Tagged / freedom of speech

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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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 9th February 2018

Parliament is now in recess, returning on Tuesday 20 February. There won’t be a policy update next week. We’ll bring you all the latest news on Thursday 22 February.

Technical v higher education

Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Commons Education Committee gave the keynote speech at the Centre for Social Justice this week and called for an end to the UK’s obsession with academic degrees and demanded a dramatic increase in the delivery of basic skills and technical training by the Further and Higher Education sectors. Robert argued that rebalancing FE and HE were crucial to delivering social justice and eradicating skills gaps. He saw degree apprenticeships which blend technical and academic education as the jewel in the crown of a revamped FE/HE sector.

  • “We have become obsessed with full academic degrees in this country. We are creating a higher education system that overwhelmingly favours academic degrees, while intermediate and higher technical offerings are comparatively tiny. The labour market does not need an ever-growing supply of academic degrees. Between a fifth and a third of our graduates take non-graduate jobs. The graduate premium varies wildly according to subject and institution. For many, the returns are paltry.”

He proposed the following:

  • Fine-tuning the Apprenticeship Levy to help disadvantaged apprentices with a smaller contribution taper for employers employing disadvantaged apprentices addressing skills shortages.
  • Cutting grants to universities unless they offer degree apprenticeships. Ring-fencing a significant portion of the enormous public subsidy of universities so that it can only be accessed if the university offers degree apprenticeships.
  • Challenging the Russell Group’s reputation where they don’t deliver value for money. Particularly the sometimes undeserved reputation of Russell Group Universities where they rank highly because of their research (rather than employability skills, quality teaching, and value for money for undergraduate students).
  • Protecting and ring-fencing funding of flexible, online and part-time Higher Education by ring-fencing the Part-time Premium element of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Widening Participation funding allocation.
  • Closer integration of the FE and HE sectors on delivering higher level apprenticeships and offering flexible and local options for those who need it.

Halfon’s comments around the ‘enormous public subsidy’ and cutting grants are interesting. It’s unclear if he includes student fees within his public subsidy comment or if he is aware that the HEFCE funding elements are a mere drop in the ocean for most universities. For example, at BU the full HEFCE contribution for teaching, WP elements, and research was less than £11 million in 16/17. Nationally in 2017/18 across all universities HEFCE provided a total funding allocation of £1,320 million for teaching purposes. Halfon’s speech was covered in the Express.

International students

Parliamentary questions

Q – Robert Neill: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what plans her Department has to further expand the student visa pilot scheme [AND] what criteria universities were required to fulfil in order to take part in that pilot [AND] how many representations the Department has received from universities wanting to take part in the expanded student visa pilot scheme

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The Tier 4 visa pilot, helps to streamline the visa process for international students looking to study on a Masters’ course, in the UK, of 13 months or less. The pilot also helps to support students who wish to switch into a work route and take up a graduate role, by extending the leave period following the end of their study to up to six months.
  • 23 additional institutions were selected to participate based on having the consistently lowest visa refusal rates for their region or country. The evaluation of the pilot is ongoing, with an interim report due to be published in the summer of 2018. The primary focus of the evaluation is to assess the impact of the Tier 4 visa pilot on UK education institutions’ competitiveness in terms of attracting international students and the ability of international students to switch into a work route. Engaging more sponsors to participate in the pilot will provide additional evidence for the evaluation to ensure it more accurately represents the diversity of the sector. Once evaluated, we will consider whether to introduce the offer being tested with the pilot into the Immigration Rules and make it policy.
  • We regularly engage with the education sector on student migration policy, including the Tier 4 visa pilot. We hold a quarterly Education Sector Forum with key representatives from the sector including the devolved administrations.

Q – Catherine West: To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade, what steps his Department is taking to support UK higher education exports.

A – Graham Stuart:

  • The Department for International Trade supports the international aspirations of the Higher Education sector through its Education team in a range of ways, including Government to Government engagement and support to Trade Missions. The team has recently helped, amongst others, the University of Birmingham in its plan to open a campus in Dubai. The UK Higher Education sector will also be a focus in the GREAT Festival of Innovation, to be held in Hong Kong in March.
  • The recently formed DIT Education Sector Advisory Group brings together relevant sector partners, including Universities UK and Independent Higher Education, to co-ordinate efforts to boost education exports.

HE funding review

Parliamentary question – Q – Layla Moran: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what the reasons are for a review of funding across tertiary education that focuses on post-18 education rather than post-16 education.

A – Mr Sam Gyimah:

  • The internationally recognised understanding of the term tertiary education, in line with the International Standard Classification of Education, corresponds to English qualification levels 4 and above, which are typically taken by those aged 18 and over.
  • The government will conduct a major review of funding across tertiary education to ensure a joined-up system that works for everyone. As outlined in the Industrial Strategy, the review will consider a range of specific issues within post-18 education.
  • The government is already fundamentally reforming the post-16 education system to give all young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential and deliver a better future for our country. A key principle of the reform agenda is to improve the quality of technical education provision to deliver young people with the skills employers need both locally and nationally. New T-levels, with content designed by employers, will support them into skilled employment or progression to higher education. T-levels will be backed by over £500 million annually by the time the programme is rolled out fully, and we are implementing apprenticeship reforms to continue to improve the quality of apprenticeships for all. Our commitment to the 16 to 19 sector has contributed to the current record high proportion of 16 to 18 year olds who are participating in education or apprenticeships.
  • The government will set out further details on the review shortly.

The Lords Economic Affairs Committed continued their investigation this week. Overall there was quite a focus on FE. The witnesses were questioned on issues relating to disparities in the treatment of Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE), including funding and perception. The funding gap between FE and HE was discussed with FE as the poor relative, although it was noted that FE state funding provides more stability than HE sources. When questioned on how to reduce the disparity between FE and HE a witness expressed that there would have to be control on HE expansion. Some way of redistributing funding would have to be found however both private and public sectors would also have to change their attitudes towards recruitment.

Poor schooling was discussed and a witness highlighted how technical studies and ‘catch-up’ education can be conflated. Later witnesses described how schools were almost entirely incentivised to send people to university and how in some parts of the country young people who went to colleges were seen as failures.

On apprenticeships Lord Tugendhat (Conservative) asked how the quality and quantity of apprenticeships could be improved. Witness, Gravatt, stated there was a danger that the apprenticeship target and its levy would mean people may lost sight of what apprenticeships were for. Government and colleges needed to work with the system as it was and make sure colleges and employers were not using them in a short-term manner.

Lord Turnbull (Crossbench) questioned how FE and apprenticeships could be portrayed in a more positive light. Witness Milner stated FE needed to brand itself in the light of bridges to opportunity. She said the focus on the value of a university education had diminished the perception of HE. Witness Husband stated lots of employers were using apprenticeships as a way of widening participation.

Degree apprenticeships – Lord Burns noted Treasury announcements of a proposed four-year degree-level apprenticeship program, which he said did not appear to be what apprenticeships were about. In response, Husband said the core of an apprenticeship was to have a job where they gained knowledge and skills to become competent. She said there were skills gaps at Level 4 and above, and such apprenticeships were meeting the needs of employers.

Mature students – Lord Darling asked how responsive the FE sector had been to those who lost their jobs or needed skills training later in life. Witness Francis said the main problem was that those people were not eligible for funding provision in colleges. Witness Atkins said funding for adults was now simpler from the supply side, but from the demand side rules for eligibility were very complex and required a learner to have additional funding.

In the later session it was noted how maintenance loans are not provided for all FE students as in HE. Instead FE colleges are expected to provide discretionary support.

T-levels: Lord Burns (Crossbench) queried T-Levels and Institutes of Technology. Witness, Gravatt, said they were a good opportunity but were still at an early stage. He said he had concerns they had been ‘done on the cheap’ and that unrealistic expectations had been put on them.

Tertiary Education Review – no new news: Mucklow stated he could not provide further details than what had already been set out in the industrial strategy. He said the review was likely to be announced soon. He said the Government was beginning to recognise there was a gap in provision. A cohesive all-tertiary funding system was questioned. Witness Eileen Milner recalled that 30 years ago some parts of FE and HE were funded in the same place but she didn’t feel this was a joined-up system from the perspective of FE. No real answers were given to the question of a combined system.

FE Week covered the evidence session and noted the FE Commissioner’s statement that Funding for Institutes of Technology is too modest.

Widening Participation

The OU called for the OfS to lead the way in improving the chances of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university. They set out five steps to reverse the student number decline in some disadvantaged groups attending university.

The five point plan calls for:

  • National targets for access, participation and student outcomes, supported by regulation and funding decisions. To promote fairness for all, targets should include students of all ages and take in other factors such as ethnicity and disability.
  • Collaboration between universities to ensure that the UK Government’s social justice objectives are met, encouraging the sector to work together to improve success rates among the most disadvantaged groups.
  • Funding and results to be aligned so that students who need the most support are offered it and that fewer are put off by the thought of high fees and debt.
  • Informed choice for students offered through a single portal that gives them comprehensive advice, guidance and information covering all their options for a higher education.
  • Flexibility for students to be able, if they wish, to pick and mix courses, take study breaks, transfer between universities or learn in bite-sized chunks.

OU Vice-Chancellor Peter Horrocks calls on universities to work together to improve the success rates of students from disadvantaged areas.

Parliamentary question – Q – David Evennett: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to close the attainment gap between boys and girls.

