters, and possibly a PhD, in the future”.

Other BU students taking part included Charlie Simmons, a business studies marketing student presenting on Digital Immersion and the Streaming of E-Sports.  Tereza Paskova, a final year Tourism student presented on Emotional Intelligence as a tool in customer satisfaction in tourism/hospitality settings.  Isobel Hunt, a Faculty of Science and Technology student studying Psychology presenting on Consumer Decision Making and Trust for Online Restaurant Reviews and Scott Wilkes who is studying Sport Development and Coaching Sciences and also presented his research on the effects of stammer has on social participation in sport amongst Young People.

The involvement of BU undergraduate research at the national BCUR event along with a presence at their annual precursor event, Posters in Parliament, has been possible with key support and involvement from CEL and key contributors across all faculties.  It is an opportune channel for students to engage with the research process and make real world connections to the impact of their work.  For future opportunities in these initiatives, contact Mary Beth Gouthro mgouthro@bournemouth.ac.uk.

 

 

HE policy update for the w/e 29th March 2018

Industrial Strategy

The Creative Industries Sector Deal has been announced.  You can read the document here.

The press release says:

  • As part of a Creative Industries Sector Deal, to be announced today by the Digital and Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Co-Chair of the CIC, Nicola Mendelsohn, more than £150 million is being jointly invested by government and industry to help cultural and creative businesses across Britain thrive.
  • A Cultural Development Fund will also be launched for cities and towns to bid for a share of £20 million to invest in creative and cultural initiatives. The power of culture and creative industries to boost economic growth is evident across the country…[NB Bournemouth is identified as high growth]
  • The Sector Deal aims to double Britain’s share of the global creative immersive content market by 2025, which is expected to be worth over £30 billion by 2025. To seize on the opportunity of this expanding market, government is investing over £33 million in immersive technologies such as virtual reality video games, interactive art shows and augmented reality experiences in tourism.
  • Britain is already leading the way in developing immersive technologies. PWC has predicted that the UK’s virtual reality industry will grow at a faster rate than any other entertainment and media industry between 2016 to 2021, reaching £801 million in value, and that by 2021 there will be 16 million virtual reality headsets in use in the UK.
  • Improving the nations skills is at the heart of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy and to ensure the industry has the skilled workers it needs to deliver this, up to £2 million will be made available to kickstart an industry-led skills package, including a creative careers programme which will reach at least 2,000 schools and 600,000 pupils in 2 years. A new London Screen Academy, with places for up to 1000 students, will also open in 2019.

New Quality Code published

After a consultation proposing changes to the UK Quality Code for HE, (you can read BU’s response here) the QAA have published the new, very short Code. There’s some commentary on Wonkhe here.   It really is short – in a 7 page document there is only one real page of content – but there is more guidance to come.

HE Review

To inform our BU response to the HE Review all staff and students are invited to consider the issues in this (anonymous) 5-minute survey. Please take a look at the survey questions as we’d like to hear from as many staff and students as possible. You don’t have to answer all the questions! The major review of HE will shape the HE system, including how universities are funded for years to come. The survey will be available to staff and students until Friday 20th April.

The Department for Education also published a research report by Youthsight on the influence of finance on higher education decision making

Amongst its findings:

  • University was the only option considered by the majority of applicants (75 per cent), especially those applying to the higher-tariff universities (78 per cent). This was consistent across socio-economic backgrounds. Getting a job and travelling were the main alternatives considered by applicants
  • Financial factors were not the biggest influence on the final decision to apply to university. The most important factors were the desires to be more employable, to achieve the qualification and to pursue an interest in a subject. This was the case for applicants from both the higher and the lower socio-economic groups.
    • Lower socio-economic group applicants placed a higher importance on grants, bursaries and living costs than applicants from higher socio-economic groups, although finance still remained a secondary influence on their decision to apply to university.
    • The course offered (82 per cent of applicants), university reputation (58 per cent), and potential for high future earnings (41 per cent) were the most commonly cited major influences on applicants’ choices about where to study.
    • Differences in bursaries offered, tuition fees charged and the ability to continue living at home were secondary factors when choosing where to study. These factors accounted for three of the bottom four of eleven factors tested that might influence which university to choose. However, they were more important for lower socio-economic group applicants.
  • The maintenance loan, repayment threshold and particularly maintenance grants and university assistance were more important to members of the lower socio-economic group than the higher socio-economic group in alleviating cost concerns.

And the government have published the outcomes of their 2014/15 student income and expenditure survey.  There is a lot of data and there are lots of interesting charts, including figure 2.6 (the influence of financial support on my decisions), table 3.7 (what support English domiciled students received by mode of study), figure 4.3 (breakdown of total student expenditure (this one excludes the tuition fee but there is also a chart that includes it),  figure 4.4 (total expenditure and housing costs).

The data from both these reports will be pored over to support responses to the HE review.

Freedom of speech

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published its report into free speech in universities. The Committee has also published its own guidance for universities and students:

Charity Commission Response: Charity Commission responds to Joint Committee on Human Rights

The Committee don’t identify many actual cases of free speech having been prevented but note a “chilling effect” (it’s hard to prove a negative, of course). The report identifies factors that potentially limit free speech in universities:

  • regulatory complexity
  • intolerant attitudes, often incorrectly using the banner of “no-platforming” and “safe-space” policies
  • incidents of unacceptable intimidating behaviour by protestors intent on preventing free speech and debate
  • student Unions being overly cautious for fear of breaking the rules
  • unnecessary bureaucracy imposed on those organising events
  • fear and confusion over what the Prevent Duty entails
  • unduly complicated and cautious guidance from the Charity Commission.

Recommendations

  • That an independent review of the Prevent policy is necessary to assess what impact it is having on students and free speech, after evidence the Committee took demonstrated an adverse effect on events with student faith groups
  • That the Charity Commission, which regulates student unions as registered charities, review its approach and guidance, and that its actions are proportionate and are adequately explained to student unions and don’t unnecessarily limit free speech
  • That the Office for Students should ensure university policies proactively secure lawful free speech and are not overly burdensome
  • That student societies should not stop other student societies from holding their meetings.  They have the right to protest but must not seek to stop events entirely
  • That while there must be opportunities for genuinely sensitive discussions, and that the whole of the university cannot be a “safe space.” Universities must be places where open debate can take place so that students can develop their own opinions on unpopular, controversial or provocative ideas
  • Groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.

Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said:

  • “Freedom of speech within the law should mean just that – and it is vital in universities. Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights showed that there is a problem of inhibition of free speech in universities. While media reporting has focussed on students inhibiting free speech – and in our report we urge universities to take action to prevent that – free speech is also inhibited by university bureaucracy and restrictive guidance from the Charity Commission. We want students themselves to know their rights to free speech and that’s why we’ve issued a guide for students today.”

