Tagged / Student loans

HE policy update for the w/e 8th December 2017

Fees and funding – the latest developments

The fees and funding discussions continue with some interesting developments this week.

Firstly, there was a written response by the Minister -responding to the Resolution of the House on 13th September 2017 on tuition fees (the non-binding one that was essentially passed unanimously because no Conservative MPs attended). The statement included a few important points and some hints:

  • Maximum grants and loans for living and other costs will be increased by forecast inflation (3.2%) in 2018/19.
  • For the first time, students starting part-time degree level courses from 1 August 2018 onwards will qualify for loans for living costs.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2018/19 early in 2018. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Department of Health will be making a separate announcement on changes to student finance for postgraduate healthcare students and dental hygiene and dental therapy students in 2018/19.

(more…)

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

OfS Regulation – Free Speech, Compulsory TEF, Student empowerment

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

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

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

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

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

The relevant bit of the consultation starts on page 32 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

The many other areas covered in detail include

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

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

The impact of universities

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

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

Student Loans and Value for Money

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

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

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

Widening Participation

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

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

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

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

International academics

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

Consultations & Inquiries

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

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

New consultations and inquiries:

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

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option 1: Tinker with the current system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option 3: Make someone else pay for HE

The government

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business

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

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

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

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

Universities

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

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

Graduates

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

Option 4: Leave tuition fees – focus on maintenance grants

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

So what’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next stop – the budget.

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update for the w/e 22nd September 2017

Fees debate

Last week started with the Sunday Times headline suggesting that the government would reduce tuition fees to £7500 and then the debate that has been continuing all summer boiled over briefly. You can read more about it on Wonkhe here.

Headline grabbing policies on tuition fees are apparently fed by the view that all those students who turned out in much increased numbers (and they did) voted Labour (which many of them did) because of their belief in the Labour policy on fees (since denounced as a lie by the Conservatives). As we wrote in our 7th July policy update when we looked at this question specifically, whether this will work to convert all those student votes is very questionable – students are not single issue voters and even if they were, living costs are probably a more immediate issue for many.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, writes in the Guardian that a Government study providing data on student income and expenditure (due to be published 18 months ago) is still being suppressed by Whitehall. Nick calls for this report to be published to underpin the current furore with a robust evidence-base.

Meanwhile living costs remain a hot topic in an article that talks about Labour “hoovering up the student vote”.

The Labour party conference takes place next week and Conservative party conference starts on 1st October so we can expect more on this over the next few weeks. There are still rumours that there will be an announcement on postponing the inflation based fee cap rise for students starting in 2018/19 (now long overdue and expected to be around £9500), that there will be announcements on reducing interest rates or increasing repayment thresholds for student loans, or just possibly something on maintenance grants.

For BU staff: Consultations, intranet and other resources

Did you know that we track sector consultations and calls for evidence and consultations that are relevant to research areas? We provide links to the documents and BU responses on our BU policy intranet pages? Read about current and previous consultations and find all the links, including to the latest tracker.

If you missed our “TEF: Going for gold” workshop with Professor Debbie Holley of CEL recently, you can read more about the latest plans for the Teaching Excellence framework, including subject level TEF, teaching intensity and learning gain on our TEF pages here You can read about the workshop on the CEL blog.

Our intranet pages cover a range of subjects, including the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 and its implications, the Industrial Strategy and Brexit. See our front page here and our “what’s happening” page here.

Industrial Strategy

The Commons BEIS Committee has published the Government’s response to its Industrial Strategy: First Review report, published in March. The Government confirmed that the Consumer and Competition Green Paper will be published in October and will be “consulting on the case for strengthening scrutiny of future overseas investment in some key parts of the UK’s critical national infrastructure. The Green Paper will set out proposals for discussion and consideration, and will invite stakeholders to provide feedback before any proposals become legislation.”

The recommendations from the report and the responses are set out below in summary:

Recommendations 1 and 2 – “The Government should outline a set of clear, outcomes-focussed metrics..”. And 2: “we recommend that the Government publishes annual updates to its action plan …the Government should also create a single dashboard of metrics …on GOV.UK”.

  • Response – “…we are considering the role of metrics in measuring the progress of the Industrial Strategy in meeting its goals. This work is part of ensuring that the Industrial Strategy endures for the long-term.” And (2) “we will be considering the most appropriate mechanisms to update on progress made by the Industrial Strategy and what analysis and data should accompany these updates.”

Recommendation 3 – “We recommend that Government reconsider giving sectoral strategies priority and instead focus on horizontal policies and specific ‘missions’ to meet UK-wide and local public policy challenges.”