A – Nadhim Zahawi:

  • This government is determined that all children and young people, regardless of their gender or background, have the opportunity to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them. Rather than implementing policies that focus specifically on the educational performance of boys, the government has introduced far-reaching education reforms that set the highest expectations for what all pupils will achieve. The department has put in place a stretching national curriculum and world-class qualifications, so that more pupils study to age 16 those academic subjects that most enable progress to higher education.
  • The latest statistics show that between 2016 and 2017, the proportion of boys achieving the expected standard in GCSE English and maths rose by 1.2 percentage points (to 60.3%), compared to a 0.5 percentage point increase amongst girls (to 67.6%).

Q – Baroness Hussein-Ece: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to address the findings of the University Partnerships Programme Foundation and Social Market Foundation report “On course for success”. Student retention at university with particular reference to the conclusion that students from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to drop out.

A – Viscount Younger of Leckie:

  • The government is committed to ensuring that everyone with the potential has the opportunity to benefit from higher education (HE), irrespective of their background. Entry rates to full-time HE for 18 year olds from all ethnic groups increased in 2017, reaching the highest recorded numbers.
  • There is, however, more to do to ensure that students, including disadvantaged and black and minority ethnic students, are supported both to access higher education and also to participate and succeed. That is why we have taken a number of actions on this.
  • From April 2018, Access Agreements will be extended and become Access and Participation Plans. This recognises the importance of HE providers supporting both access and participation, including non-continuation and non-completion of courses, and student success for disadvantaged groups. Additionally, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework will use non-continuation rates as a core metric when ascribing Gold, Silver or Bronze status to individual universities. This can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teaching-excellence-and-student-outcomes-framework-specification. Furthermore, the new Transparency Condition created by the Higher Education and Research Act will require many HE providers to publish their completion rates broken down by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background. Making this data public will expose those providers who are underperforming in this area.
  • The new regulator for HE, the Office for Students, will also have a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to the whole student lifecycle for disadvantaged and traditionally under-represented groups, not just access.

Employability

UUK is partnering with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to consider whether HE can introduce more flexible methods of learning to meet the changing needs of students and employers with a weather eye on the part time student number decline. Part time students have dropped by a third since 2012 and the UUK project will consider which sectors have been most affected by the part time decline and which have the greatest future need of high level skills. The project will identify the main issues and develop policy recommendations that will feed into the government’s planned review of university funding and student finance in England.

Neil Carberry, MD of CBI, stated:

  • “Speak to any business and before long the conversation turns to skills challenges. With the world of work changing, developing additional and alternative routes to higher skills will matter more than ever. That is why the decline in part-time students is so alarming…for many prospective students, other commitments, such as work or caring responsibilities, mean that being able to have a flexible approach to studying is essential and university provision will increasingly need to be tailored to meet people’s needs.”

Julie Lydon (VC, University of South Wales) writes a blog post on disappearing part-time and mature students for UUK.

UKRI

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have ratified Sir John Kingman’s chairmanship. You can read the full report here. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

  • “We were fully satisfied that Sir John Kingman is a suitable candidate to be Chair of UKRI. We are pleased to recommend that the Science minister proceeds with the appointment. We wish Sir John well as he transitions from interim chair to permanent chair, and we look forward to working with him in the future.”

Freedom of Speech

On Saturday the Conservative party called for the public to support free speech after disruption at a university event: “Last night, Momentum-supporting thugs broke into a university event and tried to silence Conservatives. Wearing balaclavas, they tried through violence and intimidation to stop the ideas that they disagreed with from being heard. Help us back free speech by signing our petition today. Momentum, the left-wing campaign group, was set up after Mr Corbyn’s initial victory as Labour leader to keep the spirit and politics of his campaign alive. Young people have a right to hear all sides of the political debate. So we’ll protect free speech by stepping up our speaker programme – making sure Conservative voices are heard in universities across the country.”

The Independent and iNews have coverage.

On Wednesday the Human Rights Committee reconvened to continue their discussion of freedom of speech in universities. The witnesses giving evidence were Ben Wallace MP (Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime), Sam Gyimah MP (Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation), Jacob Rees-Mogg MP and four representatives from the University of the West England, Bristol.  At the time of writing we haven’t seen the transcript, but it will be tweeted by the Human Rights Committee, and you can get a flavour of the debate from their twitter feed (@HumanRightsCttee).

And Wonkhe notes the Prime Minister slipped the free speech campaign into her attendance commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s votes. She said:

  • In our universities, which should be bastions of free thought and expression, we have seen the efforts of politicians and academics to engage in open debate frustrated by an aggressive and intolerant minority”.

Admissions high

Last week’s UCAS news continues to be discussed. Key points:

  • Application rates from English 18 year olds have reached a record high, increasing by 0.4 percentage points to 37.4 per cent. The picture varied in the devolved nations, however, across the UK as a whole, 18 year olds are more likely than ever before to apply to higher education by the January deadline, 1 per cent more likely than in 2017.
  • However, the overall application rate shows a 0.9 per cent reduction in the total number of people applying to higher education, to 559,000, compared to the same figure in 2017. This figure reflects a 2.5 per cent fall in the 18 year old population in the UK, and falling demand from 19 year olds and the 25+ age groups.
  • The differences in application rates between 18 year old men and women in 2018 remain high across the UK, with young women more likely to apply than young men. In England, young women are 36 per cent more likely than young men to apply to higher education, a small increase from last year.
  • The number of applicants from the EU increased by 3.4 per cent to 43,510, and the number of international applicants increased to its highest ever number, by 11 per cent to 58,450.
  • Applications from all age groups to nursing courses in England has fallen by 13%. UCAS started reporting on these figures following a switch from NHS bursaries to tuition fees for nursing subjects at English universities and colleges in 2017.

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

  • OfS Student Panel: Nicola Dandridge (CE of OfS) blogs for Wonkhe on how the OfS student panel is taking shape
  • Trust and accountability: Wonkhe also have two guest bloggers who explore the current political inter-relation of the erosion of public trust in HE and the changing landscape of public accountability requirements.
  • Student mobility: UUK International have joined forces with the UPP Foundation on a student mobility project – details here
  • Student mental health training: The Student Minds (16/17) annual report details delivery of training sessions on student mental health to 1,248 students, supervisors and staff across the sector.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update w/e 26th January 2018

It’s been a busy week. We have oodles of news for you, feel free to scan through and find the sections that are most interesting to you!

Ministerial update

The new Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, has been more active this week.

The HE Review: The much heralded and still elusive HE Review was a popular topic again this week. Responding to a parliamentary question on the HE finance review Sam hinted: “This review will look at providing an education system for those aged 18 years and over that is accessible to all and provides value for money. It will also look how choice and competition is incentivised across the sector.”

Q – Layla Moran (Lib Dems) asked: with reference to Industrial Strategy…if he will make it his policy to extend the Government’s major review of funding across tertiary education to include the education system for people aged 16 years and over.

A – Sam Gyimah (Con): The government will conduct a major review of funding across tertiary education. In the Industrial Strategy, it was stated that the review will consider a range of specific issues within post-18 education. The government will set out further details on the review shortly.

The Telegraph quote Sam as stating a review of tuition fees will be a “positive move” for the Government. The article also backs up other emerging hints that he may champion small aspects of students’ lives such as not paying for a full year’s rent upfront and challenging high printing costs.

  • “I mean it’s a small cost but it just shows there are lots of things around student funding – fees, living costs – I think it is good for us to look at them”
  • “The point I was trying to illustrate is the case for reviewing – when you talk to students directly here are a lot of issues in play, not just fees”.
  • “This regime has been in place since 2012. There are things that are working well and we shouldn’t forget what is working well. I don’t think we will go back to an era where students do not contribute in any way to their fees.”

The minister’s official title has been finally confirmed as Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation (there was a little bit of speculation (by us) that the science and research bit had fallen off in the initial announcement, but it seems to have been an oversight). His responsibilities are:

  • industrial strategy
  • universities and higher education reform
  • student finance (including the Student Loans Company)
  • widening participation and social mobility
  • education exports (including international students, international research)
  • science and research
  • innovation
  • intellectual property
  • agri-tech
  • space
  • technology

During the Education World Forum Sam signed an agreement with Egypt meaning UK universities are permitted to open branch campuses to offer education in Egypt. This is reported as giving the UK HE sector a competitive advantage in Egypt. Note: currently 82% of UK HE providers deliver degrees overseas.  He said: “I welcome the contribution that this partnership will make to both UK and Egyptian economies and the wider benefits it will provide to students and institutions in both counties.”

Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar declared: “We are excited to see how IBCs [International Branch Campuses] will contribute to the fabric of Egypt’s higher education landscape and be catalysts for broader international partnerships between the UK and Egypt in research, innovation and mobility.”

The next big event is the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (April, hosted by UK), perhaps further partnerships may be forged at this forum.

Technology, IT, STEM and the Industrial Strategy

On Thursday the Prime Minister made a speech from Davos in which the industrial strategy and technology featured heavily. Here are the tech focussed excerpts:

“The impact of technology is growing in ways that even a few years ago we could not have imagined.

  • Just last week, a drone saved two boys drowning off the coast of Australia by carrying a floatation device to them.
  • The use of Artificial Intelligence is transforming healthcare. In one test, machine learning reduced the number of unnecessary surgeries for breast cancer by a third.
  • The development of speech recognition and translation is reaching a level where we will be able to go anywhere in the world and communicate using our native language.
  • While British-based companies like Ripjar are pioneering the use of data science and Artificial Intelligence to protect companies from money laundering, fraud, cyber-crime and terrorism.

We need to act decisively to help people benefit from global growth now.

So we are establishing a technical education system that rivals the best in the world, alongside our world-class higher education system. We are developing a National Retraining Scheme to help people learn throughout their career. And we are establishing an Institute of Coding – a consortium of more than 60 universities, businesses and industry experts to support training and retraining in digital skills.