Some particular points to note:

  • 41 The imposition of unreasonable conditions is an interference on free speech rights. We do not, for example, consider it a reasonable condition that, if a speaker gives an assurance that their speech will be lawful, they be required to submit a copy or outline of their speech in advance.
  • 42 In our view, freedom of expression is unduly interfered with:
    • when protests become so disruptive that they prevent the speakers from speaking or intimidate those attending;
    • if student groups are unable to invite speakers purely because other groups protest and oppose their appearance; and
    • if students are deterred from inviting speakers by complicated processes and bureaucratic procedures.
      It is clear that, although not widespread, all these problems do occur and they should not be tolerated.
  • 60 Whilst there must be opportunities for genuinely sensitive and confidential discussions in university settings, and whilst the original intention behind safe space policies may have been to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups can feel secure, in practice the concept of safe spaces has proved problematic, often marginalising the views of minority groups. They need to co-exist with and respect free speech. They cannot cover the whole of the university or university life without impinging on rights to free speech under Article 10. When that happens, people are moving from the need to have a “safe space” to seeking to prevent the free speech of those whose views they disagree with. Minority groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.
  • 91 Universities must strike a balance to ensure they respect both their legal duty to protect free speech and their other legal duties to ensure that speech is lawful, to comply with equalities legislation and to safeguard students. It is clearly easier to achieve this if debate is carried out in a respectful and open way. But the right to free speech goes beyond this, and universities need to give it proper emphasis. Indeed, unless it is clearly understood that those exercising their rights to free speech within the law will not be shut down, there will be no incentive for their opponents to engage them in the debate and therefore to bring the challenge that is needed to develop mutual understanding and maybe even to change attitudes.
  • 93 It is reasonable for there to be some basic processes in place so that student unions and universities know about external speakers. Codes of practice on freedom of speech should facilitate freedom of speech, as was their original purpose, and not unduly restrict it. Universities should not surround requests for external speaker meetings with undue bureaucracy. Nor should unreasonable conditions be imposed by universities or student unions on external speakers, such as a requirement to submit their speeches in advance, if they give an assurance these will be lawful.

Migration Advisory Committee report on EEA and non EEA workers

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its interim update on the impact of EEA and non-EEA workers in UK labour market. This is the first MAC inquiry of two – the second one is the one about students, this was more general and about workers across all sectors.

The update sets out a summary of the views expressed by employers and of the regional issues raised. They add that “these themes seem the best way of summarising the views expressed to us but should not be taken to imply that the MAC endorses a sectoral and/or regional approach to post-Brexit migration policy.” The MAC has also published the responses to their call for evidence, broken down by sector.

The report includes the following findings:

  • The vast majority of employers do not deliberately seek to fill vacancies with migrant workers. They seek the best available candidate.
  • Employers often reported skill shortages as one reason for employing EEA migrants.
  • Many EEA workers are in jobs requiring a high level of skill that take years to acquire. But, some of the claims about necessary skill levels seemed exaggerated.
  • Within occupations, EEA migrants are better educated than their UK-born counterparts.
  • The MAC view is that, from the economic perspective this does amount to saying that it is sometimes possible to hire a given quality of worker for lower wages if they are an EEA migrant than if they are UK-born.
  • To the extent that EEA migrants are paid lower wages than the UK-born this may result in lower prices, benefitting UK consumers. Our final report will also consider these possible impacts.
  • Many responses argued that a more restrictive migration policy would lead to large numbers of unfilled vacancies. The MAC view is that this is unlikely in anything other than the short-term.
  • The MAC view is that it is important to be clear about what the consequences of restricting migration would be.

Research bodies update

This week is the launch of UKRI – it is worth looking at their objectives.

.The Council for Innovate UK has been announced. The members are:

  • Sir Harpal Kumar, who will serve as Senior Independent Member through his role as UK Research and Innovation’s Innovation Champion and work closely with the board
  • Dr Arnab Basu MBE, Chief Executive, Kromek Group plc
  • Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FREng FRS (Julia King)
  • Professor Juliet Davenport OBE, Chief Executive, Good Energy
  • Dr John Fingleton, Chief Executive, Fingleton Associates
  • Priya Guha, Ecosystem General Manager, RocketSpace UK
  • Dr Elaine Jones, Vice President, Pfizer Ventures
  • Professor John Latham, Vice-Chancellor of Coventry University
  • Sir William Sargent, Chief Executive, Framestore
  • Stephen Welton, Chief Executive, Business Growth Fund

The REF panels have also been announced – follow this link to see the lists.

Parliamentary Questions

Q Andrew Percy MP

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department is taking steps to ensure that prospective undergraduates understand the potential effect of their choice of course on their prospects post-graduation.

  • A Sam Gyimah MP The department is working to make destinations and outcomes data more accessible to prospective students, to help them compare opportunities and make informed choices about where and what to study.
  • On the 12 March 2018, I announced an Open Data Competition. It will use government data on higher education providers so that tech companies and coders can create websites to help prospective students decide where to apply. This competition will build on the government’s Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset, which gives information on employment and salaries after graduation.
  • Alongside this, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State has requested that the Office for Students include LEO data on the Unistats website as soon as possible.

Q Angela Rayner MP To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate his Department has made of the value of plan 1 student loans that will not be repaid.

  • A: Sam Gyimah MP: It is estimated that the value of the plan 1 student loan book that will not be repaid was £13.1 billion as at 31 March 2017, when future repayments are valued in present terms. The face value of the plan 1 student loan book was £42.8 billion at this time. This information is in the public domain and published on page 155 of the Department for Education’s 2016-17 Annual Report and Accounts which can be found at:
  • https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dfe-consolidated-annual-report-and-accounts-2016-to-2017.

Q Angela Rayner MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the written ministerial statement of 31 October 2017 on government asset sale, HCWS205, what methodology his Department used to decide which loans from the plan 1 loan book would be sold.

  • A Sam Gyimah MP: The loans sold in December 2017 were a selection of loans from the plan 1 loan book issued by English Local Authorities that entered repayment between 2002 and 2006.
  • These loans had the longest history of repayments, the longest servicing history and the most accurate data on borrowers’ historic earnings. This information allowed the government to most accurately value these loans for sale.
  • The government’s objective when issuing loans to students is to allow them to pursue their education regardless of their personal financial situation. Once this objective has been met, however, retaining the loans on the government’s balance sheet serves no policy purpose. These loans could be sold precisely because they have achieved their original policy objective of supporting students to access higher education.
  • Pursuant to Section 4 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008, a report on the sale arrangements was deposited in the House libraries on 7 December 2017 (deposit reference DEP2017-0778): https://www.parliament.uk/depositedpapers.

Q: Angela Rayner MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the written statement of 6 December 2017 on Government Asset Sake, HCWS317, what assessment he has made of the net fiscal effect of the sale of the student loan book after accounting for reduced income arising from lost repayments.

  • A: Sam Gyimah MP: The government only sells assets when it can secure value for money for taxpayers from doing so. In assessing the value for money of the sale, the government took into account repayments foregone on the loans sold. In executing the sale, we achieved a price that exceeded the retention value of the loans sold, calculated in line with standard HM Treasury green book methodology.
  • Selling financial assets, like student loans, where there is no policy reason to retain them, where value for money can be secured and where borrowers are not impacted is sound asset management. The sale ensures government resources are being put to best use and is an important part of our plan to repair public finances.
  • Pursuant to Section 4 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008, a report on the sale arrangements was deposited in the House libraries on 7 December 2017 (deposit reference DEP2017-0778): https://www.parliament.uk/depositedpapers.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 23rd March 2018

HE Review

The major review of HE was announced in late February (see policy update 23 Feb 2018 for our analysis). It’s a Department for Education review supported by an independent panel with an advisory role. The independent panel, led by Philip Augar, have opened a consultation and evidence gathering exercise inviting responses from the education sector and students, industry, professional representative groups and the wider public. The principles of the consultation are:

  • An education system that is accessible to all
  • An education funding system that provides value for money and works for both students and taxpayers
  • A system that incentives choice and competition across the post-18 education sector
  • A system that provides the skills development that the country needs to function productively

Chair of the review panel Philip Augar said:

  • This is an ambitious and wide-ranging review. We begin with no preconceptions. Our priority is to undertake a thorough examination of the evidence and to hear from a broad range of stakeholders who like us are committed to ensuring the system works for everyone.”

