Tagged / OFS

HE policy update for the w/e 12th January 2018

Cabinet Reshuffle

Out with the old and in with the new…the cabinet reshuffle this week brings changes for HE. Goodbye to Jo Johnson as he departs from the Universities Minister role to become Minister of State for Transport and Minister for London. Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, reflects on Johnson’s legacy in the Times Higher, and Wonkhe present a more mixed picture in Jexit leaves a mixed legacy in HE.

Sam Gyimah has been appointed as Universities Minister. The role remains under both Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Sam has been a consistent front bencher within the Commons since 2010 in his role as PPS to the Prime Minister, since then he has undertaken roles as a party whip, within the cabinet office, childcare and education (DfE) and prison and probation (Ministry of Justice). Sam voted to remain in the European referendum (his interesting 2016 blog sets out his remain mind set and his identification with the “easyjet generation”) although he has stated he believe Britain will thrive outside of the EU.  A party loyalist, Sam’s education voting record mirrors Government aims. He voted for greater autonomy for schools, establishing more academies and raising undergraduate tuition fees to £9,000. On the tuition fee cap its reported that originally Sam believed the HE system should change so fewer people went to university with grants or lower costs. However, he changed opinion deciding participation was the right way forward stating “we must therefore work out how we can continue to fund that” and voting with the fee rise. Gyimah was also involved in the filibustering to prevent the Opposition’s Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education Bill in 2015. Sam’s political interests are HE, small business and international development.

The title of the role appears to no longer include science, research and innovation. This may just be a product of short form reporting in the breaking news; the below tweet suggests he still expects the same responsibilities as Jo Johnson enjoyed, we’ll be watching closely to see how the job develops!  A 2014 Independent interview with Sam describes his family background, state schooling, and struggles to pay rent whilst at Oxford. A Wonkhe article What’s in Sam Gyimah’s in-tray? speculates about the new Minister’s role within the sector.

Damian Hinds has been appointed as the Secretary of State for Education. His responsibilities cover the full Education remit from early years to HE, apprenticeships, skills and free schools. Damian has a background in social mobility; he previously chaired the APPG on social mobility and was a Member of the Education Select Committee (2010-12). Whilst chairing the APPG in 2012 the committee published Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility – the key messages of which still prevail today. Hinds is known to have criticised how social mobility has stalled within the UK. His political interests are welfare, affordable credit, social mobility, education and financial inclusion. Damian’s previous roles span defence, party whip, the Treasury (Exchequer Secretary, 2015-16), and Minster for State within the Dept for Work and Pensions 2016-18). Sam Gyimah reports to Damian. Hinds is a loyalist and has consistently voted with the Government on education reforms and believes in greater autonomy for schools and establishing more academies. He is a regular speaker within the Commons. He voted to raise the undergraduate tuition fee cap to £9,000 in 2010, he voted against reducing fees to £6,000 in 2012, and voted to end financial support (16-19 year olds in training/FE). In 2014 he led a debate calling on the Government to lift the faith cap preventing the Catholic Church from opening free schools. Interestingly he will now be responsible for the Government’s response to the consultation on lifting the cap. Damian attended a Catholic grammar school before studying his degree at Oxford. Damian campaigned to remain in the European referendum, stating while he saw good points on both sides it was important for economic growth to have more negotiating weight. His constituency is East Hampshire. He supported Theresa May in the Conservative leadership contest.

So the PM has two loyalists in control of the HE sector, already the speculation over the much heralded major review of HE has begun: – a succinct Times Higher article Reshuffle paves way for bold review of English HE funding concurred with this and speculated that the planned knowledge exchange framework may also be doomed?

DfE: The remainder of the DfE roles are: Nick Gibb, Anne Milton, Lord Theodore Agnew, Lord Nash, all of whom remain in post. They’ll be joined by previous backbencher Nadhim Zahawi as DfE Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.

Education Secretary Justine Greening declined the offered post (Work and Pensions) and has departed from Government. She said: social mobility matters more than a ministerial career.

Strong and stable:

  • Amber Rudd remains the Home Secretary, and will also be the Minister for Women and Equalities.
  • Greg Clarke remains as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Greg is Sam Gyimah’s second boss.
  • Michael Gove remains as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Penny Mordaunt remains as the Secretary of State for International Development
  • Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DEFRA) remains as George Eustice
  • Therese Coffey remains as Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for Environment and Rural Life Opportunities (DEFRA).

And also of interest:

  • Conservative Vice Chair for Training and Development is James Morris (previously a backbencher working as PPS to Damian Green).
  • The Minister of State for Immigration within the Home Office is now Caroline Nokes, and she will attend Cabinet.
  • Minister of State for Digital and Culture (DCMS) is Margot James (previously Margot was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Minister for Small Business, Consumers, and Corporate Responsibility within BEIS).
  • Changes to the Minister of State for Health (2 posts) are Caroline Dineage (previously focused on families) and Stephen Barclay (Treasury).

Locally: Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) remains within the Ministry of Defence retaining his role as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Defence, People and Veterans).

On the reshuffle PM Theresa May stated: [this reshuffle brings] fresh talent into government, boosting delivery in key policy areas like housing, health and social care, and ensuring the government looks more like the country it serves.

The reshuffle provides fresh opportunity for BU staff to engage with the parliamentarians now responsible for their expertise area to impact on policy. Contact the policy team if you need support to begin building relationships with parliamentarians.

Office for Students – Student Panel

The 13 strong OfS student panel members were announced on Monday (see below) with members drawn from under and postgraduate provision, part time study, an international student, a recent graduate, prospective students (at sixth form level and a GCSE student) and the NUS President.  The OfS explain that the student panel will ensure the new regulator’s work “properly engages with, and is relevant to, students from all backgrounds…[acting as] a critical friend” by providing advice to the board and examining the regulator’s relationships with students. Research Professional inform that the Student Panel will also produce research on important issues affecting students. The student panel will first meet later in January. Research Professional

  • Alice Richardson , 6th Form student from the North West of England
  • Benjamin Hunt, President of King’s College London Students’ Union 2016-17
  • Chad Allen, a PHD student at the University of Cambridge, and former President of the Cambridge University Graduate Union
  • Lizzie Pace, a part-time mature student at Birkbeck, University of London, and a former soldier in the British Army.
  • Luke Renwick, President of Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union
  • Megan Dunn, Senior Policy Adviser at the Equality Challenge Unit and President of the Nation Union of Students in 2015-16
  • Ruth Carlson, Civil Engineering student at the University of Surrey. Ruth has also joined the Board of the Office for Students on an interim basis.
  • Shakira Martin, President of the National Union of Students
  • Shraddha Chaudhary, international student, and President, Director and Chair of the Trustee Board at University of Exeter Students’ Guild
  • Sinead Brown, GCSE student from London
  • Stuart Cannell, a part-time postgraduate student at Manchester Metropolitan University and a Student Reviewer for the Quality Assurance Agency
  • Xenia Levantis, President of Norwich University of the Arts Students’ Union
  • Zahra Choudhry, Vice President of Education at University of West London Students’ Union

Panel member, Luke Renwick, stated that “given recent controversies, the OfS has a long way to go to instil faith that it will truly work ‘in the student’s interest’”.

OfS Board Membership

This week saw a barrage of parliamentary questions focused on Toby Young’s appointment to the OfS Board, several MPs were also outspoken in their opposition. An urgent oral parliamentary question by Dawn Butler (Labour) on Tuesday brought the issue to prominence and required Jo Johnson to defend Young’s appointment.  Dawn began by quoting a past Justine Greening speech: “Violent, sexist and homophobic language must have no place in our society, and parliamentarians of all parties have a duty to stamp out this sort of behaviour wherever we encounter it, and condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”  And concluded by stating: “I find it hard to comprehend the appointment; I believe that it leaves the credibility of the Office for Students in tatters.”

Johnson’s defence, while balanced, was met with continued challenge from across the house – on process, suitable and merit grounds. The criticism for Young turned into a mini debate including, criticising the tweets and Young’s “dark and dangerous…progressive eugenics” (Halfon, Conservative), questioning standards at Young’s free school (Powell, Labour/Co-op), querying the due diligence of the appointment panel (Jenkin, Conservative; and Diana Johnson, Labour), and the implication for Muslims (Khan).

Later that day Toby Young resigned from the OfS Board. On his resignation Sir Michael Barber (OfS Chair) stated: “Many of his previous tweets and articles were offensive… he was correct to say that his continuation in the role would have distracted from our important work.” You can also read the Guardian – Toby Young: how barrage of nudges made OfS position untenable which suggests the remaining OfS Board members were gathering forces and Vice-Chancellor pressure brought to bear on Nicola Dandridge through prior UUK connections.  Toby has the final word on his resignation in The Spectator.

It will be interesting to see who replaces Young on the OfS Board, whether they will also be drawn from the alternative provider sector. Although after the controversy Young created on the first official day of the OfS I think we can expect the new appointment to have a squeaky clean background!

Read the Wonkhe article: A beginner’s guide to the Office for Students.

International Students

HEPI and Kaplan have released The costs and benefits of international students by parliamentary constituency. The report uses economic modelling to identify the monetary value international students generate for the UK (after deducting a myriad of costs associated with hosting the student). It quantifies these economic benefits at a national, regional and local constituency level. The report acknowledges the wider positive cultural, societal and soft power impacts that international students bring but does not include these aspects in the value calculations.

In the report both EU and non-EU students are described under the umbrella term ‘international’. The report uses the 2015/16 cohort entry year but adjusts costs and considers the changed HE systems and context to ensure the figures are relevant for today. It takes a conservative approach to the calculations by including every kind of hosting cost to the public purse that is possible. For example, deductions are made for healthcare, housing, community amenities, education and care of dependents, social security, public order and safety, local resources, defence, economic affairs, recreation and culture, religious provision, environmental protection, student non-continuation, non-repayment of EU student loan post-graduation, and so on right up to the nuclear deterrent submarine that circles the UK. This conservative approach means the net value calculation of the income an international student brings is actually an underestimation ensuring its validity for policy making. To understand more on the methodology read the full report pages 10-28.

Key findings:

  • In 2015/16 there were 438,000 international (EU and non-EU) students studying at HE levels across the UK (19% of all students). The most students come from China (1 in every 4 international students came from China), next were the US and India. From the EU Germany came top, closely followed by France and Italy.

Note: recruitment of international students has plateaued since 2009/10

  • International students were roughly evenly split between under and post graduate studies.
  • International students study at institutions throughout the UK. Higher concentrations study in London and the South East, followed by the West Midlands. The South West region has the second lowest concentration (of the English regions) totalling 12,770 international students.
  • The average economic contribution each international student (across their full duration of study) makes to the UK economy is £87,000 (EU students) and £102,000 (non-EU). Aggregating these figures to the national level the UK economy receives £22.6 billion from international students (£5.1bn EU, £17.5bn non-EU).
  • Using the conservative ‘include every cost imaginable’ approach the cost of hosting the international students is £2.3 billion. So each student costs the UK taxpayer £19,000 (EU) and £7,000 (non-EU) over the full duration of their studies. The majority of this cost is their use of public services.
  • This means the 2015/16 starters resulted in a total net economic benefit of £20.3 billion (£4bn EU, £16.3bn non-EU). The value to the economy per student is £68,000 (EU) and £95,000 (non-EU). For every 11 non-EU students the UK economy received £1 million. This means the benefit of hosting non-EU HE students is 14.8 times greater than the total cost. For the South West this equates to £1.21 net impact. As we would expect the highest spending from international students is clustered around the immediate university area, however lower levels of spend ripple out into surrounding areas, meaning the positive impact is experience everywhere (just to a lesser degree).
  • The report takes a sensible methodological approach, however, because aggregate figures are used the values, when translated into parliamentary constituencies, will vary slightly from the average aggregate values applied due to the local context (cost of housing and so on) and because international students were apportioned to a constituency on the basis of UK student residency location census data. Overall, this doesn’t detract from the validity of the values because they are so high and already an underestimation. In the majority of cases, if it were possible to calculate every student precisely it would actually increase the net economic benefit each international student brings. (Read pages 19 and 38 of the full report for a more in depth explanation.)
  • The constituency areas that benefit most from international students are Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford and Manchester. The top earning constituency within the South West is Bristol West (14th out of the top 20). An intriguing political quirk of the top 20 areas that obtain the greatest net income from students is that all but one are Labour seats.
  • Here are the local net impact values:
Parliamentary Constituency Net impact
Bournemouth East £35.0m
Bournemouth West £65.1m
Christchurch £9.1m
Mid Dorset and North Poole £9.6m
North Dorset £9.4m
Poole £14.0m
South Dorset £10.2m

See pages 69-70 of the full report for the values associated with other South West constituencies

  • International students attract friends and relatives to visit the UK. This additional income is included in the figures quoted above. In 2015/16 international students attracted a further 330,000 visitors to the UK (averaged at 3 visitors per EU student, 0.9 per non-EU student). The average EU visitor spent £296, whereas the non-EU on average spent more (£822) per visit. Across the full period of study the value is in the region of £3,000 (per EU student) and £2,000 (non-EU). Totalling £0.6 billion to the UK economy overall (£0.2bn EU, £0.4bn non-EU).
  • The report concludes the costs of educating and hosting international students are modest and far outweighed by the benefits.

