UPDATED: HE Policy update for the w/e 21st December 2018

Grade Inflation

New report on Grade inflation by the Office for Students

The report has already been criticised for the obvious reason – it describes as “unexplained” all improvements in student degree outcomes that are not linked to prior attainment or student background.  The UUK/QAA report last month said improvement was “unexplained” if it wasn’t attributable (according to their methodology) by improvements in SSR, expenditure as well as UCAS scores.  And they are running a consultation.

The language used by the OfS is also reflective of the mood music at the moment – it’s “spiralling” grade inflation.  Nothing to do with hard work improving outcomes, particularly for those from backgrounds that haven’t always had straightforward access or a straightforward road to success university.

Commentary from David Kernohan on Wonkhe here

He questions the methodology:

  • The first of these is the choice of 2010-11 as “year zero”. It’s arbitrary to the extent that TEF3, earlier this year, used 2007-8 as a comparator year. There’s no particular reason to assume that the right number of graduates got first class honours in 2007-8 or 2010-11, or any other year. Seven years of data isn’t a magic number – some institutions would have changed radically in size and subject mix over this period, others would be broadly the same. But an inflation measure needs a baseline and a bit of information about why this was chosen might have helped. One is tempted to suspect that the data beforehand was embarrassingly poor quality.
  • What the OfS analysis does next is to look at attainment by demographic characteristics. From this it can calculate the effect that each characteristic would have, and estimate a variable co-efficient for each. This gives evidence for some of HE’s darker little secrets – Black students attain less well than white students, those without traditional entry qualifications do less well than those that do, POLAR5 does better than POLAR1. And so on….Just to note on entry qualification, the OfS is suggesting that more than a quarter of all graduates in 2010-11 had no level 3 qualifications. Which, apart from anything else, suggests that it is not a good idea to build this data into the OfS reference model.
  • …So, an institution that recruits disproportionately well among young black people and works hard to raise attainment, will see a large “unexplained” increase in first class honours. Despite this, OfS is threatening to use the full range of its regulatory powers against providers that fail to address unexplained grade inflation.

…The other problem I have with this release is the decision to release institutional-level data. This seems engineered to get journalists to run it as a league table story. 

The BBC story has quotes from a range of sources:

  • Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Universities are already taking steps to tackle grade inflation. The report we recently published outlines a number of measures to protect the value of qualifications over time that are currently being consulted on by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment. It is essential that the public has full confidence in the value of a degree.”
  • Prof Jane Powell, vice-provost at Surrey University, said: “Our number of first-class degrees reflects a combination of factors, including major investments in high quality teaching, resources, and academic support. This has seen us attract students with increasingly strong academic backgrounds and high levels of motivation to achieve excellent outcomes.”
  • In a statement, Coventry University said: “We’ve invested heavily in further enhancing teaching and learning and ensuring fast and good quality feedback, which is reflected in outstanding progress for the university between 2010-11 and 2016-17. This study does not take this progress into account. We’d suggest our proportions of firsts and [upper seconds] are in line with our position in the UK rankings, recognising the great learning progress that our students make.”
  • Education Secretary Damian Hinds said students deserved a grading system that properly recognised their hard work. “I sincerely hope today’s figures act as a wake-up call to the sector – especially those universities which are now exposed as having significant unexplained increases. Institutions should be accountable for maintaining the value of the degrees they award. I am urging universities to tackle this serious issue and have asked the OfS to deal firmly with any institution found to be unreasonably inflating grades.”