  • Response – “We agree with the importance placed by the Committee on horizontal policies…However, there is also advantage in addressing the opportunities and challenges in particular industries and sectors—such as by helping create conditions for a thriving supply chain, and developing institutions in which companies can share in research and development and training. …we have proposed to set an ‘open door’ challenge to industry to come to the Government with proposals to transform and upgrade their sector through ‘Sector Deals’. This will allow us to consider and address sector-specific issues which would not otherwise be addressed through horizontal policies.”

Recommendation 4 –“We recommend that specific support for industry be guided by a targeted ‘mission-based’ approach, channelling the Government’s support towards addressing the big challenges of the future. “

  • Response –“We agree that one of the strengths of an Industrial Strategy is to be able to bring together concerted effort on areas of opportunity that have previously been in different sectors, or which require joining forces between entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers, industries, and local and national government. The Government has announced a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF)….” [read more in our Industrial Strategy update in the policy update of 25th August.]

Recommendation 5- “We recommend that the Government consider establishing a joint unit bringing together civil servants from BEIS, the Treasury, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the Department for Education to provide an inter-departmental team to develop and implement the industrial strategy.”

  • Response – “The Industrial Strategy is a Government-wide initiative. …The importance of this is demonstrated by the creation of the Economy and Industrial Strategy Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister and comprising the Secretaries of State…….A unit based within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy coordinates the development of the strategy….We do not believe that establishing a more formal joint unit will provide sufficient added value to justify the disruption to the policy development that this would cause.”

Recommendation 6 “We recommend that the Government improve the transparency of its engagement with business by publishing details of external meetings in a single, searchable database and extending publication to include all meetings ….”

  • Response –“Enhancing transparency and accountability is at the heart of our approach to government –…We have a manifesto commitment to continue to be the most transparent government in the world. …We publish details of Ministers’ and Permanent Secretary meetings with external organisations, including senior media figures, routinely on GOV.UK. Information about meetings between officials, businesses and charities are not currently held centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost. Expanding this approach to include all Senior Civil Servants would be a lengthy and costly process …”.

Recommendation 7 – “We recommend that the Government work with industry and local government to conduct a holistic review of the business services and support it offers with a view to simplifying access to advice on these in order to improve the ‘customer journey’. “

  • Response – “Government plays an important role in signposting businesses to the support and advice that they need to improve, grow and scale-up their business. Through GOV.UK, supported by a Business Support Helpline and Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) led Growth Hubs, businesses are able to receive free, impartial support, which aims to simplify their journey to finding the right advice at the right time. In the Industrial Strategy Green Paper we …highlighted that we would look to identify any potential gaps in current policy, informed by international best practice. We also announced a Scale-Up Taskforce, overseen by the Minister for Small Business, to support high growth scale-up businesses across the UK….”

Recommendation 8 – “We repeat our previous recommendation that the Government should set a target to increase R&D investment to 3 per cent of GDP and implement policies to achieve it.”

  • Response – “This Government has set out its vision to meet R&D investment of 2.4% of GDP within ten years and 3% in the longer-term. Going forward, this ambition will be an important part of our Industrial Strategy and will require a concerted cross-government approach.”

Recommendation 9 – “In line with the Secretary of State’s stated aim to support disruptors and economic innovation, we recommend that the Government review with industry whether additional steps are needed to provide regulatory certainty for emerging business models.”

  • Response – “The Green Paper recognised that new entrants, not just incumbents, play an important role within established sectors of the economy, and that innovative businesses are driving growth in important new sectors. …The Government recognises that, to do this, we must understand key technology trends, foster growth in the new sectors (such as AI and Robotics) that will become increasingly economically significant, and work with established sectors (such as Education and Insurance) as new entrants deploying new technologies and business models emerge and change sector dynamics. In line with the Green Paper commitment the Challenger Business Programme that engages new entrants in existing sectors is being expanded into a Future Sectors team. …”

Recommendation 10 – “We recommend that the Government consider the potential for greater devolution of responsibility and funding for skills to local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships….”

  • Response – “We recognise we need to bring forward a new offer on skills and technical education …which is why we’ve set out our ambitions for wide-ranging reforms to technical education in both the Industrial Strategy Green Paper and, more recently, in the Budget set out by the Chancellor in March….Alongside this we are devolving the adult education budget to the mayoral combined authorities, starting with a transition towards devolution in 2018/19. Full transfer of statutory adult education functions to the combined authorities, and delegation to the Mayor of London, will take place in 2019/20, subject to readiness conditions. …We are continuing to work towards devolution deals with England’s largest cities where they don’t have them at present. We will also be setting up Skills Advisory Panels in England that will bring together local employers, providers and LEPs to identify local skills needs and inform delivery to support local growth.”

