HE policy update for the w/e 9th November 2018

Two major reports out this week covering value for money and international students plus all the excitement and intense debate from Wonkfest. Enjoy!

Value for Money in HE

The Education Select Committee have published their inquiry report on Value for Money in Higher Education. The committee calls on both universities and the Government to ensure better outcomes for students, expand degree apprenticeships, make university more accessible to a more diverse range of students and tackle Vice-Chancellor pay. Here are the key recommendations taken from the report:

Value for Money for Students and the Tax Payer

  • Every higher education institution should publish a breakdown of how tuition fees are spent on their websites by end 2018. The OfS should intervene if this deadline is not met.
  • Self-regulated senior management pay is unacceptable. The OfS should publish strict criteria for universities on acceptable levels of pay that could be linked to average staff pay, performance and other measures that the Office for Students sees fit.

The Quality of HE

  • The Committee welcomed the independent review of TEF and recommended it focus on how the exercise is used by students to inform and improve choice. The review must include an assessment of how TEF is used in post-16 careers advice.
  • Institutions should move away from a linear approach to degrees, and enable more part-time, mature and disadvantaged students to study in higher education. The Committee recommended that the Government’s current post-18 review develop a funding model which allows a range of flexible options including credit transfer and ‘hopping on and off’ learning. More flexible approaches to higher education should be supplemented by the option for undergraduates of studying for two-year accelerated degrees alongside the traditional three-year model. However, The introduction of two-year degrees must not create a two-tier system where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged to take them on the basis of cost.


  • The Committee expressed extreme disappointment in the response from the Institute for Apprenticeships to widespread concerns from the higher education sector on the future of degree apprenticeships. The report urges the Institute to make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority. Degree qualifications must be retained in apprenticeship standards, and the Institute must remove the bureaucratic hurdles which universities are facing.
  • The Committee believes some of the money which is currently allocated by the Office for Students for widening access could be better spent on the development and promotion of degree apprenticeships and support for degree apprentices to climb the ladder of opportunity.
  • The implementation of T-Level qualifications from 2020 could offer improved access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Government should engage with universities and UCAS in order to determine an appropriate tariff weighting prior to the introduction of T-levels.

Social Justice

  • The Office for Students must clamp down on the rise in unconditional offers. Their steep increase is detrimental to the interests of students and undermines the higher education system as a whole.
  • The Committee recommends a move away from the simple use of entry tariffs as a league table measure towards contextual admissions, foundation courses and other routes to entry. Institutions should state their contextualisation policies in their application information.

Graduate Employability

  • Student choice is central to the debate over value for money in higher education. Our inquiry found a woeful lack of pre-application and career information, advice and guidance, particularly awareness of degree apprenticeships. The Government’s current post-18 review must look at routes into higher education, and the quality of careers advice which students receive.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, Learning and Work Institute, talks of value beyond fee calculations, stating:

  • Today’s report from the Education Select Committee on Value for Money in Higher Education places a welcome focus on the need for greater flexibility within the higher education offer. It rightly recognises that the ‘one size fits all’ approach of 3 year full-time study often excludes those who need to balance learning with work or caring responsibilities, or with poor health or disability.
  • In the context of an ever-changing economy, where people need to learn and develop their skills throughout their lives, Learning and Work Institute have repeatedly argued that the collapse in part-time and mature learners is disastrous. The recommendations made to create more flexible models of study, grow degree apprenticeships and re-instate maintenance grants have the potential to help turn around this decline.
  • While much of the public debate around higher education focuses on tuition fees, this report helpfully recognises that value is not just about cost. The Committee’s call for greater transparency on the returns to higher education, notably through earnings and employment outcomes is important in supporting learners to make good choices.
  • Taken together, the report provides a welcome steer to the forthcoming Augar review that higher education needs to be more inclusive, and deliver a better deal for all of its learners.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Exec OfS, stated:

  • “We are already responding specifically to a number of areas highlighted in the report. We are preparing a new approach to significantly reduce gaps in access, success and progression for disadvantaged students. Through the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes framework (TEF) we promote excellent teaching and improve information for students including student employment outcomes.”

