Posts By / jforster

HE Policy Update 1st July 2020

There’s been so much news recently we had to delay our two most recent ‘tomes’ to bring you coverage of the full debate. With this policy update being issued two days after the last we were hoping you’d breeze through a light read. However, Parliament has other intentions. Apprenticeships and FE have been big mentions this week, so far UK students aren’t deferring in droves, there’s new LEO data, the PM’s big speech wasn’t just about buildings, and – much fanfare – the R&D investment roadmap has been published (scarily it almost seems as if the writers have been paying attention to sector reports and campaigners recently). And the Minister for Universities thinks first in family children shouldn’t bother, at a stroke undermining huge efforts to widen participation in HE.  Where next for that agenda, particularly given what the PM said?  Levelling up doesn’t mean what you might think, it seems, or at least, not for other people’s children.

Parliamentary News

Kate Green was appointed as Shadow Education Secretary, she was the Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions (Child Poverty Strategy) and had previous parliamentary roles related to equalities and disability. Pre-parliamentary career she was a magistrate and a professional campaigner for children and single parents.

Boris’ Speech: The PM’s big economy speech on Tuesday covered schools, FE and the new blue-sky research agency but with little mention of HE. Here are the excerpts most relevant to our sector:

  • We have umpteen fantastic, globally outstanding universities and yet too many degree courses are not now delivering value and for a century we have failed to invest enough in further education and give young people the practical training and further education they need.
  • [Levelling up]…this moment also gives us a much greater chance to be radical and to do things differently to build back better to build back bolder and so we will be doubling down on our strategy we will double down on levelling up
  • …to make this country – a Britain that is fully independent and self-governing for the first time in 45 years the most attractive place to live and to invest and to set up a company with the most motivated and highly skilled workforce and so we are investing massively now in education [schools details] and a vast £1.5 bn programme of refurbishing our dilapidated Further Education sector – dilapidated in many places, but not here of course because it is time the system recognised that talent and genius are expressed as much by hand and by eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay…
  • …so when I say unite and level up, when I say build up people and build up talent, I want to end the current injustice that means a pupil from a London state school is now 50 per cent more likely to go to a top university than a pupil from the west midlands and that is not only unjust it is such a waste of human talent
  • We will unleash the potential of the entire country and in those towns that feel left behind we have plans to invest in their centres and with new academy schools, new green buses, new broadband and we want to make them places where people have the confidence to stay, to raise their families and to start businesses and not to feel that the action is all in the cities or the metropolis
  • we know that [jobs] is our biggest and most immediate economic challenge that we face and so we will offer an Opportunity Guarantee so that every young person has the chance of apprenticeship or an in-work placement so that they maintain the skills and confidence they need to find the job that is right for them
  • this summer we will be creating a new science funding agency to back high risk, high reward projects because in the next 100 years the most successful societies will be the most innovative societies and we in this country have the knack of innovation we lead the world in quantum computing, in life sciences, in genomics, in AI, space satellites, net zero planes, and in the long term solutions to global warming wind, solar, hydrogen technology carbon capture and storage, nuclear and as part of our mission to reach Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050, we should set ourselves the goal now of producing the world’s first zero emission long haul passenger plane – Jet Zero, let’s do it
  • and though we are no longer a military superpower we can be a science superpower but we must end the chasm between invention and application that means a brilliant British discovery disappears to California and becomes a billion dollar American company or a Chinese company and we need now a new dynamic commercial spirit to make the most of UK breakthroughs so that British ideas produce new British industries and British jobs

Greg Clark MP, ex-Secretary of State for BEIS, responded to the speech:

  • I welcome the prominence of science and innovation in today’s speech from the Prime Minister. My Committee’s ongoing work relating to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how indispensable, and how world-leading, science, research and innovation are in the UK. Innovation across every scientific discipline will play a critical role in economic recovery, making its place at the centre of recovery plans more essential than ever.
  • My Committee has already launched an inquiry on the Government’s plans for a new science funding agency and we will hold oral hearings in the weeks ahead.

Research Professional comment on the speech: The BBC fact-checking service has looked at the prime minister’s speech in detail and has identified most of its spending pledges as either previously announced or inaccurate.

Value

Chris Skidmore wrote for Research Professional in his official capacity as a regular (monthly) columnist welcoming his co-Chair role of the Universities APPG and lamenting that universities still aren’t recognised for their value.

  • It seems a cruel irony that the institutions which are at the forefront of research into how we escape out of the Coronavirus crisis, are also the ones which will be most badly hit by its impact. That irony extends to how poorly sometimes it seems we value our universities: unlike workers in the NHS, university staff and teachers have gone unrecognised in the remarkable efforts that they have made over recent months and still face hostile stories in the press.

He calls on Government to be clear about universities valuable role in the future [whereas currently they are tinkering with the mechanisms]:

  • We cannot simply pay lip service to ‘our world-leading universities’ without setting out how they must play a role for the future, and without creating a financially sustainable model of funding teaching and research that ends once and for all the curate’s egg of university funding, split across departments, both in Whitehall and on campus. 
  • A long-term vision for what our universities are for, why they are needed, and what they can achieve for the future is essential.
  • That does not mean, however, that it should be the responsibility of government simply to bail out universities so that things can continue unchanged…We need a new settlement upon which both the sector and the government can agree.
  • Education will inevitably play an essential role in retraining and reskilling those who have lost their jobs in the economic downturn; the potential for higher education to create modular, step-on step-off, courses that blend with further education learning and to establish new forms of training is huge. But the wider importance of relationships and networks that universities bring together for the benefit of society, should be better explored. 
  • One obvious link is that between higher education and the NHS, which should be strengthened where possible. 
  • And the ‘civic university’ approach has massive potential to demonstrate and prove what universities can contribute to regenerating their local communities.
    Much of this work is already underway at an institutional level, which brings me to my plea to institutions: just because you know it is happening, don’t assume that everyone else does

Disadvantage

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, spoke at the NEON summit on widening access and social mobility. BU’s Schools Liaison & Partnerships team ‘attended’ the full summit and hope to bring you full coverage of the juicy details of the event in next week’s policy update. Meanwhile Michelle:

  • Praised the innovation the sector had shown in responding to the pandemic stating it was more important than ever to share good ideas and good practise
  • Highlighted UpReach’s virtual internships
  • On social mobility she said:
  • But today I want to send a strong message – that social mobility isn’t about getting more people into university.
  • For decades we have been recruiting too many young people on to courses that do nothing to improve their life chances or help with their career goals.
  • True social mobility is about getting people to choose the path that will lead to their desired destination and enabling them to complete that path.
  • True social mobility is when we put students and their needs and career ambitions first, be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships.
  • Whatever path taken, I want it to lead to skilled, meaningful jobs, that fulfil their ambitions and improve their life earnings
  • universities do need to do much, much more to ensure that all students – and particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds – are recruited on to courses that will deliver good outcomes and that they have the confidence to apply and the information they need to make informed choices.

She goes over similar points later:

  • Since 2004, there has been too much focus on getting students through the door, and not enough focus on how many drop out, or how many go on to graduate jobs.
  • Too many have been misled by the expansion of popular sounding courses with no real demand from the labour market.
  • Quite frankly, our young people have been taken advantage of – particularly those without a family history of going to university. Instead some have been left with the debt of an investment that didn’t pay off in any sense.
  • And too many universities have felt pressured to dumb down – either when admitting students, or in the standards of their courses. We have seen this with grade inflation and it has to stop.
  • let’s be clear – we help disadvantaged students by driving up standards, not by levelling down.

And here reappears that old Theresa May chestnut of Universities ‘sponsoring/intervening’ in schools:

  • But the onus must also be on universities to go further too, not just admitting disadvantaged students with good grades, but focusing even more on helping them to achieve and complete courses. And going the extra mile to raise standards and aspirations in schools.
  • One of the most successful initiatives in this area has been specialist maths schools – which are sponsored by and attached to universities. 
  • Whether its science, languages, engineering or the humanities, universities should be doing all they can to raise attainment for the less fortunate and work with schools.
  • That can be sponsoring schools, supporting a robust curriculum or running summer camps, universities have the potential here to make a tremendous difference in opening up opportunities.
  • So, I want your access budgets not to be spent on marketing but on raising standards, providing the role models, the information, encouraging aspiration and highlighting the high quality opportunities available.

And just when you thought you’d hit the pinnacle of speech writers’ bingo we match a full house with the levelling up agenda and ‘transformation’ mention…

  • …this Government was elected on a mandate to level up Britain, to deliver greater opportunities to every person and every community in the UK.
  • Universities must play a vital role in helping to achieve this mission and helping to achieve the transformation of lives.
  • So, today I’m calling for change, to start a new era on access and participation. One that’s based on raising standards, not on dumbing down; on putting prospective students and their ambitions and their needs first; on results and impact, not on box ticking and marketing; and on delivering graduates into jobs that really will transform their lives.