The Guardian: 

  • Research by the Office for Students reveals for the first time the scale of the problem, which is virtually sector-wide with 84% of universities seeing significant unexplained increases in the number of first-class degrees awarded. Overall, the proportion of first-class honours awards has risen from 16% of all degrees awarded in 2010/11 to 27% six years later, according to OfS analysis of results at 148 universities and higher education providers.
  • Increases in first-class degrees among students entering university with lower A-level results are particularly striking. Graduates who achieved the equivalent of two Cs and a D were almost three times more likely to graduate with first-class honours in 2016/7 compared with six years earlier. There is no parallel increase in degree attainment among graduates with top A-level results, and in the main it is the institutions with lower entry tariffs where the highest unexplained increases have been found.
  • Universities have defended themselves in the past, saying the sector has changed significantly with more emphasis on the quality of teaching, alongside the fact that with higher tuition fees students are working harder to achieve higher grades.  The OfS has used statistical modelling at the individual student level to try to account for factors that might influence attainment. It concludes that a significant element of the increases cannot be explained by changes to the graduate population and attainment and therefore remains cause for concern.
  • Across the sector as a whole, the OfS found that 11.6 percentage points of the increase in first-class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2016-17 were unexplained, though in some universities the figure is much higher. .

2019 may be bumpy….

Immigration White Paper

Delayed for years, and hard fought, apparently, in government, here it is.

  • “The new system will not come into play immediately after we leave the EU. It will take time to design and implement. We will do this in a phased way, between now and the end of the Implementation Period, with further reforms to follow.”
  • “The new system will start to operate from the end of Implementation Period. In the meantime, we will implement the EU Settlement Scheme which will give EU citizens protected by the Withdrawal Agreement security as to their future status. Irish citizens will not need to apply under the future system, to settle as their current rights to live and work in the UK, which pre-date EU free movement, will be preserved and the Common Travel Area will continue to function as now.”
  • “The Government will introduce the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to end free movement, protect the status of Irish citizens once free movement ends and amend the existing arrangements around the availability of benefit support for EU citizens entering the UK. The future immigration arrangements for EU citizens and their family members will be set out in UK Immigration Rules as is the case now for non-EU nationals. The proposed visa routes will be opened in autumn 2020, to enable those who wish to come to the UK to apply in good time.”


  • minimum salary not set – will be a consultation
  • no sector deals except perhaps for agriculture
  • review of the shortage occupation list
  • positive words about academic and student mobility but depends on reciprocity
  • 6 months post study work visa for graduates (bachelor’s or master’s) and a year for PHDs

UUK commentAlistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • “International staff and students, both EU and non-EU, make a vital contribution to the UK higher education sector. The ability to recruit international staff at a broad range of skill levels and students at all levels of study, with minimal barriers, is vital to the continued success of our universities.
  • “There are over 83,000 international staff working in UK universities. The reforms to the Tier 2 system are a step in the right direction, but need to go further. Removal of the cap on numbers of highly skilled workers is welcome acknowledgement that EU and non-EU university staff make a major contribution to the success of universities. Their contribution is vital to post-Brexit Britain.
  • “Any decision to maintain the salary threshold at £30,000 however would have serious implications for technicians and language assistants in particular, who are vitally important to teaching and research. 63% of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals working as technicians at UK universities earn below £30,000, in vital areas such as biosciences and clinical medicine EEA nationals make up over a quarter of the technical workforce. 
  • “There are 135,000 EU students in UK universities. We welcome the recognition of the benefits that international graduates make to the country through the introduction of post-study work for a period of up to one year for PhD students and 6 months for others, but unless we allow all graduates to stay and work for two years the UK will continue to lag behind our global competitors in our offer to international students.
  • “Under these proposals EU students will also now require a study visa, placing an additional burden on students and universities. 
  • “Over the coming months of consultation we will be seeking changes to these proposals to ensure the best possible deal for university staff and students.”


No, not more speculation about deal, no deal, referenda or general election, because who knows what will happen between now and our next policy update due 4th Janaury?  Instead, some of the recent advice on preparing for no deal, in case it happens (and it is looking very likely, just saying)….

EU Settlement Scheme Pilot – this closes on 21st December and is open to EU citizens who are working on HE (or health and social care) BUT NOT their families.  The next phase will fully open by 30th March 2019. You can read more here.

Out on 19th December, Home Office Guidance on no-deal Brexit arrangements

Travelling in the Common Travel Area if there’s no Brexit deal If you’re a British or Irish citizen in another part of the Common Travel Area (CTA), you’re not required to take any action to protect your status or rights associated with the CTA. You can continue to travel freely within the CTA without seeking immigration permission from the authorities.