She went on to state OFS support for degree apprenticeships, the analysis of unconditional offers and the impact this has on students, and to reiterate messaging around VC’s pay.

Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Select Committee who produced the Value for Money report writes a short piece in the Guardian to defend the Committee’s recommendations. This is the Guardian piece he responded to.

Research Professional write: Universities may find a much-needed friend in the Commons education committee.

Accelerated Degrees

As the Value for Money report places emphasis on flexibility of learning design and accelerated options a recent IFF Research report is being circulated which considers the attractiveness of accelerated provision to international students. 59% of the international students surveyed hadn’t heard of accelerated degrees, but once explained 44% stated they would consider studying through accelerated provision. You can read a short summary of the research here.

16-19 Funding

Meanwhile the House of Commons Library has produced a briefing paper on changes in 16-19 education funding since 2010. It details the reforms and changes to the funding approach in the period and cautions against comparing funding over time. It lists the four main issues that have recently caused discontent within 16-19 funding circles:

  • The overall level of funding and the lower level of 16-19 per student funding compared to per student funding in secondary and higher education.
  • Underspends on the 16-19 education budget in 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17.
  • The absence of a VAT refund scheme for sixth form colleges (such a scheme exists for schools and academies).
  • The funding requirement that students who have not attained certain GCSE grades in maths and English must continue to study those subjects post-16.

The Library produces these briefings to ensure that parliamentarians have sufficient background and brief on a topic to ensure informed discussion within the Houses. There was an Education Select Committee hearing on school and college funding on Tuesday (contact Sarah if you would like a summary of the session). The select committee content is timely and comes at a time when the HE sector is awaiting the outcomes of the post-18 review of education and funding.


Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec of Universities UK, took to the press this week to respond to last week’s rumours that the Government were considering cutting HE fees as part of their review of post-18 funding and education. Alistair argues against fee cuts stating it would throw social mobility into reverse. He goes on:

  • Without a cast-iron guarantee that Treasury cash will cover the shortfall, we may once again see a cap on numbers that will be a lid on aspiration. It will mean bigger class sizes, poorer facilities and less student choice. It will weaken research and throw into doubt hopes that the UK will become a high-productivity, high-wage economy

He restates familiar points that highlight that fee cuts will benefit mid-high income graduates only. He highlights the 82% increase in disadvantaged students commencing university since the fee introduction.

  • “A cut in fees without the funding gap being met in full would be a political, educational and academic dead end. Some institutions could close, excluding tens of thousands of disadvantaged students. Most universities would face serious funding problems. The world-class education they provide, and which students expect, would be compromised.
  • Any reduction in funding would damage universities’ ability to deliver the skills that 21st-century businesses need. The UK already faces a talent deficit of between 600,000 and 1.2 million skilled workers by 2030. Teaching cannot be separated from research. Fewer academics will mean fewer discoveries.”

Martin Lewis continues his campaign to prepare parents for the financial contribution they are expected to make to top up their children’s living costs while at University. He has released a video warning parents and the article gives indicative levels of how much parents might have to save:

  • “This is a warning for parents of all teenagers. Now over 50% of our young people go on to university. And while you commonly hear that you don’t need to pay for that upfront, it’s no longer true – there is a hidden parental contribution.
  • …students get a living loan too, but the thing they don’t tell you is it’s means tested, and therefore the gap between the full loan and the amount you get is effectively a parental contribution…the impact is huge; the amount of living loan the student gets is reduced from family income of £25,000 and by the time you reach around £60,000 depending on circumstances, the amount they get is halved.
  • My problem though is when students receive their living loan letter, it tells them the amount of loan you’re getting: “You’re going to get £5,000 for your living loan.” What it doesn’t do though is tell them: “The full loan is £10,000. The reason you are only getting £5,000 is because of that means testing – the gap of £5,000 is effectively the parental contribution.”
  • So if your family income is over around £60,000, start preparing to save £15,000. If your total family income is under £25,000, you don’t need to save anything. If your family income is in the middle, £45,000, you want to be saving around £7,500 for your kids to go to university.”