This consultation will feed into the independent panel’s interim report. The full HE Review will conclude early in 2019 when the Government will publish their findings and announce policy changes. To inform our BU response to the HE Review all staff and students are invited to consider the issues in this (anonymous) 5-minute survey. Please take a look at the survey questions as we’d like to hear from as many staff and students as possible. You don’t have to answer all the questions! The major review of HE will shape the HE system, including how universities are funded for years to come. The survey will be available to staff until Friday 20th April –but don’t wait until after Easter!

This week HEPI have a guest blogger who discusses his thoughts on the HE review.

Part Time Students

The Government spokesperson, Viscount Younger of Leckie, showed remarkable resilience and adherence to the party line during a challenging House of Lords oral questioning session this week. The charge was led by Baroness Bakewell who called for action and pushed the Government to find further methods to promote part time study following the publication of The Lost Part-Timers (see below). Other members called for maintenance grants to be restored and for a focus on the barriers that part-time students commonly encounter and failings within the new apprenticeships scheme. Viscount Younger’s response was that the HE review focus on flexibility, the duty on the OfS to address this variety of methods to access study, and the incoming (2018-19) part-time maintenance loans would address the questioner’s concerns.  The full text of the Part Time debate is a quick read – you can access it here.

The Lost Part-Timers

On Sunday the Sutton Trust published The Lost Part-Timers which considers the last decade’s decline in UG part-time student numbers in England. Unsurprisingly the 2012/13 higher fee reforms feature heavily. Here are the key findings:

  • Since 2010 part time UG entrants have fallen annually. By 2015 numbers nationally had decreased by 51% – this was most keenly felt at the Open University (OU) whose numbers declined by 63%, whereas other UK universities and FE colleges only declined by 45%. This difference between the OU and the rest of the sector features throughout the data in the report.
  • Colleagues with a particular interest in part time provision will want to reference the full report and access a number of charts which illustrate the level of change in part time numbers for other institutions more clearly – see the difference in degree decline rates in figures 4 (OU) and 5 (others).
  • Using the OU decline data combined with the fee increases (English student increase in fees of 247%, compared to 2% for those from Scotland and Wales) at 2015, numbers in England were down by 63%. The Sutton Trust conclude that this indicates that a decline in the English numbers would likely have occurred regardless of the 2012 changes, but that it is much higher as a result of the fees increase. They attribute 40% of the numbers decline to the fee changes.
  • The biggest drops have been among mature students over-35, those pursuing sub-degree qualifications, such as courses leading to institutional credit, and low intensity courses (lower than 25% full-time equivalent).
  • The decline in part-time study has significant knock-on effects for widening participation, particularly as young part-time students tend to be less well-off than those studying full-time. Using the POLAR measure of disadvantage, 17% of young part-time students are from the most disadvantaged group, compared to just 12% of full-time.
  • Interestingly, the drop in numbers between 2010 and 2015 has been highest for the most advantaged group of young entrants – 59% compared to 42% for the most disadvantaged group. Nevertheless, the Sutton Trust note that the 42% drop is extremely significant for a group that need greater access to higher education.

Her are the Sutton Trust’s Recommendations (verbatim):

  1. The government’s Review of Post-18 Education should recognise that the costs of tuition for part time and mature students need to be tackled to reduce barriers to entry. The review should acknowledge the end of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to student finance, and recognise that the mature and part-time sector requires tailored solutions. One option, which calculations for this report show would come at a low or zero additional cost per student, would be to give students who are eligible for the new part-time maintenance loan the option of a tuition fee grant for the first two years of their course instead of having to take out a maintenance loan.
  2. In the longer term, government should consider the most effective use of additional resources to combat the decline in mature and part-time study. Options include widening eligibility for student support (in terms of means-testing and relaxing equivalent qualification conditions), or increased teaching grants to universities through a ‘part-time premium’. The latter option could particularly help to alleviate declines in the supply of part-time courses.
  3. Information on fees and loan eligibility should be much clearer for prospective students. Providing accurate, up-to-date data on fees and ‘fees per full-time equivalent student’ in an easily accessible form should be a priority for the Office for Students. Eligibility criteria should be streamlined to make them less complex and easier to understand.
  4. Resources should be invested in reinvigorating lifelong learning, particularly for the less well-off. In a rapidly changing economy, the need to upskill is likely to become greater and greater. It is essential that this doesn’t lead to a two tier-workforce. Additional resources for supporting lifelong learning should be directed at those with lower levels of education and from low socio-economic backgrounds who would benefit the most.
  5. Data collection that can inform future policy should be improved. There are four sets of information which, if they were available more systematically, would make future analysis much more effective: part-time tuition fees, loan eligibility and loan take up, and means to measure the impact on social mobility of mature entry to higher education.

Widening Participation and Social Mobility

Social Mobility Commission – The Commons Education select committee has concluded that the Social Mobility Commission ‘needs greater powers and ‘should be complemented by a new delivery body to drive forward social justice initiatives across Government and the country’. Among the enhanced powers proposed is greater resource for the Commission to publish social justice impact assessments on Government policies and to proactively advise Ministers on social justice issues in an independent capacity (currently they can only advise Ministers when requested to do so). The Committee also expressed regret that the Commission’s membership had to operate at a reduced capacity and now recommends a minimum membership of seven members in addition to the Chair.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP for Harlow, Chair of the Education Committee, stated:

  • “Without stronger powers the Social Mobility Commission will do little to tackle social injustices and give the most vulnerable in society the chance they deserve to climb the ladder of opportunity. The Government needs to co-ordinate the social justice agenda from the centre and should give a Minister in the Cabinet Office specific responsibility to lead on this work and to ensure that the policies deliver in improving opportunities for all.
  • It’s crucial that a new body is created inside Government with the levers and powers to co-ordinate and drive forward initiatives across Whitehall and ensure social justice is delivered across the country. We need a Commission which has the teeth to undertake objective assessments of the implications for social justice of Government policies and is properly equipped to hold Ministers’ feet to the fire on social mobility.”

The Education Committee has recommended the ‘revamped’ Social Mobility Commission should be paired with a body inside Government to coordinate action and implement solutions. It also recommended that as the Commission should seek to offer all people equal access to opportunities the name should be changed to the Social Justice Commission. The Education Committee has published a draft Bill to enact the recommended changes.

Displaced People – UUK report that there are more than 65 million displaced people in the world (almost 1% of the global population). Of these:

  • 61% are under 26 – therefore almost 40 million young people are estimated as likely to be missing out on education at all levels, and
  • only 1% of displaced people are in higher education. UUK state this loss of individual opportunity and human potential is immense.

UUK has launched a guide for institutions outlining how they can support refugees and displaced people.

Three relevant parliamentary questions this week:

Education maintenance allowance – Q – John Cryer (Lab): Did the abolition of the education maintenance allowance contribute to or hinder social mobility?

  • A – Damian Hinds (Con): With the alternative funding that was put in place, it was possible for sixth-form colleges to do other things to ensure that they were attracting the full range of students. More disadvantaged youngsters are going on to university than ever before.

Improving participation – Q – Ms Marie Rimmer: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to improve participation of students from under-represented areas in further or higher education.