Travelling to the EU with a UK passport if there’s no Brexit deal

  • If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, British passport holders will be considered third country nationals by countries within the Schengen area after 29 March 2019.
  • The following countries are within the Schengen area: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
  • For countries that are in the EU but not in the Schengen area, you’ll need to check the entry requirements for the country you’re travelling to before you travel. These countries are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. Travel to Ireland is subject to separate Common Travel Area arrangements which will remain the same after the UK leaves the EU.
  • According to the Schengen Border Code, third country passports must: have been issued within the last 10 years on the date of arrival in a Schengen country, and have at least 3 months’ validity remaining on the date of intended departure from the last country visited in the Schengen area. Because third country nationals can remain in the Schengen area for 90 days (approximately 3 months), the actual check carried out could be that the passport has at least 6 months validity remaining on the date of arrival.
  • If you plan to travel to the Schengen area after 29 March 2019, we suggest that you check the issue date and make sure your passport is no older than 9 years and 6 months on the day of travel. For example, if you’re planning to travel to the Schengen area on 30 March 2019, your passport should have an issue date on or after 1 October 2009. This is to avoid any possibility of your adult British passport not complying with the Schengen Border Code.
  • For 5-year child passports issued to under-16s, check the expiry date and make sure there will be at least 6 months validity remaining on the date of travel. For example, a child planning to travel to the Schengen area on 30 March 2019 should have a passport with an expiry date on or after 1 October 2019.
  • For countries that are in the EU but not in the Schengen area, you’ll need to check the entry requirements for the country you’re travelling to before you travel.
  • These new rules will also apply to you if your British passport is a Crown Dependency or Gibraltar issued passport and you’re going to travel to a country in the Schengen Area from 30 March 2019.
  • And pet passports will not be valid….

Student loans and accounting

The long awaited decision from the Office for National Statistics on accounting for student loans was released in a blog.  We’ve set out most of it below with some added highlighting as it speaks for itself

  • However, the design of the system means much of this student loan debt will never be repaid, and is therefore written off by the government. Because of this, many people, including Parliamentary committees, have asked whether this means some, or all, of the money should be treated as government spending rather than government lending.
  • As the UK’s higher education funding system is almost unique among other countries, it wasn’t easy to find an international precedent for how to treat the system. Over recent months we have been consulting with many other countries and international bodies such as the IMF and Eurostat about how best to treat UK student loans, as we are keen to ensure that the UK’s accounts remain internationally comparable.
  • To ensure our treatment of student loans reflects the way the system works in practice we have decided to split the government’s student loan payments into a portion that is genuine government lending and a portion that is government spending. The lending element will be calculated based on expected future repayments. The remainder, which is not expected to be repaid, will be treated as government spending. This will be treated as capital spending, as this can be thought of as the government effectively cancelling a portion of the loan at issuance, which is treated as capital spending under international standards.
  • This change has no impact on the overall level of government debt. This is because debt is a cash measure so is unaffected by whether the money being paid out is classified as a loan or spending. However, this change will increase the government’s budget deficit, to ensure it properly reflects the true picture of government spending because student loan debt write-offs that would have taken place in 2040 and beyond will be reflected as government spending now.
  • The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has published some initial estimates for the impact on government deficit. According to these estimates, our new approach will lead to the deficit being increased by approximately 0.6 percentage points of GDP a year, which equates to around £12 billion in the current year.
  • We will work to calculate the exact impact and implement the necessary changes in our published figures. However, estimating levels of future expected loan repayments could take some time. We plan to implement fully the decision announced today in the government’s accounts in the autumn of 2019.
  • As with all our public sector classification decisions, this is solely a statistical accounting change. However, while there are no direct policy consequences, as the borrowing targets set by government are based on ONS’s statistics, the implications of a change in statistical accounting may be used by government departments to inform their policies.