Sector mood music

While they are not ‘new’ providers there is increasing news this year of movement within specialist and alternative provision. The sector is hearing the mood music of gradual diversification and extended remits as specialist providers commence a wider offer, mainstream, or join sector bodies. These forward steps for previous fringe dwellers is all part of the current HE atmosphere of change, such as the push for accelerated provision as more standard and universal offer and the OfS registration changes to incorporate and strongly encourage alternative providers.

The Government and civil service are stridently pushing for a diversification of HE providers. Jo Johnson spearheaded the charge through the Higher Education and Research Act and stridently supported the alternative, but ill-fated, appointment of Toby Young for the OfS Board.

Two moves in this direction this week come from specialist providers KPMG and the University College of Estate Management. In recent months KPMG have been particularly noticeable on the university policy circuit and they have just launched a new Digital Degree apprenticeship in conjunction with BPP University. And the University College of Estate Management which provides online education for the Built Environment (apprenticeships, UG and PG provision) has joined GuildHE. On the join Guild HE CEO stated: “Like other GuildHE members UCEM offer vocationally relevant higher education, industry connections and a focus on the student. They help produce the highly skilled workers that industries and professions need – the skills essential to increase productivity and help realise the aspiration to see growth and prosperity in all regions across the UK.”

Learning Gain

Learning Gain is the latest movement in HE but still developing in terms of consensus, measurement and agreed metrics. A HEPI policy note What affects how much students learn? published on Monday utilised statistical analysis of the HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey (2017) question where students self-report their perception of their own personal learning gain. The analysis combined influencing variables from elsewhere in the survey to determine the top factors which had the greatest effects for students to report they’d ‘learnt a lot: and three surprising variables that didn’t influence learning gain.

The key influencers:

  1. Access to high quality teaching (as judged by combining the 10 survey questions relevant to teaching quality) was highly statistically significant. This included aspects such as helpful and supportive staff, useful feedback, how effective staff were in explaining concepts. This was significant across the whole range of student prior attainment (judged by UCAS entry points).
  2. The volume of independent study – students reporting 20+ hours of independent study were significantly more likely to report ‘learnt a lot’
  3. Personal wellbeing was a significant threshold effect – students reporting low wellbeing were negatively associated with having ‘learnt a lot’
  4. More than 17 hours of paid work per week had a negative effect
  5. Students entering with 144+ UCAS points were more likely to report having ‘learnt a lot’
  6. Whether the student hailed from a gold TEF rated institution had a significant independent effect and increased the likelihood the student reported learning a lot. Interestingly there were no step level effects – only a gold rating produced this effect,  silver didn’t result in higher ‘learnt a lot’ ratings than from a bronze level provider.
  7. There were also London effects (negative influence) and coming from a non-graduate family background (negative influence)

“Being at a London institution, at an institution that did not achieve a Gold in the TEF, and having non-graduate parents all appear to depress the odds of reporting having learnt a lot.”

Three factors did not have a significant effect on student’s self-reporting of how much they had learnt: timetabled taught hours (contact time), ethnicity and whether or not students live at home.

The report goes on to speculate what the findings mean for the current Government vogue for accelerated degrees:

  • The findings have implications for the Government’s proposals for more two-year degree programmes as a ‘cheaper’ option to three-year programmes. Currently an undergraduate degree is 360 credits, each credit based on 10 hours of study. Students on accelerated degrees are expected to study for 1,800 hours a year, in excess of the 1,600 hours of many full-time jobs. If they undertake paid part-time work as well, as most students do, the pressure on them is likely to be considerable, with a risk of putting in too few independent study hours and their wellbeing suffering, both potentially leading to doing less well in their degree than pacing their study over three years.
  • So there is a danger that many students will do less well than their potential taking two-year degrees, and that it will be students from less affluent backgrounds who are tempted by the offer. Indeed, if it is more affluent students who choose this route, and who may do so because their higher prior attainment means they can cope with the intensity, that will leave their less affluent peers with the greater debt and loss of earnings from a year less in the labour market.

Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said on the report:

  • We do not know anything like enough about how students learn or how much they are learning. We need a more scientific approach to this issue, which our new report helps deliver.
  • Asking students how much they are learning and cross-referencing this with their personal circumstances is innovative, illuminating and important. Some of the results are intuitive. Good quality teaching matters as does lots of independent study, while low well-being and many hours of paid work have a negative impact. But some of the results are surprising. Contact hours, ethnicity and whether or not students live at home make less difference.
  • Learning gain is likely to be one of the top concepts in higher education in 2018 and beyond. No one can pretend they have all the answers, but this work shows beyond doubt where we should focus.

Mature Students and Employer Skills Gaps

In a blog post Maddalaine Ansell links the drop in mature student numbers with the struggles of employers to fill their skill needs and calls for cooperation, dropping ELQs, and the potential for a more blended learning model:

  • In relation to mature learners, we saw a further drop of 40% in applications this year. As many mature students used to study at Levels 4 and 5, there has been a decline in demand for these courses and an increase in complaints from employers that they cannot recruit sufficient people at this level. In some industries where the current workforce is approaching retirement, this is becoming critical. The government is trying to tackle this through the creation of a small number of Institutes of Technology. While these may turn out to play a useful role in some areas, fundamentally they are solving the wrong problem.
  • We are not short of institutions that are capable of delivering qualifications at this level rather we are short of students who want to study them within the current system. This is likely to be linked to debt-aversion in older learners who are reluctant to take out loans…, lack of careers advice, particularly for people who left school long ago, and insufficient flexibility of provision.
  • if we are serious about offering students genuine opportunity and choice, we should promote collaboration between different institutions. Mature students are likely to be far less mobile than their younger counterparts so it is the local offer that will matter to them.
  • Local industrial strategies could provide a vehicle for other areas to think about how best to use all the resources already in their area more strategically to meet the needs of local people and industry.
  • While we recognise that there has to be some system of rationing the amount of education that is supported by the taxpayer, the time may have come to jettison the principle that people shouldn’t be funded a second time to study at an equivalent or lower level. It is no longer helpful. Higher education funding should be as flexible as possible, allowing for people to study for both academic and technical qualifications and to study at different levels at different times – or even concurrently.
  • Some degree students would benefit from doing a lower level apprenticeship alongside their degree as it would teach them complementary skills and enable them to earn a little money while they learn – but currently, the funding system does not allow for a blended model.
  • The sector has undergone a lot of reform in recent years. If we are going to have a major review of funding, let’s tackle the real problems.

Other news

Pedagogic innovation: HEFCE blog part-way through the catalyst projects to highlight the positives and some pitfalls of engaging students in the pedagogic innovation projects.

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HE policy update for the w/e 24th November 2017

Industrial Strategy

A little bit late this week, but that gave us the opportunity to include a reference to the Industrial Strategy, launched today. It has just been published and you can find it here. It sounds as if it hasn’t moved on much from the Green Paper – read our end of summer summary here.

Headlines, courtesy of Dods, are:

  • Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will invest £725 million in new programmes to capture the value of innovation
  • first ‘Sector Deals’ – to help sectors grow and equip businesses for future opportunities
  • 4 ‘Grand Challenges’ which will take advantage of global trends to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future.

Sector Deals will include construction, life sciences, automotive and AI the first to benefit from these new strategic and long-term partnerships with government, backed by private sector co-investment. Work will continue with other sectors on transformative sector deals.

4 Grand Challenges; global trends that will shape our rapidly changing future and which the UK must embrace to ensure we harness all the opportunities they bring, they are:

  • artificial intelligence – we will put the UK at the forefront of the artificial intelligence and data revolution
  • clean growth – we will maximise the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth
  • ageing society – we will harness the power of innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society
  • future of mobility – we will become a world leader in the way people, goods and services move

To ensure that the government is held to account on its progress in meeting the ambitions set out in the strategy, an Independent Industrial Strategy Council will be launched in 2018 to make recommendations to government on how it measures success.

Linked to this, ahead of the budget, the PM announced a boost to research funding. The Government will make an additional investment of £2.3 billion in 2021/22 (total R&D investment £12.5 billion in 2021/22). They will also work with industry to boost R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 (possible increase of £80 billion over next 10 years).

The Business Secretary, Greg Clark said: “Through our Industrial Strategy we are committed to building a knowledge and innovation-led economy and this increase in R&D investment, to 2.4 per cent of GDP, is a landmark moment for the country. The UK is a world leader in science and innovation. By delivering this significant increase as part of our Industrial Strategy, we are building on our strengths and working with business to ensure that UK scientists and researchers continue to push the boundaries of innovation.”

Budget and the fees review

And having mentioned the budget – we were expecting an announcement about HE fees and funding, but there wasn’t one. There was a hint about post-study visas. As you will recall, if you have been following the “national debate” since May, a “major review” was promised by the PM at the Conservative Party conference in October with a freeze on fee increases in the meantime and nothing has been heard since. Fee increases for were put on hold – so that there are currently no planned increases for 2018/19 or beyond. Wonkhe have noticed that the “red book” that comes out with the budget has confirmed that this freeze is planned for 2 years but nothing is said beyond that. So the review may still be on the cards, but maybe the budget was too soon, or too risky, a forum for that announcement.

And with that in mind, note this bit from the summary of the Lords Select Committee proceedings below “Cross-subsidy is worth a major inquiry in its own right.

Parliamentary Questions

Following the Panorama programme disclosing alleged abuse of the student loan system, questions were asked in Parliament last week

Gordon Marsden: What safeguards her Department operates to prevent the abuse of student loan funding by private Higher Education providers. [113082]

Joseph Johnson:

  • Higher Education Institutions that are designated for student support must, on an annual basis, meet robust standards for quality, financial sustainability, and management and governance.
  • Designated Alternative Providers without their own Degree Awarding Powers are also subject to student number controls, limiting the number of students eligible for student support that they can recruit each year.
  • The Department can and does use sanctions where breaches of the conditions of designation are identified, including the suspension or removal of designation for student support where we have serious concerns about providers.
  • Following the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act, the Office for Students (OfS) will be established formally in January 2018. It will provide, for the first time, a single regulator for higher education providers regardless of how they are funded. The OfS will have powers to assess the quality of, and standards applied to all English Higher Education provision.
  • The OfS will place a focus on students and greater emphasis on ensuring value for money for students and taxpayers. There will continue to be tough and rigorous tests for providers who want to enter the system and enable students from all backgrounds to receive funding.

Angela Rayner: What additional funding allocation her Department will receive for each of the next three financial years to fund the increased RAB charge resulting from the increase to post-2012 loan repayment thresholds. [113058]

Joseph Johnson:

  • The Government has frozen tuition fees for academic year 2018/19 and for financial year 2018-19 has raised both the repayment threshold and the thresholds at which variable interest rates apply to borrowers in repayment.
  • The repayment threshold will rise from £21,000 to £25,000 for the 2018-19 financial year (from 6 April 2018). Following the threshold change, interest will be charged at RPI for those earning below £25,000 (compared to £21,000 before) and at RPI+3% for those earning above £45,000 (compared to £41,000 before), with interest applied on a sliding scale for those earning between those two thresholds.
  • The long-term cost of the student loan system is reflected in the Resource Accounting and Budgeting (RAB) Charge, which measures the proportion of loan outlay that we expect not to be repaid when future repayments are valued in present terms. In each of the financial years (a) 2017-18, (b) 2018-19 and (c) 2019-20, the RAB charge for higher education loans is expected to change from around 30% under the previous policy to between 40% and 45% under the new policy.
  • The allocated budget for RAB expenditure forms part of the total resource departmental expenditure limit. It is disclosed within the depreciation figure set out within the annual report and accounts. In the 2016-17 annual report and accounts, this was forecast to be £3.5bn for 2017-18, £3.9bn for 2018-19 and £4.3bn in 2019-20. As in prior years, the 2017-18 budget and future budgets will be reviewed as part of the annual Estimates process and confirmed in the published Estimates documents.
  • The cost of the system is a conscious investment in young people. It is the policy subsidy required to make higher and further education widely available, achieving the Government’s objectives of increasing the skills in the economy and ensuring access to university for all with the potential to benefit.