Recommendation 11 – “we recommend that the Government exclude university students from immigration totals and promote high skilled migration to the UK on an equal “who contributes most” basis to people wishing to invest and innovate in the UK.”

  • Response – “The Government strongly welcomes genuine international students who come to the United Kingdom to study. There is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the UK and there is no intention to impose a limit on the number of international students that any institution can recruit.”
  • “Migration statistics are produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK’s independent statistical authority. It is for the ONS to determine how statistics are compiled. By including international students in its net migration calculations, the ONS is using the internationally accepted definition of migration, which includes all of those who move for more than 12 months, including students. Other major countries such Australia, Canada and the United States include students in their migration statistics.
  • “Those planning the provision of services need to know who is in this country and, like other migrants, international students have an impact on communities, infrastructure and services while they are here. So long as students are complying with the terms of their visas and returning home at the completion of their studies, the overall contribution of students to net migration should be very small and incremental growth in student numbers, along the lines of that seen in recent years, can be accommodated within the net migration target. The target does not require us to impose restrictions on student numbers and we have no intention of doing so.
  • “We recognise the value of international students and this is why we are commissioning the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to provide an objective assessment of the impact of international students.
  • “We are considering the options for our future immigration system very carefully. As part of that, it is important that we understand the impacts of different options on different sectors of the economy and the labour market. We will build a comprehensive picture of the needs and interests of all parts of the UK and look to develop a system which works for all. As part of our evidence gathering, we have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to consider patterns of EU migration and the role of migration in the wider economy, including how we align our immigration system with the Industrial Strategy. Parliament will have an important role to play in this, and we will ensure that businesses and communities have the opportunity to contribute their views.”

Recommendation 12 – “Fiscal levers can play a key role in shaping business behaviour. We recommend that Government commission an independent review bringing together broad representation to consider whether taxation levers can better be used to boost investment in physical and human capital, research and innovation.”

  • Response –“ The government recognises the role of fiscal levers in shaping business behaviour and is committed to ensuring that Britain has a competitive tax system that encourages businesses to invest. …The government keeps all tax policy under review but we do not see the case for an independent review at this time.”

Recommendation 13 – “We recommend that the Government conduct a fundamental review of the outdated structure of the business rates system….”

  • Response – “The government conducted a review of business rates in 2015. This review concluded at Budget 2016 where the government announced business rates reductions, costing nearly £9bn over the next five years, benefitting all ratepayers. …All ratepayers will benefit from the switch in indexation from RPI to the main measure of inflation (currently CPI) from April 2020. ….In addition, the government has cut the main rate of corporation tax from 28% to 19% from April 2017 and it will fall further to 17% in 2020.”

Recommendation 14 – “The Government should also consider the opportunities to further boost procurement from within the UK as part of its negotiating strategy for withdrawal from the EU.”

  • Response – “We welcome the Committee’s endorsement of our work to maximise opportunities for UK firms to compete in public procurement. The issue of how procurements should be governed following our exit from the EU is being considered as part of the wider [Brexit] process …”

Recommendations 15 and 15 – “…the Government needs to provide much greater clarity and certainty as to what steps it intends to take to intervene in foreign takeover deals and in what circumstances.” And (16) “We recommend that the Government takes steps to ensure it has the power to retain IP benefits in the UK in the event of a foreign takeover”

  • Response [Subject to change if published after the Consumer and Competition Green Paper in October]
  • “…Maintaining a clear, stable and open environment for trade and investment is, and will continue to be, core to our approach. …We will therefore be consulting on the case for strengthening scrutiny of future overseas investment in some key parts of the UK’s critical national infrastructure in order to protect against potential national security risks. The Green Paper will set out proposals for discussion and consideration, and will invite stakeholders to provide feedback before any proposals become legislation.”
  • And (16): “…When companies in receipt of public funds are taken over, Government is able to safeguard public funds by using ‘change of control’ clauses in funding agreements where they exist.”

Recommendation 17 – “The Government needs to provide clarity on the respective roles and responsibilities between national, local and regional institutions. ….While many services may best be designed at a local level, the Government needs to ensure that it avoids creating barriers to cooperation between local institutions or inadvertently introducing perverse incentives that lead to needless and inefficient duplication of services.”

  • Response – “We are conducting a review into strengthening the role of LEPs. This gives us the opportunity to consider how we can support the business voice by bringing it further into local economic decision making…”

Recommendation 18 – “We recommend that the Government set out a clear plan to close per head spending gap on infrastructure, R&D and education between London and the rest of England.”

