Well, anyone who thought the Minister would have less to do in this session of Parliament, other than oversee the implementation of the Higher Education and Research Act, was underestimating him. Rather unexpectedly he demonstrated yesterday that he had fully embraced the Fusion model (he calls it a three legged stool) by announcing a new excellence framework for knowledge exchange to sit alongside REF and TEF. We have a bit on each, along with an update on that funding review (what funding review) and some other news.
New Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)
REF, TEF (even when it’s TESOF, see below) and now the KEF….a new excellence framework has been announced by the Minister at the annual HEFCE conference.
Described by the Minster (apparently) as the “third leg of the HE stool” this new framework will be run by Research England (under its head (designate), David Sweeney, and also responsible for the REF). Like the REF, the KEF will have a clear cash “carrot” for participation and to motivate high performance – it will provide a new method for allocating Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF).
The story was all about the UK’s competitiveness. The Minister celebrated the quality of UK research but challenged the sector to have more connection to the wider world and impact on the economy, to justify the “outsize role” that universities play in Research and Development in the UK – compared to industry. He said:
- “…the system needs to find a new gear. University income from business engagement is growing more slowly than the economy as a whole, with British universities producing fewer spin-outs and less licensing income per pound of research resource than US counterparts. As a greater proportion of R&D takes place in universities in the UK than in other countries, it’s especially important that we get this right.”
- “Over half of the money the UK taxpayer provides for R&D goes to the Higher Education sector – £4.8bn out of £8.8bn in 2015.
- The result is that a far greater proportion of R&D – 26% – takes place in our universities – than in comparable countries, with 20% in France, 17% in Germany, 13% in the US and 12% in Japan.
- This funding arrangement has helped ensure the excellence of British universities and their strong performance in international league tables, which give a heavy weighting to research.
- But the fact that by international standards an unusually large proportion of our R&D activity takes place within our universities brings with it increased responsibilities.”
There is more on Wonkhe, who report that it will have a 5 year cycle like the REF. A consultation on the KEF via Research England is expected to follow, including consideration of measures to benchmark university-business collaborate performance as well as knowledge exchange. For Research Professional, Martin McQuillan writes:
“The change to annual allocations was intended to introduce dynamism into knowledge-exchange delivery plans. The KEF, it seems, will be more like the REF and will distribute funding on a cyclical basis. The dynamic would be retained through the competitive element that will undoubtedly follow from the introduction of another metric-based framework for universities. However, if the KEF is to truly promote innovation then it will need to find a way to answer criticism of REF methodology that is often identified as rewarding retrospective achievement. “
Both the Times and the Times Higher ran stories on the KEF and the Financial Times considers Britain’s patchy success with spin-off companies, including the strain involvement in such companies places on academics.
The Minister also announced:
- more money for Science and Innovation Audits (we reported on the last wave recently)
- additional funding for HEIF. This further reinforces the focus on research funding for innovation and commercialisation, which is evident in the Industrial Strategy – concerns have already been raised about the implications for funding for fundamental research which does not have an immediate application and for research in the humanities and the arts. The Minister said that Research England would look at the balance between HEIF and QR funding in part to address the concern about fundamental research.
- 4 new projects under the Connecting Capability fund
While the press focus is all on commercialisation, it is important to think about knowledge exchange more widely – public engagement, business engagement and the impact of research on policy and practice are all relevant, so we look forward to the consultation.
You can read about the Science and Innovation Audits and the 4 new Connecting Capability projects here.
On 9th October 2017, 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).
- 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.
- Other changes, including flags for very high and very low absolute values, and the change of emphasis on the NSS were also announced recently.
- Also remember, the subject level pilot is also starting this year, along with a pilot of new metrics on teaching intensity.
This includes confirmation that:
“We are very pleased to note that our detailed analysis showed that the TEF outcomes were not affected by the characteristics of students (ethnicity, gender, disability or background), nor the region where a provider was located”.
The report notes that although they are concerned about the mis-perceptions of the Gold, Silver, Bronze ratings, they will not change.
“Access to higher education is primarily linked to students’ prior educational attainment. The entry rates for 18 year olds from all ethnic groups increased in 2016, reaching the highest recorded values for each group. 18 year olds from all ethnic groups were more likely to enter Higher Education than those from the White group. In 2016, Chinese former state school pupils had the highest Higher Education entry rate (58%) compared with 29% of White pupils.”
The website has a heading for FE and HE with no HE data in it.
Responses include two from the Office for Fair Access:
REF/TEF and the Office for Students
BU hosted a conference this week on REF/TEF: the connections, at which the interplay between the REF and the TEF were discussed from a range of perspectives, including Kim Hackett from HEFCE and our VC, Professor John Vinney. I’m hoping that there will be a write up of the day, but in the meantime you can catch some of the highlights on twitter via #BUConnections.