  • A – Sam Gyimah: Widening participation in further and higher education is a priority for this government and we want to continue to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from it, regardless of background or where they grew up. ‘Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential’ published in December 2017 set out our plan for improving social mobility through education.
  • Whilst more disadvantaged 18 year olds are going to university than ever before we have, through our first guidance to the Office for Students (OfS), asked the OfS to encourage higher education (HE) providers to undertake outreach work with schools, and to focus particularly in those parts of the country with the greatest challenges, including in opportunity areas. These areas have been identified as those weakest in both the 2016 Social Mobility Commission’s index and the Department for Education’s data on school standards and capacity to improve.
  • In addition, the National Collaborative Outreach Programme run by the Higher Education Funding Council for England is supporting 29 consortia (including HE providers, further education (FE) colleges, schools, employers and others) to undertake outreach activities in geographical areas where the HE participation of young people is both low and much lower than expected based on GCSE-level attainment.
  • FE providers already fulfil a crucial role in driving social mobility by equipping or reskilling individuals with relevant labour market skills, providing routes into further study and often acting as a second chance at a basic education.
  • FE providers will play a key role in our reforms to technical education, leading to more and better opportunities for young people, whatever their background and ensuring that they are on a high quality route to employment.
  • A thriving careers system, that is accessible to everyone, is at the heart of our focus on social mobility. Our recently published careers strategy will support everyone, whatever their background, to go as far as their talents will take them and have a rewarding career.

Commuter students and Maintenance Grants – Q – Baroness Deech: What assessment they have made of (1) the impact of the abolition of maintenance grants on university students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and (2) the report from the Sutton Trust, Home and Away, which found that students who cannot afford to live away from home while at university are disadvantaged in terms of social mobility.

  • A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The government published an equality analysis in November 2015 which sets out the impact of the abolition of maintenance grants on protected and disadvantaged groups of students. We are seeing record rates of 18 year olds, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, entering full-time higher education. Our new reforms to higher education will go further to ensure the system is offering more choice and value for money for all students.
  • We have increased support for full-time students’ living costs by 2.8% in 2017/18 to £8,430 a year for eligible full-time students from households with low incomes who live away from home and study outside London – the highest ever amount.
  • The Sutton Trust’s report provides helpful insight into the experience of students who choose not to relocate for study. This is why government’s review of post-18 education and funding will consider how we can encourage and support learning that is more flexible for students, including commuter study options.
  • The review will also consider what more can be done through the financial support available to widen access to university for disadvantaged students, including making sure that the right maintenance support is available.

Parliamentary Questions

Student Electoral Registration – Q – Cat Smith: What steps he is taking with the Department for Education to implement the student electoral registration provision of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.

  • A – Chloe Smith: The Cabinet Office and Department for Education worked together on the public consultation that led to the issuing of Ministerial Guidance to the Office for Students (OfS) on electoral registration. The OfS is now in the process of drafting guidance to HE providers which will be made available later this year.

Non-Continuation – Q – Gordon Marsden: With reference to the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s non-continuation performance indicators, published on 8 March, what steps he is taking to tackle the increase in non-continuation rates for mature students.

  • A – Sam Gyimah: The data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) on 8 March 2018 shows that the non-continuation rate for mature students has remained broadly similar over recent years, regardless of course type or mode of delivery. The vast majority of higher education students complete their courses and achieve their chosen qualification. However, we are not complacent. We want everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education to be able to do so but we recognise that some students are at a higher risk of ‘dropping out’.
  • The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework includes a metric that measures continuation rates. Institutions with below average retention rates will receive a negative flag, which may affect their overall award. This will incentivise institutions to take measures to improve retention rates.
  • Within the first access and participation guidance to the Office for Students (OfS), my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State has asked the OfS to encourage higher education providers, when developing their access and participation plans, to build on work already underway aimed at improving student retention. This guidance also asks the OfS to encourage providers to consider the recruitment and support of mature learners.

TEF for private providers – Q – Lord Storey: (a) Whether the rating of degree courses as gold, silver or bronze will also apply to those private colleges offering higher education degrees.
(b) Whether the rating of degree courses as gold, silver or bronze will apply to overseas universities established by UK universities.

  • A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: (a) Private colleges offering higher education degrees can participate in the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) if they meet the eligibility requirements. From the 2019-20 academic year, TEF will be a condition of registration for providers with more than 500 students on higher education courses. Smaller providers, for whom the cost of participation might be disproportionate, may participate on a voluntary basis if they meet the eligibility criteria.(b) The delivery of UK ratings or awards to overseas campuses of UK providers is outside the scope of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

Revisiting older discussions on impact of EU student decline – Q – Lord Fox: What estimate they have made of the possible reduction in the number of EU students registering for UK universities in the event of those students having to pay international fees following Brexit.

  • A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: EU students, staff and researchers make an important contribution to our universities. We want that contribution to continue and are confident – given the quality of our higher education sector – that it will.Analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency finance data shows that in 2015/16, EU tuition fee income accounted for around 2.3% of total higher education institution sector income in the UK. However, some institutions are more dependent on the EU tuition fee income meaning the impact of leaving the EU may be greater for some institutions than others. The precise impact will depend on the outcome of the UK’s negotiations with the EU and the subsequent response of universities.

Strikes – compensation for students – Q – Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he is taking steps to secure compensation for students affected by strike action by university lecturers; and if he will make a statement.

  • A- Sam Gyimah: Universities are autonomous institutions and it is for them to ensure that they meet their obligations to their students. We remain concerned about any impact of strike action on students and expect universities to put in place measures to maintain the quality of education that students should receive. I am aware that during this period universities are putting in place measures to mitigate the impact of the industrial action on students, and that some are putting withheld salaries into student support funds. I would expect universities to offer financial compensation where the quality of a student’s experience has been seriously affected. I am pleased that some have already said they will consider this and I would urge others to do so.

Cyber Crime – Q – Gordon Marsden: How many cyber security related incidents affected (a) further education colleges and (b) higher education institutions in 2017.

  • A – Anne Milton: Jisc, who provide ICT infrastructure services to further education (FE) colleges and higher education (HE) institutions, reported that in 2017 the Jisc Security Operations Centre responded to 5,023 security incidents or queries from HE and FE in England. These include malware, phishing, copyright infringements, compromise, denial of service and RIPA requests. The impact of an incident varies greatly from minimal to significant. Of these 1,389 incidents or queries were from FE institutions in England and 3,634 from HE institutes.

And there’s more…

You may also be interested in the responses to the following parliamentary questions and debates:

Consultations

Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations:

Other news

Contract Cheating: The Advertising Standards Agency has upheld two complaints (originating from the QAA) against an essay mill company. The complaints focussed on the semantics within an advert and led to the ruling preventing similar advertising within the essay mill organisation. QAA states the ruling represents: the first successful challenge to their claims of legitimacy, exposing their cynical use of anti-plagiarism disclaimers and exploitative media referencing. The Telegraph covers the ruling in Essay mill website must warn students about risks of submitting fake work, advertising watchdog rules.

Health & Social Care: The House of Commons Treasure Committee tackled health and social care on Tuesday discussing what would be required in the 2019 spending review to address pressures on social care. A spokesperson for the Office for Budget Responsibility, Chote, confirmed it was a choice between recalibrating policy in the area or reducing spending in other areas to spend additional money in social care. Chote noted tackling the social care issue would make it more difficult to meet deficit reduction targets by the mid-2020s. He also spoke about uncertainties related to the impact of migration on social care need in the future and possible effects on immigration policy changes.

HE Sector Financial Health: HEFCE reported on the (16/17) financial health of the HE sector this week concluding that overall the sector is sound and generally outperformed financial forecasts. However, there was considerable variability in the financial performance and position of individual institutions. In general there has been a rise in borrowing and reductions in surplus and cash levels. Facing the future the uncertainties of Brexit, global competition, and UK education policy instability were all noted as significant factors for sustainability moving forward.