Gordon Marsden: What monitoring and scrutiny of student recruitment agents for private Higher Education and Further Education providers her Department undertakes. [113080]

Joseph Johnson:

  • All higher and further education providers are accountable for their respective recruitment practices. If those breach the respective conditions for funding then a consequence may be regulatory sanctions or termination of their contract. Providers are subject to robust regular monitoring for standards for quality, financial sustainability and management and governance.
  • And in the meantime, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Select Committee investigation into the Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education continues. This week’s update comes from the oral evidence heard on 14 November.

Q: To what extent do you think technical education can be delivered through higher education institutions?

  • Professor Patrick Bailey (DVC, London South Bank University): all the universities are delivering higher education courses that include enormous amounts of information directly relevant to workplaces. Most…ensure that all their students will have professional practice and some of the technical skills that are going to be required when they move into jobs afterwards. There is a move…to ensure that students are job-ready when they leave. There is a misconception that there are technical skills and pure academic subjects. Even those that would be defined as purely academic now have significant components that ensure that people are ready for a wide range of tasks. Many universities are also well directed towards developing the technical skills.
  • Pam Tatlow (Chief Executive, MillionPlus): If you want to deliver learning and qualifications that match what employers want and the reality of students’ lives, whatever their age, there is a very good case for a more flexible funding system where you fund by credit or module. That would reflect the reality of the lives of students, both the younger ones and the older ones already in the workplace…. However, it would not be for the Chancellor to introduce the primary legislation we need to create a more flexible funding system. The Government missed an opportunity to do that in both the Education Act 2011 and the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.
  • Professor Bailey: There is a subtlety here in that once students are enrolled on a three-year programme, universities are penalised in how they are judged if students do not progress through to that degree… across the sector overall we are losing the opportunity to upskill a wide range of people who could meet the needs of the industries around the UK, which are crying out for levels 4, 5 and 6 in particular.
  • Professor Bailey: The universities are extremely well placed to take level 4s and upwards. However…the ability to have a break and to exit at an early stage without a penalty increases the opportunity for many, particularly part-time and mature students who are challenged in other ways. There is a continuum: the idea that it is either FE or HE is wrong. FE does not have either the expertise or facilities to deliver at level 6 and rarely at level 5. Crucially, more and more universities like mine are working closely with FE to ensure that students feel they have a choice, as they come through level 3, either to go to level 4 at FE or move to a higher education degree at a university. It comes back to giving choice and ensuring that students have the chance to develop skills to their maximum potential.
  • Lord Burns: The same question has been on my mind. Are you saying that you can see a world in which universities are going to do both HE and FE work? I can see that FE cannot do the university work but over the years I have watched universities becoming involved in more and more different areas…with mergers, they are getting bigger and bigger. Is the end product here that universities will try to do everything over the age of 18?
  • Pam Tatlow: No.

  • Sir Anthony Seldon (VC, Buckingham University): I disagree…some universities will embrace FE. I think we will see a top tier—Oxford, Imperial et al−that becomes more research-focused, competing in the world tables and other, more regionally-based, universities that will come down to FE and even UTCs and academies and go all the way through. We do not know, but that is my sense: that the new binary divide will be between HE and FE but with less research and with high research at the top end. Who knows?

Is there a disparity in the available funding higher education and further technical education? If so, how would you address it?

  • Professor Mike Thomas (VC, University of Central Lancashire): Yes, there is a disparity. I can tell you how we are addressing it…We feel that when you do an undergraduate degree—four years for engineering or five years for medicine and so on—you should also be allowed the opportunity to do an apprenticeship at the same time, so that when you qualify and graduate you may be, say, a four-year engineering degree-holder but you may also be a trained fitter or plumber. If you are doing construction, you could do joinery or carpentry. We tested this model internally in the university. We have 1,000 student start-ups at the university, which is quite a large number for the economy of Lancashire, creating about 3,000 jobs over three years, with a turnover of about £500,000 on average. Many of them come from fashion and the arts, because when they get their degree they set up on their own. When we piloted this internally at the university, we found that our art students, particularly fashion students, wanted to do a certificate in accountancy because they were setting up their own businesses, but they were not allowed to do it because it involved different funding or different institution.
  • We are modelling a system in the university whereby students can do that. At the moment, we are picking up the fees. Engineers can train through a long-term apprenticeship levy. Arts and fashion students can train to get other types of qualifications. We do not take the hierarchical vertical view of learning; we take a horizontal model and work with 21 FE colleges so that our students can go there on Wednesday afternoons or spend four to six months in employment. The piloting with BAE involves them doing two years of a degree in the university, but in the final year they move to a levy and a degree apprenticeship, so that reduces their fee loans. They pick up an “Earn as you Learn” as they go along, and they graduate with a degree and an apprenticeship at the same time. We think that we meet the employer need.
  • The difficulty is the silo payment; you have to have an EFA or an ESF payment or a student loan. We think there should be one payment and that undergraduates should be allowed to do apprenticeships and respond to the lifelong learning. For me, it is self-evident that people need support, in relation to what Peter said. We are living longer and people are doing different jobs. Even if they stay in the same firms, the technologies in that firm will change so they will need to relearn anyway as they go along, but those opportunities are not there. We are very much modelling a horizontal model.
  • Lord Turnbull: I think you are telling us that we are going down a cul-de-sac in thinking of tertiary education as having these two divisions, HE and FE apprenticeships, and that we want to create something that is seen across this whole system… You heard in the previous session that you can go along the pathways and every time you hit a block there is some kind of regulatory funding decision to the effect that, “When you get here, you cannot get on to the next stage”.
    The committee then moved on to discuss the blockages and how it could be easier for people to move across different models.
  • Professor David Latchman: This emphasis on the student and the student outcome is the key, because we have a system that is basically like the school system: you leave school at 18 and you will never go back. Our system is predicated on you requiring an undergraduate degree, 18 to 21, and never needing that again. Somehow or another, within the funding envelope or in some other way, we have to get to this lifelong learning issue, because the world is changing. What you do at 21 is not going to be what you do at 51, and to assume that you will never need to get other qualifications between 21 and 61 or whatever is madness in today’s world.

Q: What kind of future do you see for degree apprenticeships?

  • Professor Bailey: I can see an engagement from business and industry more generally, which has picked up as they have had to pay the levy and have realised the financial implications and how it affects them, and that has been really positive.
  • Pam Tatlow: The Institute for Apprenticeships does not understand HE standards, which is a major issue…there is an inflexibility in the Government’s approach to the use of the apprenticeship levy. There could be some relaxation…. There is a bit of a numbers game going on when actually we need degree apprenticeships to be allied with programmes where it makes sense. We are dependent on the employers recruiting to degree apprenticeships; it is not our gig. We need the employers to be convinced that this is what is going to deliver for them.
  • Professor Bailey: The concern…is that a tranche of standards have been identified by the professions, which need to be superimposed on the qualification requirements that we have for degrees—in particular critical thinking, working in teams, synthesising information and taking complex problems.. there are high-level skills that would benefit anybody within a technical discipline, but how the technical part is defined is rather more specific within those particular disciplines. They can complement each other, but it makes it a very complicated process for us, because we have to run the whole degree programme and map that across a different set of standards that the apprenticeships require. However…I think it has provided an additional incentive for employers to become engaged in how we develop qualifications.

TEF

  • Professor Bailey: [we] were aware that we were using very weak proxies to identify the quality of education in the UK. We did our very best to combine the crude metrics that were used to identify which rating institutions should get with the provider statement that went alongside it. The thing that came across really strongly from the teaching excellence framework was how little difference there was in the quality of provision. At the beginning, it was assumed that there were outstanding institutions and others that were performing very poorly and it was important to identify those extremes. In the end, you obtained what I will call a black mark if you were 2% below the standard in an area being measured, such as the quality of the facilities. You got a gold star if you were 2% above that. That tells us that the differences across the sector were very much smaller than people outside higher education had perceived…As to how it has helped students, it is probably slightly limited because the range is smaller than had been perceived at the outset.

Cross-subsidisation of research

  • Lord Darling of Roulanish: Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, said recently that he wanted to see a reduction in the cross-subsidy between courses. What is your view on that?
  • Professor Simon Marginson: Cross-subsidy is worth a major inquiry in its own right. It is a complex problem, and it is an information issue in part. The tendency has been for us to find every way and means we can to subsidise and build research, because research is not only integral to the role of universities but has become central to their national and global competition…Of course, teaching and research are integrally related. It is not as if, when you subsidise research, you do nothing but teaching. It becomes a more complicated problem. Some disciplines are cross-subsidised by others. In many institutions, I suspect that the relatively low-cost business programmes, which generate high volumes of students, with large numbers of international students paying full fees and so on, subsidise a lot of other activity.

OfS consultation (part 3)

We continue our series on the OfS consultation on the future regulatory framework with the 4th objective of the OfS on value for money for students and a look at how the OfS will regulate the HE market (as opposed to how they will regulate individual providers, which we will come back to in a future update).

Objective 4: that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

  • “Providers have a responsibility to ensure that students are able to secure value for money for their investment in their education, just as students have a responsibility to engage with their own learning and take the opportunities higher education offers.”
  • “Transparency is also central to promoting value for money for students and protecting their rights, shining a light on provider activities and ensuring they are held to account. Students must be assured that the investment they are making in their future is worthwhile, and will be able to challenge institutions that do not deliver on their commitments.”
  • Under the management and governance condition (see the section on this below), providers in the Approved categories will be expected to be demonstrably responsible for operating openly, honestly, accountably and with integrity, and will be required to publish a statement on the steps they have taken to ensure value for money for students and taxpayers which provides transparency about their use of resources and income. Providers should design this statement to allow students to see how their money is spent, following examples from other sectors, such as Local Authorities publishing breakdowns of how Council Tax is spent. ….Where there are substantial concerns the OfS may carry out an efficiency study to scrutinise whether a provider is providing value for money to both its students and the taxpayer.”
  • “Higher education providers are autonomous institutions, and they are solely responsible for setting the salaries of their staff. However, the taxpayer is the sector’s most significant single funder and there is a legitimate public interest in their efficiency, including of senior staff pay. There will be a new ongoing registration condition requiring providers to publish the number of staff paid over £100,000 per annum, and to explain their justification for pay above £150,000.”
  • “Arrangements will be made for the publication of data on senior staff remuneration, including in relation to protected characteristics such as gender and ethnicity. Where issues with senior staff pay lead to substantiated concerns over governance, the OfS will be able to arrange for efficiency reviews into the providers.”
Consultation question: What more could the OfS do to ensure students receive value for money?