This looks like a potential huge change to the regulatory agenda on access and participation as well as setting the context for the TEF/Augar updates to come.

FE & Apprenticeships

The weekend’s news emphasised building the FE sector and apprenticeships alongside the additional rescue research pot news. Robert Halfon (Education Committee Chair) called for changes to the focus and use of the apprenticeship levy, alongside pushing for a guaranteed apprenticeship offer:

  • Government should utilise the apprenticeship levy close the skills deficit primarily focused for young (16-24 years) apprenticeships from disadvantaged backgrounds and degree apprenticeships – not middle-managementMBA apprenticeships.
  • Where possible, all new recruits to the public sector should be offered an apprenticeship
  • The cost of the £3bn National Skills Fund should be redirected “towards the cost of funding the training of apprentices for non-levy payers. Alongside this, a wage subsidy for small and medium businesses — be that paying wages for the first year, or a lump sum upfront.”
  • Universities should work towards 50% of their students undertaking degree level apprenticeships, using the levy and wage subsidies. The £800bn they spend on access and participation should be allocated to universities and grow their degree apprentice student numbers.

Research Professional have a good write up speculating on Halfon’s position on apprenticeships (before he made the guarantee speech). Including a quote from Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI,

…many universities have stepped up to the plate to help deliver apprenticeships, and with difficult economic times to come, we need more good opportunities for raising skills and keeping people off the unemployment queues. But the common tendency to attack traditional higher education when lauding apprenticeships is very unhelpful he added, criticising Halfon’s quote. It wrongly implies that we need less of one and more of the other. In fact, we need more opportunities of all sorts if this generation of school leavers are not to be scarred for the long term.

And this Guardian article (on admissions reform which we covered in Monday’s policy update) contains FE content in its conclusion: The new post-18 education policy proposals came as Williamson wants to move beyond the coronavirus pandemic aftermath, with measures to improve the status and attractiveness of further education, which it regards as a more cost-effective means of meeting the UK labour market’s skills shortage.

There were two meaty Education Committee sessions examining the impact of C-19 focussed on FE and apprenticeships last week, with mention of the FE white paper. You can watch both sessions here, or read the transcript.

An interesting survey (pre-Covid) carried out by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board on apprenticeship report found:

  • Mixed views towards the apprenticeship levy – 32% employers were positive; 19% negative.
  • Only 16% of those surveyed in England said the apprenticeship levy had increased the number of apprentices in their business.
  • SMEs surveyed had a more positive perception (45%) of the Apprenticeship Levy than large companies (29%).
  • Employers also identified a number of challenges facing apprenticeship recruitment, with a lack of suitable work and no current need for apprentices cited by 81%, and a preference to hire graduates or experienced staff over apprentices expressed by 18% of respondents.
  • Other barriers were lack of flexibility in off-the-job requirements (19%) and distance from training providers (29%).
  • Many of those interviewed saw apprenticeships as a way of ‘giving back’ and providing an alternative to those who were not suited to or interested in further academic study, favouring a more technical approach with real work experience.

They made several recommendations to improve apprenticeships:

  • Apprenticeships need better representation by Government, employers and in the mainstream media. Apprenticeships should be included as a destination at both 16 and 18 in school leaving measures and performance tables to bring them on par with further academic study and in media commentary as a destination at relevant school leaving ages.
  • Apprenticeships need to be more clearly defined because the current definition lacks detail and makes it difficult to distinguish between new entrants and apprenticeships used for upskilling and reskilling existing staff.
  • Apprenticeship delivery needs to be decentralised and led through collaborative, regional partnerships which include employers so the pipeline of new recruits aligns to local industrial strategies and skills shortages.
  • Apprenticeship recruitment needs to be more inclusive to improve the diversity of the workforce. Employers should actively reach out and appeal to a wider community rather than relying on traditional recruitment processes.
  • In England, more flexibility is needed around the requirement for 20% of training to take place off-the-job; more support is needed to allow courses to run with lower numbers of apprentices and to pay for apprentices to travel to and from both the employer and the training provider; and more alignment is needed with the upcoming T Levels to allow T level students to transfer into relevant level 3 apprenticeships.

And the APPG for Apprenticeships has called for evidence on how the sector has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and what further work is required to improve apprenticeships policy for the future.

Student Survey

HEPI have a new survey of 1,000 undergraduates addressing their pandemic HE experience:

  • 1 in 5 students (19%) say they have had ‘very clear’ communications on Covid-19 from their higher education institutions (down from 31% in March);
  • 44% feel they have received clear communications about the next academic year from their HE provider
  • 63% are satisfied with the way their HE provider has handled their remaining assessments for this academic year
  • Fewer students are satisfied with the online learning replacement of face-to-face teaching than they when surveyed in March – 42% are satisfied, compared to 49% in March
  • 44% are satisfied with the delivery of support services, such as careers and mental health support, during lockdown
  • 57% are living away from their usual term-time residence. 30% have received a refund on accommodation costs or early release from a contract.
  • Thinking about measures implemented ready for next year HEPI highlight a hierarchy of expectations
    • 75% expect increased hygiene
    • 71% expect some learning online
    • 71% expect social distancing measures
    • 26% expect limitations to courses
    • 25% expect a delayed start to term
    • 18% expect all learning to be online

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

  • The results show that students are realistic that the next academic year is likely to be radically different to the norm. They understand that some level of social distancing is likely to remain in place and blended teaching will combine online and face-to-face teaching. However, it is concerning that less than half feel they have had clear messaging from their university about the next academic year. While it is difficult to predict exactly where we will be by September, it is important universities are as clear as possible in their communications to students.
  • Staff are working their socks off to get their campuses ready for the new academic year and we hope these results will help them prepare.

Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy responded to the report:

  • These figures show that whilst universities have responded quickly and largely successfully to problems, there are still significant numbers of students not getting the support they need. Not all of this can be laid at the door of universities, which have had to meet the challenges with no meaningful help from government.
  • It is paramount that the government provides the support needed so universities can feel confident in dealing with students over the impact of COVID-19 during the next academic year. The government must also provide increased support to students regarding their mental health and wellbeing and providing well-sourced and sufficient hardship funds to universities so no student gets into further debt because of the pandemic.

Graduate Outcomes

The latest provider level LEO (longitudinal education outcomes) data highlighting graduate outcomes was released late last week. The exciting development in this release was for the first time the inclusion of graduates who moved overseas. This new tracking feature had little impact on the overall outcomes but it highlighted, unsurprisingly, that languages students were most likely to move overseas. Next most likely to work outside the UK were physics and astronomy graduates.

The chart below shows the median earnings distribution per subject studying 5 years post-graduation.

Business and management had the widest range of earnings variation – from £17,900 to £75,900. With law incomes also varying greatly.

If you scroll down to the charts on earnings by subject and sex you’ll spot that male salaries (their median earnings) are more than female earnings in the majority of institutions except for Veterinary Studies and Performing Arts.

Wonkhe’s data guru provides his interpretation and some interactive charts on the LEO data release in this blog.

Research

R&D Roadmap

On Wednesday Alok announced the R&D roadmap (with accompanying written ministerial statement). The roadmap aims to chart a course to science superpower status (which Research Professional argue the UK already is) through public investment (£22 billion by 2024/25) attracting private investment, making science and talent central to tackling the major challenges facing society whilst being green, closing the productivity gaps and harnessing technology to transform everything (work, health, people, process, services). The Minister says:  We can only make the most of the UK’s science superpower strengths by working with partners in government, academia, industry and charities across the UK. The roadmap marks the start of a conversation on what actions need to be taken and how to ensure our R&D system is fit for purpose now and for the future. We are engaging with the devolved administrations and other Government departments to ensure this is a cross Government and UK-wide discussion and will be undertaking a broader programme of engagement in the run up to the spending review this autumn.

Brief points from the roadmap (including those already announced):

  • Increase R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027; public funding of R&D to £22 billion by 2024/25 – with the investment intended to leverage further domestic and international business investment into UK R&D.
  • Diversity features frequently throughout the roadmap– access, workforce, innovation, international outlook. Our mission is to inspire and enable people from all backgrounds and experiences to engage and contribute to research and innovation and show that science is for everyone.
  • Celebrate our successes far and wide, showcasing our strengths, and promoting the UK as a destination for talent and investment, and a partner of choice.
  • Checking on the system to ensure the structural barriers aren’t impeding progress:

World-class research and dynamic innovation are part of an interconnected system; they depend on talented people and teams working in a supportive and diverse culture across multiple sectors, with access to the right funding, infrastructure, data and connections – locally, nationally, internationally – to do their best work. We will examine how this system is working across government, academia, universities, research institutes and technology organisations, businesses, charities, domestic and international investors, global networks and partners…

…we will make the bold changes needed to ensure our system is fit for purpose now and for the future. This will require tackling fundamental and challenging questions about our R&D priorities and addressing long-term problems in the system. It seems the Government has taken note of recent publications such as access to and diversity in doctoral research and a potential research bullying culture.