HEFCE’s Chief Executive, Professor Madeleine Atkins, said:

As the higher education landscape evolves, institutions will need to be alert to emerging risks and opportunities. The sector has risen to these sorts of challenges in the past, forecasting prudently and showing itself to be adaptable to a more competitive and uncertain environment. However, any risks will need careful monitoring and mitigation to ensure long-term sustainability.

Student Housing: Early in his role HE Minister Sam Gyimah championed unreasonable student rent prices. This week Student Co-op Homes issued the press release: New national body launched to fix “broken” student housing market. The organisation aims to provide value for money in student accommodation and promotes the three student housing co-operatives (accommodation owned and managed by students) that have been established nationally. Currently the three housing co-operatives manage 150 beds (aiming to expand to 10,000 beds by 2023), have lowered rents by 10-30%, reinvesting rental income to improve the quality of the accommodation. The Financial Times covered the story here.

Advance HE: The Advance HE website has gone live, view it here.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

Follow: @PolicyBU on Twitter                        |                       policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Congratulations to the winners of the 2018 Research Photography Competition

This year marks the forth year of our annual Research Photography Competition at BU. We received 31 submissions from BU academics, students across all levels and professional services.

Sharing research through photography is a great opportunity to make often complex subjects much more accessible to all.  This year over 1,500 people from all over the world voted in the competition, showing the power of images to engage and inspire.  The research behind photos this year included areas such as archaeology, dementia and forensic science, among others.

The photography theme this year was people.  The theme was open to interpretation, with photographers choosing to take an image of their research team, show people who might benefit or be affected by the research or even take a point of view shot.  This year’s winners were announced in the Atrium Art Gallery on Tuesday 20 March, with prizes presented by Professor John Fletcher, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation.  Details of the winners can be found below.

The photos are currently displayed in an art exhibition in the Atrium Art Gallery which demonstrates the creativity of our BU researchers and the diversity of research being undertaken. It’s a really enjoyable way to find out about research in areas within and outside your discipline or interests, and value the work and efforts.   Do drop in and see the images, if you have a few minutes to spare!

The winners of the 2018 Research Photography Competition are:

1st place: Virtual Reality: The best way to train surgeons of the future?

By Shayan Bahadori (Orthopaedic Project Manager) and Mara Catalina Aguilera Canon (Postgraduate Researcher, Faculty of Media and Communication). 

In recent years we have seen a decline in theatre operating training time for junior surgeons. Simulators have subsequently been increasingly integrated as training, selection and evaluation tools. To fully formally integrate simulation into orthopaedic training we require evidence that the simulators are valid representations of the operations they seek to replicate. This is one the current research focus at Orthopaedic Research Institute (ORI) and we pursue to validate and develop virtual reality orthopaedic simulators so that they may be adopted into mainstream clinical practice.

2nd place: Soil micro-organisms

By Hai Luu (Postgraduate student, Faculty of Science and Technology).

Ciliates protozoa are a distinct group of unicellular organisms. They are abundant phagotrophic micro-organisms in soil, playing important role in food webs by controlling the abundance of smaller microbes and recycling organic matter. Ciliates are characterised by some specific traits. Firstly, ciliates are dikaryotic organisms due to having two different cell nuclei; one is responsible for reproduction; the other one carries out cell functions. Secondly, they use cilia for locomotion and feeding. Interestingly, ciliates can reproduce asexually and sexually. From an ecological and functional point of view, ciliates can be used as bioindicators of soil quality – and this is the aim of our research. We are investigating the species richness and abundance of ciliated protozoa in natural and agricultural soils in order to assess their potential as bioindicators of soil quality. Soil quality plays an important role  in agricultural production in terms of both quantity and quality, this links closely to quality of human life. This image shows Colpoda cucullus, a terrestrial ciliate commonly found in soils around the world, which was taken as a point of view shot through a microscope.

Research group: Hai Luu, Professor Genoveva Esteban, and Dr Iain Green (Senior Lecturer in Biological Science). Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology.

3rd place: The birth of Carnival U

By Dr Nicole Ferdinand (Senior Lecturer in Events Management) and her MSc Events Management student researchers: Diane Nthurima (pictured on the left), Cindy Chen (pictured on the right), Rui Bao, Yi-Hsin Chen, Simona Georgieva,  Amelie Lonia, Anh Thu Pham, Taylor Treacy and Sharif Zandani.

The photo is a joint entry by the co-creators of the Carnival U which consists of 10 enthusiastic and one BU academic. Together they are embarking on a journey to create a unique a fusion project. The students are working together with BU academic, Dr Nicole Ferdinand, CEL Learning and Teaching Fellow 2017/18, to create 4 workshops which target other university students interested in Carnival. They will engage in action research as part of the development of their workshops as well as evaluate the overall effectiveness of their co-creation efforts which will form the basis of an academic research paper. The project will also leave an educational legacy for other students wishing to develop event management, marketing and digital literacy skills.


The exhibition will be open until Thursday, 29 March at 2pm, in the Atrium Art Gallery on Talbot Campus. Please do fill in one of our feedback cards in the gallery after visiting the exhibition.

Research Photography Competition awards ceremony today!

The awards ceremony for this year’s Research Photography Competition is taking place on Tuesday, 20 March from 1-2pm.

The winners that you’ve been voting for will be revealed and awarded prizes by Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor John Fletcher.

Come along to the Atrium Art Gallery to see all the photographs in person and find out about the fascinating research behind each one, undertaken by our academics, students across all levels and professional services.

The exhibition is open to all and free to attend so please do come along with colleagues and friends. Nibbles and refreshments will be provided.

Click here to register to attend.

If you’re unable to join us today, the exhibition will be open from 20 March – 29 March (weekdays only) from 10am – 6pm.

Don’t miss out!

 

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s SURE 2018

Around 80 students took part in BU’s third annual undergraduate research conference: Showcasing Undergraduate Research Excellence (SURE).  The conference is an excellent opportunity for undergraduates and recent graduates to share their work and develop their presentation skills.  This year’s contributions reflected the breadth and depth of outstanding undergraduate research taking place across BU.

The conference allows students to present their work to peers, academics staff and attendees from external organisations.  As well as demonstrating their academic successes, it enables students to see the real world application of their work and develop potential cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Dr Mary Beth Gouthro, co-chair of the conference, said: “The quality of the undergraduate research underway across all our faculties is testament to the potential of our students, and the professionalism and expertise of the staff that support them.  SURE is a great opportunity to celebrate the work of our undergraduates, showcasing their academic progress and provides encouragement into the next steps in their careers.”

As part of SURE, two BU academics shared their own research with the student presenters and conference attendees.  Professor of Behavioural Ecology Amanda Korstjens delivered a session on ‘Interdisciplinary approaches to conservation’ encouraging students to look outside their disciplines to build better practice when conserving wildlife and natural habitats.  Associate Professor Richard Berger presented progress made into his research on ‘MediaLitRefYouth’, a 2 year EU funded project which seeks to understand the lives of unaccompanied refugee children across Europe.  Both of these keynotes provided students the ability to reflect the power and reach of academic research combines with real world applications to help improve lives, for the better.

There were a number of prize winners as part of the conference, including £30 amazon vouchers for best posters, 4 funded spots to participate at BCUR 2018 for one student from each faculty.  The overall winner, Andrew Watt, has been offered a Masters fee waiver.

