HE policy update for the w/e 7th December 2018

Another lively week in HE policy – starting late last Friday night when the Minister resigned..and we had to wait several days for the new one to be appointed.

New Minister

For those watching HE twitter late on a Friday night, the big news was Sam Gyimah’s resignation over Brexit (amid some whispers from the HE conspiracy theorists that fee cuts are nigh and Sam may have been exiting before the blame falls).  The new HE Minister is Chris Skidmore. We’ve compiled a profile on him here.

Chris is a party loyalist and has maintained an interest in education throughout his career both sitting on the Education Select Committee and authoring a report on SEN children. As a historian he is an interesting choice given the current negative policy rhetoric around graduate outcomes (meaning salary levels) which show lower returns for humanities subjects, and questions about whether these degrees should have the same fees associated with them as other subjects where average rewards may be higher.

  • [We have commented before that there is not always a direct line between choice of subject and career and earnings.  The Minister started an academic career but has strayed into career territory that should surely be occupied by politics graduates?  Honestly, if people keep going off their career path, how are we supposed to compare universities? The current rhetoric is not helped by the fact that so many politicians studied PPE, a vocational training course for politicos.  It might be interesting to know how well students studying PPE do afterwards, but their earnings may not all be down to the university they went to and their choice of degree subject.  Earnings might also depend on whether they choose to work near home rather than in London, what their political views are, whether they actually work in Politics or Economics, or prefer the Philosophy part, whether they come from a disadvantaged or minority group or have disabilities, whether they choose to be teachers or charity workers or take low paid or part-time work to juggle caring responsibilities. Just a thought].

If he survives the turbulent Brexit seas the new Minister may be looking to make his mark on HE. Jo Johnson’s contribution included HERA with its new research structures, the OfS, TEF and KEF.  Sam Gyimah championed students, on a range of issues from mental health to printing costs, and his famous campaign on free speech.  The new Minister may have his own agenda.  It will be interesting to see how he’ll respond if asked if he will now also be the ‘Minister for Students’.   Meanwhile he’ll be on a learning curve to prepare for the imminent Office for National Statistics decision on how student loans will be accounted for (which has the potential to change future HE policy if the new accounting method looks too unpalatable for the Government) and getting a sneak peek on where Phillip Augar’s review of post-18 education and funding is heading.

It seems to always be the case that the sector will complain bitterly about a Minister when he is office and miss him when he has gone – perhaps that’s just fear of what the next one may bring.  Research Professional has an interesting article on Sam Gyimah’s exit and reflects on his time as HE Minister. I  It also ponders what the new minister may bring (it was written before Skidmore’s appointment was announced):

  • …instead, higher education will be faced with a May loyalist who is signed up to the delivery of Brexit, sceptical of a sector in which leading figures have been finding an oppositional voice in recent days, and therefore happy enough to inflict some pain in the interests of career and the shadowy outlines of a plausible ideology.
  • Gyimah’s journey perhaps demonstrates that it is difficult to spend any time in British higher education without coming to appreciate it—even to love it—but his successor may have precious little of that commodity on his or her hands before having to make pivotal decisions.

Also, if you don’t subscribe to Ivory Tower from HE at Research Professional, you should.  This one is one of the best.  Sorry Sam (who?).

Student Mental Health

It’s been a busy week for Damian Hinds since Sam Gyimah stepped down. On Tuesday he urged universities to take action on student mental health by reaching out to student’s emergency contacts when they’re at risk of a mental health crisis. Hinds wrote to the chair of a roundtable on student mental health, from which advice for universities on consent for the disclosure of information about severe student difficulties to third parties will emerge.  His letter said:

  • Ensuring that university students, many of whom will be leaving home for the first time, are supported is a key challenge for my department and the higher education sector as a whole.

Not everyone agrees with his approach, which is consistent with Sam Gyimah’s statements about universities being “in loco parentis”.  We’ll have to see where the guidance comes out.

And in the meantime, the Office for National Statistics has published an analysis of children’s and young people’s experience of loneliness.

