Tagged / student finance

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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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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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

HE policy update for the w/e 8th September

Well, Parliament is back and we have had a lively start to the autumn.

REF 2021

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. Thanks to Julie for these highlights of the announcement:

Assessment weightings:

  • Outputs 60% (down from 65%)
  • Impact 25% (up from 20%)
  • Environment 15% (same but now includes impact strategy)
  • HESA cost centres will not be used to allocate staff to UOAs. Responsibility for mapping staff into UOAs will therefore remain with institutions.

UOA structure:

  • Total UOAs reduced from 36 to 34
  • Engineering will be a single UOA – UOA 12
  • REF 2014 UOA 17 will be restructured to form UOA 14: Geography and Environmental Studies and UOA 15: Archaeology
  • ‘Film and Screen Studies’ will be located and included in the name of UOA 33: Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies
  • HEFCE will continue consulting with the subject communities for forensic science and criminology to consider concerns raised about visibility. A decision is expected this autumn.

Timetable:

  • Impact: Underpinning research must have been produced between 1 Jan 2000 – 31 Dec 2020 andimpacts must have occurred between 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Environment: Environment data (such as income and doctoral completions) will be considered for the period 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Outputs: The assessment period for the publication of outputs will be 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Dec 2020.
  • The draft REF 2021 guidance will be published in summer/autumn 2018 and the final guidance will be published in winter 2018-19. The submission will be in autumn 2020.

Outputs:

  • Interdisciplinary research:Each sub-panel will have at least one appointed member to oversee and participate in the assessment of interdisciplinary research submitted in that UOA. There will be an interdisciplinary research identifier for outputs in the REF submission system (not mandatory).There will be a discrete section in the environment template for the unit’s structures in support of interdisciplinary research.
  • Outputs due for publication after the submission date: A reserve output may be submitted.
  • Assessment metrics: Quantitative metrics may be used to inform output assessment. This will be determined by the sub-panels. Data will be provided by HEFCE.

Impact:

  • Impact will have a greater weighting in REF 2021 (25% overall plus impact included in the environment template and therefore weighting).
  • The guidance on submitting impacts on teaching will be widened to include impacts within, and beyond, the submitting institution.
  • Impacts remain eligible for submission by the institution in which the associated research was conducted. They must be underpinned by excellent research (at least REF 2*).
  • The number of case studies required – still not confirmed – HEFCE are exploring this in relation to the rules on staff submission and the number of outputs.
  • Case studies submitted to REF 2014 can be resubmitted to REF 2021, providing they meet the REF 2021 eligibility requirements.
  • The relationship between the underpinning research and impact will be broadened from individual outputs to include a wider body of work or research activity.

Institutional-level assessment (impact case studies): HEFCE will pilot this in 2018 but it will not be included in REF 2021.

Environment: The UOA-level environment template will be more structured, including the use of more quantitative data to evidence narrative content. It will include sections on the unit’s approach to:

  • supporting collaboration with organisations beyond HE
  • enabling impact – akin to the impact template in REF 2014
  • supporting equality and diversity
  • structures to support interdisciplinary research
  • open research, including the unit’s open access strategy and where this goes beyond the REF open access policy requirements

Institutional-level assessment (environment):

  • Institution-level information will be included in the UOA-level environment template, assessed by the relevant sub-panel.
  • HEFCE will pilot the standalone assessment of institution-level environment information as part of REF 2021, but this will not form part of the REF 2021 assessment. The outcomes will inform post-REF 2021 assessment exercises.

Jo Johnson’s UUK speech – the next steps for regulation

Jo Johnson gave a speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday –prefaced by a deluge of press coverage. See the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, for a sample.  He started with a summary of the current state of the national debate on universities:

Recent criticisms of higher education in the UK fall into two distinct camps: we might call them the Statists and the Pessimists. The Statists direct their criticism at student finance. They argue that the most important thing we can do is to abolish tuition fees.” and “The second group of critics, the Pessimists, have an altogether bleaker view of Higher Education. They argue that university is inappropriate for many students, that student numbers should be significantly reduced and that students should pursue other types of post-18 education”.