  • Response – “The Government recognises the importance of spending on infrastructure, R&D and education to support growth across all regions of the UK. …The White Paper will be an important vehicle to consider these issues in more depth…The Green Paper recognised that, although we have world-leading centres of excellence and leading R&D clusters, we need to do more to strengthen areas outside the ‘golden triangle’ of institutions and businesses between Oxford, Cambridge and London. ….We are now considering how different policy approaches might work in the wider funding landscape for regions and places”.

Alternative and niche providers

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 of 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.

Brexit

Question to the Treasury

Q: Stephen Gethins – If he will make an assessment of whether there will be any gap in funding for UK universities during the transition from EU structural and investment funds to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

A: Elizabeth Truss – The Government made a manifesto commitment to use the EU structural and investment fund money returning to the UK after the UK leaves the EU to create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund. In October 2016 the Chancellor confirmed that HMT would guarantee funding for all multi-year ESIF projects signed ahead of the point at which the UK leaves the EU. Funding will be honoured provided that the relevant government department considers the project to provide good value for money and be in line with domestic strategic priorities.

Question on Exiting the European Union

Q: Baroness Coussins – When issues relating to the UK’s participation in the Erasmus Programme will be scheduled for discussion as part of the negotiations on exiting the EU.

A: Baroness Anelay Of St Johns – At the start of these negotiations, both sides agreed that the aim was to make progress on four key areas: citizen’s rights, the financial settlement, Northern Ireland and Ireland and broader separation issues. Both sides need to move swiftly on to discussing our future partnership, including specific European programmes we may still wish to participate in. We want that to happen after the October European Council. The UK government does recognise the value of international exchange and collaboration in education and training, and this forms part of our vision for the UK as a global nation.

Other business this week

The Education Policy Institute published Entries to arts subjects at Key Stage 4 noting a sharp decline in the numbers of pupils studying art and design; drama and theatre; media, film, and TV studies; music; dance; and performing arts. In 2016 entry rates to arts subjects at key stage 4 were the lowest in 10 years. There is evidence of a North-South divide with Southern regions more likely to choose arts options. The report also notes substantial gaps in the arts entry rates from pupils with different ethnic backgrounds. Black Caribbean pupils have particularly high entry rates, whilst pupils from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds are much less likely to take an arts option than those from other ethnic groups. The decline in entry to arts subjects will likely have a knock on effect for university applications within the subject areas by 2020. Entry rates peaked in 2014 so the 2018/19 academic year may see a higher volume of applications. The publication discusses the influence of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and of Progress 8 which may be deterring entry to arts subjects as they are not within the core subjects for the EBacc.

HEPI published The Positive and Mindful University. The report advocates creating a proactive culture where by students and staff develop their capacity to deal with adversity to prevent mental health problems manifesting. The report provides short school-based cased studies and examples from an Australian and Mexican University. Chapter 4 discusses the UK based good practice and UUK’s mental health in HE programme. Chapter 5 (page 41) sets out 10 steps to support students to make a positive transition to university.

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 28th July 2017

Migration & Brexit – the big news this week was the announcement on Thursday that there would be a major study of EU workers and the role that they play in the UK economy and society.  This has been welcomed although there has been criticism of the timing (it should have been started before and will only report in September 2018 – 6 months before the UK leaves the EU).  The committee will look at:

  • current patterns of EU and EEA migration, looking at sectors, regional distribution, skill levels, duration of assignments, self employment, entrepreneurs, part time, agency, temporary and seasonal workers, the evolution of EU and EEA migration since 2000 and possible future trends (absent new immigration controls)
  • the methods of recruitment used by UK employers to employ EU and EEA migrants and how does this impact on UK workers
  • the economic and social costs and benefits, including fiscal impacts to the UK economy and impacts on public services and infrastructure of EU and EEA migration
  • is it possible to estimate the potential impact of any future reductions in EU and EEA migration and how may these be felt differently across the economy and society? How could business adjust if EU and EEA net migration was substantially reduced? What mitigating actions could be taken by employers and government and over what timescale?
  • Aligning the UK immigration system with a modern industrial strategy
    • What is the current impact of immigration, both EU, EEA and non-EEA, on the competitiveness of UK industry, including on productivity, innovation and labour market flexibility?
    • What impact does immigration have on skills and training?
    • Is there any evidence that the free availability of unskilled labour has contributed to the UK’s relatively low rate of investment in some sectors?
    • Are there advantages to focussing migrant labour on highly skilled jobs or across the entire skills spectrum?
    • Does the shortage occupation list need to be amended to include skills shortages at lower skills levels than NQF6?
    • What lessons can be drawn from the approach taken by other countries.