So it was interesting that the Telegraph reported a speech by Nicola Dandridge at the NUS with the headline “research in universities must not be pursued at the expense of students”.
- Ms Dandridge said that the OfS would be focussing on the “success and excellence of the student and graduate”. She added that for many universities, teaching students and research are closely linked, and many institutions may continue to define themselves in ways that reflect this. “But this is the point: that focus on research must not eclipse students’ interests,” she continued. “The indivisible whole must not make students invisible. Of course research in universities is essential. But it must not come at the expense of students.”
- Her warning comes amid a growing debate over university funding, with ministers and campaigners calling on higher education institutions to prove they offer students value for money. In her speech to the National Union of Students (NUS), Ms Dandridge said addressing this question would be critical to her organisation moving forward. “This is partly about justifying the tuition fees that you are paying and ensuring providers are using that money efficiently, and not extravagantly,” she added. “It is also about recognising the value of your commitment in terms of time and opportunity: is the quality of your course, your learning and your wider experience at university stretching, stimulating, inspiring and challenging? Are you getting the support that you need? Will it help you get a job, and generally did it match your expectations? “In short, are you happy with the contract that exists between you and your university or provider?”
The Guardian has an interview with Ms Dandridge in which she discusses being prepared to see a university go under, vice-chancellors’ salaries and why she thinks changes to tuition fees won’t affect the TEF.
- “Having a primary responsibility to students could mean making tough decisions, especially on funding and the viability of institutions. Would she really be prepared to see universities go to the wall? “Yes, if that’s in the student interest”, she says. “Our concern in those circumstances is not to protect, to prop up, a failing institution.””
- “Transparency, she says firmly, “is going to be one of the values that is likely to underpin what the OfS is”. Transparency will also be part of the new regulatory framework for universities the OfS will oversee, but the details will depend on a consultation to be launched imminently.”
Dandridge also announced she would create a 10-student panel to advise the OfS. Wonkhe report: the panel’s views will influence the setup of OfS, and contribute to the decision making process – it will ensure the OfS actively involves students, and will focus particularly on underrepresented groups. In response Jim Dickinson blogs on previous quango inadequacies in working with student panels.
In Wednesday’s adjournment debate Jo Johnson confirmed the DfE would be launching a consultation on behalf of the Office for Students that would:
- Include a proposed condition of registration requiring providers to publish information on their student transfer arrangements.
- Include proposals to introduce a new condition of registration requiring the governing bodies of providers with access to student support to publish the number of staff paid more than £100,000 a year and justify the number earning more than £150,000.
- Compile and publish data on salary breakdowns by protected characteristic and look at potential race and gender pay disparities
That review of HE funding – and related issues
There is still no news of the review of funding. A Times Higher article speculates that (should the review happen) if it’s politically motivated it could mean further turbulence for the sector depending on the political status machinations behind it. Andy Westwood (University of Manchester) believes the Government have “some very clear objectives” including “price differentiation, price objective, price competition and a big theme on value for money and cross subsidy”. Westwood went on to critique suggestions of establishing fee caps linked to graduate outcomes noting how it was contrary to industrial strategy priorities which specifically aim to redress regional economic differences.
Gordon Marsden has asked a parliamentary question about it.
Q – Gordon Marsden has tabled the following question (due for answer on Monday 16 Oct): When she will set out further details about the review of university funding announced by the Prime Minister at the Conservative Party Conference
An Early Day Motion (EDM) was tabled by Stephen Lloyd (Lib Dem) this week criticising the student loan interest rate:
“That this House deplores the recent rise in the interest rate for many student loan holders to 6.1 per cent when the current Bank of England base rate is 0.25 per cent; is concerned by the potential financial impact this will have on account holders and their families; and calls on the Government to set the interest rate no higher than the current RPI.”
The EDM received no further signatures.
During a Commons Urgent Question Angela Rayner (Labour) pressed Jo Johnson to make a statement on HE funding. While there was no new news the debate was engaging – read it here. It covered:
- the freezing of 2018/19 tuition fees at the current maximum level;
- the increase to £25,000 loan repayment threshold;
- following questions Jo Johnson indicated that maintenance funding was under ‘continual review’ alongside the other element of student finance;
- reiterated the Government’s aspirations to support individuals from a disadvantaged background;
- value for money and the TEF – Jo Johnson: “[increased student funding] is enabling our universities to do the great job we need them to do”;
- Layla Moran (Lib Dem) called for the government to review which subjects received the high cost top-up payments;
- Johnson defended the need for the HE sector to be well funded: “..the system is working for universities. Our universities are 25% better funded per student and per degree than they were under the old student finance system, before the 2011 reforms. That is of fundamental importance. Does the Labour party really want our universities not to have the resources they need to do excellent teaching and to deliver great research?”
- Johnson discussed FE, and on apprenticeships stated: “Degree apprenticeships are a very promising way of combining the best of higher education and further education. We want them to develop and grow and we want more providers in the system to offer them. They have huge potential.”