The Minister rejected the calls for a change to the fee structure, consistent with other speeches over the summer (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017).   He said that the “Statist” approach is “bad for social mobility, bad for university funding, bad for taxpayers”. [ See the UUK announcements on this below. In the FT on 8th September, it is reported that Theresa May is soliciting views on tuition fees policy in an attempt to close the generational gap, with Lord Willetts attending a meeting at No 10. So despite the regular assurances of no change, this is still one to watch.] To the Pessimists, his message was that “Post-18 education is not a zero-sum game, where to improve further education we must restrict and ration higher education to a privileged few”. But he said that there must be a strong economic return from a “mass system of higher education”. He highlighted graduate salaries, an increase in GDP and national productivity. [see below for the UUK position on fees and funding]

The Minister referred to concerns about value for money and used the same words as when launching the Green Paper, talking about “patchy teaching”. He also attacked the sector for grade inflation: “There has been a significant increase in the proportion of people receiving firsts and 2:1 degrees over the past five years that cannot be explained by rising levels of attainment. Grade inflation is tearing through English Higher Education. On the face of it, the facts are shocking.Grade inflation can fuel disengagement on both sides – if students know that 80-90 per cent will get a 2:1 or first from a high-reputation provider, there is less incentive to work hard – and less incentive by the provider to focus on teaching.” The Minister attacked league tables for encouraging grade inflation by using first degrees as a metric.

And he listed 5 measures that would deliver value for money:

  • The TEF – including subject level TEF (see more below in the TEF update)
  • A focus on grade inflation – as part of the TEF (see below), and be requiring the OfS to report on degree classifications and challenge providers to explain any data that suggested grade inflation, and calling on the sector to take action themselves, for example by developing a sector-recognised minimum standard. This is something that will no doubt be the subject of debate in the months to come. This could have parallels in some PSRB accreditation systems – an analogy that may be worth exploring.
  • Student contracts -this was also discussed in the July speech (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017). This time, the Minister said that the Competition and Markets Authority guidance was only “patchily observed”. The OfS will be asked to “embed in the system student contracts that are clear, quantifiable and fair”. There is a consultation to follow on making this a registration condition.
  • Accelerated degrees – we are waiting for the formal response to the call for evidence last year but a consultation will be taking place on the new fee cap that would be required to support this – allowing providers to charge more than £9250 per year (but with a lower overall cost for the whole programme).
  • VC Pay – the OfS to introduce a new condition of registration that they publish salary data for the top earners and provide a justification, supported by guidance. The OfS will analyse and publish this data. The Minister called for the Committee of University Chairs to develop a new Remuneration Code.

UUK position

In a blog on 5th September 2017, Chris Hale, the Director of Policy of UUK responded to the debate over the summer, referring to a report from UK2020 that was published this week and repeated allegations of the sector operating a cartel to fix prices for degrees.  In a speech presumably written without advance knowledge of what the Minister was going to say, and trailed in the press on Tuesday, the new President of UUK, Professor Janet Beer, VC of Liverpool University did call for changes to undergraduate funding. She referred to “vexed issues and opportunities” and gave a staunch defence of the sector and its contribution to health, happiness and the economy.

On student finance, Professor Beer said that the system was not broken but that it needed to feel fairer, and highlighted three areas for action:

  • Targeted maintenance grants
  • Lower interest rate for low and middle-income earners. [On this point it is interesting to note that this is how it already works – see the blog from Martin Lewis on MoneySavingExpert.com which he tweeted again to respond to this story and the clip below]
  • Ensuring that the benefits of the current system are better understood – e.g. 35% of the cost of educating students is contributed by the government and 75% of students have some of their debt written off.

UUK have now published a Parliamentary briefing on the funding issues.

On senior pay:

  • “It’s understandable that high pay is questioned and it is right to expect that the process for determining pay for senior staff is rigorous and the decision-making process is transparent. It is also reasonable to expect that decisions are explained and justified.”, and continuing:
  • However, the current debate has lost sight of the facts and shows little understanding of the role that present-day vice-chancellors play not only in their own university, but in their communities, regions and on the national and international stage. The role of the vice-chancellor has evolved from leading a community of scholars, to leading large, complex, global organisations; organisations with multi-million pound turnovers, with thousands of staff working in a variety of roles, and which play an increasingly prominent role in the economic prosperity of our regions and nations. First-rate leadership is necessary for a university to be successful, and competitive remuneration is needed to attract the best leaders with the skills to lead these complex global organisations.
  • There have also been questions raised about the pay of our leading researchers and senior professional staff. We should remember that senior staff are choosing to work at our universities to deliver public good when they might otherwise choose to work in the private sector, attracting far higher remuneration. We must not let them be put off by comments that they are not worth it or their contribution is not valued.”