Young people (aged 16 to 24 years)

  • 8% of young people said that they were “often” lonely.
  • Nearly half of young men reported that they “hardly ever or never” felt lonely, compared with 32.4% of young women.
  • Those reporting no long-term illness or disability were much more likely to say they “hardly ever or never” felt lonely (44.8%) than those with a long-term illness or disability (19.3%).
  • Young people living in a household with other adults were more likely to say that they “hardly ever or never” felt lonely than those living in single-adult households (over 40% compared with 18.2%, respectively).

Qualitative research with children and young people found that:

  • a range of predictable transitions linked to schooling and the move on from secondary education can trigger loneliness in children and young people
  • children and young people described embarrassment about admitting to loneliness, seeing it as a possible “failing”
  • practical, social and emotional or mental barriers to participating fully in social life and activities can also contribute to loneliness
  • the intersection of multiple issues and triggers to loneliness, or more extreme and enduring life events such as bereavement, disability, being bullied or mental health challenges, may make it more difficult for children and young people to move out of loneliness without help
  • their suggestions for tackling loneliness included: making it more acceptable to discuss loneliness at school and in society; preparing young people better to understand and address loneliness in themselves and others; creating opportunities for social connection; and encouraging positive uses of social media

Student Loans

Hinds also released a ministerial statement clarifying the (critical) queries following the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into a previous student loan book sale. The inquiry explored the sale and questioned why the Government sold the loans (with a face value of £3.5bn) for only £1.7bn, why the buyer wasn’t named and the failure of the Government to detail how these sales decrease the long term risk to UK public finances. The Committee’s comment on whether the Government would have been prepared to sell the loans at ‘any price’ (i.e. far greater losses) enflamed media attention of the sale.   Hind’s response reinforced the Government’s commitment and confidence in the sale, he stated:

  • This sale is good for the taxpayer. It releases money that is tied up and serving no policy purpose, to invest in other policy priorities now, whilst keeping within the spending limits we need to strengthen public finances. Government does not sell at any price. Throughout the process, Government’s decision on whether to proceed remained subject to market conditions and a final value for money assessment. This looked at whether we were selling to an efficient market, that can price the asset efficiently, and at a price that was worth more to Government than retaining the loans.

Technical Education

Damian Hinds spoke on Thursday to outline his plan to ensure more people move into skilled employment. It provides hints for technical education and continues the current Government policy line which values Universities whilst expecting them to diversify and for new and alternative education routes to open up. The Secretary of State said:

  • “For too long, we’ve had too many of our young people leaving school without the necessary skills or direction… I am determined to change this.
  • Matching German productivity would allow government to spend tens of billions of pounds a year more in our public services… Our high employment rate is a great strength of our economy…
  • But the challenge now is more people working in highly productive industries, in rewarding jobs with the opportunity to progress and earn more…not just in work, but getting on in work.
  • In 2017, employers reported difficulties finding the right skills, qualifications or experience for 42% of skilled trades vacancies. Our country needs more computer programmers…more engineers…more electricians and chefs… We need more technicians in fields from advanced manufacturing to healthcare …construction to telecommunications.
  • As a nation I’m afraid we’ve been technical education snobs. We’ve revered the academic but treated vocational as second class – when we do it well, law, engineering, medicine – then we don’t even call it vocational. Let me be clear, the answer is not just encouraging more and more people to go to university…It is introducing clear, high quality, technical paths to skilled jobs… Paths that are as respected and as easy to understand as the A-level-to-degree route.
  • We can’t guarantee young people that a qualification is a clear path to a job unless we’re working side by side with the people who have the vacancies and the skills needs. That’s why we’re putting employers at the heart of every reform we’re making to technical education.
  • Starting today I’m publishing guidance on the role of our Skills Advisory Panels – local partnerships between public and private sector employers, local authorities and colleges and universities – setting out how they will work together to decide what skills are really needed in each local area. Each Panel will get £75,000 to analyse their local skills needs, which could include employing a labour market analyst.
  • Today, as part of our T Level Action plan, I am also announcing the next set of T Levels we will roll out in 2021…[Health, Healthcare Science, Science, Onsite Constructive, Building Services Engineering, Digital Support and Services, and Digital Business Services].
  • And I’m pleased to be announcing today that UCAS has agreed to give a T Level UCAS tariff points in line with 3 A-levels. This reflects the size and complexity and demands of the qualification.
  • By investing in our technical education now, we can make sure that everyone is qualified for the jobs of today and tomorrow… That all our young people have the opportunities they need to succeed”.