OfS approach to insolvent providers

No bail out

In the policy update last week under the heading of Boom and bust we described how the recruitment crisis has allegedly left some universities on the brink of insolvency. This week Michael Barber, Chair of the OfS, has reiterated messages that the OfS will not rescue failing institutions:

  • “Universities make a huge contribution to students and the wider economy. Nobody wants to see them fail. However, bailouts would neither be good for students nor fair for taxpayers. It would just delay the inevitable.
  • We will not bail out universities or other course providers in financial difficulty…it would be irresponsible to give more public money to people who are demonstrably unable to manage their institution in a sustainable way. Nor would it be responsible to sit and wait for institutions to run into difficulty, or to leave students in the lurch once it occurs.
  • This doesn’t mean that we would do nothing if a university failed…Where failure is a possibility, we will work to protect the student interest…Our core principle is that students should be able to continue and complete their studies where they want. If this is not possible, they should be compensated.” Source

While the message is clear, others within the sector seem to be adding caveats to this hard line approach.  Wonkhe report that Gyimah had a softer message than Barber. Gyimah stated “there’s a difference between messing up your business model and the result of policy decisions”. (He was talking about the Open University).  Gyimah responded that cases would “be considered one-by-one”.

Sam also announced DfE were looking at student accommodation costs and didn’t rule out the possibility of rent controls. Watch the full footage of Sam Gyimah in conversation with Mark Leach of Wonkhe (here) and read an analysis here.

Meanwhile the Huff Post spills the beans that one of the HE provider’s reported to be in financial jeopardy isn’t on the OfS’s new register because the OfS is overwhelmed by the volume of new providers attempting to join the register. The article suggests this leaves students in a dire position without financial protection because the student protection plan isn’t in force. Excerpt:

  • Yet the OfS refused to comment when asked by HuffPost UK about what it would do should an institution fail before it was fully registered. It said instead that it would seek to use powers held by the defunct Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which it replaced.

Research Professional provides an alternative viewpoint to in their article What is the regulator for? arguing that

  • “any newspaper could have run a headline about universities being in financial difficulties at any point in the past 25 years. For a long time, the Higher Education Funding Council for England kept a register of institutions at risk. Up to a dozen universities were said to be on it at any given time.”

Free Speech

Michael Barber also spoke on free speech at Wonkfest (his slides) stating that the focus on no platforming invited speakers is

  • only one part of the issue. It is also about diversity of perspective in seminars and lectures, about the way in which unpopular ideas are debated rather than suppressed.”
  • “There is a tendency currently to suggest that students should be protected from ideas that they may make them feel ‘uncomfortable.’ – Barber notes a US, not UK example – I also want to be sure it is not where we are headed because it is to totally miss the point; when students are faced with such ideas, universities should teach them to listen, to understand and then argue with vigour a different case if they wish to. The way to combat speech that is challenging and unpopular is to confront it, not suppress it. The way to deal with discomfort is to develop the resilience to overcome it not to hide or flee from it. Indeed, I would argue that feeling uncomfortable is an essential ingredient of learning and the pursuit of truth.”
  • “I often hear people say that free speech is not really an issue in our universities – that it has been overstated by the media or politicians. This is not an issue that can be quantified by the number of instances that make the headlines or the instances of no-platforming, although it is right to track those. Rather it is a fundamental matter of what our universities are for. Free speech is one of the most precious freedoms ever established, and universities above all should be places where it is cherished. The OfS will be an unashamed champion of free speech.”