There’s an indicator of timescale …We will not be afraid to make tough choices to achieve this ambition. Many of these are for the UK Government and we will address these as we prepare for the Spending Review.

There are two full pages entitled being honest about where we need to improve (p9-10) covering bureaucracy, unhealthy work culture, Golden Triangle, national security issues, third party funding dependencies.

Similarly, in relation to innovation, the Government intends to: review how we fund and assess discovery and applied research, to cut unnecessary bureaucracy, pursue ambitious “moonshots”, and ensure that institutional funding and international collaboration can support our ambitions. More from page 49 onwards on this.

  • An Innovation Expert Group will review and improve the system including strengthening the interactions between discovery research, applied research, innovation, commercialisation and deployment (and juggling the devolved elements).
  • Focus is key – We will exploit competitive and comparative advantage where the UK can lead the world in key industries, technologies and ideas. And we will ensure we have the best regulatory system to support research and development. This includes supporting start ups and entrepreneurs and their access to finance.
  • A new R&D People and Culture Strategywe will increase the attractiveness and sustainability of careers throughout the R&D workforce – not just for researchers, but also for technicians, innovators, entrepreneurs and practitioners.
  • Set up an Office for Talentwhich will take a new and proactive approach to attracting and retaining the most promising global science, research and innovation talent to the UK. Research Professional highlight that this will need to work with the points based immigration system.
  • The Global Talent Visa (launched in Feb 2020) will be extended to allow highly skilled scientists and researchers from across the globe to come to the UK without needing a job offer.
  • International PhD students will be eligible for a three year work visa (from summer 2021 onwards); undergraduates and maters students remain at the two year visa level (Government has been listening again – you’ll recall Jo Johnson called for a four year visa recently).
  • A new R&D Place Strategy – to unlock local growth and societal benefit from R&D across the UK (due later this year), which will likely involve building on the Strength in Places Fund. Page 32 onwards tackles Levelling up R&D across the UK. Commenting on this section of the report Research Professional state: But for all the noise the government makes on levelling up, there is nothing new in the roadmap about what this might mean in practice.
  • Interestingly, the Government plans to: Provide long-term flexible investment into infrastructure and institutions. This will allow us to develop and maintain cutting-edge research, development and innovation infrastructure, with agile and resilient institutions able to play their fullest role. We will build on the UK’s system of universities, public sector research establishments and other publicly funded laboratories, developing our large-scale infrastructure, facilities, resources and services to make them world-leading. (See more from page 47.)
  • A new funding offer for collaboration to ensure the UK can further benefit from the opportunities of international scientific partnerships. Be a partner of choice for other world-leading research and innovation nations, as well as strengthening R&D partnerships with emerging and developing countries. This will create new opportunities for collaboration, trade, growth and influence. We aim to maintain a close and friendly collaborative relationship with our European partners, seeking to agree a fair and balanced deal for participation in EU R&D schemes. If we do not associate to programmes such as Horizon Europe, we will meet any funding shortfalls and put in place alternative schemes.
  • Creating the ARPA style body (‘at least’ £800 million) to set up a unique and independent funding body for advanced research, modelled on the US’ Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). This body will back breakthrough technologies and basic research by experimenting with new funding models across long-term time horizons. The new body will collaborate internationally, championing bold and transformative R&D. Research Professional (RP) note that Boris promised ARPA would be created during the summer, however, as the new body will require legislation to create it and there are only three sitting weeks of Parliament left it seems likely it’ll begin to form in the Autumn at the earliest. RP also state that there isn’t a firm commitment to joining the European Innovation Council, which under Horizon Europe will be an Arpa-inspired funder of deep-tech-based innovation and entrepreneurship.

Specifically on HE the roadmap states:

We will refresh our relationship with universities in England to ensure that their research activities are sustainable and delivering even greater impact, and that their diverse roles in innovation and regional growth are supported and strengthened. We will review how we fund university research, ensuring that we support the highest quality research areas to grow efficiently with the minimum of bureaucracy

We will work with the higher education sector in England to agree a set of reforms to support university research and knowledge exchange to become more resilient, more efficient and ensure better outcomes from public funding. A new ‘compact’ between government and universities in England could strengthen accountability for discretionary funding, potentially bringing together existing separate higher education research concordats, reducing bureaucracy for institutions and their staff. We will work with the devolved administrations to ensure coherence of approaches across the UK.

Alongside this, we will be reviewing the mechanisms which we use to support university research in England and the incentives that these create within the R&D system. This includes the core block grant funding known as Quality-related Research (QR), which is used at universities’ discretion to fund a broad range of activities, including the work which universities undertake with businesses and other partners, and the nurturing of higher risk and emerging areas of research – especially early career research. We will continue to work closely with UKRI and the devolved administrations to achieve a healthy balance between QR (and its devolved equivalents) and the more directed funding that we provide to projects and people, ensuring that we maintain a vibrant and diverse research base which can respond flexibly to economic and societal challenges. And when we evolve the Research Excellence Framework after the current exercise is complete, we should aspire to run a system which is fair, unbureaucratic and rewards improvement.

In addition, we will work with other funders to consider opportunities to fund a greater proportion of the full economic cost of research projects in universities. This includes asking whether government should fund at a higher rate, to safeguard the sustainability of the research we fund. We must balance this with the need for research funding to be efficient and to protect universities’ ability to deploy their own resources strategically on research issues of particular importance to them. (Has the Government been listening to the Russell Groups’ lobbying for full economic costing?)

The roadmap receives the expected criticism for lack of detail and is best viewed as a series of policy commitments with Treasure backing (it is similar in approach to the Industrial Strategy). It states This Roadmap is the start of a big conversation on what actions need to be taken and how…Over the coming months we will develop the proposals in this Roadmap in a comprehensive R&D plan working very closely with the devolved administrations where plans cover or impact on their devolved policy responsibilities. This plan will only be effective if it is developed with people and organisations across the UK. We welcome responses to the high-level questions (survey).

Research Professional dissect the Roadmap is their usual entertaining way and have an article introducing the Roadmap from Amanda Solloway (Science Minister).

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec UUK, stated:

  • We welcome recognition of the role that university-based research and innovation activities will play in driving the UK’s social and economic recovery post Covid-19 and the particular focus on tackling climate change, developing new medicines, attracting the best scientists and researchers from around the world and addressing longstanding challenges around the sustainability of research activity.
  • The news that the new Graduate Route will be extended for PhD students to allow them to remain in the UK for three years after study is a bold policy move which will increase the UK’s competitive edge in the global competition for talented research students. The announcement of the Graduate Route is already having a huge impact on the UK’s attractiveness as a destination. It will give a competitive offer to some of the brightest minds from across the world who bring huge benefits to university campuses and local communities and can help to build the economy. The commitment to excellent customer service across the immigration system, so that it is simple, easy and quick recognises the benefits of attracting international talent and students to the UK, is a positive and welcome move.

Strength in Places Projects Alok Sharma, Business Secretary, announced a £400 million boost to regional R&D projects across the UK by funding 7 projects across the UK through the Strength in Places Fund. The Government (£186m) and industry (£230m) supplied funding forms part of the commitment to invest 2.4% of GDP in R&D and the Fund itself aims to drive local economic growth. The projects include zero-emissions tech for maritime vessels, smart-packaging to cut food waste, understanding and addressing financial behaviours, selecting medicines based on a patient’s genetics, and new health products to combat infections.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma stated:

  • Today’s announcement will ensure some of our country’s most promising R&D projects get the investment they need to take off and thrive. Working with the private sector our world-class universities, we’re backing new and innovative ideas that will create jobs and boost skills in every part of the UK for years to come.

There was also an announcement on the extension of the Future Fund for businesses.

Letter Outgoing Chief Executive of UKRI, Sir Mark Walport, wrote an open letter to the research and innovation community setting out UKRI’s achievements during his tenure and praising how the research sector has been instrumental in responding to the C-19 pandemic.

REF 2021 The REF team ran a webinar and are consulting on further changes to REF 2021 to adapt to the pandemic disruption. Also the nomination window to sit on the sub-panels is now open.

C-19 Research Funding The NUS are concerned the Government’s additional research rescue proposals (contributing to the loss of international student fees which often subsidise research) will increase inequalities:

  • The concerns of university leaders are clearly being heard in government. However, we are extremely concerned that only a select group of universities will benefit from this package. To offer funding to the research intensive parts of our education system, while only offering restructuring for teaching intensive universities and colleges, threatens to intensify inequalities in our education. It is the institutions which have the largest proportions of disadvantaged students which could suffer the most, turning back the clock on access to higher education.
  • Students, graduates and their families will be deeply disappointed to see another government announcement of funding for universities with no thought given to money for students. Students have been left jobless. Many are reliant on food banks, without access to Universal Credit. We need hardship funding that every single person in need can access right now.