Some responses:

  • Nick Hillman for HEPI“The 180-degree flip by the Office for National Statistics may seem embarrassing for policymakers but it is more embarrassing for the official accountants, who are changing how they regard investment in higher-level skills. The ONS will move on and the politicians will fall in line. Meanwhile, students are likely to get hit because they suddenly look much more costly to current taxpayers, while the extra income tax they will pay as graduates in the future continues to be ignored. Unless we are careful, we are at risk of sleepwalking into a triple whammy of fewer university places, less funding per student and tougher student loan repayment terms.…Over 20 years ago, the Dearing report looked at “treating loans in the same way as grants”. They concluded “It misleads rather than informs.” While some aspects of the recent accounting of loans are unusual, there is now a big risk that, without due care and attention, we will shuffle backwards and fall into the same old trap.”’

Perhaps counter-intuitively, some see that the change, while a blow to headline deficit figures, might actually allow more spending on HE.  The headlines tend to focus on cuts but some are arguing that once the “true” cost of the current systems is on the books, other options dismissed as unaffordable look more affordable.  Another fiscal illusion?  Cue lobbying for maintenance grants, tuition fee grants to support social mobility…

  • The IFS: It is important to note that nothing ‘real’ changes as a result of this accounting change – the student loan system could continue to operate as it currently does, and fundamentally the public finances would be in just as strong a position as they would have otherwise been. The only change is over how and when the net subsidy from the government to students through the student loan system is scored for the purposes of the headline deficit. In principle, the government should not change its policy in response to a cosmetic change in fiscal presentation. A similar issue arises with the government’s fiscal targets. The government was previously targeting a structural (i.e. adjusted for the estimated impact of the ups-and-downs of the economic cycle) deficit of less than 2% of national income in 2020–21, and had pledged to ‘eliminate the deficit entirely by the mid-2020s’. If those were the appropriate fiscal targets before, the government could simply adjust them for this accounting change – they could now target a structural deficit of no more than 2.6% of national income in 2020–21, and to have a deficit of below around £20 billion by the mid-2020s.

Andrew McGettigan on Wonkhe:

  • Not only do we not have an explanation of the method by which loans will be partitioned, but it is clear that the ONS’s approach to determining the split between lending and spending (roughly 50:50) is not the same as that modelled by the OBR back in July (40:60 in favour of spending). Although every media outlet followed the ONS’s lead by citing the OBR’s £12billion figure, further clarification was forthcoming from the latter:
  • … the 61% [spending] quoted by OBR relates to total cancellations (of interest and principal) as a percentage of total lending (interest and principal). This approach is somewhat different to our own … The OBR description suggests they have followed a simpler methodology of accruing interest, which we are not following in our example. Of course, any estimates, both from OBR and ONS, are only provisional at this stage.
  • …To reiterate – the cost of loans hasn’t changed, only how they are presented in the national accounts. Unfortunately we have a government ruled by targetry. Since Osborne, the Conservatives have pushed a political narrative with a central place given to the fiscal mandate. As the Chancellor declared at October’s Budget, “Both our fiscal rules met; both of them three years early. So, Mr Deputy Speaker, Fiscal Phil says: Fiscal Rules OK.” These revisions mean that not only has the main target not been met three years early, it’s at risk of being missed entirely. Perhaps tellingly, the official DfE response to the ONS announcement stressed how it had no effect on the headline measure of debt: “Our balanced approach is getting debt falling while supporting our public services, keeping taxes low, and investing in Britain’s future.”
  • Will they choose a new deficit target? Or will they revise the current one once the ONS has performed the onerous task next year of restating recent annual deficits? We could see a sanguine approach. But recall that the Augar review terms of reference state that any new proposals must be consistent with deficit reduction.
  • …There has been a lot of talk of grants. Were the ONS to adopt the OBR’s current method for determining where the partition lies, then replacing loans with grants on a like for like basis will always require more expense. But it is not beyond the realms of possibility that a more sophisticated approach could eliminate a lot of the difference. ONS’s own cohort example shows a 100% spending entry for years 5 and 6. Regardless of technical niceties, it is certainly the case that the “costed manifesto” produced by Labour for the 2017 general election would become easier to assemble in future, as fewer counterbalancing measures would be required to cover the cost of replacing tuition fees with institutional grants.
  • ….Proposals to abolish interest or reduce it to inflation-only may now have more traction since proportionately less income would be removed than before, but it would still be a measure to increase the deficit.
  • Politically, loans will become more unpopular and in the short run that is probably going to mean less money going into HE. It is also undoubtedly the case that there is going to be examination of those institutions where graduate earnings are not so strong.