And I know from my conversations with tech companies how seriously they are taking their own social responsibility to contribute to the retraining that will help people secure new opportunities in the digital economy. But this strategy and partnership with business goes further than getting the fundamentals of our economy right. It also seeks to get us on the front foot in seizing the opportunities of technology for tomorrow.

We are delivering the UK’s biggest ever increase in public investment in research and development, which could increase public and private R&D investment by as much as £80 billion over the next 10 years.

  • We are at the forefront of the development, manufacture and use of low carbon technologies.
  • We are using technology to support the needs of an ageing society, for example by employing powerful datasets to help diagnose and treat illnesses earlier.
  • And we are establishing the UK as a world leader in Artificial Intelligence, building on the success of British companies like Deepmind.

But as we seize these opportunities of technology, so we also have to shape this change to ensure it works for everyone – be that in people’s jobs or their daily lives…we need to make sure that our employment law keeps pace with the way that technology is shaping modern working practices …to preserve vital rights and protections – and the flexibilities that businesses and workers value…we have to do more to help our people in the changing global economy, to rebuild their trust in technology as a driver of progress and ensure no-one is left behind as we take the next leap forwards”.

Catalyst Fund winners: HEFCE’s catalyst funding round aims to support the Industrial Strategy through developing curriculum programmes directly aligned within skills gap areas. Here are the Universities who obtained funding along with the area they will develop. From HEFCE’s press announcement:

…this funding is supporting a range of projects in many different sectors which align with the Industrial Strategy’s ‘Grand Challenges’ – from advanced engineering to data analytics, and from artificial intelligence to bioscience. HEFCE’s investment will help to enhance graduate outcomes and employability, and to upskill the workforce – providing the key skills that industry and employers will need and contributing to the UK’s productivity in the longer term.

And some questions in Parliament:

Q – Justin Tomlinson (Con): how many students have graduated with a degree in ICT & Computer Science in each year since 2010?

A – Sam Gyimah (Con): HESA 2016/17 data:

Academic year  Number of qualifiers

            2010/11           14,505

            2011/12           15,225

            2012/13           15,565

            2013/14           16,080

            2014/15           15,595

            2015/16           15,280

            2016/17           16,805

In relation to increasing the number of students studying for a degree in ICT and computer science, the government is undertaking a range of initiatives to promote digital and computing skills throughout the education system. For example, the government is investing £84 million of new funding over the next five years to deliver a comprehensive programme to improve the teaching of the computing curriculum and increase participation in computer science GCSE.

The government is also seeking to strengthen the role that higher education providers can play in providing digital and computing skills. This will be through supporting the establishment of a new Institute of Coding to serve as a national focus for improving digital skills provision at levels 6 and 7 with a £20 million fund to improve higher-level digital skills, with joint collaborations between universities and businesses, and to focus on computer science and digital skills in related disciplines. This will ensure the courses better meet employers’ needs.

Additionally, there is funding to support universities to develop conversion courses in engineering and computer science that allow graduates from other subjects to undertake further study and pursue careers in engineering and computer science.

Following last week’s National Audit Office report on STEM another parliamentary question to the Minister requested data on the numbers graduating with a STEM degree. Here’s the data which shows growth between 15/16 and 16/17:

Academic year Number of qualifiers

2013/14           174,950

2014/15           170,480

2015/16           172,480

2016/17           181,215

Source: HESA Student Record

Tech skills gap: The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee continued to investigate Higher, Further and Technical Education this week. Witnesses discussed the skills shortage in the tech sector, they stated that employers struggled to hire employees with the skills and expressed concern as deficiencies in education and training. Concern was expressed at the lack of diversity in those studying STEM subjects. A KPMG representative stated universities needed to encourage a wider curriculum within STEM subjects to encourage greater gender diversity. The (in)adequacy of apprenticeships and the damaging inflexibility of the apprenticeship levy was also discussed. It was felt using the levy to support smaller packages of training would better support the tech skills shortages. As would the opportunity for graduates to return to university to brush up on specific skills necessary for the business environment.

  • The skills gap was attributed to high sectoral growth as well as digitisation in the wider economy. Computer scientists and mathematicians were cited as particular skills gap areas. Alongside challenges filling the higher end of the digital skills section – software development, machine learning and cybersecurity,
  • The lack of mid-grade technicians and apprenticeships was touched upon but the witnesses felt volume of gradates was still a problem even though more were coming through. In particular, the witnesses felt that graduates were lacking ‘soft’ leadership and team-building skills, as well as lacking skills in the artistic and design-orientated side which fed into software development.
  • Universities were criticised for not doing a good enough job in making sure their graduates came out of university with appropriate skills for working in new digital roles. It was stated that Universities should provide every student with some degree of coding experience.
  • One witness stated that traditional university subjects did provide the skills necessary for working in innovative tech startups.
  • Post-graduation support: A witness expressed that graduates should have the opportunity to go back to universities to brush up on skills

Harassment and Hate Crime

Last week there was a partnership announcement detailing funding for a new programme to support universities in tackling antisemitism on campus consisting of a visit to the former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and a seminar dealing explicitly with campus issues and how to identify and tackle anti-Semitism. This week a new question was tabled:

Q – Ian Paisley (DUP): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to tackle anti-Semitism on university campuses.

A – Mr Sam Gyimah (Con): This government takes anti-Semitism extremely seriously. There is no place in our society – including within higher education – for hatred or any form of harassment, discrimination or racism, including anti-Semitism.

Higher education providers are autonomous organisations, independent from government. They have a clear responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive environment. In September 2015, the government asked Universities UK (UUK) to set up a Harassment Taskforce to consider what more can be done to address harassment and hate crime on campus, including antisemitism. The taskforce’s report, ‘Changing the Culture’, published in October 2016, recommended a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and hate crime.

On 27 July 2017, UUK published a directory of case studies detailing the innovative projects universities have developed to address the taskforce’s recommendations. These include Goldsmith’s hate crime reporting centre (case study 11) which is a joint initiative with the local authority in Lewisham and the Metropolitan Police, which provides students and staff with a safe space to report incidents. These are published on UUK’s website . In addition, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has provided £1.8 million for projects to improve responses to hate crime and online harassment on campus. HEFCE is currently working with UUK to test the sector’s response to the Taskforce’s recommendations and the results of this will be published early this year.

Employability

Damian Hinds is advocating public speaking and sport to teach children the resilience needed by the workplace. The Telegraph quote Damian as stating the “hard reality” is that teaching children how to build “character resilience” and workplace skills is crucial for a thriving economy. He also spoke at length on digital technologies noting the current generation of children are “digital natives” that should be taught how to create apps rather than how to use them. He noted that some current teaching staff experience trepidation and are failing to embrace technology. That significant funding (£84 million) is being pump primed to improve computer science teaching, the number of IT teachers will treble (GCSE level) and a National Centre for Computing will be established. The Telegraph also state Damian urged schools to focus on the core subjects such as maths, English, sciences and languages – rather than waste time on alternative qualifications. Too much focus on alternative qualifications was ‘well-meaning but did little to recommend pupils to employers’.

Last week Damian announced a package of measures focused on disadvantaged geographic areas to support underperforming schools. £45 million will go to multi academy trusts (MATs) with a proven track record of success to help them build their capacity, drive improvement and raise standards in areas facing the greatest challenges in England.

BU2025

Work is proceeding on the new BU2025 strategic plan, with announcements this week of an updated draft and a set of responses to feedback. BU staff can read them here.

We will be expanding our horizon scanning work to looking at the Fusion themes and other areas from a policy point of view, with a new regular section in this update covering updates relating to the Industrial Strategy, the work of APPGs (All Party Parliamentary Groups), ministerial announcements and so on.

Widening Participation

Bumper happenings within WP this week – new Access and Participation plans progress through parliament, young carers publication, pupil premium funding, UCAS WP data revelations, parliamentary questions and the failure to make progress with social mobility is examined.

New Access Plans – content Currently parliament is progressing the Higher Education (Access and Participation Plans) (England) Regulations 2018 to replace OFFA’s Fair Access Agreements with Access and Participation Plans (the motion was approved in Parliament). These are anticipated to be very similar but heavier in their content on supporting students during their degree (on course achievement, skills and personal support measures) as well as improving their employability prospects. Also mentioned are:

  • Closing the gap on the differing achievement outcomes between student groups (e.g. ethnicity gaps)
  • Monitoring and evaluation compulsory, with expectation providers move to invest in the most effective interventions (as evidenced by the monitoring and evaluation)
  • The views of the student body should be taken into account as the provider develops the plan (this has greater importance and emphasis placed on it than past recommendations to include students)
  • OfS powers to enforce and refuse provider’s plans

Section 9.1. talks of the government policy directives to OfS, stating “it is the intention that guidance will be issued to the OfS in due course…in relations to its access and participation activities.”

The annual guidance on plans to the sector will come from OfS early in 2018 for the 2019/20 plans. The process for developing and agreeing the new plans should be the same as the existing Fair Access Agreements with no additional burden.

Access and Participation Plans – Parliamentary Discussion During the parliamentary discussion that agreed the motion to approve the new plans it was stated the Government intends to use HERA (the Higher Education and Research Act) to make further progress on access and participation. Other key points were:

  • Institutional autonomy was acknowledged.
  • New and alternative providers will be able to charge the full higher fee from the outset if their Access and Participation plans meet scrutiny.
  • The expectation that providers will spend a proportion of their higher fee income on Access and Participation continues.
  • Where there are serious concerns that a provider has not complied with commitments in its access and participation plan, or other conditions of registration, the OfS will have access to a wide and more flexible set of sanctions and intervention measures to tackle these issues with the individual provider than were available to the Director of Fair Access previously. This could include further monitoring, monetary penalties, suspension from the OfS register or deregistering providers in extreme cases.