Sam Gyimah has been the subject of media and sector derision in the past over some of his unsubstantiated claims (for example see here, here and here) particularly while championing Free Speech. In a parliamentary question this week he reiterates Barber’s message that it isn’t about identifying and counting contraventions of free speech, nor books removed from libraries, but the more intangible elements of censorship within the delivery of education:

Q – Jo Stevens: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the oral contribution of the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, of 17 May 2018, Official Report, column 241WH, what information his Department holds on the (a) number of speaking events blocked by a university or students’ union, (b) books removed from university libraries and (c) changes to courses due to changes in equalities guidance.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The information requested is not held centrally. The department does not collect data on the number of speaking events blocked by a University or Students’ Union, books removed from university libraries and changes to courses due to changes in equalities guidance
  • As set out in a statement on 17 May, we do not believe that measuring free speech on campus by events that happen is sufficient, as this does not evidence self-censorship or those events that do not happen in the first place. We are committed to defending free speech on campus to avoid a culture of censorship which risks leading to those outcomes to which the question refers. Comprehensive guidance on Freedom of Speech for the higher education sector is due to be published by the end of the year.

Gyimah also talked of the monoculture on campus with some students and staff shying away from discussing race and gender issues. Meanwhile Research Professional state the free speech debate has been around since the 1960’s.

International Students

The International Students APPG (all party parliamentary group) ran the inquiry A sustainable future for international students in the UK which explored the opportunities and challenges surrounding international students. (Find BU’s response to the inquiry on this webpage.) Their inquiry has concluded and they have published their report (press release here).
Note: this APPG report is separate from the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) report on international students. Whilst some of the content is very similar there are key differences, for example the MAC report did not recommend removing students from the net migration figures.

Here are the report’s recommendations:

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GOVERNMENT –  The APPG recommends that a cross-departmental group establishes a clear and ambitious target to grow international student numbers, supported by a cross-departmental strategy and a commitment to remove students from the target to reduce net migration.

  1. The Government should offer a clearly labelled and attractive post-study work visa which allows up to two years of work experience in the UK.
  2. The Government should pursue an EU deal for unrestricted movement of students and researchers, as part of a close relationship with European universities and provide urgent clarity for EU nationals studying and researching in the UK on what changes they will experience in visa and funding rights.
  3. Immigration rules should facilitate and encourage students to study in the UK and at multiple study levels within the UK education system.
  4. The Government should promote and protect the diversity of the UK education offer including small, specialist, vocational and further education providers within the proposed recruitment strategy.
  5. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration should conduct an independent review of credibility interviews within the student immigration system to ensure the system is fit for purpose, cost-effective relative to current risk and does not limit the diversity of international students in the UK.
  6. The UK Government should work closely with devolved and regional governments to support growth in international student numbers, protect local courses and institutions which are dependent on international students, and support regional and national initiatives which enhance the benefit of international education such as work experience schemes and industry engagement.
  7. The Government should accurately track data on education as an export and as an economic value, including at a national, regional and local level. Government should include education in their trade strategy when approaching bi-lateral agreements.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UNIVERSITIES, COLLEGES AND SCHOOLS – Education institutions should share best practice across the education sector to enhance internationalisation strategies through maximising the advantages and benefits of having a diverse body of international students, as well as support more UK students to study abroad.


  1. Messages for international students regarding the UK should be welcoming, clear, simple and consistent. These should be developed in cooperation between the government and the education sector.
  2. The UK should establish an international graduate and alumni strategy which would support international students for employment opportunities in their home country to boost UK soft power, research and trade and support greater engagement with alumni by universities, business and government. Activities to track the long-term employment destination of international graduates should be intensified.
  1. Education institutions, local government and local business should come together to attract, plan for, support and integrate international students in the local community.

Paul Blomfield MP, who is the co-chair of the International Students APPG stated:

  • “Increasingly restrictive policies and procedures over the last eight years have discouraged many international students from applying to the UK.
  • We need to press the reset button, establish an ambitious strategy to increase recruitment, put new policies in place, and send out a clear message that international students are welcome in the UK.
  • Our report offers a way forward for the Government, and a route-map to renewed competitiveness for our world-class universities and colleges. I urge Ministers to look carefully at our recommendations and step up to the challenge.”

The Russell Group response to APPG report welcomed the recommendations and emphasised post-study options and streamlined visas as vital:

  • “…an important part of this offer are the opportunities available to graduates to transition to work once their studies are complete. This is an area where the UK is lagging, and we hope that Ministers will seek to address this by improving the UK’s post-study work offer at the earliest opportunity.
  • Alongside this, we would urge the Government to consider the importance of having a proportionate, streamlined system for student visas. Making visa applications straightforward, user-friendly and cost effective will help improve student experience and generate a welcoming image of the UK.”