So what next for the review of post-18 education?  Lots and lots of speculation as the interim report from Philip Augar is now delayed until the end of February, and the main report (originally due at the end of March) is likely to be delayed too, if for no other reason than that co-incides with Brexit – which may of course have been delayed by then, or we may have a new government which may not prioritise the review.  That doesn’t stop speculation and alleged leaks.  We look at some of that below.

Review of Post-18 Education – the speculation

So now we know, student loans will, at least in part, go back on the balance sheet.  And a £12billion hit to the deficit in the current year (and more in subsequent years as we emerge from the demographic dip – unless repayment rates increase dramatically, which of course depends on the economy post Brexit (assuming we do Brexit)….

With the interim Augar report for the Review of Post-18 Education delayed until late February, speculation is rife about what it will recommend.

Remember first, that it isn’t called a Funding Review.  We were expecting a Funding Review, and we got a review of post-18 education, described in its terms of reference as a review of the “system”.  It is likely to cover a lot of other things, such as technical education (post 18), life-long learning, a nod to concerns about the drop in part-time learning, something about “integrating” post-16 and post-18 education.  It won’t therefore seek to address concerns about FE funding generally.

So what might Augar say about fees?

Limiting numbers by grades:

  • The Times Higher speculation: preventing students with low entry grades from accessing loans, modelling options that would see most applicants with grades below Ds or Es at A level in effect barred from university study.
    • Times Higher Education understands that the review, led by Philip Augar, is considering recommending the creation of a minimum Ucas tariff threshold for access to Student Loans Company funding, in order to limit or reduce student numbers at universities.. The review has modelled different levels for a potential threshold, such as two or three D grades or E grades at A level or equivalents, THE In this year’s admissions cycle, more than 80 per cent of applicants with grades equivalent to DDD at A level gained a higher education place.
    • Greg Walker, chief executive of MillionPlus, the association of modern universities, said: “Any attempt to smuggle in a student number cap in the guise of a minimum grade threshold would be a body blow to attempts to boost social mobility in England.”
  • Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that “while only a small proportion of students have such low grades, a higher proportion of the most disadvantaged students do, so you will move backwards on widening participation overnight when you implement such a bar”.
  • And an article on the Conversation proposing exactly the opposite policy:
    • Recent researchshows that, once in university, students from England’s most poorly performing secondary schools generally do as well academically as their peers from England’s highest performing schools. Even if they achieved somewhat lower A-level grades. Similar findings from higher education in general have been reported.
    • This lends evidence to a fact that seems intuitive. That is, the grades a pupil achieves at A-level (or equivalent) are, on average, at least partly dependent on the school they attend. So, in order to make university admissions fairer, should students who attend schools where pupils generally leave with lower grades, be offered places based on reduced A-level achievement – known as “grade discounting”?
  • And bringing us right up to date, David Kernohan has written on Wonkhe about the impact of the grade limit on BME and disadvantaged students:
  • Firstly, we’re not talking about many entrants – for 2018 entry we’re talking about 3,445 students with DDE or below. In financial terms, that’s £31,866,250 – big money for most but several orders of magnitude below the total government spending of the sector. There are institutions that run a bigger annual deficit than that.
  • Secondly, in proportional terms, this has the greatest effect on prospective students from a less advantaged background. Again, the actual numbers are tiny, but we’d lose around 3.5% of POLAR3Q1 and Q2 students, compared with 1.5% of Q5.
  • We also see a disproportionate effect on applicants if you examine ethnicity