Baroness Wolf (Cross bench) raised concerns about regulation: “I have to say that the very short history of the OfS inclines me to feel that we are faced not with a Government who want to leave a regulator to regulate, but one who wish to tell the regulator precisely how to manage”.

  • Government response: HERA sets clear limitations in this context in order to protect academic freedoms and institutional autonomy. For the first time, it also makes explicit that guidance cannot relate to parts of courses, their content, how they are taught or who teaches them, or admissions arrangements for students. The OFS will absolutely be left to do its job as the regulator.

The Baroness also expressed trepidation about supporting/tracking individual students and risks to marking anonymity

Lord Addington (Lib Dems) was concerned there was no universal guidance, baseline or good practice for support for disabled students, that supporting each student’s individual needs lead to disparities and that universities should be held to a national universal standard as a minimum.

  • Government response: We want institutions to think imaginatively about the support that individual students might need, and we will support them in that. That is because each institution is different: they have different needs and courses, and are based in different parts of the country… it is absolutely essential that they be allowed to decide for themselves how disabled students are looked after. However, the Government spokesperson did undertake to write and set out more on disability adaptation.

Baroness Blackstone (Labour) questioned how the plans and the OfS would address the mature part time decline problem.

  • Government response: We are working towards launching a new maintenance loan for part-time students studying degree-level courses from August this year. In addition, the Government are looking at ways of promoting and supporting a wide variety of flexible and part-time ways of learning [accelerated courses]

The lack of student and sector diversity on the OfS Board was also criticised by other members. The lack of a FE represented was noted by the Government and taken back to DfE for consideration.

Finally, on the WP Tsar:

  • we expect that bringing resources and expertise from HEFCE and OFFA together in a single organisation, while still having a dedicated champion for widening participation appointed by Ministers, will provide a greater focus on access and participation.
  • HERA ensures that the Director for Fair Access and Participation will be responsible for overseeing the performance of the OfS’s access and participation functions, for reporting to other members of the OfS on the performance of its functions.

Library Briefing preceding the Access and Participation Plans

Alongside the Access and Participation Plans legislation the Commons Library has produced a succinct briefing paper on Widening Participation strategy in HE in England. It provides an excellent summary of WP to date and further hints of how the tide has turned in the type of interventions universities are expected to pursue:

  • It notes the increase in disadvantaged young people attending university along with sharp rises in the number of young black students and disabled students. Set against decline in attendance from mature and young white low income males.
  • Section 2 gives an excellent history of the changing policies behind the WP agenda dedicating several inches to the proposals for universities to set up or sponsor schools to improve attainment. The document notes the Conservative manifesto commitment:
  • It notes no further commitments or announcements have been made on this since the election.
  • It is well known that Theresa May is a firm fan of sponsoring schools to raise achievement, however, it remains to be seen whether her Cabinet reshuffle may herald a refreshed push in this direction.
  • An ‘innovative Evidence and Impact Exchange for Widening Participation’ will apparently be linked to the OfS.
  • The transparency duty is mentioned again later on: We will use the transparency duty in the Higher Education and Research Act to shine a stronger light on the universities who need to go further in improving equality of opportunity for students from under-represented and disadvantaged groups.
  • The document notes the alternative providers perform well on WP measures (proportion of WP students within the whole student body).

Finally the report mentions two guides:

Young Carers

The Local Government Association have published Meeting the health and wellbeing needs of young carers which provides basic factual information and shares a number of good practice case studies. The document is a good background read of interest to those with an interest in outreach, social care, or of wider interest to those supporting students who are adult carers.  Leaf through the full document to access the case studies.

A parliamentary question to the Universities Minister on BAME access to the arts:

Q – Alex Sobel (Labour): what steps his Department is taking to assist people from BAME backgrounds to be better represented in university arts courses and stage schools.

A: Mr Sam Gyimah (Con):

  • The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has commissioned research to understand the existing barriers that prevent people from lower income households and under-represented groups, such as those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, specifically from becoming professionals in the performing arts. It is important that the performing arts are representative of society as a whole.
  • One of the ways this can be achieved is by doing more to ensure more people from BAME backgrounds go on to higher education. However, for some groups of students from ethnic minorities there is more to do to improve their participation – their retention, success and progression to higher education.
  • That is why the most recent guidance to the Director of Fair Access in February 2016, asked him to focus on activity to continue to improve access and participation into higher education for students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds.
  • We are also introducing sweeping reforms through legislation. The Higher Education and Research Act includes the creation of the Office for Students, which has a statutory duty to consider the promotion of equality of opportunity for students as it relates to access and participation. It also includes a transparency duty requiring all universities to publish applications, offers, acceptance and retention rates broken down by gender, ethnicity and social economic background. This will help to hold universities to account for their records on access and retention.

Pupil Premium Funding: The Education Endowment Foundation have published The Attainment Gap 2017 considering the value of pupil premium funded trial initiatives aiming to close the achievement gap. Read the Key lessons learned (page 16). They found small group and 1:2:1 interventions were effective but of other trail programmes reviewed 1 in 4 didn’t succeed any better than the current measures schools are taking.

Social Mobility Committee – under questioning: The Education Select Committee’s Accountability Hearings took on the former members of the Social Mobility Commission this week (you’ll recall that previously all the members of the commission dramatically resigned in protest over the Government’s lack of progress in addressing social mobility).

Witnesses:

  • Rt Hon Alan Milburn, former Chair, Social Mobility Commission
  • Rt Hon Baroness Shephard, former Deputy Chair, Social Mobility Commission
  • David Johnston, former Commissioner, Social Mobility Commission

The committee heard that Theresa May’s government lacked clarity around the issues of social mobility and that the Government had neither the ability or the willingness to progress the recommendations of the Social Mobility Commission.

Several questions on FE Colleges took place, with the questions continuing to meander through T-levels, apprenticeship training, and even Learn Direct.

Commencing the second session, the panel were asked whether issues with social mobility had been raised with the government. Alan Milburn, former chair of the Social Mobility Commission asserted the failure of the government to give commitment to the Commission as an independent body, failure to appoint new members leading to a lack of information that the Commission could provide. Baroness Shephard referenced the prime minister’s speech on the steps of Downing Street on the day of taking power where she emphasized social mobility, but went on to criticise her and query the lack of engagement since then. It was stated that since the 2017 election there had been no engagement,

While there had been good initiatives and some good ministers trying to do the right thing, Milburn explained that it didn’t seem that the Government had either the ability or the willingness to put their collective shoulders to the wheel when it came to delivering social mobility and cited the complex Brexit negotiations as the focus of the Whitehall machine. He commented that he felt that the Government lacked the headspace and the bandwidth to really match the rhetoric of healing social division with the reality.

When questioned on whether the Social Mobility Commission was really needed Shepherd responded that if actions and initiatives were left solely to the political process most good initiatives would just fall to the wayside…a more non-political/ cross party body was needed to get things moving.

Milburn concluded by voicing worry that the promises of doing better than previous generations no longer applied with declining youth employment levels and home ownership. He asserted that these issues could not be ignored and stated that there were political, social and economic incentives for parties to put social mobility as the cornerstone of their pledges.

(Excerpts taken from the Committee’s summary by Dods.)

UCAS surprises: Meanwhile amongst the rhetorical doom and gloom of failed social mobility and access challenges an alternative picture emerged from UCAS. With the number of disadvantaged and ethnic minority students entering universities on the rise again. Including a rise in offer rates 71% (2012) to 78.3% (2016/17).

Les Ebdon, Director OFFA, responded:

  • “Today’s figures are a positive sign that further progress has been made in widening access to higher education in England, and that the work of universities and colleges is paying off.
  • “While encouraging, the detail of the figures show that there are still stark gaps between different groups and at individual universities and colleges. The reasons behind these disparities are multiple and complex, and the challenge now for universities and colleges – as well as the new Office for Students – is to bring about a transformational step change in fair access. Incremental change is not enough for those students who are missing out.”

Admissions & Marketing

A HEPI guest blogger describes Lessons for higher education from private – and quasi-private – schools it talks of the increasing influence of parents in their children’s HE institution choice. Comparing private schooling and HE decisions on matter of affordability, pay off (HE as a conveyor belt into higher-paying employment), and the rise in alternative routes to the workforce: In a world where university itself is no longer the unquestioned guarantor of career success, ‘savvy’ parents are motivated to seek more cost-effective and/or efficacious routes.

It states the hands-on parental influencing has implications for:

  • the positioning of marketing material and events;
  • universities’ outreach to sixth-form influencers; and
  • the stress placed upon students by their increasingly expectant parents.

It concludes by commenting: While the sector remains as rich as ever in statistical data, the appetite of higher education institutions to seek real insight into the buying behaviour of their prospective market remains, in comparison to the business sector, surprisingly weak. The guest blog was written by Mungo Dennett, Director or a strategic research company working with schools and universities.

HE regulation

There’s an interesting article in Friday’s FT about a National Audit Office blog Is the market for HE working?. The blog pulls out key aspects from the increasing marketisation within HE. It provides a good, simple introduction to this multi-faceted debate. It highlights the (market failure) struggles students face when choosing a HE institution:

  • Users find it difficult to discern quality and service differences when exercising choice because the ‘product’ is complex, personalised and/or they are unlikely to purchase the service more than once in their lifetime.
  • Users struggle to make well-informed choices due to too much or too little information.
  • Users’ knowledge of the service is only discernible during, or after, ‘consumption’.
  • Users are, or feel, ‘locked in’ once the service is bought and switching provider is not considered realistic or desirable.
  • Users play an important role in co-producing the value that they derive from the service.
  • Disadvantaged groups struggle to access the services, and or have worse outcomes than other user groups.
  • It’s difficult for providers to enter the market or poorly-performing providers to exit it.