Lord Bilimoria writes for The Guardian: International students are abandoning Britain – we must stem the tide. 

Last week there was a parliamentary question on post-study work visas which didn’t sound promising:

Q – Gregory Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will introduce a Global Graduate Talent visa to allow international students sponsored by a UK university to work in the UK for a limited period following their graduation. [LINK]

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recently published its review of the impact of International Students in the UK. The MAC made several recommendations regarding port study work, though they did not recommend a separate post study work visa. We will be carefully considering the recommendations made in the report and will be responding in due course.

Students’ unions are in need of radical, systemic reform? Or are they?

This week we’re very excited to bring you an exclusive from our new guest writer, Sophie Bradfield. Sophie is the Policy & Campaigns Coordinator for SUBU and attended the big HE sector and policy event – Wonkfest – in London this week.  Sophie writes:

It was fantastic to work with the Wonkhe team to facilitate sessions at Wonkfest and attend some too. One which attracted my attention, unsurprisingly, was a debate on student union reform. The debate titled ‘Students’ unions are in need of radical, systemic reform? Or are they?’ had two speakers: Iain Mansfield- former senior civil servant in the DfE when TEF was designed; and Jim Dickinson- a big name in the Student Union movement as a formerly long-standing senior director at the National Union of Students.

As many will know, the purpose of Students’ Unions (SUs) was enshrined in the 1994 Education Act to act as ‘a representative body whose principal purposes include representing the generality of students.’ Almost every university has a students’ union and many, but not all, are affiliated to the National Union of Students- a membership organisation that nationally represents the collective student voice. As a staff member in a students’ union, I found it interesting to hear Iain’s viewpoints but it seemed that his knowledge and experience of students’ unions was limited. His argument assumed that all SUs think and act the same however just as each higher education institution is unique, so too, are the students’ unions.

With a plethora of damning media articles, comments from politicians and misunderstandings about safe space policies and ‘no platform’ policies, it’s not surprising that the debate turned to issues of freedom of speech and concern about students ‘banning’ speakers. Perhaps it’s also not surprising that the debate continues on this despite little to no evidence turning up from a freedom of information request by the BBC. In fact it was found, that cases where events have been cancelled, has been down to security costs rather than ‘no platforming’.

Iain argued passionately that Students’ Unions forcibly enrol students without any meaningful way of them ‘opting-out’ such as remuneration of fees, and explained this is problematic as SUs aren’t representative with low election turnouts. It was pointed out by a member of the audience that under new data protection regulations, students need to opt-in to SUs to receive correspondence. Jim also noted that opt-outs with a financial incentive would become an issue, leading new students to get back their £20-30 without knowing all of the benefits that being part of an SU brings. SUs help students to build their social capital; gain a sense of community and build meaningful relationships with other students; give them a platform to influence and improve their student experience; and enable them to learn how to solve their own issues collectively through democratic deliberation. Jim also explained that democratic participation isn’t just about election turnout; the representative legitimacy of SUs is demonstrated through a number of ways as student leaders run through many different levels. For example the student rep system, of which Bournemouth’s is nationally award-winning, has 575 elected student reps with multiple representatives for each programme, particularly for larger courses.

The debate concluded that whilst Students’ Unions are independent from their institutions, they occupy the same space and work closely, through their elected officers, with the institution on deliberative policy making on day-to-day educational issues such as assessment and feedback, for the benefit of students. If any reforms are needed across the movement, as a whole, it’s to focus more on these educational issues and move away from big political issues. It was noted that SU officers are also challenged by representing increasing student numbers, with bigger constituencies than many local councillors. An ongoing challenge for SUs is communicating the existence and purpose of a students’ union to students and the wider public, so students can make the most of all the civic and developmental opportunities that SUs provide.

More on Wonkfest

We’ve been name dropping Wonkfest throughout this update. It was a two-day policy and sector event that took place in London this week covering a myriad of topics. Such was the excitement of the attendees at Wonkfest that some Tweets started trending nationally.