Market regulation – Chapter 2

“Effective competition compels providers to focus on students’ needs and aspirations, drives up outcomes that students care about, puts downward pressure on costs, leads to more efficient allocation of resources between providers, and catalyses innovation. The higher education sector in England is well suited to market mechanisms driving continuous improvement “

“It does not, however, follow from these features that an entirely laissez-faire approach is appropriate. Higher education is a service unlike any other:

  • there are almost never repeat “purchases” of the same type of higher educational courses by an individual student – the market is in most cases a one-shot game
  • many of the primary benefits to the student (for instance improved learning, knowledge, and skills, greater earnings and career prospects, and personal fulfilment) are not received immediately; they are spread out over their life time. This exposes the market to distortions such as time inconsistency (where students’ preferences change over time) and temporal discounting (where students value the benefits of higher education less because they occur in the future)
  • similarly, the cost of higher education is often not paid immediately, but rather paid for after through graduate repayments, which in most instances are subsidised by the state. This too, creates temporal distortions, and exposes the sector to moral hazard (where students may take greater risks because they do not necessarily bear the full cost of the degree)
  • there are (currently) significant information asymmetries, and prospective students often make decisions with limited reliable information
  • in the case of undergraduate degrees, there is a price cap in place for some providers. In practice, providers sometimes compete in terms of the grades they require to admit students, rather than on price
  • institutional failure has significant repercussions for current, past, and (in some cases) potential future students, as well as wider social and political consequences. This is why the OfS’s regulatory framework is designed to prevent sudden, unplanned market exit (in particular through its approach to early warning monitoring), and support students to continue their studies if their original provider can no longer deliver their course. The creative destruction witnessed in more traditional markets, though still a powerful and relevant tool, has the potential to carry greater costs
  • there are both private and non-profit organisation competing in the provision of similar services”

Student engagement: The OfS will engage with students to ensure the student voice is not only heard clearly, but that students actively shape the OfS and – by extension – the sector itself. Alongside the student representation on the Board and Student Panel, the OfS will seek the input of individual students and their representative bodies, including student unions.”

The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF): “In accordance with the provisions set out in HERA, a statutory Independent Review of the TEF will likely take place in academic year 2018/19 and will report in time to influence the assessment framework for assessments taking place in academic year 2019/20 (TEF Year 5). Depending on the findings of the Independent Review and of the subject pilots, this will also be the first year of subject level TEF. The assessments taking place in academic year 2019/20 will therefore constitute the completion of the TEF development process. This will be a significant milestone for the TEF, which has the potential to evolve over time as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) has done.”

Proposed on-going condition:   Condition P: “The provider must participate in the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).”

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree that participation in the TEF should be a general condition for providers in the Approved categories with 500 or more students?

Removing unnecessary barriers to entry (for new providers that meet a high bar): “The OfS and HERA will enable new providers in particular through the mechanisms below:

  • Simplification of the regulatory landscape:
  • No requirement for a track record
  • Increased options for market entry
  • Recognition of diversity
  • Reduction in burden
  • Grant funding and registration fees
  • Validation”

Accelerated courses: ”HERA includes powers for the Government (subject to approval by Parliament) to set the annual tuition fee cap – for accelerated courses only – at a higher level than their standard equivalent. This should incentivise more providers to offer accelerated courses, increasing choice for students. At the same time, the cost for a student taking an accelerated course which is subject to the new fee caps will be less than that of the same course over a longer time period. The Government will consult shortly on specific proposals for accelerated courses.”

Teaching grant: “The teaching grant is designed to support a range of activities and provision …The majority of the funding is used to support provision where the cost is greater than the amount received as tuition fee income either because the course is costly to provide, because the location brings about additional costs or additional opportunities, or the provision is highly specialised, as with the support provided to our world-leading specialist institutions. The teaching grant supports efforts to improve social mobility by widening access to under-represented or disadvantaged students and ensuring their continued participation and success in higher education. Funding also supports innovation and the national academic broadband infrastructure. The OfS will continue with this approach, but it will also wish to deploy the teaching grant strategically, taking into account Government priorities. This will enable it to influence sector level outcomes“

Widening Participation – Parliamentary question

Q – David Lammy (Lab): Whether she has made an assessment of the effectiveness of steps taken by Oxford and Cambridge Universities to improve access and widen participation from under-represented groups; and if she will make a statement.

  • A – Joseph Johnson (Con):. …the Director [of Fair Access (DfA)] negotiates with institutions to ensure that Access Agreements are stretching and appropriately demanding. Higher Education Institutions are independent from Government and autonomous – legislation specifically precludes Government from interfering with university admissions.
  • In our guidance to the DfA, published in February 2016, we asked for the most selective institutions, which include the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, to make faster progress on widening access, and to ensure their outreach is more effective. The guidance acknowledged that within this group of institutions there is wide variation, with some demonstrating little progress.
  • Access agreements for the 2018/19 academic year show that the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge plan to spend over £22 million on measures to further improve access and student success for students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds.
  • Following the introduction of the Higher Education and Research Act, from January 2018, the Office for Students (OfS), with a new Director for Fair Access and Participation appointed by my Rt Hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, will take on responsibility for widening participation in higher education. The OfS will have a statutory duty to promote equality of opportunity across the whole lifecycle for disadvantaged students, not just access. As a result, widening access and participation will be at the core of the OfS’ functions. In addition, our reforms will introduce a Transparency Duty requiring higher education providers to publish application, offer, acceptance, drop-out and attainment rates of students broken down by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will shine a spotlight on those higher education institutions that need to go further and faster to widen participation in higher education.

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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 for the w/e 17th November 2017

Welcome!

There’s a veritable feast of HE policy for you to enjoy this week – lots on the budget and fees and funding, another section of the OfS consultation including quality, consumer protection, student protection plans and student transfers, and an update on engagement with schools.

Fees, loans, funding – and the Budget

Philip Hammond’s imminent delivery of the Budget on Wednesday 22 November has caused a mini flurry of organisations releasing reports and evidence aimed to influence. Here’s UUK’s.

It may be too late. Speaking at Wonkfest on 6 November Jo Johnson’s tone of certainty suggested plans were already ready. Of course it wouldn’t be the first time Johnson’s opinion has diverged from the government on expected policy, nor the first time the Prime Minister makes a last minute policy changing decision….

A Budget snippet that Johnson trailed at Wonkfest, to the consternation of the audience, was the suggestion that universities may pick up the tab for the repayment threshold reduction in the student loan repayment rate. While it may be unwise to speculate, your fearless Policy team will once again have a go:

Option 1: The Government could cut all tuition fees down to a lower level without replacing the lost income universities receive.

  1. This reduces the Government’s subsidy for student loans, however it is socially regressive, because it mostly helps those students who go on to earn most. .
  2. However, that is a purely economic analysis – there are many in the sector and politicians who believe that the impact of loans is not purely financial but has effect on behaviour, discouraging those from poorer backgrounds or who don’t expect to have high earnings from applying at all. That argument is of course countered by those who rely on the data that shows that student participation from low income backgrounds is going up steadily – and that at least until last year, there was a strong upward trend in applications overall (which may now have stalled). Note that OFFA do not support direct financial help as a method for increasing participation (they are usually talking about bursaries but the same may hold true for grants)

Option 2: The Government could reduce or abolish tuition fees for a specific group, such as students most in financial need.

  1. This would reduce the Government’s subsidy for student loans
  2. It is a socially progressive policy which supports the Government’s social mobility aims by tackling the debt adversity of the most disadvantaged students. It would help them to attack Labour’s (regressive) 2017 general election promise to abolish tuition fees – and winning back lost voters is of paramount importance to the Conservatives.
  3. It would be easy for the Government to implement this change quickly – as soon as the 2018/19 intake.

Under this scenario it would unlikely that the Government would replace the lost income to universities – so the impact of this would be to force efficiencies within the sector (Johnson is renowned for saying that HE institutions haven’t experienced austerity and have ‘had it good’ for a long time).

In effect, the fees from richer students would be subsiding the poorer students. Universities with the largest number of low income students would be most affected (with the Russell Group relatively unscathed).

This may be a well-planned long game – the Office for Students will have increased power to interrogate and publish admissions statistics to highlight “gaming” and the new Director of Access and Participation can sanction universities through the TEF for a fall in recruitment of low income students. The use of contextual admissions has also been debated widely in the media in recent weeks.

Option 3: The Government could decide to differentiate tuition fees based on subject, allowing subjects with the highest graduate earnings, employment rates and value added to charge the highest fees. The subject level TEF pilots have recently commenced (over 2 years), so such a decision would seem to be premature. However, a consultation in conjunction with the subject-level TEF outcomes ready for swift implementation in 2019 seems plausible. This approach might also mean that high cost subjects (e.g. STEMM) could remain at the highest chargeable fee, but the government could remove the current funding top ups and so reduce the overall cost (and reduce university income still further). See this Sunday Times article on differentiated fees per subject and institution.

Option 4: There have been suggestions of controlling the number of places for certain subjects based on the jobs needed by the economy. The Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee has been conducting a series of oral evidence sessions to investigate The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education. There is much more from this debate in the section below but this exchange is interesting:

  • Willetts: Essentially, there is a group of high-earning courses: law, economics and management. There is a group of middle-earning courses, mainly STEM subjects. There are less well-paid graduates. The worst paid are in the performing arts. That is another reason why it proves very difficult to get into differential fees. We could charge more for graduates doing courses with high pay but how then would we exempt fees or justify charging higher fees for skills shortage areas such as STEM or medicine.
  • Adonis: Tiered fees of that kind are precisely what the Australians have.
  • Willetts: Yes, and it is not satisfactory. Australia is in a mess; it has static levels.

Option 5: Continuing in this vein the Government may reconsider the original TEF proposal to set limits on which institutions can charge the higher tier of fees. You will recall that the TEF proposal was to let Gold and Silver rated institutions raise their fees each year- linked to a percentage of the inflation cap, but this idea was postponed in response to feedback from the House of Lords. Using new employability and earnings data (to be included in the TEF from this year) the argument may now be that students studying at an institution likely to result in a highly paid job could reasonably be expected to pay more upfront. And a recent student opinion surveys suggest students would be willing buy into such a ‘guarantee’ (see UPP, page 17). Earlier in the term some institutions within the Russell Group were lobbying for this. However, given that far fewer WP students currently apply or are admitted into the Russell Group institutions this would negatively impact the Government’s social mobility agenda. Of course the government may believe that the OfS provisions on WP will address this.

Option 6: And of course other options that do not hit tuition fees are also available. The Sutton Trust (see later in this Policy Update) would like to see a return to grants. The IFS have published a paper on “options for reducing the interest rate on student loans and introducing maintenance grants” – as two key options for the government, which are being called for – including by UUK. they conclude that both of these options could be done at a reasonable cost in some circumstances but that both would benefit high earning graduates most and make very little difference to the rest. As with an across the board reduction in fees (see above) this would therefore be regressive, but might have a beneficial effect in terms of increasing participation.

Option 7: The current Office for Students regulatory consultation (see below) considers the future use of the teaching grant (the grant to universities topping up high cost subjects, specialist support and innovation). It states the OfS will continue the current approach “but it will also wish to deploy the teaching grant strategically, taking into account Government priorities. This will enable it to influence sector level outcomes…” Could this mean government inadvertently pushing institutions to conform to a similar set of ideals (to attract the money) at a time when institutions need to differentiate themselves to compete successfully for students in a squeezed market? If so it could also be contrary to the regional specialities (responding to place) within the industrial strategy.

And more: Differentiated caps and varying loans might seem unattractive to Government due to its complexities to both administer and communicate to the electorate. It is also poor timing given the significant press covering Steve Lamey’s dismissal from the Student Loans Company after claiming it was a “mess” and badly run.

In last week’s policy update we wrote about HEPI’s paper which revealed the extent to which it can be argued that tuition fees from all students, but particularly international students, subsidise research costs. Jo Johnson has long been rumoured to be vexed at the cross-subsidisation that exists within the sector. So will we see a shake-up aimed at research funding too? Given the instability associated with Brexit, the Government’s focus on industrial strategy to boost the economy, in particular their aim to capitalise on innovation and the commercialisation of research, and the recent cash injections announced for R&D might research survived unscathed? It is not a stretch to imagine that this would disproportionately benefit some institutions more than others given the current rhetoric around outcomes (outputs) and institutional status.

Lastly, Conservative think tank Bright Blue have proposed that universities themselves should contribute financially to the sustainability of the student-loans system by repaying the Government subsidy for student loans. This subsidy is currently estimated as 20-30p for each £1 lent. Bright Blue is quick to remind that the cost of such a subsidy wouldn’t be so high if universities didn’t all charge the highest fee. Bright Blue continues:

  • “Certainly, there are an awful lot of expensive institutions producing graduates with earnings that mean their student loans must be subsidised, costing the taxpayer a lot of money…Thanks to the new Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset., which uses HMRC and Student Loans Company data to accurately link nearly all graduate salaries to institutions attended, it is now possible to expose such universities. Institutions producing a disproportionate number of graduates who will need their student loans subsidised should contribute a levy to government.”