Winner of the prize for best overall contribution, Andrew Watt, commented, “It feels pretty exciting, I didn’t expect it. My presentation was about how fallers and non-fallers in the elderly differ from a bio-mechanical perspective, which is pretty niche. I found the feedback I received from my presentation were positive and it was good practice to have some difficult questions, especially for this next conference.”

“I’ve had several lecturers who weren’t at the conference contacting me to say congratulations.  I think my lecturers are just really proud of the physiotherapy students who presented. It’s great that they are so supportive.”

More details about the conference can be found on the SURE 2018 website.

SUBU prizes:

 FM winner Claudia Wilkin
FST winner David Hurst

Best poster, demonstration or art installation:

HSS winner Thilo Reich
FST winner Stelian Tsekov
FM winner Dan Pryke
FMC winner Kate Edge

Best original research via oral presentation:

HSS winner Andrew Watt
FST winner Isobel Hunt
FM winner Atanas Nikolaev
FMC winner Bethan Stevenson

Best overall contribution:

Masters Fee Waiver Andrew Watt

 

SURE conference today – Student case study (Georgina Polius)

Georgina Polius is in her second year of BA Sociology and Anthropology in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, and is one of the students who has decided to participate in this year’s upcoming Showcasing Undergraduate Research Excellence (SURE) conference.

Georgina was encouraged to apply by her lecturer, Dr Rosie Read, who informed the entire class to participate in the SURE conference. “Initially, the word abstract scared me a bit because I would have to condense my work into a few lines but after further discussion with my family, I decided to go for it.”

Her assignment research looks at the underlying problem of food poverty within modern British society which was carried out within a foodbank in Bournemouth, working among the volunteers. “Having grown up in a volunteering culture, it has become for me a way of life,” says Georgina. “More specifically, my interest in the foodbank area was sparked by one of my course units I studied last semester where we were sent into the Bournemouth foodbanks to research the personal reasons behind the seemingly household phenomenon of volunteering.”

“I do believe that SURE is a good way to showcase our work as we, as students, have been given the opportunity for various academics and other students to see our work and receive unbiased feedback, which will help us to improve for the future. It also gives us a place to highlight real world issues.”

“I hope to use this exposure from SURE to improve my self-confidence and assertiveness in public speaking which would be an asset to me as I continue with my university studies and eventually into the world of research,” she says. “Most students would perhaps only get to publish their work or experience this type of exposure if they continued to a Master’s programme.”

The Showcasing Undergraduate Research Excellence conference will taking place on 7 March 2018. Many undergraduate students from across the university will be presenting their research throughout the conference in a variety of different ways, from presentations to posters and art installations. Please register via the Eventbrite page if you would like to attend.

For more details, visit the SURE website or email the SURE team.

Voting is now open for the Research Photography Competition!

The Research Photography Competition is a great way for academics and student researchers to capture and share the excellent research undertaken at BU. Each year, the competition has a different theme which can be interpreted in any way, and this year’s theme is people.

It’s down to you, the public, to vote for your favourite image which will determine the top 3 winners of this year’s Research Photography Competition. Voting closes at 4pm on Monday 12 March.

Click here to go to the voting web page.

All photo submissions will be exhibited in the Atrium Art Gallery on Talbot Campus from 20-30 March 2018 and is an opportunity to find out about the research behind each photo in much more detail.

 

​You can take a look at our Photo of the Week on the research website for previous year’s entries and the research behind their photos.

Let the best photo win!

HE Policy update for the w/e 23rd February 2018

It has been a busy week with the launch of the “major review of HE fees and funding” (except it may not be…) on Monday and a deluge of commentary and calls for change to follow. And other things happened too.

Major Review of HE

The much announced, long postponed HE “major” review is finally happening. And following the early start during last summer’s “national conversation” there is a lot to say – and it is being said. So we will try to help you navigate the many, many arguments and angles over the next year .

To start with the facts

  • The review has been announced, it has a panel and terms of reference (these are very short and high level). There are links to the speeches and press releases on the gov.uk website. The PM’s speech is here: The right education for everyone
  • The review will run for a year with an interim report (not sure when) – and will be concluded in early 2019.

Panel (from the website):

  • Chaired by Philip Augar, a leading author and former non-executive director of the Department for Education
  • Bev Robinson – Principal of Blackpool and The Fylde College. She has over 20 years’ experience in Further and Higher education colleges in England and has been Awarded an OBE for her services to FE.
  • Edward Peck – Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University since August 2014. Previously, Professor Peck worked at the University of Birmingham as Director of the Health Services Management Centre and subsequently became Head of the School of Public Policy in 2006.
  • Alison Wolf – (Baroness Wolf of Dulwich) a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords, and author of the influential Wolf Review of Vocational Education, published in 2011. She has advised the House of Commons select committee on education and skills as well as the OECD, the Ministries of Education of New Zealand, France and South Africa, and the European Commission among others.
  • Sir Ivor Martin Crewe – Master of University College, Oxford and President of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is the former Chair of the 1994 Group and President of Universities UK.
  • Jacqueline De Rojas – President of techUK and the chair of the Digital Leaders board. She also serves on the government’s Digital Economy Council and was awarded a CBE for Services to International Trade in Technology in the Queen’s New Year Honours list 2018.

The terms of reference

After that there is much less detail – it all becomes less about facts and more about politics.  Firstly – the review is a DfE review not an independent review – the external panel is advisory – the website says:

  • The wide-ranging review will be informed by independent advice from an expert panel from across post 18 education, business and academia”.

There is a total absence of process in any of the materials published so far. So what will the process be? Will there be a consultation? Surely there will be – but this does not look like the sort of review that has led to major review in the past.

Then there is the timing. The review will run for a year with an interim report at some point– and will be concluded in early 2019. Which, as has been pointed out, coincides with Brexit (we are due to leave and start the “transition” period on 29th March 2019) – and has also been pointed out, may coincide with a leadership change or a general election in the UK – depending on how things are going with Brexit including how things go with the parliamentary “meaningful vote” on Brexit.

The Minister for Universities was very open on this subject the question of timing early after his appointment (see our policy update from 2nd Feb)– he said it would not be “credible” to expect changes before the 2018/19 intake. On the announced timing, the changes may not be in time to take effect before the 2019/20 intake either – although less significant changes to the current system, such as interest rates, repayment thresholds, small changes to fee caps, would be possible. If maintenance grants are part of the change they could be in place for 2019/20 entry although they may not affect access that year as most students will already have applied or made other plans – unless plans are trailed very heavily in the interim report and clear indication is given that they will be in place. But we are leaping ahead.

After much discussion about the need to review funding for Further Education as well, and people talking about a post-16 review, the terms of reference call it a “Review of Post-18 Education and Funding”. So it does apply to FE but only applies to post-18 provision.

So it is a major review of fees and funding?

The title is important – it is a review of “Education and Funding”. The speech and the terms of reference were revealing – at least as it has been announced, this is not primarily a review of tuition fees and university funding. What it is (from the terms of reference) is “a major review across post-18 education and funding to ensure a joined up system that works for everyone”.

  • It’s a review of the “system”.
  • Its objectives are:
    • accessibility of the education system
    • a funding system that “provides value for money and works for students and taxpayers”
    • choice and competition
    • skills development

But isn’t this already happening anyway?

So the review is about choice, competition, flexible provision, accelerated degrees, degree apprenticeships, technical education. We already have:

  • the changes put in place by the Higher Education and Research Act
  • the arrangements for the Office for Students and new regulatory system to promote choice and accessibility
  • a new regime for alternative providers
  • an consultation on accelerated degrees which has just closed
  • arrangements for degree apprenticeships and Institutes of Technology
  • a plan for better careers advice (see our policy update from 8th December)

The two areas that have not been addressed by existing initiative are part-time and life-time education.