It notes there are too few incentives for providers to push take up of the government’s priority courses (e.g. expensive science); that providers have other routes to attract learners when teaching quality isn’t impressive; and that the DfE’s plans for new providers to enter the market (and more providers to exit) are untested and risky because its unclear how well students will be protected during provider exit (nor whether an influx of new providers creating competition will help drive HE quality improvement).

It raises two major concerns associated with the government’s current objectives:

  • Increased competition creating a two-tier system will see WP students suffer worse, and graduate employment gaps widen.
  • Increased competition will not result in providers charging different tuition fee levels

During the parliamentary consideration of the new Access and Participation Plans this week Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour) tackled marketisation stating: The key to our concern is whether Ministers, instead of promoting scholarship and encouraging research or a concern for truth, have as their goal turning the UK’s higher education system into an even more market-driven one at the expense of both quality and the public interest. It is worth reminding the House that this is not a broken system which needs shoring up and intervention. It is the second-most successful higher education system in the world, with four universities ranked in the top 10. When and how will the Government give us an assurance that they are stepping back from their market-driven obsession and that they intend for the OfS to be a sensible, balanced regulator?

Freedom of Speech

The Select Committee on Human Rights continued its investigation into Freedom of Speech in Universities. Sir Michael Barbet (Chair, Office for Students) was one of the witnesses called this week. The session considered the approach to the issue adopted by the newly formed Office for Students, and the impact of Charity Commission regulations on student events with external speakers. It looked in detail at how the Charity Commission worked with students’ unions, where the responsibility for dealing with events that breached human rights and the law lay, and the clarity of Charity Commission guidance. When asked if Sir Michael had considered how the Office for Students might work with the Charity Commission he confirmed that the two organisations would be preparing a Memorandum of Understanding around their future working

The session also explored the role of the Office for Students in promoting freedom of speech in universities in England. Sir Michael explained that he wanted to see maximum freedom of speech throughout universities, not just in the students’ unions. He acknowledged the universities’ need to have policies in place because they have a responsibility for what happens on their campuses. He acknowledged that some codes of practice were over-complicated, but that good practice did exist. He did not want the Office for Students to issue a single code of practice, saying that would be up to universities and students’ unions.

Questioning how the Office for Students would monitor compliance with the duty to promote freedom of speech among universities followed. Sir Michael reiterated his commitment to maximum freedom of speech and said he would only review university codes of practice on a risk basis. Any intervention would be to promote free speech, he told the committee. Sir Michael clarified that the Office for Students would have no jurisdiction over the students’ union.

When questioned whether the Office for Students was the right body to receive Prevent returns, questioning whether it would have the right expertise. Sir Michael emphasised the need to protect the institutional autonomy of universities and the need to balance that with security. He believed the Office for Students was the right body to this, as the agency that would know about universities, rather a policing agency. He continued to receive challenge on this point.

(Summary courtesy of Dods, Political Monitoring Consultants.)

Contact Sarah if you would like further information on the content of the session.

Other news

International Students: This week the Financial Times ran another story on the economic benefits of international students. The article rehashes HEPI’s study and last week’s mayoral letter, however, the main thrust calls on parliament to unite and overrule what it sees as Theresa May’s lone standpoint of negativity towards international students through their inclusion in the net migration targets. On international students the FT states: the evidence is overwhelming – they bring widespread economic benefit to the UK.

HM Opposition: The Fabian Society issued a report on Labour’s National Education Service plans.

The report  features an introduction from shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner MP and contributions from experts in further and higher education, including shadow minister Gordon Marsden MP, former education and employment secretary Lord Blunkett and leading figures from the NUS, UCU, Open University the Learning and Work Institute.

Between them the report contributors argue for a National Education Service that is:

  • Accountable  – democratically account­able and open at every level
  • Devolved  – with local decision-making which delivers coherent, integrated local provision, albeit within a national framework
  • Empowering  – ensuring that learners, employees and institutions are all ena­bled and respected
  • Genuinely lifelong  – with opportu­nities for retraining and chances to re-engage at every stage, and parity for part-time and digital distance learning
  • Coordinated  – flexible pathways for learners between providers and strong partnerships involving providers, employers, unions and technology platforms
  • Outcome-focused  – designed to meet social and economic needs, with far more adults receiving productivity-en­hancing education but also recognising that learning brings wider benefits

The report also suggests that the ultimate price-tag for the new service may be more than Labour pledged in its 2017 manifesto.

Wonkhe blogger and VC of the Open University Peter Horrocks considers Labour’s National Education Service within the context of the relentless industrial automation in Five things that might save us from the robots, a quick focussed read (with only one shameless Open University plug).

The Universities team within parliament regularly run training events for academics to understand how to begin the process of utilising their research to influence government policy. The Government increasingly leans towards evidence-based policy making and understanding who, when and where the best opportunities are to influence the Government is crucial. Here are the event details:  Book a place at Research, Impact and the UK Parliament at Plymouth Marjon University on Wednesday 21 March 2018 at 1.30pm.

At the 3 hour training event, you will learn:

  • How to contact MPs and Members of the House of Lords from Parliament’s Outreach & Engagement Service
  • How to work with Select Committees from a clerk of a House of Commons Select Committee
  • How Parliament has been cited in REF 2014 impact case studies from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

“This event was excellent – well organised, highly relevant, focused, all speakers strong, content highly practical” – RIUKP Attendee

Tickets cost £40 and include afternoon tea. Here’s the link to: Book your place at Research, Impact and the UK Parliament now.

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To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 5th January 2018

Welcome to the first policy update of 2018!  Parliament is in recess until Monday 8th so there has been less activity this week. Nevertheless, here is your slimline summary of the activity since our last update.

Office for Students

The Office for Students (OfS) officially came into existence this week. The final 6 members of the OfS board were announced

New members:

  • Simon Levine is the Managing Partner and Co-Global Chief Executive Officer of the global law firm, DLA Piper. A graduate of Cambridge University, he is a Visiting Professor and Lecturer at Imperial College Business School.
  • Elizabeth Fagan is Senior Vice President, Managing Director of Boots.
  • Katja Hall is a partner at Chairman Mentors International, previously she was Group Head of External Affairs and Sustainability at HSBC where she was responsible for external communications, stakeholder engagement, social responsibility and community investment.
  • Monisha Shah is Chair of Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. She is also a serving Trustee of ArtFund, an independent fundraising charity for art. In December 2015, Monisha was invited by the Prime Minister to join the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
  • Ruth Carlson is a current student at Surrey University, where she is a Student Ambassador for civil engineering. She has experience as a course representative, as a former president of the Surrey University Women’s Football Team and has also worked in other institutional and regional representative forums.
  • Toby Young is the co-founder of the West London Free School, and now serves as the director the New Schools Network. His teaching experience includes working as a teaching fellow at Harvard and a teaching assistant at Cambridge. He is a Fulbright Commissioner.

This appointment has been contentious with both students and academics claiming he is unsuitable (BBC News: Toby Young regrets ‘politically incorrect’ comments). In another BBC article: University job backlash because I’m a Tory the DfE are reported to have spoken of the “vital insights Toby’s experience as the founder of a free school will bring to the role”. Furthermore: “This experience will be vital in encouraging new providers and ensuring more universities are working effectively with schools.”

Mr Young has also been criticised for past derogatory comments about working class students. In response to this complaint Toby claims the number of pupil premium children enrolled at the four schools he has established counters this criticism.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “If this organisation was to have any credibility it needed a robust board looking out for students’ interests. Instead we have this announcement sneaked out at New Year with Tory cheerleader Toby Young dressed up as the voice of teachers and no actual representation from staff or students.”  [Note – there is student representation as Ruth Carlson has been appointed to the OfS board – see above.]

Twitter has been awash with complaints, including suggestions he is deleting thousands of inappropriate past tweets. LBC have critiqued the DfE for failing to provide a rationale response justifying why the inappropriate tweets were not considered a deterrent factor in Toby’s appointment.

Conservative Minister Margot James has also criticised the choice: “Toby Young is worthy of his appointment but it is a mistake for him to belittle sexist comments by labelling them ‘politically incorrect’, a term frequently used to dismiss unacceptable comments about, and behaviour towards, women and minorities.”

Toby has strong links with the Conservative party who are currently reported as experiencing a generation gap crisis due to the low number of young members they are attracting. Strong student opposition to Toby’s appointment may further damage the Conservatives’ reputation with younger voters further.

Click the link to read Toby Young’s statement: why I am qualified to be on board of new universities regulator

Previously announced members:

  • Sir Michael Barber (Chair)
  • Martin Coleman (Deputy Chair)
  • Nicola Dandridge (CEO)
  • Chris Millward (DfAP)
  • Gurpreet Dehal
  • Kate Lander
  • Prof Carl Lygo
  • David Palfreyman
  • Prof Steve West.

League Tables

League tables often attract a collective groan within HE institutions because positioning is important but the criteria and methodologies change making interpretation difficult. On Thursday the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Strategic Planners Association published A Guide to UK League Tables in HE. The report is a simple introduction for those who’d like to understand the limitations of league tables without getting bogged down in the complex terms and data.

Sally Turnball (author) said: League tables are both interesting and useful. But, as is the case in much of today’s knowledge society, we need to be able to navigate and understand this information effectively, so that it aids – rather than drives – what we do.