Parliamentary Questions

Disability

The OfS have been prolific publishers during the pandemic. Their latest briefing note addresses the impact of C-19 on disabled students and applicants.

  • Many disabled students already face challenges during their time in higher education that students without a known disability do not…disabled students are less likely to continue their degrees, graduate with a good degree, and progress onto a highly skilled job or further study.
  • …there is a risk that the pandemic may be exacerbating these challenges and creating new issues, particularly if students are unsure of how to access study support or financial aid. It is also particularly important that disabled prospective students can continue to access advice and guidance to help them to make informed decisions about their higher education options.

The briefing note responds to concerns directly raised by disabled students and highlights good practice from HE institutions. It also looks forward discussing – the potential for the current expansion of remote learning and inclusive assessment processes to benefit disabled students if incorporated into longer-term teaching approaches.

Graduate Internships

UUK have published We are together –  Supporting graduates in a Covid-19 economy calling for a one-year paid internships scheme to be on offer for 2020 graduates to help them get a foothold on the employment ladder. UUK believe the internships would support graduate employment prospects and help businesses get back on their feet post-lockdown. UUK see the LEP (local enterprise partnerships) as integral to the creation of the internships both targeting businesses most in need and channelling recent graduates into the local community. Key points:

  • Targeted support for universities and businesses to set-up paid internship opportunities for graduates.
  • Greater support to co-ordinate graduate internship opportunities including better communication of existing schemes.
  • An in-study interest break on the Postgraduate Master’s Loan to encourage more – including those from poorer backgrounds – to consider postgraduate study.
  • Policy change to support a growth in modular and bitesize learning opportunities to help meet immediate business needs.

Joint working with universities, LEPs and businesses with support from the UK government could create fair and meaningful opportunities for young people and ensure this crisis does not lead to a rise in unpaid internships – and reverse the hard-won progress the sector has begun to make on social mobility. UUK is happy to work with government, the Office for Students, and other relevant bodies on the different ways any additional support for this scheme could be provided and allocated.

Professor Julia Buckingham, UUK President and VC Brunel University, stated: Universities have been offering widespread support to help this year’s graduates find jobs and, while some employers are still running recruitment programmes online, the fact remains that there are thousands fewer jobs this year. Government support to incentivise and grow paid internships would benefit both graduates and employers, creating impactful opportunities for these young people and supporting the economic recovery.

Mark Bretton, LEP Network Chair, said: LEPs are already working with HE and FE partners on their LEP Boards to build the recovery and invest in the future lives of local young people. The graduate paid internship proposal from UUK is a logical extension of that work and would prove an effective way to support new graduates, help local businesses, boost the local economy, and contribute to the national recovery.

We look forward to discussing the design and details with UUK and the government, and hope to explore how we can widen the initiative to include other areas like the FE sector. Our partnership with UUK on the Graduate 2020 programme is a natural fit, ensuring funds are targeted based on the needs of local businesses, particularly SMEs, and the priorities identified by LEP Skills Advisory Panels and Growth Hubs as part of economic recovery planning. The partnership clearly demonstrates how LEPs and universities can work together, not only to support business, but to help young people build their lives in one of the most economically challenging periods of modern times.

Liam McCabe, President of NUS Scotland, said: We welcome these proposals from UUK and urge government to implement them. In particular, investment in widening access to postgraduate study and more modular and bitesize learning opportunities will be essential to graduates’ and the UK’s future.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), commented: The current crisis is likely to have a long-term negative impact on the career prospects of the 2020 and 2021 graduating cohorts. Employers facing significant financial challenges, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, will struggle to provide internships and entry level jobs in sufficient quantities to meet students’ needs.

A government funded stimulus package that encourages businesses to invest in young people will boost both the employment prospects of students and the skills base of the UK economy.

Matthew Percival, People and Skills Director at the CBI, said: Graduates face a challenging labour market due to the impact of coronavirus. Businesses will do what they can to ensure that young people have opportunities as the economy restarts, but a new partnership between companies and government is needed. Financial incentives to create jobs and training opportunities earlier in recovery will be vital to reducing youth unemployment.

Admissions

UCAS have confirmed a rise in the number of students accepting places to start HE in September 2020 start. UK applicants accepting a place are up by 1% (2,200 more) compared to 2019. EU acceptances have fallen by 6% with UCAS stating this needs to be seen alongside the overall dwindling EU application numbers. Overall for UK applicants less have deferred their university place than in 2019. With 290 students less opting to defer (2% less overall). However, applicants from outside the EU have increased in number choosing to defer, up by 21% (200 more deferrals). UCAS suggest this deferral rate should also be set in the context of the increased volume (+15%) of non-EU applicants this year. While less UK applicants overall have chosen to defer unfortunately there is a disadvantaged element. UCAS have also examined the POLAR data showing a small increase in applicants from the most disadvantaged area (quintile 1) selecting to defer (+60 applicants, up by 6%)

Parliamentary Questions

Students

HE Sector The importance of good indoor ventilation.

Student Number Controls

Some parliamentary questions provide new content on the student number controls:

In case you missed it previously – confirmation that degree apprenticeships are not counted within the student number controls.

On the reasoning behind the thresholds set for the student number controls Donelan explains:

  • The intention is that it is simple, competitive and places minimal burden on higher education providers.
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Year Four data was used…It is publicly available and requires no additional aggregation or calculation, ensuring transparency. Other data sources are or will be available, but do not average across multiple years of data as is done in TEF.
  • The…minimum qualifying thresholds, ensures that the 5,000 places are awarded on a competitive basis, by restricting eligibility to only the top performing providers.

Deferring students – Donelan dials back on last week’s pro-student choice rhetoric stating: If students do want to defer, it is a matter for individual providers and not the government, so students should speak to their providers directly to determine what flexibility exists.

And the competition for the 5,000 extra healthcare places has been reopened (after institutions had already made their bids and after the original deadline closed). Nursing Times say this is because the Government are planning to free up further funds to increase the places above the 5,000 limit due to ‘significant demand’. It will also provide more time for universities to ensure there are enough clinical placements for increased numbers of new students. As reported last week UCAS have confirmed there are vacancies on all nursing specialism courses, despite applications being up by 6%.

Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary of State, said:

  • Following the fantastic news last Thursday that we have over 12,000 more nurses working in our NHS compared to last year, we have seen huge demand from universities for the additional places we’ve made available on nursing, midwifery or allied health courses.
  • This pandemic has demonstrated just how important our healthcare professionals are, and the demand for places shows that there are thousands of prospective students looking to train for rewarding careers in our NHS.

HE Sector Finances

Research Professional report on a [leaked] briefing note written by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, seen by Research Professional News, explains that several government departments are working together “to develop a process through which higher education providers at risk of closure will be able to apply to government to access a restructuring regime as a last resort”

There will be “attached conditions” wherever the government decides restructuring is needed, BEIS wrote, and the regime “will look to support teaching intensive institutions where there is a case to do so and where intervention is possible and appropriate.

There is nothing unexpected in this, the mood music throughout the pandemic is that the Government will not bail out providers who are financially insolvent. Although there has been suggestion they will step in and intervene ensuring changes relevant to the Government’s agenda are made in return for keeping the institution running (in the short term) – leading some to suggest institutions would be unrecognisable after intervention, including the sale of properties and land.

Lords Debate

The Lords debated the parliamentary question: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to universities to assist them in dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In essence the Government representative (Lord Parkinson of Whiley Bay) received quite a grilling whilst he maintained the party line of stating the range of support methods the Government has put in place for the HE sector. Just a few indulgent excerpts here to highlight that Lords are fighting the HE corner:

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, the Government’s recent announcement provides little new money, and 75% of that will be in loans. Universities’ research is heavily subsidised by international student fee income, which is predicted to drop by £2 billion this year. Many universities have made massive contributions of equipment, research and staffing to the fight against coronavirus. Does the Minister accept that they now need a much more ambitious package of support, because they are making research and staff cutbacks at this moment?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay :The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out the vital contribution that universities are making to solving the pandemic, which is putting pressures on them as well as on everybody else. She referred to the further package of support which the Government announced this weekend. In addition to bringing forward the tuition fee payments which I mentioned in my Answer, the Government are providing a package of support to universities to continue research and innovation. That includes £280 million of taxpayer funding available to sustain UK Research and Innovation and national academy grant-funded research, which is available immediately. From the autumn, there is a further package consisting of low-interest loans with long payback periods and supplemented by a further amount of government grants. I am therefore not sure that I accept what she says about the Government’s response being inadequate.