BU was well represented with Mandi Barron leading the session Crisis, what crisis? Is student mental health really a “no brainer”?, Debbie Holley was on the panel for Teaching can’t be measured and frameworks are for fools and SUBU’s Sophie facilitating several key sessions.

Search Twitter using #WonkFest18 or backtrack through the action here.

Using this link scroll down to the section Questions for Sam Gyimah where he ‘defines’ a good degree that would be a good investment and suggests that setting fees for STEM courses even higher than the current £1,250 limit wouldn’t deter students but may actually make them more attractive to applicants. It’s an interestingly different approach to Labour’s plans to woo the youth voters and parents with free tuition fees.

Scroll down even further to Sam Gyimah – in Conversation with Mark Leach and you’ll find Sam’s unconvinced by post-qualification admissions and that accommodation costs are the primary issue students raise with him.

Here’s the summary from the Can teaching really be measured?  session (provided by Wonkhe).

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is one of the hottest issues in higher education in the moment – but is it capable of actually improving the quality of teaching?

The statutory independent review on TEF is due to be set up before the end of 2018 so we put together an expert panel to read the runes.

Wonkhe’s own David Kernohan was chairing the session – here’s his take:

  • The panel was clear we need to ask students about their learning and listen to their answers. Metrics will always be a part of the picture, but a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the needs and aspirations of undergraduates is an essential first step in improving teaching and the student experience.
  • The dual role of TEF (enhancement and information) is becoming more confused with many institutions hiring data scientists and not educational developers. It was noted that we sit at an important part of the life of the TEF, with the statutory review just round the corner – which again needs to involve the student voice as a fundamental point.
  • But, following the Augar review, the role of the OfS may change again – perhaps returning to a funding role?

The session provoked quite a debate online too with many pertinent Tweets.

Follow this link (which requires oodles of scrolling down) to read the summaries for:

  • Mandi’s Barron’s session on the student mental health crisis debate
  • Rankings, tables, metrics
  • The state of campus morale – and what we can do
  • Policy & politics of HE (Fiscal illusions and political delusions)
  • A session on putting impact before everything else – how do we help academics to not be pointless.
  • Win –wins in social mobility

Thirsty for more?

BU has an institutional subscription to Wonkhe so if you would like an emailed daily digest rather than waiting for all your policy news through this weekly BU policy update contact policy@bournemouth.ac.uk and we’ll sign you up.

Brexit: Research

A parliamentary question digging into where the money for guarantee funding will come from:

Q – Daniel Zeichner: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the funding allocated by the EU to underwrite successful bids by UK organisations to competitive EU grant programmes, including Horizon2020, will be funded from (a) UKRI’s annual budget allocation or (b) additional funding allocated by his Department in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. [LINK]

A – Elizabeth Truss:

  • If the UK leaves the EU next year without a deal, HM Treasury will make additional funding available to departments to cover projects under the HMG Guarantee, which includes Horizon 2020. Relevant departments will then be responsible for allocating this funding to UK organisations.

Grade Inflation

A guest writer on the HEPI blog explores grade inflation Agatha Christie style looking at the cumulative effects of inadvertent collusion as a response to increased competition. The article is far more entertaining than my description, although it doesn’t explore the counterarguments to its supposition.

Access and Participation – Social Mobility

Partnership to support schools – On Tuesday the DfE issued guidance information for schools and universities to form partnerships to share expertise and resources to maximise educational outcomes and improve opportunities for young people within their area.

Disability – Sam Gyimah confirmed that research on the Disabled Students’ Allowance is expected to culminated in December and be published shortly after.