In summary, some difficulties are:

  • Data is old – doesn’t present an accurate picture of a provider as it is today. This is exacerbated as league tables are used by pupils to make choices when they are 12-18 months away from enrolling – meaning by enrolment the institution was selected based on its performance 4 years ago.
  • While the league tables collect and compare consistent data across institutions the HE sector is diverse so the data used often focuses on a narrow student population. Making it virtually meaningless for mature, part-time and postgraduate applicants.
  • League tables use NSS data as a proxy to represent teaching quality – its an easily accessible data source but being opinion based its usefulness is limited because it’s not a robust or impartial evaluation of quality.
  • Often providers cluster around the same scores so the rankers have to resort to decimal place levels to differentiate and allocate position on the league table – even though the differences are infinitesimal. Furthermore, changing the weighting of some criteria and excluding extreme scores – which is statistically sensible – results in exaggerated differences between provider scores and their resultant ranking position.
  • Many of the valuable things done by institutions cannot be easily measured and are not incorporated into the rankings.
  • Page 17 lists the metrics used to calculate the league tables, and pages 18 to 35 set out the problems associated with each metric in simple language.

The report concludes: League tables are not created for higher education providers to use as core management information. They are not based on thorough in-depth analyses of the datasets and they do not take many of the known contextual factors into account – for example, graduate employment data are not adjusted for local employment markets, despite differences in the profile of employment opportunities across the country. Yet league tables bring together a range of different sources of information about higher education providers to give a general overview of factors that prospective students might find useful when considering where to study. They provide information at both subject and institutional levels and they generate media coverage, putting areas of supposedly stronger and weaker provision in the spotlight. League tables are here to stay, and it would be ill-advised to ignore them. However, using them as the sole basis for policymaking or strategic decision-making is equally ill-advised.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said: Universities are judged by their position in the league tables. Rankings determine reputation, prestige and student numbers. That is why university governing bodies hold their vice-chancellors to account for their league table positions. But users of the league tables tend to know little about how the rankings are put together. In other words, they do not know, precisely, what it is they are holding people to account for. The main league tables are not going to disappear any time soon because they provide comparative information and people find them useful. But they are easily and often misunderstood. My hope is that everyone who holds our universities to account will set themselves a new year’s resolution to look under the bonnet of the league tables before using them.

Free Speech

Jo Johnson spoke about free speech at the Jewish Limmud Festival on 26 December: “Our universities…should be places that open minds not close them, where ideas can be freely challenged and prejudices exposed. But in universities in America and increasingly in the United Kingdom, there are countervailing forces of censorship, where groups have sought to stifle those who do not agree with them in every way under the banner of “safe spaces” or “no-platforming”. However well-intentioned, the proliferation of such safe spaces, the rise of no-platforming, the removal of ‘offensive’ books from libraries and the drawing up of ever more extensive lists of banned “trigger” words are undermining the principle of free speech in our universities. Shield young people from controversial opinions, views that challenge their most profoundly held beliefs or simply make them uncomfortable, and you are on the slippery slope that ends up with a society less able to make scientific breakthroughs, to be innovative and to resist injustice.”

Of the OfS Johnson stated: “Promoting freedom of speech within the law will be at the heart of its [OfS’] approach to the regulation of our higher education system. The OfS will go further than its predecessor in promoting freedom of speech.as a condition of registration with the new regulator, we are proposing that all universities benefitting from public money must demonstrate a clear commitment to free speech in their governance documents. I am pleased to say that this freedom is as important to the OfS’s new chairman, Sir Michael Barber, as it is to me. While he hoped the OfS never has to intervene in a university in relation to freedom of speech, he undertook that, if it does, it will be to widen it rather than restrict it. I’m confident freedom of speech in our universities has a bright future under the OfS. But we will continue to watch the system carefully.”

Finally Johnson reiterated: “And I want to be clear about this: attempts to silence opinions that one disagrees with have no place in the English university system. Academics and students alike must not allow a culture to take hold where silence is preferable to a dissenting voice. Universities cannot afford to be complacent about complying either with their duties to protect freedom of speech, or anything less than vigilant against hate speech (or other unlawful activity) masquerading as the exercise of the right to freedom of speech.”

On the following day Angela Rayner (Labour, Shadow Secretary of State for Education) said: “It is a false choice to suggest that universities are either places of free enquiry or places of safety. They can be both. Denying access to groups and individuals who incite violence and hatred is a perfectly sensible step to keep students safe from harm. The NUS have a ‘no-platform’ policy for a handful of racist, anti-Semitic and extremist organisations, some of which the Government itself has also banned. If Jo Johnson is opposed to that policy, he needs to be clear which of those groups he actually wants on campus.”

International Students

Leader of the Lib Dems, Vince Cable, is optimistic the PM will remove international students from the official immigration figures. He said: “…the Home Office has wildly exaggerated the number of those who overstay. This absurd policy has fuelled concerns over immigration numbers and done serious damage to our universities. We should be encouraging more students to come and spend their money in the UK, instead of needlessly hampering one of Britain’s most successful export industries.”

Theresa May has been vehement in continuing to count students within the net migration targets. Without fresh evidence it seemed unlikely the PM would change her stance, however, Politics Home has speculated May is likely to back down to avoid a vote defeat during the forthcoming Immigration Bill.

Meanwhile, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) continue their work to assess the social and economic impacts of international students studying within the UK. BU are currently preparing their response to the MAC call for evidence. Contact us at Policy if you’d like to contribute this this response.

Institutes of Technology fund

In December the Government announced a £170 million fund to establish Institutes of Technology delivering high level technical skills that meet employer needs. The Institutes of Technology will combine business, education and training providers within technical (particularly STEM) subjects to deliver the specific provision needed by local, regional and national employers. It forms part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy that will directly target skills gaps through upskilling existing and new entrants to the workforce. The first Institutes of Technology are expected to open in 2019.

Justine Greening said: “Institutes of technology will play a vital role driving our skills revolution with business and unlocking the potential of our country’s young people through better technical education. By bridging the country’s skills gaps, these new institutions will drive growth and widen opportunity.” “This Government continues to invest in developing our homegrown talent so British business has the skills it needs and so that young people can get the opportunities they want.”

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

The year that was: HEPI review the major happenings of 2017 – a handy and brief refresh if you tuned out during the relentless sector debate and change last year. And Times Higher lists their 25 most popular articles of 2017 – the top spot went to the TEF results.

Research policy news: read our round up of the research news this week. And David Sweeney reflects on the change in mindset required to understand the approach to submissions in REF 2021.

Access to non-religious pastoral carers: Humanists UK published the results of their survey calling for non-religious support workers to be appointed to university chaplaincy and pastoral support teams. The survey sampling is limited in that it was only drawn from their student membership.

Industrial Strategy: The House of Lords has produced a library briefing on the Industrial Strategy and the UK Economy

Artificial Intelligence & Automation: The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing paper on Artificial Intelligence and Automation in the UK. Increasing digital skills, filling employment gaps, and funding for AI research are key issues for Government who seek to grow the AI industry. A sector deal for AI was announced in the Autumn 2017 Budget. This briefing paper considers the impact of AI and automation on the UK workforce, including how working lives may change. There are a broad range of predictions caveated by uncertainties such as the rate of technological development, rate of deployment, and the geographical variations. The paper concludes that the impact is likely to be significant and the Bank of England predicts that 15 million jobs will be influenced by automation over the next 20 years. You may also find the THE article from May 2017 Which countries and universities are leading on AI research interesting.

New(s) Year Resolutions?

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

66724                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update for the w/e 27th October 2017

Freedom of speech, censorship and bias

After last week’s flurry on freedom of speech prompted by the Minster’s comments when launching the OfS consultation, this week the discussion has taken on a much more aggressive and personal tone, as the letter from an MP asking for information about staff teaching about Brexit hit the headlines, and the Daily Mail outed university staff as being majority pro-Brexit. I’ve written about all this on the Lighthouse Policy Group blog.

OfS Regulation

As noted last week, BU will be preparing an institutional response to this consultation. Policy@bournemouth.ac.uk will work with colleagues across BU and collate our response.

The consultation documents are huge, and as soon as you start looking at one area, you have to look at more than one (the conditions, and lots of details about them are in a separate Guidance document). So we will start simply this week with some highlights from the opening sections.

As a risk-based regulator, the OfS will seek to mitigate (though not eradicate) four risks – the risk that the four primary objectives are not met.

[The OfS will have four primary objectives:

  1. all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education
  2. all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
  3. that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure
  4. that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

The OfS will seek to mitigate the risk that each of these four objectives is not met]

As it does so, the OfS will also seek to mitigate risk that the sector does not deliver value for money for taxpayers and citizens (who are directly involved through the allocation of public grant funding, research funding by UKRI, and the public subsidy to the student finance system). It will also do so while recognising the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are less likely to access, succeed in, and progress successfully from higher education, even once their entrance characteristics are taken into account.

The OfS will also work with UKRI to ensure that the reciprocal risk around the sustainability of providers which contribute to the vibrancy of the research base is monitored and mitigated appropriately. The flow of information between the two organisations will be crucial to achieving this.

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree these are the right risks for the OfS to prioritise?

Interesting point:

Provider level regulation will not be used to drive continuous improvement. It will be for autonomous, individual providers to decide for themselves the extent to which they wish to offer provision that extends beyond the baseline. The impetus to do so will be driven by student choice and competition rather than direct regulatory intervention

This general approach does not apply to access and participation. In this case, competition, choice, and market mechanisms alone are not able to deliver the outcomes needed for students and society, so regulation of individual providers will be used to drive improved access and participation

Objective 1: all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education

Consultation question: Given all the levers at its disposal, including but not limited to access and participation plans, what else could the OfS be doing to improve access and participation and where else might it be appropriate to take a more risk-based approach?