Limiting funding for some courses – student outcomes:

  • The Times Higher speculation: “Several sources suggested that the Augar review was also looking at an alternative option to control student numbers: using the government’s new graduate earnings data to block access to SLC funding for particular institutional courses with low levels of earnings.”
  • This has been another long running story over the autumn. Remember this from October:
  • From Wonkhe: ONS has released its annual estimates of the value of the UK’s “human capital”. The headline news is that back in 2004 the average premium for “first and other degrees” was 41%, but by 2017, it had reduced to 24%. The same has happened for “masters and doctorates” – where the pay premia has declined from 69% in 2004 to 48% in 2017. Although the premia for graduates is still significant, the downward trend will provide ammunition to those who argue that “too many people are going to university”, ONS says that “one explanation for this could be a large increase in the proportion of the population with a university degree”.

Employer graduate levy:

  • HEPI paper on a possible alternative structure by Johnny Rich:
    • In order to balance the cost more fairly between students, taxpayers and employers, the paper proposes that, instead of students borrowing money to pay for tuition, businesses should pay a levy for each graduate they employ. The amounts would be equivalent to the student loan repayments made under the current funding system in England.
    • Revenue from graduate levies would be paid directly to the higher education institution where each graduate studied. Institutions would be financially sustainable because they would share an investment in the future employability of their students, rather than because they maximise their student intake.
    • The paper has been written in a personal capacity by Johnny Rich, a higher education specialist who is also Chief Executive of Push, a not-for-profit outreach organisation, and the Engineering Professors’ Council.
    • Rich also argues for a redistribution of funds between higher education institutions based on their ability to attract and support students from poorer backgrounds. This would give institutions an incentive to support social mobility and ensure access money is spent more effectively.
    • The BBC cover it here

Differential fees – cost of delivery:

The BBC ran an article in mid-November on this long-running idea that fees should be linked directly to costs, floated most notably by the PM and Damien Hinds when the post-18 review was first launched.  Of course, the response to this is “costs of what” with a separate debate that has been running on this autumn about reporting what fees are spent on (see our policy update on 23rd November for more on this).

Headline cut to fees:

A Higher Education Fund:

    • Justine Greening’s intervention:
      • Firstly, maintenance grants should be reintroduced. To remove them was regressive and this mistake should be rectified. Under the current maintenance loan approach, students from lower income families less able to help them with living costs, come out with more debt, like for like, than their better off peers. That’s unfair and cannot be allowed to continue.
      • Secondly the Graduate Contribution should stop paying off a “loan” and instead be paid into a Higher Education Fund (akin to National Insurance funding the NHS/pensions).
      • All graduates should pay for the full time period, not just the lower-earning 70-80%. That would mean that fairly, the graduates that earn the most from having a degree would pay the most into the Higher Education Fund. As a higher proportion of adults in the future are likely graduates, Higher Education Fund costs could be spread more thinly across more graduates.
      • Graduates should fund the higher education system they benefit from, rather than those people who don’t. Most students do feel there is an issue of fairness about this; that their peers who do not go to university should not have to pay for those that do, especially when graduates are likely to do better in future earnings as a result of having a degree. I think that’s right – broadly, those who benefit from university degrees should pay for them.
      • Employers could also contribute to the Higher Education Fund for degrees that are critical to their organisations, for example STEM degrees. Bursary strategy could fit into the HE Fund. A reform of the apprenticeship levy to become a wider skills levy could be a way to effectively channel extra funding and incentives to plug the skills gap and give employers some of the flexibility that they are asking for in the apprenticeship levy. It would require looking at the levy rate.