The government remains steadfast in its plans to include students within net migration figures. There has been limited understanding on how far students contribute to migration until recently when Migration Watch UK published a report showing that in the last seven years nearly 200,000 grants of settlement (approx. 27,000 per year) were made to non-EU citizens who entered the UK to study.

Lord Green of Deddington, Chairman of Migration Watch UK said:   “It would be absurd to remove students from the net migration target when close to 200,000 grants of settlement in recent years were to former students. Graduates are no doubt valuable to our economy but, with immigration driving our population at the fastest annual rate for nearly 70 years, we must have an honest assessment of the contribution of students who stay on.”

Despite this recent report the quality of migration information, particularly relating to the economic activity of immigrants, is not robust and the Economic Affairs Committee has called for this to be addressed to facilitate the intended new immigration system. The Lords have also stated the Government must devise a better way of accounting for the departure of international students.

Meanwhile rumours of a transition deal whereby free movement of EU citizens into the UK will continue for two to four years after Britain leaves the EU. Politics Home reports this would allow British business to avoid the ‘cliff edge’, with a new immigration system introduced after that period.

Local MP Tobias Ellwood broke ranks recently declaring he believes the drop in EU students to be as a result of uncertainty around Brexit.

Parliamentary Questions

Q: Gordon Marsden: What plans her Department has to ensure that changes to immigration rules will not reduce the number of EU students able to study in UK universities.

A: Brandon Lewis: We are working across Government to identify and develop options to shape our future immigration system. Parliament will have an important role to play in this and we will ensure universities and the higher education sector have the opportunity to contribute their views.

Q: Gordon Marsden: What discussions she has had with university representative bodies on the effect of changes to immigration rules on students from the EU studying in UK universities.

A: Brandon Lewis:  [The same response as above was given] We are working across Government to identify and develop options to shape our future immigration system. Parliament will have an important role to play in this and we will ensure universities and the higher education sector have the opportunity to contribute their views.

Research post Brexit – Parliamentary Questions

Q: Edward Vaizey: What plans the Government has for the relationship between the UK and the European Research Council after the UK leaves the EU.

A: Joseph Johnson: This Government wants the UK to be the go-to place for researchers, innovators and investors across the world, and we intend to secure the right outcome for the UK research base as we exit the European Union. As my Rt Hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, we would welcome an agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives. However it is too early to speculate on the UK’s future relationship with the EU Research and Innovation Framework Programme, which includes the European Research Council. The Government is committed to ensuring the UK remains a world leader in international research and innovation.

T-levels delayed – Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton confirmed the first T-levels (new technical qualifications for the 16-19 age group) have been delayed until 2020, with the remaining T-level routes planned to come on board from September 2022. This was welcome news to the sector – awarding bodies had been calling for an extension to the ‘impossible’ timescale, no appointments had been made to the T-level advisory development panels, and the DfE had challenged the plan to only have one awarding body per qualification. Pippa Morgan, Head of Education & Skills at the Confederation of British Industry, said the delay was “welcome news” because the technical education reforms were “important and complicated”. David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, welcomed the timetable change because T-levels will require a “massive effort because of the complexity of the change, but also because we also collectively need to challenge the snobbery and unfairness which goes well beyond the education system”.

HE Patterns and Trends – UUK published Patterns and Trends in UK Higher Education 2017 covering the period 2006/7-2015/16.

  • Disadvantaged backgrounds – Students from a wider range of backgrounds are now entering higher education, with the number of 18-year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds on full-time undergraduate courses increasing by 52% since 2006 and reaching record levels in 2016.
  • Demand for courses  – Entrants to full-time first-degree, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research courses have increased considerably since 2006–07 (by 31.2%, 30.5% and 25.7% respectively), and the proportion of 18 year olds applying and entering HE were at record levels in 2016. However, demand for part-time courses has continued to decline, with entrants to part-time first degree courses falling by 28.6% and entrants to other part-time undergraduate courses by 63.1% since 2006-07.
  • International staff – Non-UK nationals accounted for nearly two thirds of growth in all academic staff since 2006-07. For some subjects, such as engineering, and the humanities and language-based studies, non-UK nationals have accounted for most of the growth in academic staff numbers (63.5% and 54.6% of growth between 2006–07 and 2015–16 respectively).
  • Staff equality and diversity – Between 2009–10 and 2015–16, consistent increases are reported in the number and proportion of both black and minority ethnic (BME) and female professors. BME professors increased by 50.7% over the period (compared to 10.5% for white staff) and female professors increased by 41.8% (compared to 6.5% for males), however both groups are still under-represented among professors in 2015-16.
  • Employment – Young and older graduates have had consistently lower unemployment rates and higher earnings compared with non-graduates, even during recessions. In 2016, graduates aged 21-30 were 40% less likely to be unemployed compared to non-graduates in the same age group.