The Lord Bishop Of Winchester: My Lords, universities make a significant contribution to their local communities and economies, particularly smaller institutions that attract a larger proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These make a significant contribution to their local context, particularly in this pandemic…How will the Government work with higher education institutions to maintain the widening of access and retention of students, especially those preparing for key public service roles that have been so important during this pandemic crisis?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: …I am pleased that higher education providers can draw on existing funding, which is worth around £23 million a month at the moment, to provide hardship funds and support for disadvantaged students who are particularly affected by Covid-19.

Lord Craig Of Radley: My Lords, many university students in England have been missing tuition and access to libraries, laboratories and other university facilities, and may face financial hardship. The Minister says that the Government will not cut the amount paid to universities in tuition fees, but will they reduce sums to be recovered from formerly affected students in later life?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: The noble and gallant Lord is right to point out some of the many ways in which the university experience is being affected by this pandemic with regard to access to libraries, laboratories and so on. I am pleased that universities across the sector have responded swiftly and creatively to ensure that they remain open and that students can continue to avail themselves of high-quality education. Universities are autonomous and responsible for setting their own fees, and of course, as they approach the forthcoming academic year, if they decide to charge full fees, they will want to ensure that they can continue to deliver courses which are fit for purpose and which help students to progress their qualifications. However, any matter regarding the level of those fees and refunds is first and foremost for the providers and those who apply to them.

Vis Count Chandos (Lab): In the absence of more appropriate emergency grant funding to compensate for irrecoverable loss of revenues, the Government have encouraged universities to apply for business interruption loans. How does the Minister think these loans, designed for profit-making companies, can be repaid by non-profit HE institutions, other than at the expense of the quality of courses for future generations of students?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay:…he is also right to point out the wider societal benefits that universities bring, which is why the Government brought forward the additional package of measures which I outlined in my Answer.

Baroness Garden Of Frognal (LD): My Lords, what plans do the Government have to reform student and university funding to enable a greater number of people, especially mature learners, to undertake short higher education courses and build up to a full degree in a way that suits them? That will be increasingly important as individuals reskill post Covid.

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: The noble Baroness is absolutely right that many mature students and others may wish to consider courses of different lengths and varieties, and the Government are glad to see that wide range of courses offered. As she says, that will be particularly important over the coming months. The package of support which the Government have announced is of course available to providers irrespective of the length and format of the courses they offer.

Lord Norton Of Louth (Con):… Given how crucial that export is and that from next year EU students will no longer be subject to home fees, will the Government consider extending the new graduate route post-study work visa to three or four years to ensure that the United Kingdom has a competitive offer to international students?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay :My noble friend draws attention to the new graduate route which comes into effect from next summer, which allows people graduating from UK universities to stay here in work of any level and any remuneration for up to two years— an increased and very generous offer. That is part of the Government’s ambition to increase the number of international students coming to study here in the United Kingdom.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Online: Open University VC Tim Blackman writes about digitally rendered online learning, how selectivity has become a misnomer for prestige, and their new thrust to attract young learners.

Easing lockdown: The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper discussing the impact of the easing of lockdown restrictions on the FE and HE sectors in England.

EdTech: Articles on edtech are a dime a dozen during lockdown. This week’s offering is in a similar vein.

Lockdown placements: Wonkhe have a blog exploring how universities need to adapt content, assessments and requirements where placements have fallen during lockdown because the employer hasn’t offered a remote alternative.

Staying at home: The Guardian have an opinion piece on commuter students.

German HE: Research Professional report that private HE institutions have doubled their student numbers in the last decade in Germany. 8.5% of the student population attend a private university; they are particularly popular with part-time and already employed students. Of all German part time students nearly half (48%) chose a private provider and 41% of distance learners also opted for this type of provider. The most popular subjects were economics, law and social sciences.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 29th June 2020

The government are apparently planning a radical overhaul of admissions (maybe), they have found some funding for research support, EU students will face higher fees in 2021/22, Education Questions in the Commons kept the Ministers on their toes, there’s the latest on student complaints, a brief mention of the B word and the sun has been shining.

University research support package

In coverage of the so called bailout deal announced earlier in the lockdown – which consisted of bringing the second instalment of student loan payments to universities forward by a few months and vaguely threatening proposals for a fund for restructuring universities that fail – it was made clear that no more would be forthcoming. But the government have reached down behind the sofa cushions and found a bit of extra money to support research, although like the additional student numbers (more on that later), it is limited and strings are attached. It was announced late on Friday night so made for a busy Saturday for pundits. You can read David Kernohan’s piece for Wonkhe here, Research Professional here, and THE cover it here.

There will be grant extensions to cover researchers’ salaries and other running costs for UKRI and some other grants, which will be very welcome, as there has been great concern about covering extensions to projects with no extra money. More details are still to be announced.

The main announcement, however, was of a new package of support for research-active universities. It looks odd on the face of it, to those outside the sector and unfamiliar with the weird cross subsidies that exist in the HE market:

  • low-interest loans with long pay-back periods, supplemented by a small amount of government grants. In sharing responsibility for the future of science and research with our world-leading university system the government will cover up to 80% of a university’s income losses from international students for the academic year 20/21, up to the value of non-publicly funded research activity in that university.

So if you have a lot of international students who aren’t coming this year, you can get a loan or a grant (maybe) to cover your income loss, capped by how much funding you normally get from sources other than the government, i.e. businesses and charities as well as the university itself. Complicated?  Yes.  Targeted at a very particular small number of universities, yes, indeed.  This sentence demonstrates the strangeness  “Support is also capped at the level of an institution’s non-publicly funded research to ensure that funds are being directed towards universities conducting research.”  What it is really saying is that there will be support for universities who fund their own research from the fees paid by international students, or from businesses or charities who won’t have any money this year.  That’s not quite the same thing as “universities who do research”.

  • So this: The international student metric when combined with the measure of ‘non-publicly funded research’ is a good proxy for overall Covid-19 losses to research revenue. In return for support, Government will be asking for universities to demonstrate how funds are being utilised to sustain research in areas typically funded by charities and business. We will also take into account the income HEIsreceive from business and charity research.
  • And there is a catch: Universities will be required to demonstrate that funds are being spent on research and on retaining research talent. Universities will be expected to show they are taking their own steps to make efficiencies, in line with the rest of the economy, to protect their research bases. Precise metrics and outputs/outcomes will be developed as we develop the details of the policy over the next few weeks. There will be separate requirements for grant extension proposals.

Some universities will have limits on their borrowing.

And for the institutions (that the information calls “teaching intensive”) who don’t qualify – we’re back to the vaguely threatening restricting fund:

  • The DfERestructuring Regime will look to support teaching intensive institutions where there is a case to do so and where intervention is possible and appropriate. The Government recognises the important role that higher education providers make to regional and local economies through the provision of high-quality courses aligned with local, regional and national economic and societal requirements. This will be within scope of the decision making process for intervention. Further detail on the Restructuring Regime will be announced in due course. 

Radical overhaul of admissions?

Saturday’s Guardian had a headline about a leaked draft report on admissions changes.  As the OfS have recently confirmed that they will be restarting their normal activity, presumably with the “paused” admissions review near the top of their list, it is not surprising that options are being considered.

The Guardian said: The models include:

  • Exams results published in August as is currently the case, but with university and college terms starting in January, allowing five months for processing applications.
  • Moving exam results forward into July and the start of the university term back into mid-October, allowing a 12-week window for students to apply.
  • An unchanged timetable, with only a five-week window for the application process to run between exam results in August and the start of the university term in September, as now.
  • University applications made before A-level results are received, but offers of places to students not released until after results are published, with no change to current timings.

Potential A level exam delay: Consistent with the story above in last Monday’s Oral Education Questions it was confirmed that the DfE is discussing moving A level exams to July 2021 to accommodate some of the C-19 disruption. The BBC and the Times covered the story. The Times noted:

  • some head teachers suggested that a delay risked creating more difficulties. “It would mean either exam boards having a narrower window in which to mark millions of scripts, or results being published later, which would potentially run into the autumn term,” Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL union, said. “This would affect progression to further and higher education. It’s important that the approach to next year’s exams supports pupils without creating more problems than it solves…” 

The article goes on to note the Government have confirmed full funding for the virtual Oak National Academy suggesting that it is preparing for some disruption in the full return of pupils to ‘normal’ schooling. It also highlights that some of the support funding usually available has been cut (e.g. the year 7 catch up in English and Maths for weaker pupils). Alongside the announcements last week of the £1 billion funding programme to help schools support initiatives to bring children back on track after the home schooling disruption to their normal studies. There are likely to be implications for some disadvantaged children in the cuts alongside sharing the newly funded initiatives amongst a wider pool of pupils. It is raising further concerns for an access disadvantaged generation.