Targets – This week there were two parliamentary questions on the new OfS access and participation targets:

Q – Baroness Royall Of Blaisdon: What criteria they will use to measure the effectiveness of the mechanisms for meeting the new access and participation targets proposed by the Office for Students. [LINK]

A- Viscount Younger Of Leckie:

  • The Office for Students (OfS), as the new independent regulator for higher education, has recently consulted the sector on a new approach to regulating higher education (HE) providers’ progress on widening access and successful participation in HE. The OfS is expected to respond to the consultation later this year.
  • We would expect the OfS to keep any new approach under review, to assess its effectiveness in achieving our goals for improved access and participation in HE by under-represented groups.
  • The OfS brings together the levers of both funding and the arrangements for agreeing and monitoring Higher Education providers’ Access and Participation plans to seek continuous improvement in this area. OfS also now has access to a range of sanctions to address concerns about a lack of progress on access and participation.

Q – Baroness Royall Of Blaisdon: What assessment they have made of the case for providing higher education providers with access to free school meals data at the start of the undergraduate admissions cycle as part of measures to widen access to higher education. [LINK]

A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie:

  • Widening participation is a priority for this government. We want to ensure that everyone with talent and potential to succeed in higher education has the opportunity to do so, regardless of background, ethnicity or where they grew up. Higher education institutions play an important role in achieving this goal through their outreach and widening participation work.
  • Government has already made available school level data on pupils eligible for free school meals through the ‘Find and compare schools in England’ service and I encourage universities to make use of this. This is available at: https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/ .
  • Universities should also continue to work directly with schools and third sector organisations to spot and nurture talent early. I have asked Department for Education officials to look at ways the department can support the sector, to identify talented pupils and to help assist in targeting outreach activity.

Estranged Students – Previously we reported the Student Loans Company had come under heavy fire after it analysed the social media profiles of students claiming to be estranged to discover if they had any familial contact. This week Sam Gyimah’s response to a parliamentary question defends the Student Loans Company use of personal social media profiles to determine estrangement status. He describes the practice as: “a proportionate and effective way of detecting and preventing certain types of fraud.”

Care Leavers – The recent Covenant launch has prompted renewed interest in Care Leavers within Parliament, however, it is disappointing that the Minister’s response only references the Covenant and not the work of other sector bodies or university approaches in response to this parliamentary question:

Q – Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to widen access to university for children who have been in care.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • I want to ensure that all care leavers with the potential to benefit from higher education are encouraged to apply. Guidance issued by the Office for Students (OfS) to universities on completing access and participation plans identifies care leavers as a key target group whose needs their plans should address. Last week, we launched the Care Leaver Covenant, which will provide a way for organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors – including universities – to set out what support they provide to care leavers.
  • Universities are being asked to work with children in care and care leavers, to encourage them to apply and to provide them with additional support through the application process. A number of universities have already signed the covenant, including Leeds, Liverpool and Bradford; and we will continue to work closely with the OfS to encourage all universities to sign it.

Social Mobility in Counties – A Report by the County All Party Parliamentary Group, supported by the County Councils Network and Localis – This is a long report so please contact us if you would like to read it in full.  The report found that the perception of counties as affluent areas has masked deep-seated socio-economic challenges and deprivation in shire counties, while the additional costs of delivering rural services are also not fully recognised in the way funding is allocated to councils. Eight of the ten least socially mobile areas in England are county areas, and are overwhelmingly rural and coastal.

The report outlines that councils in London receive £482 per head, whilst metropolitan boroughs and cities receive £351 per head, compared to £182 per person for public services in county areas. This historically lower funding for public services and infrastructure is an increasing issue at a time when councils are having to re-route funding for social services and care for the elderly, and is hampering efforts by county authorities to provide vital services that promote and support social mobility such as bus routes, public transport, youth centres and libraries. The report finds that transport networks in particular are a major hindrance to social mobility in counties.

Q – Peter Aldous

It was great that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government were able to attend last Wednesday’s launch of the county all-party parliamentary group’s report on social mobility in county areas. Will my right hon. Friend work with the APPG to implement the report’s 11 recommendations, which will do so much to ensure that young people across the country have the opportunity to realise their full potential?

A – James Brokenshire

  • That sense of social justice to which my hon. Friend alludes and which was in the report profoundly reflects the Government’s aspirations and intent to see a country that works for everyone. I look forward to continuing to work with him and the APPG in considering the fair funding review and other steps to ensure that we realise that aspiration.