Commenting on the report, Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, said: “The report covers a ten-year period that has seen significant changes for universities, both in terms of the way they are funded and their increasingly important roles locally and internationally. During this time, there has been continued growth in the overall demand for university courses and the number of younger students from disadvantaged backgrounds has increased. However, UK universities continue to face a number of challenges, including the possible impact of Brexit. We have to continue to work hard to attract the staff, students, funding and partnerships that are central to the sector’s, and the country’s, success.”

There is a forward-looking chapter on some of the emerging demographic, technological, economic and political changes and the opportunities and challenges for the sector within the full document.

Parliamentary Questions

Q: Gordon Marsden: What assessment she has made of the reasons for the decline in part-time undergraduate study among (a) higher-income households and (b) lower-income households

A: Joseph Johnson: “Studying part-time brings enormous benefits for individuals, the economy and employers. Government regularly assesses the reasons for the decline in part-time undergraduate numbers since their peak in 2008 but does not hold data on their household income background.  We are committed to helping people from all backgrounds enter higher education in a way that suits them and we have taken action to support those who to choose to study part-time. These actions include: From 2012, the offer of up-front fee loans for eligible part-time students, to level the playing field with undergraduate study; From academic year 2018/19, the introduction of undergraduate part-time maintenance loans, to bring greater parity of support between part-time and full-time; From 2015, the relaxation of Equivalent or Lower Qualification rules, so students who already hold an honours degree qualification and wish to study part-time on a second honours degree course in engineering, technology or computer science, have qualified for fee loans for their course. This is being extended for academic year 2017/18 to graduates starting a second part-time honours degree course in any STEM subject”.

Q: Angela Rayner: What assessment she has made of the effect of (a) rising tuition fees and (b) the abolition of maintenance grants on the increasing proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are dropping out of higher education; and if she will make a statement.

A: Joseph Johnson: “The Department for Education published an equality analysis in May 2016, to cover the reforms set out in the Success as a Knowledge Economy White Paper , that were subsequently taken forward through the Higher Education and Research Act (2017). This included an assessment of the impact of allowing institutions who were successful in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) assessment process to increase their fees up to inflation. The Department also published in December 2016 an Equality Analysis for the 2017/18 student finance package, which covered both the increase in fees and accompanying loan support. These assessments concluded that this change was unlikely to significantly alter participation decisions. Tuition fees will not increase in real terms and Higher Education and publicly funded institutions will remain free at the point of access for those who are eligible, as tuition fee loans will increase to cover increased tuition fees”.  Equality Analysis – Higher Education and Research Bill (published May 2016).

  • “The Government is committed to maintaining the UK’s world class higher education system while living within its means and ensuring all those with the talent to benefit from a higher education can afford to do so. To put higher education funding onto a more sustainable footing, the Government asked future graduates to meet more of the costs of their studies through replacing maintenance grants with loans. The equality analysis for the 2016/17 student support regulations assessed the impact of this policy change, including the impact on students from low income backgrounds.” 
  • “Non-continuation rates for UK students at English Higher Education Institutions are lower than in 2009/10, including for the most disadvantaged students. Analysis by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has found that students’ age, subject studied and entry qualifications account for a substantial portion of the gap between the most and least disadvantaged students.
  • “Young people from the poorest areas are now 43% more likely to go to university than they were in 2009/10. Not only are application rates among 18-year-olds in England at record highs, but drop-out rates for young, mature, disadvantaged and BME students are all lower now than they were when the coalition government came to power in 2010.
  • “By measuring retention rates as one of its core metrics and requiring all participating providers to submit a statement for fair access, the TEF aims to recognise those institutions that do the most to welcome students from a range of backgrounds and support their retention and progression to further study or a graduate job.
  • “We want to continue to see reduced non-continuation rates for all students. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 requires institutions to publish admissions and retention data by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background, and this greater transparency will help the Higher Education sector make further progress to build on what has already been achieved. We are working closely with HEFCE and the Director of Fair Access to target resources effectively and to ensure that universities take more responsibility for widening access and retention for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, prioritising activities that demonstrate the greatest value for money.”