They go on to suggest that should universities charge less/contribute financially to the write-off subsidy this would enable the Government to better fund lower (FE) qualifications or more modular methods of study.

Delve into the detailed background and some other options in Jane’s blog on the Lighthouse Policy Group: Fees, loans and debt – an Autumn update.

In retrospect, after our dark musings on the Budget, Jo Johnson’s repeated reminder that the sector should not clamour for May’s announced review of HE (as it risks a less advantageous settlement than present) seem like wise words.

IFS – student loans and maintenance grants

As mentioned above, The IFS have published a paper on “options for reducing the interest rate on student loans and introducing maintenance grants” .  Key findings are (our emphasis added):

Interest rates

  • Positive real interest rates on student loans increase the debt levels of all graduates but only increase the lifetime repayments of higher-earning graduates. Removing them does not affect up-front government spending on HE, but it does slightly increase the deficit (due to the slightly confusing treatment of interest accrued on student debt in the government finances). More significantly, it also increases the long-run costs of HE due to the associated reduction in graduate repayments.
  • Reducing the interest rates to RPI + 0% for everyone would reduce the debt levels of all graduates. Debt on graduation would be around £3,000 lower on average, while average debt at age 40 would be £13,000 lower. However, because of the link between income and interest in the current system, this cut would reduce the debts of the highest-earning graduates the most: the richest 20% of graduates would hold around £20,000 less debt at age 40 as a result of this policy, while the lowest-earning 20% of graduates would be just £5,500 better off in terms of debt held at the same age. This policy of switching to RPI + 0% would have no impact on up-front government spending on HE, but would cost the taxpayer £1.3 billion per year in the long run. It would be a significant giveaway to high-earning graduates, saving the richest 20% more than £23,000 over their lifetimes.
  • A less costly policy would be to reduce interest rates to RPI + 0% while studying and leave rates unchanged after graduation. This would reduce the debt levels of all graduates at age 40 by around £5,000. It would be a significantly cheaper reform, costing around £250 million per year in the long run. Again, there is little impact on the repayments of low- and middle-earning graduates, while the highest-earning graduates would be around £5,000 better off over their lifetimes.

Maintenance grants

  • Reintroducing maintenance grants in place of loans also has no impact on up-front government spending on HE, but it results in a large increase in the government cost of HE as measured by the current deficit, due to the differential treatment of loans and grants in government accounting. The long-run cost of this type of policy is typically much lower as a large proportion of the loans that grants would replace are not expected to be repaid anyway.
  • Reintroducing grants of £3,500 under a similar system to that before 2016 would increase deficit spending by around £1.7 billion, but the long-run cost is only around £350 million. This reform would reduce the debt on graduation of students from low-income backgrounds taking a three-year degree by around £11,000.
  • The beneficiaries from this change in terms of actual lifetime loan repayments are students from low-income backgrounds who go on to have high earnings. We estimate that students eligible for the full maintenance grant who are in the lowest-earning 60%of graduates would experience little or no change in lifetime repayments, while those who have earnings in the top 10% of graduates would save around £22,000.

Sutton trust – fairer fees

In contrast to the IFS paper above, The Sutton Trust, a social mobility foundation, has released Fairer Fees which proposes using a sliding scale of means-tested fees and the reintroduction of maintenance grants. This focuses not on the economic effect of changing the structure (which the IFS says is regressive) but on the psychological impact of reducing debt.

They state that implementing these measures would cost the Treasury the same amount as October’s reduction to the student loan repayment threshold. The benefits of the approach are that they would cut average student debt by 50% (psychological benefit encouraging the debt adverse to reconsider HE) but with the greatest beneficial effects on students from low household income backgrounds “it would slash debt among the 40% poorest students by 75%, from £51,600 down to £12,700, and mean those from the poorest backgrounds emerged with two thirds less debt than their better-off counterparts”. The report claims changing to the proposed fee policy would also benefit the Treasury as it would reduce the proportion of graduates never repaying their full loans from 81% to 56% with the overall proportion of debt not paid back to 35%. However, the Treasury may consider these figures in a different light as there would be fewer graduates required to repay their loans because of the reintroduction of maintenance grants. The report makes the following five recommendations:

  1. The government should implement its promised review of higher education funding. While the October reforms were welcome, there needs to be a thorough review of deeper reforms to the system. In particular, the crisis in part-time numbers should be addressed and bespoke solutions explored.
  2. Our proposed solution would be to introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income backgrounds, and increases in steps for those from higher income households. Significant ‘cliff edges’ between income bands should be avoided as much as possible.
  3. Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored, providing support for those who need it most and reducing the debt burden of the least well-off, so that they graduate with lower debt than those from better-off backgrounds.
  4. Losses to higher education institutions through lower fee income should be replaced by increased teaching grants. While this involves greater upfront costs to the Exchequer, it also provides a lever by which government could promote the provision of courses in certain areas such as STEM. This teaching grant compensation would be adjusted to ensure that universities admitting intakes with lower average fee levels would not suffer any drop in income.
  5. Reducing access gaps to university, especially top universities, should be at the heart of government higher education policy. There needs to be a joined-up effort to tackle the persistent access gap for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds across all aspects of higher education, from student finance to the UCAS application process to the use of contextual data by universities in admissions.

Returning to the Sutton Trust’s recommendations it is interesting to note that it doesn’t tackle Lord Willetts’ (ex-Universities and Science Minister) calls for a differentiated loan system for mature and part time students. Willett believes an alternative loan scheme coupled with more diverse degree models would tackle the part time and mature falling student number crisis by ruling out both psychological and financial deterrents. We’ll await the Budget with baited breath to find out if the Sutton Trust (and their accompanying press attention: Huff Post, Independent, Metro) will influence Government spending.

The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education

The Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee has been conducting a series of oral evidence sessions to investigate The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education. The aim of the investigation is to consider whether the funding of post-school education is focused sufficiently on the skills the British economy needs. The transcripts of a particularly interesting session held on 10 October were released this week revealing a stimulating debate. The witnesses were Lord Willetts, Lord Adonis and Paul Johnson (Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies). Some interesting bits are below:

One third of graduates won’t end up in a graduate job.

  • Willetts: while they may not be in graduate employment when young they have a higher chance of securing graduate employment eventually..   Jobs considered non-graduate in the official standard occupational classifications are becoming more demanding, furthermore graduates seem to change the nature of the work they do just by virtue of their additional skills

Does what the HE system is trying to achieve match labour market outcomes, and how does it relate to other routes people could take?

  • Adonis: due to high fee levels some careers that previously required graduates are now moving to take non-graduates. [Examples given were big accountancy firms and the Civil Service who are recruiting high-level apprentices into graduate roles]. Graduates who previously would have gone to university are “now seizing prestigious high-level apprenticeship opportunities as a way of going straight into careers without having to take degrees and take on debt. I see no reason in principle why that could not go a lot further.” “I see no reason in principle why accountancy, and even the law, which, if you go back two generations, were not graduate careers for many of those participating in them, could not once again become much more vocational careers, where people can train on the job, get qualifications that are recognised in their profession and not have to take on high levels of debt. That is much more the case in German-style economies where the number of graduates is much lower to start with.”

Is student debt discouraging people from attending university and will our economy suffer?

  • Adonis: If you talk to sixth formers and those making decisions at 18 or 19, it is undoubtedly true that they are looking at alternatives to university in a way they were not a few years ago. As the number of high level apprenticeships increases they will become increasingly attractive. I suspect that we will see trends in both directions over the next few years. It will not by any means be just a trend towards more graduates.
  • Paul Johnson: there is no evidence in the data that the fee system has had much effect on the numbers of people going into higher education. There may be an effect later on, and a group of young people may be making different choices, but overall, as far as we can tell, the numbers have not been affected.

Given that many graduates will not repay debt is there any argument to forgive debt in public sector shortages areas (teachers, doctors, nurses)?

  • Adonis: “I tried hard to persuade the Treasury of the virtues of that argument. I did not get very far because it was convinced that… it would be left with almost no debt to collect.”
  • Baroness Kingsmill: In the US debt is forgiven relative to the number of years worked in the dearth sector – for 5 years work you’re forgiven half the debt; for 10 years, you are forgiven the whole lot.
  • Paul Johnson: rather than forgiving debt it’s more effective just to pay them more. Why do it in a roundabout way by forgiving debt?

On technical and vocational training – see the apprenticeships section below for more on this

University – seen as the only option

  • The discussion turned to suggesting young people choose university because it’s the most obvious and easiest to understand route, that there is limited information or advice to support young people who might choose an alternative route.
  • Willets responded: I agree with your point that other routes need to be clearly signalled, but I expect that in a modern western economy the managed transition to adulthood via three years of higher education is the mainstream route people will take. The danger of some people going down the alternative route is that I know who they will be. Eton will not be sending 25% of its kids on apprenticeships. You will reopen the social divide in participation by advantaged and disadvantaged groups.

Discussion of university place number controls was peppered through the committee hearing.

  • Adonis argued against controlling numbers based on the jobs needed by the economy (referencing Robbins): How should we think of universities? Should we try to predict the jobs that people are going to do in 20 or 30 years’ time and allocate places at university in accordance with our predictions? He said, “No, we cannot know”. Instead, he wanted an open, flexible system, heavily influenced by the number of people with the capacity to benefit from higher education.

Decline in part time students – a different loan system needed

  • Willets stated the decline in part time students was one of his greatest regrets in his time as Minister. He continued: The lesson I learn from it is that, rather than the seductive idea that you can have a single pot per person to pay for their education, you need different models for different groups. We extended loans to part-time students thinking it would have the same beneficial effect on them as the loans for full-time students, and all would be fine. The evidence is that the loans for part-time students have not worked. There has been low take up and people have been put off. We need new mechanisms for helping adults to study part-time, and I accept that the loan model has not delivered for them… If at any point we were looking at how to spend limited public money and what public spending would do, rather than spending it on compensating universities for a general reduction in fees, I have a list of things where I think there is a need. Certainly, a public spending package for adult learners, including helping mature students with the cost of tertiary education, be it university or not, would be a high priority.

International Students Fees/Cross-subsidisation

  • Discussion on whether it was right to charge international students a greater fee took place -asking whether the international students were getting value for money.
  • Adonis: if we were overcharging international students they would quite rapidly start to go elsewhere. We seem to be pretty price competitive with other major international education providers, and less expensive than many of the providers in the United States.

Charging differential fees – see the fees section above for this bit

On sandwich courses:

  • Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted: We often hear from companies that the graduates they recruit are not job-ready…do we have the right approach in what we are looking for from university education? Is it delivering?
  • Willetts: I have a sneaking regard for…the extra year sandwich course. We should remember that, now, about half of all university students are doing vocational technical training courses that include time with an employer. We could have taken a different route, but Britain has ended up with a large amount of our professional and technical education now happening in a university context, and that is why university students are absolutely entitled to know which of those routes lead to good, well-paid jobs.

Flexible Degree Models

  • Baroness Harding of Winscombe: How do we get more flexible university education. It feels better with one year or two-year courses and courses you can dip into through a decade, not just three years. That seems to me, from a business perspective, to be a more effective means of building the skills we might need in the modern economy than assuming that all institutions doing three-year courses from the age of 18 to 21 is the right answer.
  • Lord Adonis: The failure to offer two-year degrees is a serious one on the part of universities. One of the effects of stuffing their mouths with money, which is what we have done over the last five years, has been to reduce significantly the incentives on them to do so. The Minister for higher education, in what I think was a very surprising change in the rules, is now allowing universities to charge the equivalent of three years’ worth of fees, taking out state loans over two years, as a way of encouraging them to offer two-year degrees when, surely, the rationale for two-year degrees ought to be that they should be at lower cost and at lower fees for the students.

Evolution of Apprenticeships

Wonkhe have published the blog: How apprenticeships can help productivity and social mobility which considers the evolution of apprenticeship policy. The article favours current government apprenticeship policy and on social mobility states: we have a unique once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop exciting work-based apprenticeship routes for new and underrepresented cohorts of learners. This will call for new patterns of apprenticeship delivery, new partnerships and new thinking.