Widening access and promoting the success of all students who have potential to benefit from higher education, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds and groups under-represented in higher education, will be at the heart of the OfS’s remit. It will have a duty which relates to equality of opportunity across the whole student lifecycle; with the aim of ensuring that students from disadvantaged and traditionally under-represented backgrounds can not only access, but successfully participate in and progress from higher education too. The OfS will intervene at the provider level in this area; market forces alone will not be sufficient to deliver the change needed. The OfS will also have a duty relating to student choice and opportunities, which it will consider in terms of a range of models of higher education – including new providers, work-based study, accelerated programmes and flexible provision for adults – which will facilitate higher education opening up to under-represented groups.

OFFA will be merged into the OfS with a Director for Fair Access and Participation.

Fair Access Agreements will continue to be required for providers charging higher fee amounts – and will operate as now, although there will be a new focus on participation – they will be called “access and participation plans”.

New point on schools:

In order to ensure better outcomes for both current and prospective students, the relationship between the higher education sector and the schools and further education systems will need to be strengthened. The establishment of the OfS and the new regulatory framework presents a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at our approach to managing these important transition points between stages of learning for an individual and their whole educational experience. These relationships between sectors are critical, not least when it comes to widening access and successful participation.

There are already many higher education providers playing an active role in schools and colleges in order to improve the prior attainment of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The new regulatory regime creates the opportunity to spread these ties further and deeper, in service of students accessing, succeeding in, and progressing from, higher education.

Note we do not know what this means at this stage and the government have not published a response to the schools consultation.

Note on registration conditions – the relevant ones for this area are condition A1 – Access and Participation Plan and condition A3 – transparency condition on disclosure of information.

Widening Participation

The Sutton Trust published a paper on contextual admissions. Key findings include:

  • While the gap [in access] between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers has narrowed somewhat in recent years, the gap at the most selective universities remains stubbornly wide.
  • a majority of these [selective] universities use contextual data to inform their admissions processes.
  • A substantial number provided no information to applicants about how indicators would be used…This lack of transparency is a barrier to access..
  • There is a wide distribution of grades among those from better-off backgrounds – with as many as one in five students from higher participation neighbourhoods being admitted with A-level grades of BBC or below, for example – and that the average grades of those from contextual backgrounds are only marginally lower than those from non-contextual backgrounds.
  • There is little evidence to suggest that leading universities that practice greater contextualisation see significantly higher dropout rates, lower degree completion rates, or lower degree class results
  • Greater use of contextual admissions could result in a substantial increase in the numbers of low income students at the UK’s most selective universities.

Recommendations include

  • Universities should use contextual data in their admissions process to open up access to students from less privileged backgrounds.
  • There should be a greater use of individual-level contextual indicators, such as previous eligibility for free school meals, as well as school-level and area-level criteria.
  • Universities practicing contextualisation should provide additional support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those who have been admitted with lower grades, in recognition of the additional difficulties such students may face.
  • There should be greater transparency from universities when communicating how contextual data is used. ….There should also be greater clarity and consistency in the reporting of contextual admissions processes in access agreements with the Director of Fair Access, including reporting levels of contextually admitted applicants.
  • Foundation year provision should be increased, with greater targeting of those from disadvantaged backgrounds..
  • Participation in outreach programmes should be shared as a contextual indicator across universities.
  • Many outreach programmes include academic eligibility criteria set at a high threshold. However, this is likely to exclude disadvantaged pupils with the potential to do well at university, but whose GCSE results are not exceptional. Universities, and those who run similar outreach programmes, should consider more inclusive thresholds to reduce barriers to participation and increase access

Other news

The new ESRC CEO and Executive Chair Designate has been announced. Professor Jennifer Rubin. is currently Director of the Policy Institute at King’s and Professor of Public Policy. Before joining King’s Jennifer established and then led the justice and home affairs research programme at RAND Europe for ten years.

Following the launch of the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology last month, a new university has been announced for Hereford – it will specialise in engineering courses and will offer accelerated degrees.

The Royal Society has announced a scheme to place entrepreneurs in universities.

David Davis indicated at the Exiting the EU committee that the UK would be “quite likely” to stay in Horizon 2020 after leaving the EU, and also that EU students would be likely to qualify for student loans after March 2019. It was not at all clear whether this would be part of a transition arrangement or a final deal.

From Wonkhe: Justine Greening told the House of Commons Education Committee that the HE funding review first announced by the Prime Minister will be “something DfE leads”.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 20th October 2017

OfS Regulation – Free Speech, Compulsory TEF, Student empowerment

The long awaited (and very long) consultation on the role and functions of the Office for Students was published this week. In fact there are several separate consultations (Wonkhe have helpfully grouped them all on one web page):

  • the regulatory framework
  • registration fees
  • Degree awarding powers and university title
  • One about selection of designated quality assessment body for the OfS– QAA is the only candidate
  • One about selection of a designated data body for the OfS – HESA is the only candidate

The consultations are open until 22nd December and BU will be reviewing them and preparing responses – please let policy@bournemouth.ac.uk know if you would like to be involved.

There is a huge amount of detail and a lot of areas for discussion here, but interestingly the Minister and the press chose to focus on freedom of speech yesterday. The Times published an interview with Jo Johnson discussing the proposal that measures to protect freedom of speech should be a condition of OfS registration. The Guardian notes proposed powers for the OfS to fine or suspend the registration of universities that fail to protect the freedom of speech on campus, including student unions that ‘no platform’ controversial speakers. There has been a lot of commentary on this – not least that students’ unions are independent organisations. It is really interesting to note that in the summary of the consultation prepared for students by the Department for Education, freedom of speech is not mentioned.

  • Johnson: “Our young people and students need to accept the legitimacy of healthy, vigorous debate in which people can disagree with one another. That’s how ideas get tested, prejudices exposed and society advances. Universities mustn’t be places in which free speech is stifled.”
  • Sir Michael Barber OfS Chair: “Ensuring freedom of speech and learning how to disagree with diverse opinions and differing views of the world is a fundamental aspect of learning at university. The OfS will promote it vigorously.”

The relevant bit of the consultation starts on page 32 –

  • This consultation includes such a public interest principle, which states that the governing body of an institution must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured within its institution. This public interest principle will form part of the public interest governance condition…”
  • “The OfS will use ‘indicative behaviours’ to assess compliance with the principles; these are set out in the Guidance on registration conditions. With regard to free speech, for example, one behaviour that would indicate compliance would be to have a freedom of speech code of practice. This should set out the procedures which members, students and employees should follow in relation to meetings or activities, and the conduct which is expected of those individuals. Some of the best examples set out clearly what does and does not constitute reasonable grounds for refusal of a speaker, and the disciplinary actions which would follow a breach of the code of practice. A behaviour that might indicate non-compliance would be where a provider fails to abide by its own freedom of speech procedures”.

There has of course been something of a media/social media storm, with rage from both ends of the political spectrum about those with different views allegedly seeking to stifle or prevent free speech, big disagreements on the role of trigger warnings, safe spaces and “no platforming”, and a number of voices pointing out that universities are already subject to legal obligations on both free speech and the Prevent duty and this is all a bit over-played.

But apart from this issue, the consultation has much broader scope. It sets out the broad objectives for the OfS:

  1. all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education
  2. all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
  3. that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure
  4. that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

The OfS will seek to mitigate the risk that each of these four objectives is not met and:

  • “As it does so, the OfS will also seek to mitigate risk that the sector does not deliver value for money for taxpayers and citizens (who are directly involved through the allocation of public grant funding, research funding by UKRI, and the public subsidy to the student finance system). It will also do so while recognising the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are less likely to access, succeed in, and progress successfully from higher education, even once their entrance characteristics are taken into account.
  • The OfS will also work with UKRI to ensure that the reciprocal risk around the sustainability of providers which contribute to the vibrancy of the research base is monitored and mitigated appropriately. The flow of information between the two organisations will be crucial to achieving this.”

The many other areas covered in detail include

  • Making TEF compulsory for all HEIs with >500 students
  • Publishing justification of high senior staff salaries
  • Transparency about student transfer (between courses)
  • Empowering students through clearer student contracts

We will look at some areas in more detail in the following weeks.

The impact of universities

Meanwhile, Universities UK (UUK) published a report on the Economic Impact of Universities in 2014-15. Some highlights:

  • In total, the economic activity of universities, the international students they attract and their visitors, supported more than 940,000 jobs in the UK in 2014-15.
  • In 2014-15, universities themselves employed 404,000 people, or 1.3 percent of all UK employment
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, generated £95 billion of gross output in the economy in 2014-15.
  • The gross value added contribution of universities’ own operations to GDP, at £21.5 billion in 2014-15, is larger than that made by a number of sizable industries.
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, supported £14.1 billion in tax receipts for the Exchequer in 2014-15.
  • In total, universities in the UK earned £13.1 billion in export receipts in 2014-15.

Student Loans and Value for Money

The Treasury Committee launched an inquiry scrutinising recent changes to the student loan system. This week evidence was received from Dr Helen Carasso (Oxford) and Andrew McGettigan (freelance author and lecturer). Key points:

  • Experts disagree exactly how much raising the repayment threshold will cost the taxpayer. The system is complex and not even understandable to highly-qualified experts
  • The notion that the written off loans will cost to the taxpayer the same amount with the post-92 as the previous £3,000 fees is publically unpopular
  • The post-92 higher fees is believed to have created more teaching resources within the system
  • McGettigan claimed that higher interest rates for students still studying were purely designed to deal with the rarer issue of rich students taking out loans and investing them elsewhere
  • Varying price for tuition fees by programme is nonsensical – students would be discouraged from choosing courses which were priced lower as it has a status implication (McGettigan).
  • The system has created a series of disincentives for universities to charge anything other than the highest fee (Carasso).
  • Carasso stated an overt graduate tax would be a better accounting method than student loans although it would feel like a penalty. McGettigan expanded suggesting it may destabilise recruitment and retention and potentially encourage drop out or emigration
  • On the sale of the loan book McGettigan stated the old mortgage-style loans had already been sold at a profit, but under the new system the sale of loans would not affect public sector net debt, that any price would be lower than fair value and amount to a loss for the government.
  • Re: marketization of HE Carasso stated it was very difficult for an applicant to make a fully-informed decision (in relation to price and net cost).
  • How should the repayment system best be reformed:
    • McGettigan – the main problem is the large graduate debt. A lower starting debt would mean interest rates would not apply in the same way,
    • Carasso – if the system is too complex to understand that’s a problem. Fees are probably too high, and why is there not an employer contribution mechanism?