Local issues

Local MP Christopher Chope intends to present a large number of Private Members’ Bills when parliament reconvenes in September.  Private Members’ Bills rarely complete the process to become legislation – there is a ballot as to which are discussed but the limitations on parliamentary time means they do not get often get much further.   Some of the Bills proposed by Mr Chope include:

  • Voter Registration – a Bill seeking to prohibit persons from being registered to vote in Parliamentary elections in more than one constituency; and for connected purposes. [This is in direct contrast to the Lords’ amendments during the Higher Education and Research Bill which aimed to increase overall numbers of students registered to vote by facilitating cooperation between universities and local Councils but picks up on press stories that students may have voted twice, increasing the Labour vote.]
  • Student Loans (Debt Interest) – a Bill to limit the rate of interest chargeable on outstanding student loan debt; and for connected purposes.
  • Student Loans (Debt Discharge) – a Bill to make provision about the forgiveness or discharge of student loan debt in certain circumstances; to make provision about the treatment of student loan debt in bankruptcy proceedings; and for connected purposes.
  • Principal Local Authorities (Grounds for Abolition) – a Bill to prohibit principal local authorities being abolished in the absence of the authority of its elected councillors and a local referendum; and for connected purposes. [this one is directly linked to the proposals for the merger of Dorset local authorities, which Christchurch have opposed]
  • Benefits and Public Services (Restriction) – a Bill to make provision to restrict the entitlement of non-UK citizens to publicly-funded benefits and services; and for connected purposes.

Student Loans and Tuition Fees

The “national debate” continues with a lot of political squabbling and big focus from the government in criticising the Labour party’s alleged u-turn on writing off existing loans.  Andrew McGettigan has written a blog on some inaccuracies in the reporting – our conclusion, it’s all very complicated and simple headlines are probably inaccurate.  There were two parliamentary questions this week:

Q: Lord Hunt Of Kings Heath: What assessment they have made of the report of the Institute for Fiscal Studies on the public cost of student loans.

A: Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The Government has noted the recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The student funding system is fair and sustainable. The cost of the system is not an unintended loss, nor a waste of public money. It is the policy subsidy required to make higher education widely available, achieving the Government’s objectives of increasing the skills in the economy and ensuring access to university for all with the potential to benefit.

Q: Lord Hunt Of Kings Heath: What estimate they have made of the long-term cost of providing student loans.

A: Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The Government’s reforms to the undergraduate student finance system have ensured that it is financially sustainable for the taxpayer in the long-term, while enabling those with the talent to benefit from a higher education to be able to afford to do so. The Resource Accounting and Budgeting (RAB) charge estimates the value of loans that will not be repaid during their 30-year term, expressed as a percentage of the loan outlay made in the relevant year. For full time tuition fee and maintenance loans and part time fee loans issued in 2016/17, we estimate the RAB charge to be around 30%.

Although so far this summer things haven’t gone particularly quiet, we are expecting less policy news over the next few weeks, so we will only send an update if there is enough interesting news – we’ll be back at full tilt in September.

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.

HE policy update w/e 24th March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HE policy update w/e17th March 2017

Brexit:

  • Research Professional illustrates the Brexit threats to research positioning and job losses by highlighting the difficulties facing an EU astronomy consortium. The consortium represents seven countries, led by the UK, but will move headquarters to an EU member state from January 2021. The move means the UK will lose the project’s leadership and the 12 UK universities may not continue post-Brexit. Research Professional notes that while access to research infrastructures is available to non-EU states, the EU membership plays a significant role in decisions on where to locate facilities. Gerry Gilmore (the consortium leader, from University of Cambridge) stated:
    The UK will lose substantial scientific leadership and influence in the EU. There is going to be bad news all around. I don’t think people realise how many new jobs and new opportunities have just been destroyed.”
  • The EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has survived the parliamentary process and received Royal Assent on 16th March (BBC). This bill allows the Prime Minister to notify the EU of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU. The Lords made two amendments to the Bill – one relating to Parliament having a “meaningful vote” on the final arrangements and one requiring a guarantee for EU citizens to remain in the UK. The bill was approved by the House of Commons, which rejected the Lords bill and then went back to the Lords under what is called “ping-pong”. The Lords voted again on both issues but the House of Lords majority backed down and the bill was passed. The PM is expected to trigger article 50 later in March.
  • 2018/19 EU student and staff guarantees: During oral questions in the Lords Baroness Royall of Blaisdon pressed the government spokesperson (Viscount Younger of Leckie) when announcements would be made regarding fees and access to loans for 2018/19 EU student starters. Leckie gave a side stepping response: “The noble Baroness makes the important point that there are uncertainties arising from Brexit, but the Government have moved rapidly to give assurances to this sector… “We have also provided similar assurances that EU nationals starting courses in 2016-17 and 2017-18 remain eligible for Research Council postgraduate support. As I have said, we will ensure that students starting in 2018-19 have the information well in advance