There was some debate at the Economic Affairs Select Committee on this (see above for the rest);

  • Willets: Sometimes the higher education debate is just the lightning rod for a debate about what kind of structure we think the British economy should have. The German educational and industrial models are closely linked. In a highly regulated labour market, with a large amount of licence to practise that you need to secure to do a whole range of jobs, and apprenticeship routes into those jobs, and provincial banks funding the companies that protect those jobs—in other words, a much more corporatist model—you can also have a whole series of regulated training routes into specific types of vocational employment.
  • Adonis: “…if you are pretty clear what you want to do and which direction you want to go in and it is a commercial occupation, it is better to learn on the job and not accumulate between £60,000 and £100,000 of debt and be less work-ready at the age of 21 than you would be if you started at 18.”

And later on:

  • Lord Layard: I should declare that I work in a university, and I know that the rate of return for university education is reasonable, but the rate of return for apprenticeship and further education is generally found to be a lot higher. Is it not peculiar that we have not put more resources and effort into developing that side of it?…Failure to develop the non-university vocational education route, both at lower and higher levels, is a major cause of the inequality of wages in our country. What is being done about the alternative?
  • Adonis: I do not think that, somehow, we have a weak apprenticeship stream because we have a strong graduate stream. We have a weak apprenticeship stream because the state has not devoted resources, energy and commitment to creating a strong apprenticeship stream. Many of the countries that have them also have very strong universities. It is not a question of regulation; it is a question of proper funding streams, proper qualification systems and a commitment by employers to foster skills among their workforce, which historically has not happened here.
  • Willetts: It is absolutely right that we should promote technical education; we find it in universities, and, by and large, around the world the places that do it well tend to seek university title in the end.
  • Paul Johnson: We still do a very poor job for too many young people in vocational education. We need to focus more on apprenticeships. A serious issue is that Governments have tried, to some extent in the past, and have continually failed serially to make changes happen in an effective way. The serious question is why. Is it about political focus? Is it about resource? We certainly put a lot less resource into apprenticeships than we do into the university system.

Widening Participation – Schools

School Sponsorship

UUK have published Raising attainment through university-school partnerships, a good practice booklet of case studies detailing successful collaborative partnerships between universities and schools to raise pupil attainment and appetite for HE. The case studies are diverse and the booklet concludes that preserving flexibility of arrangements is a key aspect of the sector’s drive to raise standards in schools and remove the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils. Two recommendations are made:

  • focus should be on ends rather than means, with great flexibility over how HE can support schools based on local context and need whilst meeting the Government’s objectives
  • universities and their school partners need access to information on ‘what works’ – the Evidence & Impact Exchange (proposed by the Social Mobility Advisory Group) would support this by evaluating and promoting the evidence on social mobility, and assisting the direction of future partnerships to support attainment, access and student success

At the UUK Access and Student Success summit on Tuesday a Government representative made clear that broader (and effective) forms of partnership working are welcome but that they expect more universities to be involved in a school sponsorship style model.

Background: In December 2016 the Government made clear that they expected universities to be more interventionist proposing that all universities sponsor or set up a school in exchange for charging higher HE tuition fees. The Schools that work for everyone consultation garnered responses to the Government’s aim to harness universities’ expertise and resources to drive up attainment through direct involvement. (Note: the Government has not yet published a response to the consultation feedback.) When the snap election was announced the school sponsorship agenda featured in the Conservative’s manifesto. However, recently there has been little additional push from Government.

Working quietly in the wings throughout this period, OFFA have been urging institutions to make progress against a more diluted version of the Government’s aim – that universities take measures to support school pupils’ attainment and increase school collaboration through the Fair Access Agreements. In this they are acting on the strategic priorities the Government set out for them (originally in February 2016). While the push from OFFA has been to consider school sponsorship they appear to concur with the sector that this ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate. Furthermore, it may run counter to social mobility objectives as encouraging an institution to focus the majority of its required WP spend on just one local school disadvantages pupils in other schools who will no longer receive the university’s support. This approach has faced much criticism from the education sector and from some MPs.

OFFA’s 2018-19 strategic guidance to institutions: It is now imperative to progress and scale up work with schools and colleges to accelerate the sector’s progress….[we are] asking you to increase the pace and scope of your work with schools to raise attainment, so that the teaching and learning outcomes for schools that work with universities are enhanced.  The guidance went on to request detailed information on the specific attainment-focused cohorts, success criteria, and how the work is planned to grow over time.

What will the New Year bring?  It seems unlikely that Government intend to drop the school sponsorship agenda. In spring/summer 2018 the Office for Students will come into its full powers, with a new Director, Chris Millward, at the Fair Access helm. We’ll see of this is a priority then.

Office for Students regulatory consultation

Continuing our series of updates on the OfS consultation – three weeks ago we looked at widening participation, this week we look at quality and standards, and protecting students as consumers. This section includes extensive quotes from the consultation document, reordered and edited to make it easier to follow.  BU will be preparing an institutional response to this consultation. Policy@bournemouth.ac.uk will work with colleagues across BU and collate our response. (Wonkhe have helpfully grouped them all on one web page)

  1. Objective 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
Consultation question:: Do you agree or disagree that a new Quality Review system should focus on securing outcomes for students to an expected standard, rather than focusing on how outcomes are achieved?

Consultation question:: Would exploring alternative methods of assessment, including Grade Point Average (GPA), be something that the OfS should consider, alongside the work the sector is undertaking itself to agree sector-recognised standards?

The quality conditions are:

  • B1: The provider must deliver well-designed courses that provide a high quality academic experience and enable a student’s achievement to be reliably assessed.
  • B2: The provider must support students, including through the admissions system, to successfully complete and benefit from a high quality academic experience.
  • B3: The provider must deliver successful outcomes for its students, which are recognised and valued by employers, and/or enable further study.

Quality code: “In parallel to this consultation, the UK wide Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) has issued a consultation on revised expectations for the Quality Code.. The UKSCQA is working to conclude its consultation, and to finalise a revised set of expectations during Spring 2018. ….The new Quality Review system will provide a sound basis for the assessment of the quality and standards conditions, and be able to evolve with the increasing diversity of providers.”

New providers: “To facilitate greater diversity in provision and student experience, the OfS will make it easier for high quality providers to enter the sector. ….The OfS will also reduce the emphasis on a provider’s track record, which risks shutting out high quality and credible new providers.”

Grade inflation: “The OfS will annually analyse and arrange for the publication of information on grade inflation, directly challenging the sector where there is clear evidence of grade inflation”.

It was recently announced that the TEF will also include a new grade inflation metric on the proportion of students awarded different classifications over time. ….The TEF will therefore provider a counterweight to traditional ranking systems, some of which inadvertently encourage grade inflation by giving providers credit for the number of high-class degrees they award without further scrutiny.

A new condition will address this: C1: The provider must ensure the value of qualifications awarded to students at the point of qualification and over time, in line with sector-recognised standards.

Freedom of speech: Much heralded in the press around the launch of the consultation, there is actually very little about this (and it is not mentioned at all in the student summary). There is a lot more detail about the public interest proposal (see the section on the Public Interest Principles below), but this bit is relevant in this context:

  • the provider has set up a code of practice to ensure compliance with the statutory duty in section 43 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986 and compliance with any other applicable obligations in relation to freedom of speech
  • the provider ensures that its governing documents consider its obligations in relation to freedom of speech, and do not contain any provisions which contradict these obligations
  • the governing body abides by its governing documents in practice with respect to any issues around freedom of speech

Objective 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

“Consumer rights are not limited to protecting students from the very worst situations where their provider or course closes entirely. It is also important that students understand what they can expect of their providers in terms of issues such as teaching hours and support available.”

  • Condition D: “The provider must be financially viable and financially sustainable and must have appropriate resources to provide and fully deliver the higher education courses as advertised ….and enable the provider to continue to comply with all conditions of its registration.”
  • Condition E4: “Providers must demonstrate in developing their policies and procedures governing their contractual and other relationships with students that they have given due regard to relevant guidance as to how to comply with consumer law.”
  • Condition G: “The provider must cooperate with the requirements of the student complaints scheme run by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education including the subscription requirements and make students aware of their ability to use the scheme.”

Consumer law: “The provider is expected to submit a short self-assessment, describing how, in developing its policies and procedures governing their contractual and other relationships with prospective students (and relationships once those students have become current students), it has given due regard to relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer law.”

“In terms of the initial students’ contracts and consumer rights registration condition, the OfS will look at steps taken by providers in relation to prospective students i.e. it will look at policies and procedures governing contractual and other relationships with students who are commencing their studies from the academic year 2019/20, ensuring the policies and procedures are sound to govern the contractual and other relationships with those students once they have become current students.”

“The provider’s self-assessment should be accompanied by supporting evidence, demonstrating how it meets the condition. “

“In order to determine whether or not a provider is complying with the students’ contracts and consumer rights registration condition on an ongoing basis, the OfS’s judgement will be informed by the provider’s behaviour, information submitted by the provider, and any other information available to the OfS, such as whistleblowing / public interest disclosure reports submitted to OfS, or information from other relevant bodies, such as OIA, CMA or Trading Standards.”

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree that a student contracts condition should apply to providers in the Approved categories, to address the lack of consistency in providers’ adherence to consumer protection law?

Student transfer: “Students should have, and be aware of, the option to transfer. For individual students, like the new parent changing to a part-time course so they can spend more time with family, or the carer who needs to move to another part of the country, but doesn’t want to give up their studies, transfer has the potential to improve their lives dramatically. For students collectively, the availability of student transfer empowers choice and helps drive competition. The OfS will work to ensure students are able to transfer fluidly within and between providers wherever it best meets their needs and aspirations.”

Condition H: “The provider must publish information about its arrangements for a student to transfer. If the provider lacks such arrangements, it must explain how it facilitates the transfer of a student.”

“The OfS will monitor whether providers have procedures in place to facilitate student transfer, along with information about students transferring into courses delivered by their institution …The OfS will use this reporting to raise the profile of student transfer for students, and highlighting successes, best practice, and areas where further work is needed for providers. If necessary, the OfS will go further to promote student transfer and raise awareness among students to help individuals make the choices that are right for them, or even commission research into the means by which transfer could be most effectively encouraged.”

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree with the proposed general ongoing registration condition requiring the publication of information on student transfer arrangements? How might the OfS best facilitate, encourage or promote the provision of student transfer arrangements?

Student protection plans

“The OfS will be a market regulator, and as such it should not have to be in the business of having to prop up failing institutions, and neither should Government. The possibility of exit is a crucial part of a healthy, competitive and well-functioning market, and such exits happen already – although not frequently – in the higher education sector.”

“However, the OfS’ regulatory framework, and in particular the financial viability and sustainability condition and the OfS’s early warning approach to monitoring, are designed to prevent sudden and unexpected closures. This does not mean departmental, campus or even institutional closures will never occur. Higher education providers are autonomous institutions, and as such are entitled to make their own decisions about any future business model or viability of any particular course or subject.”

“The OfS’ interest is in ensuring that such changes and closures do not adversely affect students and their ability to conclude their studies and obtain a degree. This is why it will be a registration condition for all providers in the Approved categories to have an agreed student protection plan in place (see condition F) – the core purpose of which will be ensuring continuity of study.”

Condition F: “The provider must have in force a student protection plan which has been approved by the OfS (which sets out what actions they will take to minimise any impact on the students’ continuation of study should the provider discontinue the course, subject, discipline or exit the market completely) and the provider commits to taking all reasonable steps to comply with the provisions of that plan.”

“Student protection plans will set out what students can expect to happen in the event of course, campus or department closure, or if an institution exits the market. The plans must be approved by the OfS, and be easily available to current and prospective students. Providers with a low risk of unplanned closure would be required to have light-touch plan “

“Any measures must be feasible and practicable, and be backed up by clear implementation plans. When agreeing SPPs with the OfS the provider may be expected to provide some sort of reassurance on the financial position, which may include additional measures such as financial guarantees, or escrow type arrangements where a higher risk of market exit specifically is identified.”