Admissions Report

Recently EDSK (a think tank) published Admitting Mistakes: creating a new model for university admissions calling for a fair, transparent and equitable admissions process. It takes issue with the current system:

  • This admissions system has remained almost unchanged for the past three decades, but this inertia should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication that the UCAS system is working well.
  • Politicians from both major parties have raised serious concerns in recent months about university admissions practices, while the Office for Students (OfS) has launched a review of the entire admissions process in its capacity as regulator of the Higher Education (HE) sector. Given this intense pressure, maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. The new rules on admissions proposed by the OfS last month to ensure that universities demonstrate a ‘socially responsible approach’ during the COVID-19 crisis shows that it is perfectly feasible to change the admissions system – even at short notice. It is now simply a question of which changes ministers and regulators wish to make once the crisis subsides.

It also takes issue with the current practices tackling the use of predicted grades for university applications; the growth of ‘unconditional offers’ from universities; and the barriers facing disadvantaged students.

It concludes:

  • In recent months, both the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and the OfS have referred to the importance of ‘trust’ in the context of university admissions because they realise how crucial it is that students, parents and teachers trust the admissions process when so much money and so many hopes and aspirations rest on its shoulders. In light of this, it is deeply concerning how wealth and privilege continue to unduly influence who gets accepted onto university degrees, particularly at the most prestigious institutions. This inevitably results in an overwhelming sense of unfairness as well as risking a catastrophic loss of trust – not just in the admissions process, but in the education system as a whole.
  • The reduction in autonomy over admissions proposed by the OfS in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 is intended to prevent universities from undermining students’ interests and threatening the stability of the HE sector during the crisis, yet the protection of students and maintaining the stability of the sector should be permanent features of our admissions system rather than temporary measures. A fundamental change is therefore needed to make sure that the admissions system prioritises the interests of students, not universities, after the current crisis is over. To this end, it is necessary for universities to give up some of the autonomy they have in relation to how they attract and select applicants each year.

Finally it recommends that in return for the financial support that they are receiving from government to mitigate the impact of COVID-19…universities should be required to accept a new model for the whole admissions cycle. It seems the authors are under the impression that the C-19 financial support is a sufficiently worthwhile and substantial enticement.

While the aggressive language in the press release may rile some in the sector many of its recommendations such as a national contextual offer are already being discussed. The difficulty with such blanket policies is that some students still fall through the cracks as drawing thresholds always results in winners and losers. For example, the report’s recommendation 5 doesn’t include student carers within their definition of greatest disadvantage, and there is little mention of ethnicity throughout the report.

Nevertheless they proposed a nuanced version of post qualification admissions. No predicted grades will be submitted to institutions (although presumably level 3 teachers will still have to produce them) and prospective students instead chose 10 degrees ranked in preference order. On results day students achieving the required (fixed) grade level are automatically placed based on preference order. Where courses are oversubscribed all applicants who are eligible are entered into a lottery. Where courses are undersubscribed still only those who reach the level will be admitted. It sounds simple but when you sit quietly with the concept for a moment you begin to realise it the cracks, for example removing the choice for a student to change their mind – or trade up if they perform better than their teacher predicted (which itself has long been a disadvantage conundrum). There’s also the gaming of the system – if you want that place on that popular oversubscribed course and you’re certain of the grades there will be ways to maximise your likelihood of achieving it based on your preferences…and who will advise prospective students on the game – parents, social networks, teachers and careers staff (again resources which some disadvantaged students lack). The report isn’t to be dismissed and provides a welcome interjection on the admissions system which is due for overhaul in some shape or form, however, it doesn’t offer all the answers it claims to. Perhaps because there isn’t a system which is flawless and which can guarantee equity, particularly for those prospective students with the least support and resources.

Wonkhe have a good blog on the report considering it fairly and offering critique where they see holes. The comments at the end are worth a read too, while most establish serious points Sarah smiled at this one: Think tanks are supposed to think from outside the box.

Diversity in HE

UCAS have highlighted that

  • nursing and social work degrees have the most diverse pool of applicants compared to other major undergraduate subject areas. Health and social care courses are among the subjects attracting the highest proportion of applications and acceptances from black applicants, mature students, and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Other key facts:

  • For all subjects allied to medicine, 16% of acceptances are from students from the black ethnic group (the highest proportion for any wider subject group), followed by social studies courses, with 13%.
  • 42% of students accepted onto social work courses are aged over 30, the highest proportion of any subject. Nursing courses are second, with 29% of acceptances from students in this age group.
  • Social work is the only subject (with more than 150 applicants) that has more students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying (1,055 applicants), than from the most advantaged backgrounds (1,000 applicants). This a ratio of just 0.94 applicants from advantaged backgrounds for each disadvantaged applicant – the lowest ratio of all subjects.
  • Nursing follows with a ratio of 1.12, with 2,100 applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, alongside 2,350 from the most advantaged backgrounds. Both subjects have similar patterns of accepting students from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • While male applicants remain in the minority, the number of men applying for nursing grew by 8.5% to 5,370, with the number of acceptances also growing (by 7.1% to 2,700).

UCAS are using the welcome news on diversity to urge more prospective students to apply for autumn 2020 entry. They state Around 40% of adult nursing and social work courses are still accepting applications…with some universities having up to 50 places available. The vacancy level seems slightly surprising on several counts. First the Government are offering bursaries for specified courses, second they are employment gap areas (and the Government has an additional 5,000 places not yet allocated to institutions), third the positive and high profile PR generated for key services such as nursing through the pandemic was predicted to increase demand for nursing, finally demand from mature students (who make up a bigger proportion of the cohort) could be expected to increase if lockdown has prompted a career re-evaluation. UCAS do note that mature student apply later in the summer months than school leavers and that at January nursing applications were up by 6%.

Postgraduate BAME data: The UK Council for Graduate Education have published a policy briefing summarising the access and participation of Black, Asian and minority ethnicities in UK postgraduate research. Key points:

  • BAME students participate in postgraduate research at a lower level that those enrolled in undergraduate studies.
  • Between 2016/17 – 2018/19 the proportion of BAME postgraduate research students (PGRs) grew by 0.13% however, this rate of growth means it would take 51.8 years for BAME participation in postgraduate research to reach the equivalent proportion at undergraduate level.
  • 15% more white PGRs received financial contributions for their tuition fee than BAME PGRs
  • More white PGRs (19%) qualified in 2018/19 than BAME PGRs (16%)

Disadvantage:

Wonkhe have two blogs on access and disadvantage:

There is also the promised report from the Social Mobility Commission: Apprenticeships and social mobility: fulfilling potential. It raises concerns over the structural barriers within apprenticeships and concludes that they are not fulfilling their social climbing potential.

Key points:

the introduction of the (2017) apprenticeship levy led to a “collapse in overall apprenticeship starts that hit disadvantaged learners hardest”

  • a 36% decline in apprenticeship starts by people from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 23% for others
  • just 13% of degree-level apprenticeships, the fastest growing and most expensive apprenticeship option, goes to apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • more than 80% of apprenticeships undertaken by learners from disadvantaged backgrounds are in enterprises in the services, health, education or public administration sectors
  • on average, apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds earn less than apprentices from more privileged backgrounds
  • there is a 16% boost to wages for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who complete their training, compared with 10% for others

The report calls on the Government to address concerns and channel resources directly where it can have the greatest social benefit.

There was also a slight FE emphasis in one of Donelan’s PQ answers (reminding us the FE remains an underfunded sector and the Government has plans, even if they aren’t sharing them yet):

Q – Mohammad Yasin: In addition to maintaining current commitments to widen participation and extend bursaries for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, will the Minister make sure that the necessary extra funding is provided so that universities such as the University of Bedfordshire can play a key role in retraining and reskilling young and mature students to meet the serious employment challenges ahead?

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that access and participation are key priorities for this Government, and the Office for Students has launched access and participation measures for every institution. Higher education plays a key role in filling the skills needs of the economy, but so does further education, and our priority is to ensure quality provision and that students can make informed choices that are in the best interests of their career destinations.

EU Student Fees Decision

Very unsurprisingly, Michelle Donelan issued a written ministerial statement confirming that EU, EEA and Swiss national students will no longer be eligible for home fee status or Student Finance England financial support from 2021/22. The rules also apply to FE and apprenticeships. EU students starting in 2020/21 will continue to be classed as home students. Irish nationals will be preserved as home student status under the Common Travel Area arrangement.