On Wonkhe: David Kernohan analyses Damian Hinds’ interesting intervention on technical education, wondering whether it will help fix the parity problem.

Widening Participation

From the Sutton Trust website:

In 2011, the Sutton Trust published Degrees of Success, which looked at university acceptance rates and how they differ by school type and area, finding state school pupils were considerably less likely to go to top universities than independent or grammar school pupils.

Access to Advantage returns to the issues raised in this report, with findings showing little has changed. In the UK, whether someone goes to university, and if so at which institution they study, is still highly impacted by an individual’s socioeconomic background, the school they attend and where in the country they are from.

Authored by Sutton Trust Research Fellow Rebecca Montacute, this report uses UCAS data to analyse university acceptance rates for the 2015-2017 cohorts by school type and region, and discusses what schools and universities can do to help close the gap in Higher Education participation rates in England.

It’s all about the Russell Group, and the press have focussed on the headline about Oxbridge (more students from 8 private schools than from all the state schools put together…), but the recommendations could apply to all universities:

    1. Universities should make greater use of contextual data in their admissions process, to open-up access to students from less privileged backgrounds. Highly selective universities in particular, where low and moderate-income students are substantially under-represented, should make greater use of contextual admissions, including reduced grade offers, to recognise the differing circumstances faced by applicants.
    2. There should be greater transparency from universities when communicating how contextual data is used, including the use of automated ‘contextual data checkers’. In order for contextual admissions to have an effect, it should be communicated clearly to potential applicants where they may benefit from a contextual offer. Otherwise, they may never apply in the first place. Universities should publicise the criteria for contextual admissions clearly, along with how they are taken into account. For example, through an easy-to-use lookup tool on university websites allowing candidates to enter their details and find out whether they qualify.
    3. A geographic element should be included in future university access agreements, including a focus on peripheral areas. There is a notable lack of provision of university outreach in peripheral areas in stark contrast to working-class schools and colleges in London, which often receive high levels of engagement. Oxbridge and other selective universities should target schools in such neglected areas.
    4. Universities should work to reassure students and families who may be reluctant to move substantial distances to university. Outreach activities, open days and summer schools such as the Sutton Trust’s Summer Schools can help to reassure such students – and their parents – about travelling by offering more opportunities for them to visit those universities.

And after the UCAS report on unconditional offers, their next release for the 2018 end of cycle report looks at applicant characteristics.  Splits by ethnic group, free school meals status and the multiple equality measure, will follow in January 2019.

  • The entry rate of pupils from POLAR4 Q1 increased by 1.8 per cent proportionally, from 19.3 per cent in 2017 to 19.7 per cent in 2018, while that of Q2 experienced the largest increase of any quintile, rising by 2.3 per cent proportionally since 2017.
  • In contrast, the entry rate of pupils living in the most advantaged areas, those in POLAR4 Q5, had the smallest increase of any quintile, rising by just 0.8 per cent from 46.1 per cent in 2017, to a value of 46.5 per cent in 2018[1].
  • Overall, the gap is still large.
  • Women have been more likely to enter higher education than men since the 2006 cycle. In 2018, the increase in UK 18 year old entry rate was reflected across both men and women, with 28.0 per cent of men, and 38.3 per cent of women entering higher education – the highest recorded proportions of each gender.
  • The proportional increase for women was nearly twice that of men, however, meaning the entry rate gap between these genders increased.

EU Staff

The Home Office has updated the EU Settlement Scheme information in the event of a no deal exit from the EU. The Government:

  • confirms that if there is no deal, the EU Settlement Scheme will continue to be implemented, enabling EU citizens and their family members living in the UK by 29 March 2019 to secure their status and continue to be able to work, study, and access benefits and services in the UK on the same basis after the exit from the EU as they do now. The scheme will be fully open by 30 March 2019 as planned.
  • confirms that the Home Office will continue to look to grant status rather than refuse and in line with the UK commitment to be more generous in certain respects than the draft Withdrawal Agreement, a person will not be refused status under the EU Settlement Scheme because, for example, they are not economically active or they do not hold comprehensive sickness insurance.