Tinkering with the current system:

Still the most likely outcome, whatever else happens. Who wouldn’t want to stop calling it a loan, start describing the university fee or student fee as such rather than a name that suggests it only relates to teaching, look at repayment rates and thresholds for high earning students, being clearer that maintenance loans are means-tested,

Issues and concerns:

  • The main concern about any proposal to cap numbers or access to funding is always the threat to the access and participation agenda. Back in late November (seems a lifetime ago] we wrote about this:
    • Sky News ran a story on how “cutting tuition fees would penalise poor students by reducing access grants”. In a joint statement The Access Project, Brightside, Causeway Education, Impetus-PEF, IntoUniversity, and upReach said: “Higher education (HE) should be a route open to all young people, irrespective of background. But we have a big and persistent social mobility problem in the UK – young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are half as likely to progress to HE as their peers. Widening participation funding exists to help close this gap and is vital to the work that we do to support young people from under-represented groups to progress and succeed in HE. That progress is now in doubt.”  You can read the statement here.
  • Irrespective of what fee regime the review opts for, we call on the government to protect widening participation funding, while building on momentum around spending it effectively
  • We urge the government to avoid adding complexity to the higher education funding landscape and to ensure that all students have the information, advice and guidance they need to make good choices in HE
  • We urge the government to increase the amount of maintenance support available to young people, for instance by restoring maintenance grants, so that university is affordable for everyone
  • We urge the government not to impose a cap on student numbers

The [former] Minister responded in a tweet: “Access to university for disadvantaged students is a top priority. I’m reaching out to these charities today for an urgent meeting to discuss their concerns.”

  • If you wanted to limit Treasury exposure to the market you’d bring back institutional student number caps – which has the advantage of limiting commercial rather than academic decision making in recruitment. I can’t see vice chancellors liking that either, but I know which of the two options would be fairer. And – bearing in mind the tiny numbers of students involved – institutional caps would be the most effective in actually addressing the problem, as opposed to getting favourable coverage in The Times.
  • There are also concerns about the impact of differential fees on arts and humanities subjects and on student services
  • Portsmouth’s VC, Graham Galbraith, wrote for HEPI in The ‘unbundling’ of the university experience – a shot across the bow He argued against differential fees and the associated access to standard services that a student may feel entitled to due to paying differential fees. He suggests that should lower fees for humanities students be recommended by the post-18 review that universities may have to start ‘unbundling’ and asking students to pay for certain services. The blog highlights how this is a regressive policy and exhorts the sector to start campaigning against the possibility of differentiated fees now.
  • And more general concerns
  • Alistair Jarvis of UUK in the Standard:
    • 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.”
  • And of course the risk that universities cannot afford cuts and that some will go bust – see our policy update of 9th November for more on the story of universities under financial pressure.

And what about public perception?

  • Remember this from mid-November: The Guardian reports the new research from Universities UK and Britain Thinks: Public perceptions of UK universities. The research aimed to understand the public view to better inform UUK’s communications and campaigning work.

Schools funding for complex needs

The Education Secretary Damian Hinds has announced an additional £350m to support children with complex needs and disabilities.

  • Councils will receive an additional £250 million over the next two years on top of the £6 billion provided for the high needs budget.
  • An extra £100 million investment to create more specialist places in mainstream schools, colleges and special schools, will aim to give more children and young people access to a good school or college place that meets their individual needs. This could include more state-of-the-art facilities, such as sensory rooms and specialist equipment.
  • Local authority education services will be encouraged to work more closely with health and social care to commission local services that meet the needs of the families and children in their area, as a new advisory SEND System Leadership Board is to be set up. This new expert board will include representatives of local health, social care, and education services, and will work closely with charities, school and families.
  • To better understand the financial incentives that influence how schools, colleges and councils support children and young people with special educational needs, the Department for Education will be gathering more evidence in the New Year. This will include looking at the first £6,000 schools pay for SEND support costs before accessing additional funding from local high needs budgets.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: We recognise that the high needs budget faces significant pressures and this additional investment will help local councils to manage those pressures, whilst being able to invest to provide more support.

The Government has also confirmed an expansion of the funding to train more educational psychologists, who are responsible for assessing children’s needs and providing tailored support as part of the Education, Health and Care needs assessment process.

Ofsted’s HMCI Amanda Spielman said: Our inspections show that we still have a long way to go before children and young people with SEND are getting all the support they deserve. In too many local areas, the implementation of the 2014 SEND reforms is not living up to expectations.