Source: Topical Questions


Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • Brexit: EU Student exchanges and funding for university research
  • The State of competition in the digital economy

Other news

Family Connections: A new guest blog on Wonkhe explores how the volume and quality of connection with family members whilst the student is geographically distant during their studies supports students. For those with previous strong bonds with their family daily contact reduced stress and supported them through the difficult times. However, for others who deliberately chose to unlace the apron strings they felt the distance helped them to focus on their academic studies, although the research mentions many still had access to a family safety net if needed. The blog paints a different picture for estranged and care experienced students who lacked financial or emotional support which was exacerbated during times of challenge. The authors urge the sector to recognise the emotional buffer a family can provide and the knock on effects for those without support (“family disadvantaged”) who may experience loneliness, increased poor mental health and lower academic success.

CBI: CBI have published Educating for the Modern World. It notes that while links between business and education remain strong progress has stalled with gaps in understanding a major obstacle. The report notes 46% of businesses understand the new GCSE grades. It explores technical education, which is highly valued, but beset with apprenticeship vacancies, funding rule headaches, and mixed feelings towards T levels.

University graduates are valued, with graduates continuing to have higher levels of employment, lower levels of economic inactivity and higher earnings on average, compared to non-graduates. An overwhelming majority of businesses (79%) regarded a 2:1 undergraduate degree (or above) as a good measure of academic ability, despite increasing numbers of 2:1 and above classifications being awarded.

John Cope Head of Education & Skills, CBI said:  “Employers expect to recruit more people over the coming years but worry there aren’t enough skilled people to fill the vacancies.”

The CBI states four priorities it will work on:

  • Ensure the education system prepares young people for the modern world and work
  • Harness the power of business to improve the education and skills system
  • Create the rights conditions for lifelong learning
  • Champion our world-class education institutions, including schools, colleges, and universities.

Commenting on the CBI report Alastair Jarvis, Chief Exec of UUK, stated:

“Universities are working with businesses to meet employers’ needs, and it is also important for the government to support universities to offer more flexible courses. We need to be able to meet the needs of part-time and mature learners if we are going to raise the overall level of skills in the workforce.”

Mental Health: A parliamentary question response on tools to support mental health within schools.  Also in The Guardian this week James Murray, the father of Ben a student at Bristol who committed suicide, talks about how a building pattern of data could have triggered a warning and intervention system that may have saved his son’s life.

T levels: On T levels Anne Milton was questioned about enduring public awareness. She responded:

  • Our T level communications campaign will launch in 2019, ensuring that parents, teachers, students and the wider public know about T levels and where they fit among other choices after GCSEs. The campaign will be extended over time as T levels are rolled out more widely. We are working closely with the 2020 providers on this campaign, which will include resources to support regional communications.
  • We have provided £5 million to the National Apprenticeship Service, who have widened their remit to provide an advice and support service for employers, which includes raising awareness and promoting the benefits of T levels and industry placements to employers.
  • Information about the grading system for the component parts of T levels was confirmed in the government’s response to the T level consultation in May this year. We recognise the need to promote awareness and understanding of this as part of our communications to students, parents and employers.

PGT Satisfaction: Advance HE’s postgraduate taught experience survey was issued a few weeks ago but is now available for general download here. Their news story focuses only their high response rate and high levels of satisfaction (89%). Follow this link to read the key findings.

Graduate Outcomes: A new Wonkhe blog explores the new Graduate Outcomes (replaces DLHE) survey  noting concerns that the response rate may drop (perhaps even by 30%); that careers services may want to visibly support new graduates approaching the survey date in a more noticeable way than previously to maximise positive results; discusses a change of tack for alumni services; how the change of date will affect the outcomes data particularly for different courses such as teachers. The author also notes concern that an over-focus on data will lead to institutions cutting courses because their lower outcomes data may lead to unpopularity and unviability – cue the headlines that not enough universities offer a particular course and there is no a workforce gap. The blog then highlights the positives – a richer data set, longer support for graduates and a reduction in gaming tactics. Read Graduate Outcomes: necessity is the mother of invention for the detail.


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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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