Electoral registration – The HERA included a provision that the OfS could require providers to take steps to facilitate electoral registration. This is a provider level requirement that does not fit easily under the headings. The consultation says that:

“A healthy democratic society is one which has social justice at its heart. It is also dependent on the active participation of its citizens. The Government is, therefore, committed to helping ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote is able to do so, including students. However, people cannot vote until they have registered to vote and higher education providers have a major part to play in achieving this.“

“The condition will require higher education providers to cooperate with EROs, in accordance with such steps as the OfS considers appropriate. The Secretary of State will issue guidance under section 2(3) of HERA…subject to the outcome of this consultation, we expect this Ministerial Guidance is likely to:

  • reinforce the requirement for higher education providers to co-operate with EROs’ requests under Regulation 23 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 for information on students for the purposes for electoral registration. We want providers to understand that they have a legal obligation to co-operate with these requests
  • include a direction for higher education providers to work in partnership with their local electoral services team to actively promote electoral registration amongst their student populations”

“The Government proposes to review and evaluate the overall effectiveness of this condition, once it has been implemented over a sufficient period to facilitate the gathering of appropriate data in terms of numbers of students who have registered. The evaluation will examine how effective the condition has been at helping increase successful applications from students to join the electoral register. “

More to follow on other aspects of the consultation

Brexit – Parliamentary Question

Q – Dr Matthew Offord: What assessment he has made of the capacity within UK universities and research institutes to continue to investigate the European geo-political area after the UK leaves the EU.

A – George Eustice: The Department has made no such assessment but the Prime Minister explained in her Florence Speech that the UK will continue to take part in those specific policies and programmes which are greatly to the UK and the EU’s joint advantage, such as those that promote science, education and culture.

Other news

Advertising Standards: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld disputes with six universities claiming to be top or within a top percentage for student satisfaction, graduate prospects, academic discipline, and global or national ranking. Leicester, East Anglia, Strathclyde, Falmouth, Teesside and the University of West London have all been instructed to remove their misleading content. The ASA has stated universities should substantiate such comparative statements by ensuring that the data behind the claim is sufficiently robust and can stand up to impartial interrogation. New guidance for universities on the required standards has been published here.

Press coverage of the ASA’s decisions: BBC, Guardian, and the Times.

Wonkhe have a guest blogger, Charles Heymann, who argues for universities to radically rethink their marketing straplines focusing on the institution’s values.

It remains to be seen if the ASA decisions, which threaten all top claims, will affect the sector’s preoccupation with rankings or influence student and parental opinion of the validity of such rankings.

Undergraduate employment: The Office for National Statistics has been researching undergraduate students’ employment whilst studying. In 2014/15 72.7% of students were in paid employment. Interestingly the South West had the highest employment percentage (77.6%) and London the lowest. Particularly notable for BU is that in East Dorset 9 out of 10 students were counted within the employment figures.

Konfer: This week saw the official launch of phase 2 of Konfer – a collaborative initiative from the National Centre for Universities and Business, the Research Councils, and HEFCE. It aims to open up research, researchers, and services within UK universities to businesses and other organisations looking for collaboration or new ideas, and to translate the research into jobs, innovation and economic growth. Described as ‘Google meets LinkedIn for university collaboration’ it utilises a search facility (search for an expert, a paper, a piece of equipment, a business or charity partner) to connect with the supplier.

David Sweeney, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE and Executive Chair Designate of Research England, said: “konfer promotes stronger commercialisation, business and policy links and wider societal engagement with publicly funded research. It opens out what universities and research institutes do to a wider audience and I’m delighted to see it reaching full launch stage following development work with universities and businesses of all sizes.”

BU’s Research and Knowledge Exchange Office engaged with Konfer during its early development and continue to develop our involvement.

Immigration: The Home Office has doubled the number of Tier 1 visas, available to those with exceptional talent or promise in the technology, arts, creative and sciences industries. Two thousand visas will now be made available for those endorsed by Tech City UK, the Arts Council of England, the British Academy, the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering. (WONKHE)

Policy Research Principles: The National Audit Office (NAO) has published their review Cross-government funding of research and development concluding that a more joined up approach is needed for some science based cross-departmental research areas within leadership, research principles and coordinated, prioritised funding arrangements. It concludes that BEIS and UKRI will play leading roles.

Government needs a coherent view of the UK’s research strengths relative to other nations and analysis of funding in key areas of research, so that it can prioritise areas where activity is lagging behind and ensure the UK is investing in the right areas…there is a risk that funders do not have coherent data across research areas on capability, funding gaps, or outcomes of research and development to inform decisions on national priorities and strategic direction..” (Amyas Morse Head of NAO)

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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

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update w/e 6th October 2017 (belated)

As the focus of the conference season for HE has been fees, loans and debt, we have a slightly delayed policy update with a catch up on this complicated issue, with a few hints of other things to come in our regular update at the end of the week.

Discussions about student finance have dominated the news and chat across the higher education sector consistently since the early summer, with a “national conversation” and now calls for a “major review” – which may or may not be happening. So it seemed like a good time to look at the problem, some of the proposed solutions and what might happen next.

Although of course concerns about student debt, the cost of the government subsidy for student loans and whether university degrees provide “value for money” have been a consistent theme, the general election really brought focus, because of the Labour pledge to abolish tuition fees for new students and the desire to forgive existing student debt. The latter was interpreted by some as a “promise” and others as a “wish”, but the combination allegedly swayed young people in huge numbers to (a) vote, and (b) vote Labour. I have written about this elsewhere – students and young people did turn out in large numbers and many of them did vote Labour – but it is highly unlikely (at least in my view) that this was down to a single issue.

The immediate effect of all this was that in the summer the government postponed the announcement of the anticipated inflation increase to the tuition fee cap in 2018/19 for universities with Year 2 TEF awards (i.e.most universities but not some new or alternative providers). The delay prompted speculation that the rise would be cancelled (despite already being provided for in legislation), and sure enough, just before the Conservative Party conference the Prime Minster announced that there would be no increase in 2018/19 – and also that the repayment threshold for tuition fee loans will go up (from £21k to £25k) from 6th April 2018. The written ministerial statement that confirms all this was issued on 9th October 2017. Note that the upper threshold is also going up and that this only applies to those with loans since 2012.

So what next? The PM announced a “major review” – but did she mean it? The ministerial statement (as the most recent indication) says: “The Government will set out further steps on HE student financing in due course”. In the meantime, Sheffield University have announced their own review.

We will consider some of the options, some of the implications, and make an unwise effort to predict what might happen next.

Option 1: Tinker with the current system

The repayment threshold rise was long overdue, for many, as it was part of the original deal for student loans that was reversed, because the impact of the freeze in the threshold was regressive. This is not just a tweak. The Institute for Fiscal Studies have assessed the cost as over £2.3billion per year in the long run – a “big (and expensive) giveaway to graduates”.

Postponing the inflation based fee cap increase could have implications for the Teaching Excellence Framework. Fee cap increases were a “carrot” to encourage universities to improve their teaching and earn an increased fee through better TEF awards (on hold since the House of Lords pressure on the Higher Education and Research Act before the election meant that plans for differentiated fee caps linked to TEF were postponed).

Those hoping that dropping fee increases (at least for now) means that the TEF isn’t necessary are (at least for now) going to be disappointed – the link to fees was to support the TEF, not the other way around – and so on 9th October 2017, alongside the fee notification referred to above, the Department for Education issued the year 3 TEF specification. The changes were anticipated in the Minister’s big speech at Universities UK on 7th September, and here it is, now renamed the “Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework” (TESOF). So no sign of that being abandoned.

[Notes on TEF: The name change is interesting after so much feedback from everyone that the one thing that the TEF doesn’t measure was teaching quality. The metrics changes this time are limited to including LEO data – longitudinal educational outcomes (employment and salary) and a self-assessment on grade inflation. The subject level pilot is also starting this year, along with a pilot of new metrics on teaching intensity. Remember also that there is a possibility that subject level TEF might also be linked to fees – something that some in the House of Lords thought was a good thing at the time that they threw out the link between TEF and fees – they said it was meaningless at an institutional level but more meaningful at a subject level.]

Changing the interest rate – read the myth busing article from MoneySavingExpert on why this isn’t as obvious as it sounds. There is no question that the headline rate is high but the article points out that different rates apply to students once they graduate according to what they are earning. Nevertheless, students at university right now are accruing interest at 6.1%. And (to the extent that it is repaid) that is helping to fund those who don’t repay.

Give it a new name. This is potentially a flier – after all the TEF has been renamed after the Minister insisted at length that the name was not important and what counted was what the TEF actually did. In a debate with Martin Lewis (of MoneySavingExpert) on 3rd October, Jo Johnson agreed that there was a problem with terminology. Instead of a “student loan” he offered a “time-limited, income-linked, graduate contribution” – which doesn’t trip off the tongue. However cumbersome as a name, this does make it clear the Minister’s position, which is that the fact that the government writes off a lot of debt is not accidental, or a sign that the system is broken, it is a deliberate investment in the cost of education which supports those who cannot afford later to repay it. [

[While we are talking about names, could there be a reconsideration of the name of the Office for Students as well?]

Add more conditions. There has already been a bit of this. In the Minister’s speech to UUK referred to above, Jo Johnson said that the government would:

  • consult on: “making it a condition of joining the register of higher education providers that institutions clearly set out in this way how they will provide their courses so that there is full compliance with consumer law”
  • Introduce a new ongoing condition of registration requiring the governing bodies of [Approved and Approved (fee cap)] providers to publish the number of staff paid more than £100,000 per year and to provide a clear justification of the salaries of those paid more than £150,000 per annum.

So there is an option to add other conditions too – such as giving bursaries, fee waivers for students with financial difficulties etc. But the Office for Fair Access don’t think that bursaries and direct funding are the best way to increase participation – see the blog by Les Ebdon on Wonkhe. And there is still a question about how these are funded (see below).

Option 2: Just cut the cap – or introduce variable caps

One proposal trailed in the newspapers recently as being under serious consideration by the Chancellor as a plan for the November budget, was that the fee cap should just be cut. This is linked in some quarters to the argument (by Lord Adonis and some others) that universities are operating a cartel by (mostly) all charging the maximum fee. The Times Higher Education did an analysis of this:

“According to an article in The Sunday Times on 17 September, Mr Hammond is considering a plan to scrap the current fee cap of £9,250 for home undergraduates and replace it with a maximum of £7,500. The government would then top up the fee with some direct funding per student for those studying higher-cost science and technology subjects. But such a move could mean universities losing £1,750 for students enrolled on any other course.”

Apart from caps linked to TEF outcomes, described above, one solution that has been proposed in a range of forms is that there should be different fees – perhaps enforced by different caps, for different courses. There’s an interesting history lesson here. Of course, this could be more subtle than just allowing the universities with the highest earning graduates to charge the highest fees – the Economist looked at value add recently. Caps could be linked to cost – the Times Higher Education showed an analysis of costs at a subject level in an article on 5th October. This is a very complex argument, because of issues about cross subsidisation across the sector, including for bursaries and research.

Lower fees overall, or lower fees for some courses could lead to courses being cut as well as a big focus on cost savings in institutions. The UUK statistics show that UK undergraduate tuition fees were 27% of total income in 2014-15. Universities spent £14.42 billion on teaching and research, 69% of it on staff costs. Cost cutting will be difficult.

As noted above, Lord Adonis has claimed that universities are running a cartel – opening the door to legal remedies that would force differentiation in fees – but there has been a strong response to this argument.

Option 3: Make someone else pay for HE

The government

The Labour Party’s preferred option is to go back to the old days – scrap tuition fees and centrally fund HE. Many commentators have poured cold water on this idea for two main reasons – affordability, and because they argue that this policy is regressive compared to the current system. If lower paid graduates don’t have to repay their loans, they benefit most from that “income linked, time limited government contribution”, while higher paid graduates do repay (and subsidise the others through the interest rate). There is an IFS report on the impact of the Labour manifesto pledge here.

The affordability discussion is linked to the other objection to this policy – that because it would otherwise be unaffordable, it is inevitable that student numbers will have to be limited – either by the reintroduction of the Student Number Control system or some version of it. It appears that Labour do not agree that this is inevitable.

Many have looked at Scotland – where there are still controls on numbers, and pointed out that free tuition associated with a cap on numbers has had a negative impact on participation amongst lower participation groups.

Of course, it is also government policy to increase the number of young people pursuing technical qualifications, including apprenticeships – which may push down the total number of students at universities, and so may make that less of an issue.

There is a strange potential Brexit bonus here for the government, if not for universities or for the wider economy. It is anticipated that EU students will have to pay international fees after Brexit, and will cease to be eligible for student loans. A Higher Education Policy Institute paper suggested that this will reduce the number of EU students substantially, by up to 31,000 students in one year. Some of these students have loans they don’t repay – so there is scope for a saving in the up front loan funding and a smaller write-off later– although it is limited.