Nick Hillman of HEPI also writes in response that autonomy is more important than regulation in this area: “Just a few months ago, when the Higher Education and Research Act was still in short trousers, there was widespread concern that the Office for Students would not have due regard to university autonomy. Insisting they tackle vice-chancellors’ pay as one of the most urgent priorities (and before they have taken charge) will not assuage such concerns.”

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) update

In his speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday, Jo Johnson referred to a lessons learned exercise that the government has carried out on year 2 of TEF. This used the UK survey we referred to in the Policy Update w/e 1st September 2017 as well as feedback from a range of stakeholders and desk based research of the metrics. The full report plus the specification are due to be published later in September 2017. These changes will also be included in the subject level TEF pilot. The UUK review is also discussed on Wonkhe here.

  • A new metric on grade inflation (see context in Jo Johnson’s speech above). This will be a supplementary metric which will not form part of the core metrics and the process of assessing the initial hypothesis, but will be considered by the assessors while considering Rigour and Stretch (TQ3). This will be based on a provider declaration and will “record the proportion of firsts, 2:1s and other grades as a percentage of all classified degrees at that provider 1, 2, 3 and 10 years before the year of assessment”.   If the data shows that there has been grade inflation the provider will presumably have to use their written submission to demonstrate how it is being addressed. Also, the number of firsts and 2:1s cannot be considered as evidence for the quality of teaching.
  • Changes to the NSS weighting – these are interesting – particularly as there was no formal weighting for any metrics in the TEF guidance before, and no specific weighting for metrics v the written submission either. That was why there was so much interest when the Chair of the TEF Panel, Chris Husbands, suggested that the role of the NSS in the decisions on TEF should be downplayed. The paper describes this in more details in Annex B – this is a change to the way that the “initial hypothesis” (based on metrics) will be formed.
  • Changes to address the NSS boycott, by averaging the scores across the three years or simply omitting 2017.
  • Part-time providers (those with over 35% part-time students) will also be able to provide additional information relating to their part-time students and a separate assessment will be formed for part-time students.
  • Absolute values: in a change which has been flagged as a nod to the Russell Group providers who received Bronze awards in the TEF (and who, in some cases, complained about the benchmarking process), alongside the benchmarking, the top and bottom 10% values for each metric will also be highlighted (with stars and exclamation marks). This will reinforce a positive or negative flag but can also be taken into account by the assessors – although a star will be ignored if there is a negative flag or a negative flag for a split metric (so that high performing institutions with negative flags for disadvantaged groups cannot benefit). Exclamation marks will be ignored if there is a positive flag.
  • Longitudinal Education Outcomes data (LEO) will be included as “supplementary” data – this will not affect the initial hypothesis but will be considered alongside the submission. The metrics to be included are the proportion of graduates in sustained employment or further study three years after graduation and the proportion of graduates in sustained employment earning over the median salary for 25 – 29 year olds (currently £21,000) or in further study
  • Gaming” – the Director for Fair Access will be given an opportunity to comment on “gaming” has taken place (defined as “a significant alteration in a provider’s student profile since the last TEF assessment, that involves a reduction in the proportion of students from disadvantaged groups”. In extreme cases, this might lead to disqualification.

Separate from all this a research paper by Camille Kandiko Howson of Kings College and Alex Buckley of the University of Strathclyde has been published which looks at the UK Engagement Survey – something that was tipped to be a potential metric for TEF if it was more widely adopted.

Widening Participation

Justine Greening announced that the new Director of Fair Access and Participation when the Office for Students if formed will be Chris Millward, who has been Director of Policy at HEFCE. The new role will have a focus on progression and outcomes as well as access for disadvantaged and under-represented groups in Higher Education.