There will be some changes to the EU Settlement Scheme if the UK leaves the EU without a deal (the detail is in the policy document). Notably, no deal would mean dropping the agreed implementation period with the application deadline brought forward to 31 December 2020. The Government reminds action does not need to be taken now (unless you are involved in one of the pilot schemes which provides early settlement – Universities are) and emphasises that the scheme will be fully open by 30 March 2019.

Higher Education Data on BME student retention and outcomes

This week SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield talks BME student retention and outcomes.

The Office for Students (OfS) published a Topic Briefing on Black and minority ethnic (BME) students this week, highlighting that despite a rise in numbers of students from BME backgrounds participating in HE, there remain issues in retention, outcomes and progression especially when coupled with socio-economic disadvantage. The report is focused on home students and looks at access and participation plans across different institutions. A key aspect of the briefing by the OfS raises an issue with the umbrella term ‘black and minority ethnic (BME)’ and the limitations it has, as the experience of students from different ethnic backgrounds is different. Interestingly the report shows the disparity between students from different ethnic backgrounds in outcomes, especially when compared with entry into HE; “the proportion of BME students achieving a first or 2:1 is lower than their white peers. For the majority of entry qualifications the largest differentials exist between black and white graduates” (Figure 4, pg.4-5). The OfS goes on to explain that the difference in outcomes “may be associated with… factors such as institutional structures and curriculum”. BU’s Access and Participation Plan for 2019-20 can be seen here and notes a target to ‘increase BME students’ attainment of good degrees in line with expectations for qualifications on entry.’

A report published last year by the UPP Foundation and SMF Foundation, ‘On course for success? Student retention at University’ found that whilst steps have been taken by Universities to increase diversity of students attending, dropout rates have increased (p.6) with ethnicity being a factor among others (p.15). Further to this, OFFA’s ‘Outcomes of access agreement monitoring for 2015-16’ report found that “Black students are almost 1.5times more likely to dropout than White or Asian students” (p.19). The UPP/SMF report found “contributing factors could include: lack of cultural connection to the curriculum, difficulties making friends with students from other ethnicities, or difficulties forming relationships with academic staff due to the differences in background and customs.” (p.18) Earlier this week the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced an inquiry into racial harassment in Higher Education, noting a link between “being made to feel unwelcome and attainment” (See Telegraph). The inquiry will look into routes for reporting racial harassment and how effectively incidents are dealt with, which is vital in ensuring institutions are welcoming to a diverse community of students and staff. The Students’ Union at BU (SUBU) and BU have a long history of working together to make BU welcoming and accessible to all, for example last year, SUBU and BU worked together to communicate guidance on reporting hate crimes. SUBU and BU have also worked hard to lead by example, with SUBU achieving the Investors in Diversity Stage 2 accreditation in June last year, which included all staff having unconscious bias training; and BU is a proud member of the Race Equality Charter since 2016, an initiative managed by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). BU’s Equality and Diversity Steering Group (EDSG) also meets every term as part of BU’s strategic commitment to dignity, diversity and equality.

These reports highlight a number of areas to work on to improve the retention, outcomes and progression of BME students in HE but a key starting place for an individual institution is understanding the experience that BME students have on that campus and steps that can be taken. This is something that SUBU’s VP Education, Lenrick Greaves, is working on through campaigns and research in collaboration with BU’s Equality and Diversity Adviser, James Palfreman-Kay, supported

Other news

Essay mills: YouTube have deleted thousands of videos promoting essay mills and the QAA have been calling on Facebook and Google to stop advertising them and Paypal to stop processing payments to them.  The BBC have investigated and the Adverting Standards Authority have taken enforcement action for the second time this year.


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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

[1] POLAR4 is a geography-based measure of disadvantage, classifying local areas (middle layer super output areas [MSOA]) into five quintiles based on the proportion of the young population (18 and 19 year olds) who enter HE from that area. Areas classified as POLAR4 quintile 1 (Q1) are those that show the lowest rates of HE participation, and are considered to be the most disadvantaged areas, while those in quintile 5 (Q5) are considered to be the most advantaged areas.