Before the referendum, a House of Commons briefing paper on student loans estimated that 65% of EU students took up fee loans in 2013/14. Some of these students may be taking loans because they can, rather than because they need to (according to UUK, more EU borrowers than English ones repay in full or make large repayments). It has been hard to recover debt from some of these students, although the overall default number is smaller than for UK students; the government’s student loan repayment strategy (Feb 2016) aims to improve collection rates.  For more information about student loans to EU students read the Student Loans Company Statistical First Release – Student Loans in England for the financial year 2015-16

Business

David Green, the VC of the University of Worcester, wrote in the Guardian in July that there should be a return to the pre-2012 system with a twist:

“The pre-2012 system was a reasonable compromise, with students paying approximately one third of the total fees through an interest-free, index-linked government repayment scheme.

Since there are three beneficiaries of higher education, there should be three principal sources of funding: taxpayers, companies and the individual. As well as tuition fees and general taxation, there should be a payroll tax or levy on enterprises with the proceeds earmarked for higher education. Introducing a contribution from companies will ensure that philanthropic funding provides a vital boost without serving as a substitute. “

The levy route is being used to fund apprenticeships – it seems likely that the government will want to see how that works before trying another direct tax on businesses – especially as the link to employment is less direct for HE than it is for apprenticeships.

Universities

In a variation on this theme, Ryan Shorthouse of Conservative think tank Bright Blue suggested that universities should pay towards the cost of funding student loans: “Institutions producing a disproportionate number of graduates who will need their student loans subsidised should contribute a levy to government.

  • That’s an interesting idea, but there are some problems with it. In other markets, suppliers can pay a levy towards the “greater good” e.g. green levies paid by energy companies – these are funded either by increased prices for consumers or reduced profits (and reduced dividends for shareholders).
  • The parallels in higher education don’t work in the same way – fees are capped, so the consumer won’t pay more, and as most universities do not have shareholders and do not pay dividends, the cost would therefore be funded by cutting investment in something else. That seems unlikely to help improve outcomes for students (as was argued by the NUS in relation to differential fees linked to TEF, the outcome is that poor performers have less money to invest in improving performance). There is an interesting Wonkhe article with a US perspective that supports that view here).
  • What this would probably mean over time is that those courses with worse outcomes on salary would be cut. Perhaps that is the desired policy outcome – remove courses that are not “profitable” for society from government funding altogether. And that opens another whole debate about the value of education beyond salaries.

Graduates

There is also the graduate tax option. There’s a 2016 article by Martin McQuillan here and one by Will Cooling here. This could just be a name change for student loans – or something more drastic – one policy trailed recently was that all graduates should pay the tax – regardless of when they studied (but of course, if they didn’t have loans, no-one knows who they are…). The graduate tax still seems to be Lib Dem policy. There is a more recent review of the idea here.

Option 4: Leave tuition fees – focus on maintenance grants

This is UUK’s flagship policy in this area. The most recent article is by Alistair Jarvis for the Telegraph which covers other ground but also refers to their views on maintenance. This was described by Janet Beer, the UUK president, in a speech to UUK’s annual conference on 7th September and in the Guardian here. In a recent THE article, Professor Beer also suggests that the Welsh model of maintenance support alongside fees might be worth looking at for England.

So what’s next?

It is very hard to see where this might go. The hint in the ministerial announcement could suggest there is more to come – the promised review or more tinkering? Certainly no-one will believe anyone who suggests that nothing else will change – the two changes that have been announced were denied energetically until quite recently.

The obvious tinkering option that is still available is interest rates. That might change in the budget – but on top of the repayment threshold change it will be expensive (even though much of the accrued interest is monopoly money – it isn’t repaid so it was never real in the first place). Andrew McGettigan explains how the government accounting works in a blog here.

The Chancellor might announce a more dramatic shift in policy in the budget – but it seems unlikely that he would announce a reduction in the fee caps without more work to understand the implications. He might announce a limited programme of maintenance grants.

And he might announce a review. That would push the issue into the long grass for a while. It seems incredible that there could be another new idea that no-one has thought of yet, given all the words on this subject over the last year.  But there could be.

And if there is a review – a graduate tax of some sort – whether a renaming with other tinkering or a more fundamental change that means graduates pay more than just their own loans– does seem to be a possibility.

And given the context described above, it seems likely that any more fundamental change would be accompanied with a change to the current single fee cap. If the government is going to pay more of the cost of HE –or make business or graduates pay- it is unlikely to accept that all courses should be funded at top of the cap. It is inevitable that the value for money concept would feature somewhere, whether linked to quality, outcomes or costs.  So those who hope for a review need to be prepared for a differentiated fee or funding caps.

Next stop – the budget.

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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

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update for the w/e 15th September 2017

REF 2021

As we noted last week, on 1st September 2017 HEFCE published the initial decisions on REF 2021. This does not include decisions regarding submitting staff, output portability or the eligibility of institutions to participate in the REF. There is another consultation on those issues and BU’s response is being prepared by RKEO – please contact Julie Northam if you would like to be involved.  This week, the four UK funding bodies published a summary of the responses to the previous consultation. The document summarises the 388 formal responses to the consultation.

Consultation responses welcomed an overall continuity of approach with REF 2014 and recognised that this would reduce the burden on institutions and panels. Broad support was expressed for the principles behind Lord Stern’s recommendations. There were mixed responses to some of the proposed approaches to implementing the changes, in particular:

  • all-staff submission
  • non-portability of outputs
  • institutional-level assessment
  • open access and data sharing.

Feedback on these areas included concern about their effects on different disciplines or types of institution, their impact on specific groups, in particular early career researchers and those with protected characteristics, and the burden of implementation.

Some highlights:

  • Over a third of respondents suggested that the proposal might result in changes to contractual status, with some staff being moved to Teaching-only contracts. A small number of HEI respondents suggested that they would make such contract changes if the proposal is implemented.
  • “the predominant suggestion (by one-fifth of respondents addressing this issue) was that HEIs should retain a key role in identifying staff with significant responsibility for research”.
  • Many respondents stressed the importance of research independence as a criterion, especially for staff employed on Research-only contracts. The majority of respondents argued for a nuanced approach to the inclusion of research assistants where they could demonstrate research independence. There was some support for using the REF 2014 independence criteria, although many requested clearer guidance to limit the burden on HEIs.
  • Of those who commented on question 9c., asking for views on the minimum number of outputs per staff member, over half supported setting a minimum requirement of one output per person. Over one-third were in favour of no minimum at all. This support was often linked to the use of contracts to determine research-active status and concern about the ability to submit large numbers.
  • Of those who provided a clear view, around three-quarters did not support the introduction of non-portability rules.
  • Just over 50 per cent of respondents to Question 38 agreed in principle with the introduction of an institutional element to the environment template; this support came with a lot of caveats.
  • Almost half of the responses to Question 26 supported the principle of maintaining the volume of impact case studies overall. The majority recognised that this would affect the ratio of case studies required per FTE when applied alongside the submissions of all staff with significant responsibility for research. Respondents were keen to know the multiplier as soon as possible, to enable HEIs and submitting units to plan the number of case studies required.
  • A third of responses agreed that the minimum number of impact case studies per submission should be reduced to one. This was felt to be of particular benefit to smaller submitting units. However, a number of respondents discussed the risks associated with a minimum of one case study.
  • A small number of respondents drew attention to the Teaching Excellence Framework, which was mentioned in the context of incentivising research-led teaching and minimising burden on HEIs. It was stressed that an aligned approach is necessary to avoid creating a division between teaching and research

Office for Students

Higher Education Commission launched its report: ‘One size won’t fit all: the challenges facing the Office for Students’ The report makes recommendations for the OfS, following hot on the heels of those made by the Minister last week – it looks at alternative and niche provision. There’s a Wonkhe article here

Strategic challenges for the OfS:

  • The unintended consequences of policy reform and funding continue to favour the offer of certain modes of study and undermines choice for students
  • The balance between upholding quality and encouraging innovation is not achieved, either damaging the sector’s reputation or meaning the sector does not keep pace with changes in technology and the labour market
  • Innovation and growth in the sector does not effectively align with the industrial strategy or aspirations for regional growth
  • Price variation and two tier provision result in greater segregation across the system damaging social mobility
  • The student experience of higher education is undermined as some providers struggle with competition and funding challenges
  • Institutional decline, and ultimately failure, reduces choice and the quality of provision in certain areas, or damages the student experience or the perceived value of their qualification
  • The Office for Students in its new role as the champion of ‘choice for students’ and ‘value for the tax payer’ must address these challenges. It is hoped that the findings in this report and the recommendations outlined below will aid the new regulator in ensuring the continued success of the sector.

The report includes an interesting overview of how we got to where we are now, and then moves on to look at some knotty issues facing the sector, including alternative models, and a number of themes that arise in that context (such as access, support for students and progression). They look at class and course size, which is interesting given the new TEF focus on “teaching intensity”, practitioner lecturers, industry experience, sandwich degrees and apprenticeships. There is a chapter on funding, costs and fees and of course the report looks at part-time and accelerated courses, also another hot topic for universities as well as alternative providers.   The report also examines some of the perceived barriers to innovation which were cited in government papers – validation (which is described a barrier to innovation rather than entry) and retention being a problematic measure for alternative providers.

The consequences lf all this start in chapter 4 (page 55) where the report turns to recommendations for the OfS as the regulator.

The recommendations are:

  • Universities should learn lessons from the further education sector to create an environment that feels more accessible to students from low participation backgrounds.
  • The OfS should work with HEIs and alternative providers to identify how personalised and industry-orientated provision can be scaled up and replicated across the system.
  • The OfS, as a principal funder and regulator of the HE sector, should develop ways of incentivising industry practitioner involvement in universities.
  • Universities should consider flexible models of placements for sandwich degrees in order to meet the needs of SMEs.
  • The OfS should closely monitor the impact of degree apprenticeships on sandwich courses and other work based learning provision.
  • The OfS should address cost issues around part-time study and accelerated degree programmes, so as to support wider provision of these non-standard modes.
  • We recommend that the OfS monitors the implications of different delivery costs between HE and FE, not least in terms of enabling entry to part-time and mature students.
  • Research should be commissioned by the OfS to better understand how students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, can be encouraged to use sources of information more critically in their HE choices.
  • The Office for Students should provide Parliament with an annual report mapping the diversity of provision across the higher education sector, commenting on trends and explanations for changing patterns of provision.
  • The DfE and the EFSA should consider the viability of allowing employers to use the apprenticeship levy to fund work-relevant part-time HE
  • The DfE should consider the extent to which accelerated and flexible programmes could be supported by changes to the funding based on credit.

Fees and funding

There was a debate in the House of Commons this week on an Opposition motion to reverse the legislation on tuition fees – these debates are non-binding and after the DUP said they would support them the government declined to have a formal vote – so they were passed. The same thing happened on a motion about the pay cap in the NHS.   As they were non-binding, this is largely symbolic, but much has been made about the “anti-democratic” implications of this..

Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation hosted a lively debate on fees and funding – you can see the (very long) recording on YouTube, and the Times Higher did their own short version. Rumours persist that despite Jo Johnson’s staunch defence of the system, No. 10 may be getting cold feet, and the new fee cap for 2019/20 has still not been announced….

And Philip Hammond contributed to the speculation while giving evidence at the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (reported widely, here is the Telegraph link):

“I do think there’s a significant difference between a graduate who leaves university with a, perhaps, quite significant level of debt and a well-recognised degree in an area which is known to provide strong employment opportunities; and a graduate on the other hand who perhaps has a very similar level of debt but who may not have a degree that is going to enhance his or her employment opportunities in the same way..

“We need to look at…the information we provide to students to enable them to make value-for-money assessments about what they are buying and what it’s going to cost them.”

And to contribute to the debate, the Commons Education Committee have launched an inquiry into value for money in HE. They are inviting written submissions on the following issues by 23rd October 2017:

  • Graduate outcomes and the use of destination data
  • Social justice in higher education and support for disadvantaged students
  • Senior management pay in universities
  • Quality and effectiveness of teaching
  • The role of the Office for Students

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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