Might the review therefore make new recommendations to take these initiatives and priorities forward?

In her speech the PM said:

  • This is a review which, for the first time, looks at the whole post-18 education sector in the round, breaking down false boundaries between further and higher education, so we can create a system which is truly joined-up.  Universities – many of which provide technical as well as academic courses – will be considered alongside colleges, Institutes of Technology and apprenticeship providers. There are huge success stories to be found right across the sector, at every level, and by taking a broad view, Philip and his expert panel will be able to make recommendations which help the sector to be even better in the future.”

So it seems not. It is about “joining up” and “breaking down false barriers between further and higher education”. What does that mean? Changing admissions policies after recent press relating to BTECs? (see a recent HEFCE publication here), doing something to support pathways from FE to HE. From the terms of reference it seems to be about transparency and choice for students in relation to funding.

That’s really interesting. Degree apprentices not only don’t pay (or borrow) tuition fees, but they also receive a salary while completing their apprenticeship. That will be a real incentive and as more apprenticeships become available over time is likely to have an impact on enrolments for traditional degrees. So is this just about making sure that more students realise the financial implications of apprenticeships?

Or is this something different – is this hinting at having one single system of funding for all post-18 education at whatever level? If based on loans, that would reduce the value of the current apprenticeship offer – and it would not help with recruitment to achieve the government’s target. But there could be – the government is piloting a flexible lifetime learning fund.

It is interesting that the two quotes alongside the PM’s on the website are from the CBI and David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, who said:

  • “I am very pleased that the Review is looking at the whole system of post-18 education funding. The growth in higher education numbers and the widened access has almost exclusively been for young people taking traditional 3 year undergraduate degrees. That is good news for our economy and for society, and must not be damaged going forward.
  • However, that very growth has been at the expense of adequate and fair investment in the 50% of young people who leave education at 18 and who want to study to higher levels later. Their opportunities have been hampered because of the lack of attention, leading to fewer chances, less funding and a lack of support for them to learn whilst working.”

It will be interesting to see what questions the review starts to ask and where this goes.

It’s all about skills

Consistent with the Industrial Strategy, the term of reference talk about skills.  The Industrial Strategy has a focus on skills which is supported by a whole raft of educational policies, some before 18, such as the new T-levels, and some mentioned already, such as Institutes of Technology and degree apprenticeships.  This is another area where it will be interesting to see what more the review will do beyond the policies already announced. After all, Baroness Wolf was the author of the review on vocational education for 16-19 year olds.

Of course, there is also the potential link between skills and differentiated fees or funding (see below).

It’s about fairness and access

The first point is about access, progression and success for people from disadvantaged backgrounds – a consistent theme from the PM since her appointment – the “great meritocracy” and a focus on social mobility. This is enshrined in the rules of engagement for the Office for Students, and we are eagerly awaiting the first set of guidance from the Office for Students on the next round of fair access agreements. So the review might look at how this is going and what more could be done – although it seems a bit early as this the first opportunity the OfS will have had since taking over.

The second point is very important.   You won’t have missed the many calls from students, the NUS, UUK and others to remember that tuition fees are not the whole story – and that day to day, the real worry for many students is their living costs.

  • Unlike tuition fees, which for undergraduate students are covered in full by loans paid directly to universities, so that they never see the money or the bill until much later, concerns about maintenance costs directly affect students while they are at university.
  • Maintenance loans are means tested based on family income. They therefore fluctuate each year, leaving parents to make up the difference. Not all parents are able, or willing to do that, especially when the assessment depends on last year’s income – which may have changed.
  • The cost of living for students can be extremely high, especially in London, but also depending on the available accommodation – so even students with a full loans are unlikely in many cases to have enough money to cover all their living expenses.
  • Students may have to work to support themselves, which can have an impact on their studies.
  • There are concerns about the impact that this pressure has on the wellbeing and mental health of students.

So many have called , not least UUK, to look at a reintroduction of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students. Could this be the big change that this review will recommend?

Before anyone gets carried away, though, the terms of reference refer to support from the government and from universities and colleges. Is this a reference to the question of bursaries – OFFA have for a long time questioned the effectiveness of bursaries in supporting access and with the new focus on participation and outcomes this area may now be looked at again.

According to OFFA, in 2015/16, universities spent:

  • £447.5 million on financial support, of which:
    • £428.8 million on bursaries, scholarships and fee waivers (discounts) for lower income students and other under-represented groups. The vast majority of this money (87 per cent) went to the poorest students i.e. those with a household income under £25,000
    • £18.7 million on hardship funds for students experiencing severe financial difficulties.

Could universities be directed to increase bursary funding (and presumably not reduce other fair access expenditure)? That seems unlikely given the OFFA view that bursaries don’t necessarily improve access – OFFA have recently challenged institutions to collect evidence about impact. Maybe there are different ways of organising bursaries.

There are already concerns expressed in the new regulatory framework about universities gaming the system to improve outcomes by cutting back on WP students but the conflict would be even greater if universities have to fund maintenance costs for WP students. So universities may be calling for incentives and support if the funding is to come from them and not in the form of grants.

So it’s about fees and funding?

So while we have said above that the review is about the system, about skills and about social mobility, of course fees and funding are at the heart of the review. Aren’t they?

What the PM said was:

  • But the review will also look more widely, and examine our whole system of student funding.  There are many aspects of the current system which work well.  Universities in England are now better funded than they have been for a generation. And sharing the cost of university between taxpayers as a whole and the graduates who directly benefit from university study is a fair principle. It has enabled us to lift the cap on the number of places – which was in effect a cap on aspiration – so universities can expand and so broaden access.
  • But I know that other aspects of the system are a cause for serious concern – not just for students themselves, but parents and grandparents too. This is a concern which I share. The competitive market between universities which the system of variable tuition fees envisaged has simply not emerged. All but a handful of universities charge the maximum possible fees for undergraduate courses.
  • Three-year courses remain the norm.
  • And the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course. We now have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world.  We have already begun to take action to address some of these concerns. We scrapped the increase in fees that was due this year, and we have increased the amount graduates can earn before they start repaying their fees to £25,000.
  • The review will now look at the whole question of how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies including the level, terms and duration of their contribution. Our goal is a funding system which provides value for money for graduates and taxpayers, so the principle that students as well as taxpayers should contribute to the cost of their studies is an important one. I believe – as do most people, including students – that those who benefit directly from higher education should contribute directly towards the cost of it. That is only fair. 
  • The alternative – shifting the whole burden of university tuition onto the shoulders of taxpayers as a whole – would have three consequences.
  • First, it would inevitably mean tax increases for the majority of people who did not go to university, and who on average earn less than those who did.
  • Second, it would mean our universities competing with schools and hospitals for scarce resources, which in the past meant they lost out, putting their international pre-eminence at risk.
  • And third, it would mean the necessary re-introduction of a cap on numbers, with the Treasury regulating the number of places an institution could offer, and preventing the expansion which has driven wider access in recent years.
  • That is not my idea of a fair or progressive system.”

So no major review of the funding system, then. Instead it will look at “the whole question of how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies including the level, terms and duration of their contribution”. That’s not a shift away from loans to government funding of HE although it may be a shift towards renaming and changing the current system as a graduate tax of some form. It suggests a review of interest rates, and of the 30 year repayment term. Many will argue that this is not the “whole question” at all. And of course the review may be faced with overwhelming evidence that there is more to the issue than this, despite the assumptions made at the start.