The announcement may encourage some EU students to take up UK study in September (despite online blended provision being the main method on offer). Likewise the sector anticipates a drop in EU student numbers from 2021/22.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, responded to the announcement:

  • Universities would have preferred the certainty of current arrangements for EU students in England being extended for those starting courses in 2021/22. However, it is important to note that EU students starting courses in autumn 2020 will continue to pay home fees for the duration of their course and be eligible for the UK’s EU settlement scheme if they arrived before the end of this year.
  • The government’s new Graduate Route – starting next summer – also means that students who are not eligible for the settlement scheme will have the opportunity to stay and work in the UK for two years after completing their studies. This will apply to those who initially have to study by distance or blended learning because they are unable to travel to the UK to start in autumn due to Covid-19. Universities are committed to working with government on further measures to support international students to study at UK universities.
  • Our message to international students is that UK universities are ready to welcome and support you through your studies. Whether you choose to study in the UK this year, or in the future, you will receive a high-quality education and learn skills that will benefit you for years to come.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, puts it plainly:

  • Today’s announcement will be seen as bad news inside universities. To date, EU students have benefited from lower fees and access to student loans that are subsidised by UK taxpayers. Together, these have lowered the financial obstacles to studying in the UK. My message to any EU citizen wishing to benefit from the current arrangements is that it is not too late to apply for entry in 2020, before the new rules come into force next year.
  • In the past, we have shown that higher fees and no more access to student loans could risk a decline of around 60% in the number of EU students coming to the UK to study. If that happens, our universities will be less diverse and less open to influences from other countries.
  • However, it is morally and legally difficult to continue charging lower fees to EU citizens than we already charge to people from the rest of the world once Brexit has taken full effect. So today’s decision is not a huge surprise. Moreover, history suggests that the education on offer in our universities is something people are willing to pay for. So, if we adopt sensible post-Brexit migration rules and if universities work very hard to recruit from other EU nations, it is likely that many of our fellow Europeans will still wish to study here.
  • Above all, we need to make it abundantly clear to people from the EU and beyond that our universities remain open to all.

Research Professional have a write up on the fee changes.

Michelle Donelan also answered oral questions specifically on international students describing her

  • two-tier covid response to attract international students: first, by working across government to remove and reduce the logistical barriers faced by students, including visa issues; and secondly, by communicating that the UK is open for business via advertising and open letters to international students, our embassies, and international media.

She also reminded Parliament about the International Education Champion appointment.

Since the parliamentary question session Donelan (and her devolved counterparts) have composed a 6 page letter to international students. It sings the praises of a British education, urges them to apply for the 2020/21 recruitment round (for which visas will be ready in time) and reminds them of their eligibility for the 2-year graduate visa. Excerpts:

  • Although admissions processes and modes of teaching might look slightly different this year, the UK’s world-class universities are continuing to recruit international students and you are encouraged to apply even if you are unable to travel to the UK to meet usual timelines. Universities will be flexible in accommodating your circumstances where possible, including if you are unable to travel to the UK in time for the start of the academic year. We have seen some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by institutions across the UK, and the sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the summer and autumn terms.
  • The UK cares immensely about the health and wellbeing of international students, and ensuring they are safe is our number one priority… To keep number of transmissions in the UK as low as possible, and to protect UK residents and international students in the UK, all international arrivals are now required to supply their contact and accommodation information and self-isolate in their accommodation for fourteen days on arrival into the UK. We have been clear that universities are responsible for, and must support their students on arrival to the UK. We are proud that UK universities are already demonstrating how seriously they are taking this responsibility, in ensuring that their students are safe and well cared for both upon arrival and for the duration of their stay.
  • In addition to support from their universities, NHS services are available to both domestic and international students. International students will always be able to access treatment that clinicians consider is immediately necessary or urgent at no upfront cost. No charges apply to testing for coronavirus…

Graduate Outcomes

The second batch of data from the 2017/18 Graduate Outcomes survey has been released, there is even more to come on 9 July. The tables are interactive allowing you to look at employment rates for different qualification levels (e.g. undergraduates, foundation degrees, doctoral research, taught masters and all the others) at HE or FE, full or part time.

There are also salary bands that are adjustable to look at the characteristics of the students within them. For example the below looks at pay levels by subject studied in HE institutions. It shows a clear salary gain in the high skilled roles but little difference in pay between low and medium skilled jobs.

The pay bands can be examined by age, ethnicity, gender, and disability. Below demonstrates the impact of gender for undergraduates, the postgraduate picture shows more clustering at the higher pay bands. No matter which level of qualification is selected males always number more than females earning the highest pay band.

There is a chart illustrating the proportions of students who are satisfied with their current activity, its fit with their future plans, and whether they are using what they learnt. It varies greatly when you adjust for low medium or high skilled roles, with the low skilled employees feeling least satisfied. And this page breaks down the three elements of satisfaction (meaningful, fit future, useful) even further looking at it by degree subject area, degree classification, salary and by provider.

And at the bottom of the page you can view BU’s student opinion on meaningful, fit for future plans, and useful (it is too large to display here). BU had a response rate of 51%, with higher numbers of postgraduate research students responding.

All the tables are interactive and able to be cut by different parameters – go ahead and have a play!

Wonkhe have a good blog digging into and interpreting meaning from the latest data.

In Parliamentary Questions, Graduate outcomes also received a mention with the stock answer referring to T levels and promoting technical routes. Also:

Q – Neil O’Brien: The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that for 30% of students, the economic return on their degree was negative both for them and for taxpayers. Surely with such clear economic evidence that so many young people would be better off if they took a different route, it is time to rebalance from just higher education to a stronger technical education system?

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • It is important that students make as informed choices as possible from a range of high-quality courses, and university is not the only or the best route for certain careers. Some students may be better placed if they do higher technical qualifications or apprenticeships. That is why the Secretary of State is spearheading a revolution in further education in this country, including the introduction of T-levels.

Research

HEPI have published PhD Life: The UK student experience. It highlights that for UK students:

  • the average PhD student works 47 hours per week, which is over 50% more than the average undergraduate and three hours less than the average academic
  • meaning PhD students earn less than the minimum wage (if they are on the basic Research Council stipend)
  • 78% of PhD students are satisfied with their degree of independence
  • 63% of PhD students see their supervisor for less than one hour per-week
  • 23% of PhD students would change their supervisor if they were starting their PhD again now
  • 80% of PhD students believe a career in research can be lonely and isolating
  • over one-third (37%) of PhD students have sought help for anxiety or depression caused by PhD study
  • one-quarter (25%) of PhD students feel they have been bullied and 47% believe they have witnessed bullying, and
  • one-fifth (20%) of PhD students feel they have been discriminated against and 34% believe they have witnessed discrimination.

The data informing the report is based on two surveys taking place between June and November 2019 by the Wellcome trust and Nature.

The report includes testimonials capturing PhD students’ perspectives on their situation:

  • Due to being [funded] by a stipend and not through student finance, and not technically being employed by the university means that I am not eligible for childcare funding. The cost of childcare is around £11,000 per year, my stipend is £14,200.
  • ..almost all the staff I meet from different universities are “pals from [insert elitist uni here]”. As such they have very little understanding of the challenges someone from a “normal” or disadvantaged background faces, especially financially, giving the overwhelming impression that your skills are secondary to your class.
  • The higher up you go, the more male and white-dominated the environment becomes. There’s only one full female professor in my whole institute, and I have genuinely never met a black PI [Principal Investigator] or professor since starting my PhD.

Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, commented:

  • Too often, people taking PhDs are regarded as neither one thing nor the other. They are not seen as students the way undergraduates are and they are not seen as staff the way academics are. Sometimes, PhD students receive excellent support but, too often, they fall through the cracks, making them demoralised and unhappy. When that happens, we all lose because the world desperately needs people who push forward the frontiers of knowledge.
  • We know far more about undergraduates than we used to and we now need similar levels of research on the student experience of postgraduates to help policymakers, regulators and funders improve their lives.

In the Foreword to the new report, Dr Katie Wheat, Head of Engagement and Policy at Vitae, said:

  • This report makes an important contribution to current debates on research culture by presenting the views of doctoral researchers in the UK extracted from the recent Wellcome Trust and Nature reports. It highlights several areas of concern, including working conditions, wellbeing, supervision and incidents of bullying and harassment…The findings chime with growing recognition of the need to improve research culture.

Student Numbers Cap

The deadline for universities to apply for additional places expired on Friday.

Emma Hardy questions the reasoning behind the threshold levels set for continuation and graduate outcome rates which determine whether a provider can bid for some of the 5,000 non-healthcare course additional places for the 2020/21 recruitment round. She also asks why these indicators were chosen rather than using the TEF, whether an equalities impact assessment was undertaken, and if the DfE considered a HEIs social intake and the communities served when setting the rates (because they appear to discriminate against certain types of provider).

The additional 5,000 biddable places within the student numbers cap restrictions allow the Government to exert a small measure of control over which courses they wish to see more (or less) of within the UK. In this vein Research Professional had an interesting narrative on Monday covering Australia who intend to more than double tuition fees for some arts subjects, raise fees for business and law, and lowered fees for some in-demand courses which contribute to national gap and growth needs. The reforms will be implemented in 2021 – if they pass the parliamentary hurdles.