Brexit

In the meantime, the Brexit negotiations continue and a flurry of papers have been published by the UK government and the EU.  The most interesting one is the one on Collaboration on Science and Innovation. The paper has lots of warm words on collaboration but little detail on what a future arrangement with the EU might look like.  On Horizon 202, the paper suggests that the UK will be seeking “associated” status (it says “associated countries have the same level of access to Horizon 2020 as EU Member States. Associated countries do not have a formal vote over the work programme, but can attend programme committees, which provides them with a degree of influence. Terms of association (including financial contributions) vary, and are determined by international agreements with the EU.“)

The overall conclusions are:

  • The UK wants to continue playing a major role in creating a brighter future for all European citizens by strengthening collaboration with European partners in science and innovation.
  • To this end, the UK will seek to agree a far-reaching science and innovation agreement with the EU that establishes a framework for future collaboration. There are a range of existing precedents for collaboration that the UK and the EU can build on, but our uniquely close relationship means there may be merit in designing a more ambitious agreement. The UK hopes to have a full and open discussion with the EU about all of these options as part of the negotiations on our future partnership.
  • The UK would welcome dialogue with the EU on the shape of a future science and innovation agreement, reflecting our joint interest in promoting continued close cooperation, for the benefit of UK and European prosperity”

Of course, the other interesting Brexit story was the paper we weren’t meant to see – the leaked draft on migration (read more in the Guardian report). The draft proposed work permits for EU citizens with a two year limit, language tests for EU students and ensuring that they have sufficient funds before they come to the UK (which implies that they will not qualify for student loans). None of these things is particularly surprising even if unwelcome – essentially the same type of restrictions would apply as apply currently to international students. What is most interesting about this is the reaction and the timing – Amber Rudd has only just announced a review of the impact of international students and a review into the social impact of Brexit – both of which will not report until September 2018. Damien Green on the Today programme said that the real paper would be launched “in a few weeks” – at the Conservative Party Conference?

Other interesting reading

The Higher Education Policy Institute published:

  • a blog on graduate entrepreneurs and what universities could do to support them
  • a report on the crisis in the creative arts in the UK – looking at what has happened in schools and suggesting that the increased and simplistic focus on graduate employment outcomes will impoverish education and damage outcomes (see the TEF report above).

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 7th July 2017

Office for Students

Nicola Dandridge (currently Chief Executive of Universities UK) has been appointed as the Chief Executive of the Office for Students (OfS).

  • Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, said: “Nicola Dandridge’s knowledge and experience will be key for this important role…The OfS will replace an outdated regulatory system with a framework that can truly respond to the challenges of our 21st Century and ensure the university system meets the needs of the students.”
  • Jo Johnson, Universities Minister, stated: “I am delighted that Nicola Dandridge is taking up this crucial role. Her knowledge and experience of the higher education system makes Nicola an excellent choice to work alongside Sir Michael Barber at the helm of the OfS…The new regulator will rightfully put the interests of students at the heart of regulation and play a pivotal role in reforming one of our nation’s greatest assets – the higher education sector.”
  • Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access, has also welcomed and commended Nicola and emphasised her connection to social mobility: “…she is ideally placed to take up this important post. I know from the leadership Nicola showed when she chaired the Social Mobility Advisory Group that she has a strong personal commitment to fair access.”

UUK anticipate announcing their new chief executive in September.

Michael Barber is the Chair of OfS, Martin Coleman is the deputy chair, and five other OfS Board members have been confirmed – two Board spots remain open, including the seat for student experience, which was advertised this week.

In other people news, Chris Husbands (VC of Sheffield Hallam and Chair of the TEF panel) has been appointed as the new chair of HESA. Chris stated: “HESA is a jewel in the crown of UK higher education: a trusted source of insightful data and analysis across the higher education landscape in the UK, which helps to shape policy and promote wider understanding and confidence in the sector. High quality data and data analysis is increasingly critical to successful organisations.”

On Tuesday, Sir Mark Walport, the Chief Executive Designate of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) made a speech outlining his vision for the future of UKRI, which you can watch here.

Focus on tuition fees

Labour’s promises to abolish tuition fees (and forgive loans for graduates) have been credited in some quarters as leading to an increase in turn-out amongst young people at the election, and a consequent increase in the Labour vote. Speculation is building about a government response to this. As a result, tuition fees and the loan system have been all over the press this week, with Jo Johnson on Newsnight and the Today programme, and active on twitter.

The voting problem

Did young people turn out in massively increased numbers as claimed immediately after the election? Some suggested more turn out figure above 70%.