- Johnson also mentioned accelerated degrees: “We want many more providers…to start to offer two-year programmes. We will come forward with proposals very shortly to enable the rapid expansion of two-year degrees throughout our system.”
So a full house for players of HE Policy Bingo!
Brexit and International Students
Meanwhile, Brexit talks continue and the Migration Advisory Committee has launched its call for evidence on the impact of international students. BU will be responding to this so let us know if you want to be involved.
Q – Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): During Oral Questions Lord Hunt asked Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to ensure that the benefits to the United Kingdom arising from European Union students studying at United Kingdom universities will be maintained post-Brexit
A – Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con): EU and international students enrich the UK financially and culturally. We will always ensure that our world-class higher education sector can attract students from Europe and elsewhere overseas. To support evidence-based decision-making on the future migration system we have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to report on the impact of EU and international students. To provide certainty to prospective EU students we have guaranteed that those starting courses in 2018-19 or before will remain eligible for student support.
The question commenced debate and was followed by calls for further guarantees of support to be made to EU students commencing 2019/20 onwards – Viscount Younger stuck to the party line maintaining that future policy was dependent on Brexit negotiations.
International Students (Lords Oral Question)
Recent Office for National Statistics data demonstrated that few international students overstay their visas. During the Lords Oral Parliamentary Questions on Wednesday this was reiterated alongside revisiting the debate on whether international students should be removed from the net migration figures. There was no change to government policy and students remain within the net migration figures. A truncated version of the exchange follows:
- Lord Holmes of Richmond: My Lords, since 2010, the number of international students coming to the UK has fallen by 6%, while the global market has increased by 7%, with an estimated cost to the UK economy of £9 billion. Does my noble friend agree that this summer’s statistics clearly evidence that there is no material issue with international students overstaying their visas, as 97.4% stayed within those terms? Does she also agree that we need to get out the message, through the FCO, the British Council and all channels and good offices: “Students of the world, you are so welcome here—come study in the UK and be part of our future”?
- Baroness Williams of Trafford: I agree totally with the points that my noble friend makes. It is very pleasing to see that students are in a very compliant environment.
- Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): Does she therefore recognise that it might be better if her reply respected the vote of this House by a majority of 94 that students should not be considered as economic migrants, which they are not? Will the Government’s White Paper on immigration, due in a few weeks, cover that issue?
- Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD): My Lords, at present, the number of international students is clearly more than 100,000. If the Government persist in their commitment to keep immigration under the tens of thousands, does that mean that there is no scope for increasing the number of international students, for which there appears to be cross-party support as it would benefit the UK economy?
- Baroness Williams of Trafford: There is no limit on the number of international students who come to this country, and we welcome them all.
- Lord Cormack (Con): Cannot my noble friend accept that there is an overwhelming view in this House that it would be sensible and entirely prudent to treat students separately, particularly at this juncture in our national affairs?
- Baroness Williams of Trafford: I am neither deaf nor blind to the views of noble Lords on student migration.
Alternative Providers – HEFCE have published their second blog on Alternative Providers focussing on academic quality, student protection and regulatory oversight.
Contract Cheating – QAA have released their review Contracting to Cheat in Higher Education – How to Address Contract Cheating, the Use of Third-Party Services and Essay Mills. It aims to establish best practice and urges institutions to do more to promote academic integrity. Including additional linguistic analysis software, blocking access to known essay mill websites from university IT services, and working to prevent local advertising of cheating services. The Telegraph covered contract cheating on Thursday highlighting it’s even possible to get a PhD dissertation within two weeks if students are willing to pay a high price. A Conversation article by Thomas Lancaster (Staffordshire University) looks at how overseas universities have tackled the essay mills through national interventions.
Subject Choice – Ofqual have released a report which considers the public perception that language and STEM studies are more difficult than others and discusses the effect this perception has on subject selection.
Learning Gain: at the HEFCE conference Madeleine Atkins announced new investment in learning gain projects – more to follow on this one.
Apprenticeships: Wonkhe reports that “Statistics released yesterday by the Department for Education show that the number of participants in higher-level apprenticeships – the category which includes degree apprenticeships – rose by over a third (37.4%) in the 2016-17 academic year compared to the year before. There were 2.5% fewer overall apprenticeship starts in 2016-17 compared to the previous year, however higher level apprenticeships again fared well relative to the previous year with 35.1% more students enrolling. Since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy earlier this year, there have been 18,500 starts supported by levy funds.”
Polytechnics revived: Lord Adonis, linked to his other campaigns over the summer, has repeated his suggestion that “former polys” should be “stripped of university status” for the Daily Mail. The article suggests that polytechnics) (mentioning those established in the 60s) have tried to copy their prestigious counterparts, that these degrees from some of the “lower-ranking institutions” are not valued, and that the shift has caused the neglect of technical qualifications.
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