And the Prime Minister herself chose to describe the system as broken:

  • “…we must have an education system at all levels which serves the needs of every child. And if we consider the experience which many young people have of our system as it is, it is clear that we do not have such a system today.”

This is a direct response to the argument that young people turned to Labour partly as a result of the Labour position on fees – see my blog for the Lighthouse group on this. More recent research has questioned whether young people really did turn out in force after all.

It is worth mentioning here that the idea that the PM has just realised that tuition fees are high is odd – but apart from the point that this is a result of her own party’s policy in the coalition government there is a real point here – i.e. that nearly all courses cost the same. Many of those involved in the changes to tuition fees – including David Willetts, have said that was not what was expected. I have heard, but have not seen any analysis, that although fees generally replaced HEFCE funding (so no windfall), there was an uplift in university income because the modelling did not assume that the full amount would be charged for all courses. Of course the change in the student number cap has meant an increase in income as well – but with associated costs.

The news over the weekend was all about differentiated fees. There is nothing about that as an outcome in the terms of reference.   They do however refer to the problems that might drive the review towards differentiated fees

  • the fact that most universities charge maximum fees for their courses (implication is that this may not be value for money – but the value for money section doesn’t refer to it
  • the fact that graduate debt has increased but salaries haven’t
  • the issues raised by the PM in her speech “…the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course”.

There are various ways that fees could be differentiated, on cost, on quality, on outcomes, or by having differentiated fees for different groups of students, different fees for course that support the skills agenda, for example, or a combination of all of them. Read some of our earlier analysis of this in my blog for the Lighthouse Group in October. See what students think about this idea in the section about the HEPI report below.

We’ll be watching and reporting on the next steps and the main ideas raised be commentators over the next months.

Differential tuition fees

Talk of differential tuition fees has been constant over the last year and as described above this is a likely feature of the review. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) have responded by publishing a report Differential tuition fees: Horses for courses? summarising the debate and results from a relevant student survey.

Here are excerpts from HEPI’s briefing on the report’s contents:

  • around two-thirds of students (63%) think full-time undergraduate courses should all have the same fees while one-in-three disagree (33%)
  • when asked to state a preference, students prefer higher fees for ‘courses that cost more to teach’ (57%) than ‘courses that lead to higher earnings’ (17%) or ‘courses at more famous universities’ (7%)
  • when questioned about the possibility of introducing higher fees for some subjects, more than half of students (52%) say higher fees might be justified for Medicine but just 7% think they could be justified for Arts (such as History or English) and only 6% for Modern Languages
  • when questioned about the possibility of introducing lower fees for some subjects, 39% say lower fees might be justified for Arts (such as History or English), but just 9% think they could be justified for Law and only 8% for Physics
  • most students (59 per cent) oppose lower fees for poorer students, although a substantial minority (38 per cent) back the idea

The survey was conducted using YouthSight’s Student Omnibus survey, which is the UK’s largest panel of young people, and there were 1,019 full-time undergraduate respondents. Quotas were set on gender, university type and year of study and weights were applied to ensure a balanced sample. Respondents received a £1 Amazon gift voucher

There is a lack of consensus among those who favour greater differentiation in fees for undergraduate students:

  • some want lower fees for science and engineering courses;
  • some want lower fees for disadvantaged students;
  • some want lower fees for less prestigious universities;
  • some want lower fees for courses that tend to deliver poorer outcomes;
  • some want lower fees for courses that tend to deliver higher earnings;
  • some want lower fees for less intensive courses; and
  • some want a free for all with no fee caps.

The possibility of introducing greater price differentiation for undergraduate degrees has been under discussion for at least 20 years, since the Dearing report appeared in 1997. Variable fees for undergraduates were the most controversial aspect of Tony Blair’s Higher Education Act (2004), the main recommendation of the Browne review (2010) and promised by the Coalition.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

  • ‘Different degrees are already meant to cost different amounts but, in England, fees have bunched up at the maximum price of £9,250 a year. Moving to a system of truly differential fees has many influential supporters. Some people seem to think having different fees for different degrees is inevitable. But the supporters of differential fees are deeply split on who should pay less and who should pay more, while most students reject the whole idea. At first glance, differential fees appear to have some advantages. It seems they could help poorer students, send signals about the value of different courses or help satisfy labour market needs. But, on closer inspection, these benefits prove to be largely illusory. Students are not price sensitive when choosing courses and differential fees are not even guaranteed to bring extra resources to universities. There are sound reasons why course fees have bunched at the level of the current fee cap. In opposing differential fees, students appear – yet again – to understand the logic of the current funding system better than many of its critics. It is vital the Government’s funding review takes the whole picture in to account.’

Treasury Committee Student Loan Review

Before the major review of HE was announced the Treasury Committee published the outcome report of its review into student loans.

  • The report found no justification for student loan interest rates to be above the market or inflation rate and called for the Government to ditch the ‘flawed’ RPI method of interest calculation.
  • It criticised the accumulation of loan interest pre-graduation.
  • The committee concluded that reducing tuition fees would be regressive (only the highest earning graduates benefit and university funding would reduce).
  • The report criticised the replacement of grants with maintenance loans inferring the government was creating additional barriers for the very students they were trying to encourage to attend University.
  • A fundamental rethink of part time funding should take place
  • Sharia-compliant student loans should be introduced as soon as possible
  • Simplify the system to ensure that student finance is better communicated
  • The report recommended the Government consider transferring responsibility for loans away from the Student Loans Company to HMRC.

Reported in Research Professional the Treasury Committee said:

  • …it welcomes the planned major review of student financing and university funding, initially announced in October 2017. However, it said it hoped that the universities and science minister Sam Gyimah would keep more of an “open mind” than his predecessor Jo Johnson, who “regrettably” ruled out radical change to the system through the review.

Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)

Read John Vinney’s blog KEF: the missing HE accountability link, or an unnecessary distraction? published by Wonkhe. The blog considers how a discipline level KEF with a wider set of benchmarked metrics supplemented by qualitative assessment would benefit the sector. It calls for Government to reconsider the limitations of the current KEF proposals:

  • One of the often-repeated strengths of the REF is that it allows excellence to be highlighted and celebrated (and funded) wherever it is found. The KEF could do the same for knowledge exchange. But not without a much broader view of knowledge exchange, and a much wider, more meaningful, and fairer assessment. The definition phase for the KEF seems to have been skipped in a rush towards more metrics – we hope that it will be reconsidered.

Widening Participation

A parliamentary question focussed on low household income applicants:

Q – Dan Carden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to increase the number of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds applying to university.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Widening participation is a central priority for this government….The independent Office for Fair Access, led by the Director of Fair Access (DfA), is the regulator currently responsible for widening access to higher education (HE) in England (a function that will soon transfer to the Office for Students). HE providers wishing to charge tuition fees above the basic fee level must have an Access Agreement, setting out their targets and planned expenditure to improve access for disadvantaged and under-represented groups, and approved by the DfA.
  • The department is introducing sweeping reforms through legislation. The Office for Students (OfS) will have a statutory duty to promote equality of opportunity, across the whole lifecycle for disadvantaged students, not just access. As a result, widening access and participation will be at the core of the OfS’ functions. The department’s reforms will introduce a Transparency Duty requiring HE providers to publish application, offer, acceptance, dropout and attainment rates of students by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will help to hold the sector to account for their record on access and retention of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

Follow: @PolicyBU on Twitter                   |                       policy@bournemouth.ac.uk