  • The BBC reality check uses two polls – a YouGov poll released on 13th June and an Ipsos Mori poll released on 20thYouGov found that about 58% of people between the age of 18 and 24 voted, while Ipsos Mori estimated that it was 54%. Both of those figures are a proportion of all 18- to 24-year-olds, not just those who are registered to vote.
  • That is compared to an Ipsos Mori poll for the 2015 election showing 28% turnout amongst that group, 43% of those registered to vote. The piece adds “The overall turnout (and these are actual figures – not based on polling) was 69%, compared with 66% in 2015, so it appears that the youth vote increased by considerably more than the overall turnout.”
  • See also the Full Fact article

Of course, we don’t trust polls as much as we used to. There’s an interesting pre-election piece on the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) blog and BU’s Darren Lilleker asked about the impact of polls on voting. After the 2015 general election, an inquiry was commissioned into election polls, which concluded that the main issue in 2015 was unrepresentative samples. Accuracy was an issue again during and after the EU referendum. And the same issues arose in the General Election, although the final BBC poll was remarkably close. The House of Lords have appointed a new committee to look at Political Polling and Digital Media, which will report by March 2018 – so maybe that will give us more confidence.

Did the increased number of young voters vote Labour? The BBC reality check says all the polls show a substantial swing to Labour amongst younger voters (18-24).

So was the swing to Labour amongst the young a result of tuition fee promises? That’s a very reductive perspective – surely, students are interested in the same issues as everyone else? And, of course, many among that group do not attend university. HEPI had a piece on student voting intentions in May based on a YouthSight poll. At BU, the Students’ Union (SUBU) organised the only local hustings for parliamentary candidates with all five candidates present. The audience was mostly students and the debate was wide ranging. It covered public sector pay, Brexit, immigration, the economy, housing, security and local matters amongst other things. Tuition fees barely got a mention.

The tuition fees problem

The debate about tuition fees is complex, and highly political. So some key points:

What had happened before the election?

During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, issues with fees and loans, and the repayment threshold in particular were regularly discussed, in both houses. There was a debate on a “motion to regret” on 5th April in the House of Lords.

The government amended the bill so that inflation based tuition fee increases (already permitted under legislation, but requiring a statutory instrument to implement each change), now require positive approval by both houses. The inflation-based increase in the cap for students starting in 2018/19 should be announced relatively soon – and is likely to be more than the £250 that takes effect this September.

The government also delayed the differentiated fee cap linked to TEF – see more in our HE policy update from a couple of weeks ago. As I wrote on Wonkhe recently, the link between fee increases and TEF has caused all sorts of problems with the TEF – it isn’t the only reason that the NUS are opposed to TEF and called for a boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) but it is one of the reasons – apparently 25 student unions supported the boycott, and at least some will not have valid NSS data for the TEF next year.

In the election campaign there was a great deal of debate about the affordability of the Labour commitment to abolish tuition fees – one analysis on Wonkhe here.

Media coverage:

And what is happening now?

Damian Green, the First Secretary of State, called for a “national debate”. Michael Gove explained and defended the current position, and Jo Johnson appeared on Newsnight to defend it.

Jo Johnson argues that the fees improve access to HE for deprived students because of the removal of the student numbers cap, that it provides sufficient funding for universities to offer world-class teaching and research, and is fairer to the tax-paying public. And on Radio 4 today’s programme said that the unpaid written-off debts are the government’s contribution to higher education funding.

There has been speculation that a Conservative manifesto commitment to review Further Education funding will lead to a massive shakeup of university funding – if that is added to a review of tuition fees then change is really on the horizon.

Amongst many blogs and articles on the subject, David Phoenix has written for Wonkhe about why it is time for a review. He argues that while Labour’s abolition of tuition fees isn’t progressive the Conservative alternative doesn’t work either and calls on the sector to find a balanced solution. He writes:  “The majority of students do not object to making a contribution to the cost of their education, but it’s the scale of the contribution that matters. A better balance between the student (or graduate) and state acknowledges that students will benefit financially from their degree, whilst also acknowledging the wider public good of higher education: social mobility, civic engagement, productivity, and innovation.”  Speaking of the recent election result, he states: “It’s clear to me is that young people have, in large numbers, rejected continuity of the current system. We also know that the current funding structure is being quietly rejected by potential mature applicants. The job is now for the universities sector and policy makers to work together to rebalance the system to meet the needs of learners, our economy, and our public services.”