Meanwhile the Economic Affairs Select Committee is examining if students get value for money (HE, FE and technical education) through oral evidence sessions. Follow it here

Widening Participation

50% of students are First in Family – This week the Telegraph drew on UCAS data to report that half of students who started a degree last year were first in family to attend HE. However, the article is disparaging as many of these students attended ‘low’ or ‘mid-ranking’ universities and few studied the ‘top’ subjects (listed as medicine, maths and science). The article went on to raise the current headline grabbing debate over fees and value for money and stated: “critics said last night that the figures showed that too many students were attending low-performing universities which charge “outrageous” fees but fail to improve social mobility.”

Whole-institution approach to WP – This week OFFA called for universities to create a step change and accelerate social mobility goals by adopting a whole-institution approach to widening participation, embedding fair access at all levels of the organisation, across all areas of work, and senior management. To accompany the call OFFA released the commissioned report: Understanding a whole institution approach to WP

Les Ebdon (Director, OFFA) stated: “Excellent progress has been made in widening access to higher education for the most disadvantaged young people. But for too long, this progress has only been incremental. We now need to see transformational change.

“Adopting a genuine whole institution approach – where access is a key priority at every level – is the biggest thing a university or college could do to make change happen. This research offers a vital opportunity to make the further, faster progress we badly need to see.

International academics

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: A Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, whether it is her policy to extend visa entitlement to the spouses and dependents of EU academics who can work in the UK after the UK has left the EU.

And

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, what representations she has received from universities and national academies on the potential effect of changes to freedom of movement on the UK’s ability to attract and retain high quality researchers.

A: Brandon Lewis (Con): The Government recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and we welcome those with the skills and expertise to make our country better still. But we must manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.

We have been clear that after the UK leaves the EU, free movement will end, but migration between the UK and the EU will continue and we are considering a number of options as to how this might work. We will be setting out initial proposals for our future immigration arrangements later in the year.

The Government recognises that it is important that we understand the impacts on the different sectors of the economy and the labour market and want to ensure that decisions on the long-term system are based on evidence. On July 2017, we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the European Union and also on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy… The Government will carefully consider any recommendations made to it by the MAC before finalising the details of the future immigration system for EU nationals.

The Government also regularly engages with sectoral bodies – including those in the scientific and academic sectors ¬- to ensure our immigration routes work effectively to enable businesses to access the talent they need. Their views do, and will continue to, inform our decisions on any changes to the system.

Consultations & Inquiries

The Policy team compiles details of the key HE and niche research consultations and select committee inquiries on the consultation tracker. BU responses to HE consultations are managed by Sarah and Jane.

Let us know you’re interested! We invite colleagues across BU to provide response input, however, if there is a consultation in your area of expertise don’t wait for an invite – contact us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk – we’d love to hear from you so we can access all the pockets of expertise across BU. Take a look at the consultation tracker to find out if there is a current inquiry related to your role.

New consultations and inquiries:

  • 5 Higher Education and Research Act consultations
  • International students – social and economic impact (link)
  • Science budget and the Industrial Strategy (link)
  • Intellectual Property
  • Decarbonisation in HE sector
  • Enabling Gypsies, Roma and Travellers
  • Regulation of Nursing Associates in England

(See the consultation tracker for links to all these new consultations and inquiries.)

To view the responses BU has submitted to recent consultations and inquiries across all topics click here.

Other news

Teaching excellence: The University Alliance has published Technical and professional excellence: Perspective on learning and teaching.

TEF Gold: HEPI have released Going for Gold: Lessons from the TEF provider submissions. The report breaks down the influential aspects of the provider submissions which the author suggests may have swayed the panel’s final award decisions. While the report is based on opinion it offers suggestions to providers and Government on how to improve the qualitative aspect of the TEF submission. Spoiler alert: BU features frequently within the document.

Alternative Providers: The National Audit Office has published their Follow-up on alternative HE providers. The report notes several area of progress:

  • Non-continuation rates reduced from 38% to 25% (although still 15% higher than the mainstream HE sector) with DfE action taken against 11 alternative providers where dropout rates are unacceptably high. More regular and reliable monitoring data has been called for.
  • Reduction in paying student loans to ineligible students from 4% to 0.5%
  • DfE have strengthened their oversight framework and are acting on third party reports of non-compliance or under-performance.
  • Positive reports of widening access within disadvantaged or under-represented groups of students

However, early data implies graduates from alternative provider’s progress to further study or employment at a lower rate and lower entry salary than graduates from mainstream HE institutions.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update w/e 24th March 2017

Higher Education and Research Bill – the third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords was scheduled for Wednesday and was about to start when the attack took place in Westminster, so the session was cancelled. It has now been rescheduled for Tuesday 4th April.  The current version of the bill as amended at the report stage is here. There is a short list of amendments for the third reading – these are usually “tidying up” amendments rather than the more substantive ones that we have seen in the earlier stages – and are monstly (but not exclusively) government amendments.  The Bill will then return to the Commons – probably after Easter – when all six of the opposition and cross bench amendments made by the Lords are likely to be removed – including the one decoupling TEF ratings and fee increases, removing the Gold, Silver, Bronze TEF system and replacing it with a pass/fail, and measures aiming to support international students and staff studying and working in the UK.

There may be government amendments proposed in the Commons to seek to address some of the concerns behind the amendments to the TEF, but it seems unlikely that there will be concessions on international staff and students in the bill as these issues will be relevant to the separate consultation on immigration policy, which we are still waiting for. There will therefore inevitably be another process of “ping-pong” . If the Lords don’t accept the position approved by the Commons (and any concessions made) then there is a risk that the bill will run out of time in this session.

To respond to concerns raised by the Lords, Jo Johnson and the sponsor of the bill in the House of Lords, Viscount Younger of Leckie have written a number of letters during the report stage.

  • 15th March 2017 – powers to enter and search
  • 6th March 2017 – regulation (compliance with the Regulator’s Code – will require a statutory instrument but government agree), role of the Competition and Markets Authority (the government believe there is no overlap between the OfS and the CMA). One government amendment clarified that in addition to promoting competition, the OfS should have regard to the benefits of HEI collaboration for students and employers.
  • 3rd March 2017 – defending the TEF and its metrics, setting out the context and background and confirming a commitment to ensuring that the TEF supports widening participation.

There has not been a response to the amendments that were passed, so we will wait to see. In the meantime, there were some interesting articles about the future for the TEF on Wonkhe on Monday:

Another concern raised by the Lords and also raised in Education questions in the Commons this week related to free speech. Jo Johnson, the universities minister, added that the bill would safeguard free speech by extending the duty to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech to all registered providers. On the same day, Johnson also wrote to universities asking them to pay particular attention to this issue. He advised: “Policies and codes of practice should not simply be allowed to gather dust; they are crucial to demonstrating to students that free speech should be at the heart of our university system. They need to be meaningful documents that students and staff understand and, crucially, respect.”

Brexit – with the PM expected to serve formal notice to start Brexit negotiations under Article 50 next week, Peers debated EU membership and UK science after the referendum on 23 March. They urged the government to replace any money lost from EU research programmes with fresh money from Westminster, rather than with the extra £4.7 million allocated to science and innovation in the 2016 autumn statement.

The Parliamentary and Scientific committee have published a statement on science priorities for Brexit.  It asks for immediate actions, sets out negotiation priorities and changes to domestic policy.  It’s very short and readable – a list of proposals rather than a long summary of evidence and background

Its first statement is about staff and skills – it calls for immediate reassurance for EEA staff working in the UK, research about mobility of skilled workers to inform immigration policy and for the government to develop a communications strategy that champions Britain as a welcoming hub for research and innovation.

On funding, it says that there must be no decline in overall funding for science and innovation across all disciplines, calls for continued participation in Horizon 2020 and for the government to “set the closest possible association for the UK with EU research and innovation programmes”.  It also proposes a target of 3% of GDP for combined public and private R&D investment, with at least 0.7% of GDP invested in research and development.    It calls for a comprehensive review of all current public funding for UK research and development to ensure there is no gap as the UK leaves the EU.

It sets out requirements to ensure that UK-based researchers are able to collaborate, including funding and infrastructure for partnerships.  On trade, it suggests that all government departments should have scientific advisers, and calls for a comprehensive review of the current regulatory environment.

Student Loans – in a written answer to a parliamentary question Jo Johnson noted that the latest Student Loans Company statistics show that there were around 113,600 English student loan borrowers known to be abroad at the beginning of the financial year 2016-17. Of these around 22 per cent were EU-domiciled borrowers. The figures also show that the overall outstanding loan balance of these borrowers resident abroad was around £1.6 billion, of which around £220 million was held by EU-domiciled borrowers. He added in a separate answer that the Student Loans Company established a repayments evasion unit in 2016 to detect borrowers who live abroad and who fail to repay their loans.

Advance marketing – along with Professor Debbie Holley, I am presenting some policy briefings and workshops – read more and book via the intranet.