Vocational learning at University

The manufacturers’ organisation EEF have published a report urging Universities to work harder for vocational learners.

According to the survey almost three quarters of companies (72%) are planning to recruit apprentices compared to 66% in 2014. But, by contrast, the number now planning to recruit graduates has fallen to 34% compared to 66% in 2014.

  • Britain’s manufacturers are urging Universities to cast their net much wider to include vocational learners rather than prioritising academic pupils …According to EEF, the data highlights the vital need to meet skills shortages at craft and technician level, as well as bring fresh young talent into the sector. This is partly driven by a rapidly ageing workforce with a significant number of employees expected to retire in the coming years.
  • Furthermore, with companies still planning to expand despite the economic and political uncertainty in response to shortages of qualified people they are increasingly looking to recruit employees with transferable skills from other industries and sectors to plug hard to fill roles.

Verity Davidge, Head of Education & Skills Policy at EEF, said: “With a lack of technical skills continuing to drive recruitment problems, apprenticeships are firmly in the spotlight to fix this challenge. Offering the perfect mix of technical knowledge, skills and training, apprenticeship programmes are ticking all the right boxes for manufacturers. As a result we are seeing these numbers take off, while graduate programmes are on a downward descent.

Disruptive behaviour in schools

Policy Exchange have published a report (“It just grinds you down”) on disruptive behaviour in schools.

The focus on improving behaviour in schools has had some degree of success. The evidence gathered in this report suggests that incidents of pupils engaging in violent, criminal or dangerous behaviour such as fighting, smoking or taking drugs in school are relatively rare. 3 Rates of persistent absence have fallen substantially since 2011.

Persistent disruptive behaviour is the most common reason for permanent exclusions in state funded primary, secondary and special schools – accounting for 2,755 (35.7%) of all permanent exclusions in 2016/17.

  • Persistent disruption in England’s schools is a serious problem. Three quarters of teachers say they commonly experience disruption in their own school.
  • Persistent disruption has a negative impact on teaching and learning. A majority of teachers think the quality of children’s education is affected by disrupted lessons.
  • Persistent disruption has a negative impact of teacher retention. Almost two-thirds of teachers are currently, or have previously, considered leaving the profession because of poor pupil behaviour.
  • Persistent disruption has a negative impact on teacher recruitment. Almost three-quarters of the teachers we polled agreed that potential teachers are being put off joining the profession by the fear of becoming victim to poor behaviour from pupils.
  • Teachers are not adequately prepared to tackle disruption with confidence. Just under half of teachers polled claim their initial teacher training did not prepare them to manage pupil behaviour.


  1. Low level’ disruption needs to be taken far more seriously. Higher standards of behaviour should be required of pupils for schools to achieve good or better Ofsted ratings. Ofsted inspectors need to be better trained in how best to evaluate and rate pupil behaviour.
  2. Behaviour management policies alone are not enough to ensure pupils behave well. Policies must be applied and interpreted consistently by all members of staff including senior managers. Ofsted need to evaluate not just a school’s behaviour management policy but, importantly, its implementation.
  3. Annually, a proportion of staff professional development time (normally INSET, or in-service training days) should be dedicated to refreshing knowledge of and motivation for institutional behaviour management policies with teaching, support staff and senior managers.
  4. Initial teacher training must include a more thorough grounding in behaviour management techniques. During their first two years of practice, teachers must be offered a structured programme of support to ensure that they are able to manage pupil behaviour and thrive in their primary task of teaching.
  5. Unless there are highly exceptional circumstances, it should be assumed that senior managers will support teaching staff in applying the school’s behaviour management policy. Training for school leaders should make explicit reference to the headteacher’s responsibility for the behaviour of pupils in class and around school. Teaching unions should provide clear statements to their members highlighting their right to support in behaviour management from senior staff.
  6. Schools should have a clear policy on smartphone use that either restricts devices from schools altogether or limits their use to clearly delineated times and circumstances. This should be a key component of each school’s behaviour management policy


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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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