And the Wonkhe article noted above quotes the Dearing Review of 20 years ago, which started the move to debate on tuition fees: “One backbencher in the debate on Dearing nearly 20 years ago presciently remarked: “There is real concern that the Government’s decision not to follow Dearing’s proposal to introduce tuition fees while maintaining the maintenance grant, but rather to abolish the maintenance grant and replace it with loans will, far from widening access, narrow it.” Theresa May – for yes, it was she – hit the nail on the head. Discussions about affordability and access have to take place while looking at the entire student support and HE funding package. Taking a report (as happened with both Dearing and Browne) and cherry-picking politically or economically attractive aspects is not a recipe for a fair or sustainable system.”

Realistically – what might happen now?

Labour are sticking to their policy, despite affordability questions and the regressive nature of the change, and criticism of the repeated – an inaccurate- claim that fewer people from poor backgrounds are going to university.

Looking at the statistics above, it seems unlikely that this policy had as big an impact on the outcome of the election as was initially claimed. Apart from students, the policy may also have been popular with parents – but unlikely to have been a game changer in its own right.

So what will the government do?

  • There might be some sort of review/consultation – it is hard to see that this will result in major changes to the structure but it would look like doing something
  • There might be a change to the interest rate – to delay or reduce the rise that will otherwise happen in September
  • There might be a relenting on the repayment threshold freeze – passed in 2015 for 5 years, so perhaps it won’t be extended
  • They could choose not to increase fees by inflation at all in 2018/19. There is no rule that says they have to; even though they announced that they plan to as part of the White Paper/TEF implementation.
  • There might be more consideration given to maintenance funding arrangements. As noted above, these add hugely to student loans, and disproportionately so for students from lower income families.

It is hard to see more drastic changes than that at a time when there are so many calls on the “magic money tree”. Although I’m still not making predictions in this uncertain world…

International staff and students

Hotcourses insights Brexit report compares global demand for HE over the last 12 months. It finds that international student interest has decreased from 28% to 25.6%, although EU student interest has dropped more substantially from 36.9% to 30.7%. The USA share of the student interest has also dropped, whilst Canada and Ireland have both gained.

Jo Johnson announced the Ernest Rutherford Global Talent Research Fund (£100 million) which aims to attract highly skilled researchers to the UK. Johnson stated: “Rutherford and his immense contributions to science exemplify our vision of a Britain that is open to the best minds and ideas in the world, and stands at the forefront of global collective endeavours to understand, and to improve, the world in which we live…We look forward to welcoming these talented Rutherford research fellows to the UK. The Rutherford Fund will send a strong signal that, even as we leave the European Union, we are open to the world and will reinforce our ambition of making the UK the go-to country for innovation and discovery.”

Widening participation

OFFA and the Open University published a joint report and evaluation tool arguing for more ambitious outreach for mature students

Parliament

As parliament begins to bed down the select committees will re-form and appoint their new chairs.

TES report that Nick Boles, Robert Halfon and Tim Loughton are all contesting for the Education select committee chair. FE week also covers the story.

This week relevant Parliamentary Questions have dovetailed the media interest in tuition fees. Angela Rayner has tabled two PQs (due for answer next week). The first asks the government for a statement on whether they intend to privatise the student loan book. The second asks what estimate has been made of potential revenue in privatising the student loan book.

 

HE Policy Update w/e 7th April

Higher Education and Research Bill: the Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords this week with little fanfare. An amendment relating to the ‘transparency duty’ (publishing further information on applicants’ backgrounds for better WP policy targeting and transparent admissions) was moved but withdrawn. This followed reassurance from the government that they will require the Office for Students to consult on the transparency duty. Eight minor government amendments were agreed, full details can be read in Hansard. The Bill will reappear in the Commons after the Easter recess, when as noted in last week’s update, the opposition and cross bench amendments are expected to be removed.

Brexit: The Commons Select Committee for Exiting the EU released their report The Government’s negotiating objective: the White Paper. Wonkhe report that not all members of the committee agreed with the conclusions in the report. Pages 68-71 cover science and research and reiterate previous calls from the sector for the immigration system to support researchers and students and for the UK to continue to participate in Horizon 2020.

Tuition Fees: In a non-binding debate in the House of Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Labour) moved that the House of Lords regrets the 2016 changes to the tuition fee regulations and loan conditions which have worsened circumstances for some students, particularly WP and part time students. Lord Stevenson stated it is “virtually impossible to challenge what the Government are doing” and suggested that fee increases, the ending of maintenance grants, and introduction of income-contingent tax liabilities had not achieved what they had set out to do for the public purse whilst burdening students with ever-increasing debts. He asked for clarification on the “huge gap” in public finances the system was creating and explained that his motion would call on the Government to report annually to Parliament on the impact on the economy of increasing graduate debt, provide estimates of payback rates and an estimate of the annual cost to the Exchequer of the present system. Stevenson and other Lords also criticised the linking of fees to the TEF.