International students:

  • The debate over the inclusion of international students in the long-term migrant numbers continues. Even senior ministers are rebelling – Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and Liam Fox have all protested, although Jo Johnson continues to toe the party line backing the PM’s stance to include international students within the original immigration statistics. Liam Fox spoke out this week about the value of overseas campuses.
  • On Monday the House of Lords defeated the government on the Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB), approving an amendment to prevent international students being counted as long-term migrants. The government have responded that “the proposed amendment would create a situation where we were potentially unable to apply basic visa checks, or impose conditions on a student visa. It would also mean that fresh primary legislation were needed just to make minor, technical changes to immigration rules.” (Wonkhe)
  • HERB is scheduled to have its third reading in the Lords on 22 March 2017 and then will go back to the Commons. The PM’s stance on international students seems rock solid (Financial Times) and Theresa May is not expected to waiver – the parliamentary ping pong regarding international students will surely make headlines over the coming weeks.
  • Meanwhile there are worries about student recruitment. Politics Home quotes an Office for National Statistics release stating the number of students coming to the UK dropped by 41,000 in 2016.

Higher Education and Research Bill:

  • The HE and Research Bill has finished its third reading in the House of Lords (although it will have to go back if the House of Commons makes any changes, as seems likely).  The report stage in the Lords is on 22nd March – usually only technical or minor amendments are made at this stage.  The current version of the bill as amended by the Lords is here.
  • The surprise amendment on international students is referred to above.
  • The government won the final vote on the proposed amendment that would have required UKRI and OfS to jointly revoke research degree awarding powers, the amendment was defeated. Wonkhe report that Lord Mackay made an impassioned speech noting that it was “extraordinary” that the OfS was not required to have any expertise or experience regarding research, and yet had the unilateral power to revoke research degree awarding powers, but to no avail. The Bill continues to say that research degree-awarding powers should be made by the OfS with advice from UKRI.

With long debates, late nights and a large number of amendments, it is fair to say that HERB has received an excellent level of scrutiny within the Lords. Lord Prior of Brampton notes: “Everyone who has contributed [to the Bill debates] can take some credit for having improved it considerably. For me, it is a good example of the value this House can bring to a Bill of this kind.”

HEFCE 2017/18 funding to universities: The grant letter details the overall funding to the sector for 2017/18. It includes doubled funding for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (£60m pa), an additional £17m increase for mainstream quality-related research, a reduction of £40m for teaching (including a reduction in PGT FTE funding rate), maintaining the disabled students premium at the 2016/17 level, the inclusion of nursing, midwifery and allied health professions (£32m), cuts to the student premium budget for full time UG of £20m (part time UG funding remains static). Institutions will receive individual allocations in April although with a publication embargo in force until May. Capital allocations will be announced in March.

Student Loans Sale: A parliamentary question tabled by Steve McCabe requested publication of the ‘in-depth market testing exercise associated with the same of the student loan book. Jo Johnson has responded: “The Government ran a market testing process with a cross-section of potential investors in the student loan book from the end of September into November 2016. This sought feedback on potential sale structures and key features of the transaction and informed the design of the sale. This was a commercial rather than a public process and was conducted under non-disclosure agreements. We do not intend to publish a report of the details. Protecting the details of the conclusions of market testing will help the ongoing sale process achieve value for money for taxpayers.

Student Fees: On Thursday 16th the Petitions Committee released its latest decisions regarding recent petitions with a high number of signatures. This included a petition to government to change the University fees from £9250 back to the £3000 fee. The Committee agreed to wait for the Higher Education and Research Bill to complete its passage through Parliament before deciding whether to schedule a debate – effectively this was a dismissal of the petition.

Research Excellence Framework  The responses to the REF2021 consultation were due in by midday on 17th March.

  • There has been a lot of focus on one area, the definition of “research active staff” for the returns – there are some interesting views:
  • HEFCE blog (and BU’s reply) – HEFCE are proposing a negotiated definition for each university, BU is proposing all staff should be returned, including teaching only
  • Royal Society blog on Research Professional – they say staff shouldn’t be returned at all, it should be institutional
  • The PVC (Research and Enterprise) from Hertfordshire says on Times Higher Education that the solution is flawed and that clarity is needed

There are many other issues in the REF consultation, including the portability of outputs, which will have important consequences for institutions and their staff. The HEFCE REF consultation on the implementation of the REF 2021 closed on 17 March 2017.  You can read BU’s response here.