The voting was close and the motion to regret was agreed by the Lords.

Speaking for the Government Viscount Younger of Leckie expressed his disappointment about the vote and stressed that the Government’s policy intention remained to link fees to the quality of provision via the teaching excellence framework.

A second motion to regret has been tabled for Wed 26 April by Lord Clark of Windermere to move that the House of Lords regrets the introduction of tuition fees and removal of bursaries for NHS students.

Science Communication: The Science and Technology select committee have reported on their inquiry into science communication. The report notes that public interest in science is high and rising yet most people still lack a personal connection or understanding of science, and there is low trust in science journalism. The committee report concurs with the Stern recommendation for REF to synonymise impact with associated policy-making. Furthermore, the Government has abandoned the intended anti-lobbying clause in government contracts and grants because for research grants it sent the wrong message, discouraging instead of encouraging the widest and fullest possible science communication and engagement.

The full report examines communication of science, including through social media and reaching young people. It also tackles the misrepresentation of scientific results in the media. Highlighting inaccurate interpretations of statistics, and distortion of results to sensationalise the story as source of public suspicion. The report calls for government to ensure that a robust redress mechanism is provided for when science is misreported.

It also recommends exploring multiple aspects of diversity, instead of just gender, so young people have a wide range of role models to inspire them to pursue STEM careers. There is an interesting section (paragraphs 13-21) on outreach to schools and young people in relation to the STEM skills gap and whether science communication has a role to play in addressing the STEM gap particularly through redressing negative messaging.

Recruitment: The latest UCAS statistical release reconfirms the known drop in applications – UK students down by 4% (c.25,000), EU 6% down, international applications increase by 2%.

Apprenticeships: It’s been a busy news week for apprenticeships – the Apprenticeship Levy for business is now in force and the Institute for Apprenticeships was launched on Monday. It has been confirmed that degree apprenticeships will be regulated by HEFCE (QAA) through the Annual Provider Review process, with the quality of training provision inspected by Ofsted, except where the apprenticeship standard contains a prescribed HE qualification – this will be assessed through joint working (HEFCE/Ofsted).

A recent Commons select committee report on apprenticeships has criticised the government’s apprenticeship policy stating it will not resolve the skills gaps as it is not sufficiently focussed on specific sectors nor targets key regions where training is lacking. The Committee also warns that schools are still failing to promote non-university routes.

Technical and Further Education Bill: this Bill has been amended and passed by the Lords. The Lords debate noted improvements are needed in learner support when private providers fail, alongside clarity for targeting apprenticeships in the engineering, construction, IT skills shortage areas. The Bill will now return to the Commons. If you would like more

Other news:

The Times covers Exeter University’s online masters degrees – fees will be £18,000 (same fee for UK and international students).

Radio 4 broadcast A Degree of Fraud, which covered the contract cheating services that provide bespoke essays. UK Essays claim to have sold 16,000 essays during 2016. It is reported that students can purchase a guaranteed 2:1 essay within 12 hours for £450. The broadcast also recognises Lord Storey’s campaign for parliament to outlaw bespoke writing services. You may remember this was covered in an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill which was withdrawn following reassurance from Jo Johnson who has asked the QAA to take steps to combat the ‘essay mills’.

Wonkhe discuss Hobson’s potentially mobile international student survey and look at the positive and negatives of a branch campus with a nod to the Brexit context.

The Guardian presents case studies of two disabled students who are failing to complete their studies after the reduction in disability benefits. It highlights how the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a ‘gateway benefit’ meaning students that lose it are then ineligible to access other supports such as universal credit or carer’s allowance. It is recognised that students with mental health disabilities are particularly affected.

Lily Boulle, student at the University of East London, went to Citizens Advice for help and found she was “locked out” of the benefit system. “There’s absolutely nothing you can get as a student unless you have PIP. It doesn’t make sense.”

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “Disabled students… may be eligible if they need to take time out from studying due to their condition.”

The Equality Challenge Unit published experiences of gender equality in STEMM academia which expresses disadvantages experienced by women academics (more teaching and admin, less research time, less training, limitations due to caring responsibilities) and intersects the data with ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age.