The increase/decreases:

  • +28% law and commerce studies
  • +113% arts and humanities (making a three year degree roughly £24,150 in UK terms)
  • -62% maths and agriculture
  • -46% teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, and languages (including English)
  • -20% science, health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering
  • 0% (no change) for medicine, dental and veterinary

The price rises are per unit of study so it encourages students who might study history to also consider teaching too, or to add in a language.

The changes are designed to incentive students to follow the career growth areas that Australia needs. They aiming to get 39,000 students on skills shortage courses by 2023 and 100,000 by 2030 to produce the ‘job ready graduates’ that Australia needs.

The Australian Government also intends to increase support for rural and indigenous students through the reforms. They will direct fund universities to run bespoke programmes with local significance to attract indigenous students from the lowest participation rate areas and guarantee a place at public universities. Other reforms include a $48.8m research grants programme for regional universities to collaborate with industry, and $21m to set up more regional university study centres to provide tutoring and IT support for students in remote areas.

Research Professional highlight that the UK Government could utilise the LEO data to set price variation in the levels of student loan that would be offered to priority and non-priority courses. Also that if more students took courses with higher salaries the repayment levels of loans would be higher – ultimately saving the public purse. Although one does wonder whether so many of these high paid roles are standing vacant or whether such a policy increasing the volume of graduates following some programmes would simply displace the current holders of such posts. Nethertheless, it is food for thought for the Government who love a decent worked example from elsewhere. Particularly with the response to the Augar report (which advocated cutting humanities tuition fee/loans down to £7,500) not due until the spending review.

Ant Bagshaw (ex-Wonkhe, now working in Australia) has a blog on the proposals and what this might mean for UK HE. As ever there are some interesting comments to the blog. And the Guardian have an opinion piece taking issue with the Australian proposal for job ready graduates.

Returning to the UK student numbers cap there is an interesting piece from a specialist institution explaining how the student number controls will reduce access for those from certain disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Government has also released the latest information on how the student number cap will be run. Wonkhe summarise it:

  • It suggests that the controls will apply to fee-loan and self-funded full time undergraduates, with exemptions for new providers and students retaking A levels in the autumn. Franchised provision will count towards the cap of the registering institution, and this will not change if the agreement is terminated. It appears that number restrictions will apply to providers that do not recruit via UCAS, though we get little information as to how this will work in practice.
  • According to the same document, the list of specified subjects for additional places will not be changed, and includes subjects which relate to skills or professions at risk of shortage in the economy, or that “generate positive economic returns for the individual and the taxpayer”. This marks the first time longitudinal salary data has been used in higher education policymaking.

Student Complaints

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has published a second briefing note on their approach to complaints arising from C-19. These excerpts make their approach to complaints clear:

  • Consumer protection legislation has not been suspended for students. This means that providers still need to deliver learning and other services that are consistent with students’ reasonable expectations. 
  • What students can reasonably expect, and what providers can reasonably be expected to deliver, is likely to change and evolve as circumstances change and evolve, especially if restrictions are tightened again. But providers should be planning to deliver what was promised – or something at least broadly equivalent to it – and to ensure that learning outcomes can be met. It’s unlikely to be reasonable not to do that, especially now the initial crisis period has passed.
  • Where providers have not or decide they cannot deliver what was promised they will need to consider how to put that right. A blanket refusal to consider tuition fee refunds in any circumstances is not reasonable. There may be groups of students that are particularly affected, and providers should take steps to identify those groups and address their issues. But they also need to consider concerns raised by students about their individual circumstances.
  • Some students may feel unable to continue with their studies because the way their course will be delivered has changed materially, their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or are very anxious. Providers should consider requests for deferrals sympathetically and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so. [This is interesting in light of recent media reports that second or third year students wish to defer for a year rather than continue with online teaching in subjects such as theatre studies.]
  • We can look at complaints about what was promised and what was delivered, but we can’t look at concerns that involve academic judgment such as the quality of academic provision.
  • We can consider (for example) a complaint that a provider did not cover subject areas that it said it would; that a student’s supervisor was unavailable; that a student didn’t benefit from teaching because they could not access it, or the delivery method did not work for them; that a provider did not support its students adequately; or that the provider did not follow a reasonable assessment process.
  • But an assessment of the quality of what has been delivered is likely to involve academic judgment, which we can’t look at…This means that we can’t look at a complaint that teaching was not of an adequate academic standard; that an online teaching session was just not as good as it would have been face to face; that the student’s work was worth a higher mark; or that a postgraduate student did not get the right academic guidance from their supervisor.
  • We will look at whether what the provider has done is reasonable in the circumstances – so reasonable delivery in the middle of lockdown is likely to look different to reasonable delivery in a more managed and planned environment.

The lack of judgement over quality of academic delivery slams the door on the Universities Minister’s claims to contact the ombudsmen if students aren’t able to resolve concerns directly with their provider.

There is also clear emphasis on individual student differences:

  • Some students are more seriously affected than others…Arrangements that might work well for many students may not work for all and providers should be proactive about identifying and supporting students who may need additional help. Students are likely to encounter all sorts of accessibility issues. Online teaching arrangements may not work for some students with learning or processing differences. Some students will be shielding or have caring responsibilities that continue even after lockdown restrictions are eased. Some will have poor internet connection – some will not have access to IT equipment at all. Some will simply not be able to work effectively from the space they are living in.
  • Careful thought and planning is needed to address these issues in advance, whenever possible. Planning that starts with meeting the needs of those likely to have accessibility issues is more likely to result in arrangements that work for everyone.

And a pro-active approach is urged:

  • Providers also need to seek out students who are not engaging with online delivery, and those whom they know may find it difficult because of their individual circumstances.
  • Some students such as those who had planned to study abroad or take up industry placements may be facing additional uncertainties. Providers may need to give those students more support and advice, for example on accommodation and financial issues.
  • A rigid adherence to regulations and processes is unlikely to be fair: empathy and flexibility are key.

Mass Action

Meanwhile the NHS is encouraging students to join their mass action complaint chain to win the chance to REDO, REIMBURSE, WRITE-OFF  (compensation funding for reimbursements, a debt write-off, or the chance to redo the year at no extra cost). Research Professional report that

  • the NUS estimates that around 20 per cent of students have been unable to access their learning at all during the pandemic and 33 per cent do not believe it to have been good quality. Particularly badly affected, the union says, are the many disabled students who have not received reasonable adjustments remotely, those who have lost access to studio, lab or workshop space, and students on placements.

Claire Sosienski Smith, VP HE at NUS, stated:

  • We know the scale of the disruption has been so vast that we need a national sector-wide response from government for this, including funding from Westminster… even if students complain to their individual institutions, how will universities afford it when the UK government haven’t announced a single penny of additional funding to support them? Our plea to the UK government is clear: you must offer tangible help to students who can’t access their education right now.

On the Government’s insistence that students individually take up their complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS President, said:

  • We were told students were going to be ‘empowered consumers’ but actually, when something like this happens, we feel we’ve got less rights than if we’d booked an Airbnb. The UK government are desperate to reduce this to a series of individual problems. It’s a total betrayal of trust to the thousands of students who are now facing lifelong debts for a once-in-a-lifetime education they haven’t received.

Online learning

HEPI have a guest blog – Learning from lockdown: harnessing tech to improve the student experience. It begins:

  • The recent transition to online learning has been as rapidas it has been impressive. Many universities have put very large elements of their curricula and assessments online in just a few short weeks.
  • Things that would previously have taken years to plan and execute have been designed, developed and implemented with alacrity. In short, there has been a huge amount of digital acceleration in universities since the advent of the pandemic.
  • However, let’s not kid ourselves; what has been achieved recently is mostly basicand will be largely ephemeral. I’ve heard it said that the transition is more about remote learning than online learning – about adding new tools to old pedagogy, rather than digitally enabling education across the board.

Next it considers the levels at which universities engage most fully with online learning. It concludes with a plug for Jisc and states:

  • The big effort that many universities are embarking on this summer is to develop more extensive, robust and higher quality online learning experiences for their students. Those that created a digital strategy a few years ago and invested in digital infrastructure, skills, content and applications must be feeling a little smug – and relieved. But it’s never too late to start on technology enablement and now is an ‘opportune’ time.
  • I suggest that there is more than enough technology and written experience out there about what works well. Universities need to harness both to capitalise on the newfound energy and goodwill among staff and students.

OfS

It has been a season of high-profile step downs. The latest is Sir Michael Barber who will not seek a second term as Chair of the OfS, meaning he will step down in March 2021. Like most of those relinquishing roles he still has a parliamentary to do list before he can return to his garden and long walks – he has agreed to lead a review into digital learning. The review will consider how universities and other higher education providers can continue to enhance online teaching and learning for the new academic year, and explore longer term opportunities for digital teaching and learning.

The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, commented on Sir Michael’s decision to step down:

  • I have hugely valued Sir Michael’s leadership, insight and advice during his time as Chair and I have enjoyed our working relationship.
  • I am very thankful to him for his work leading the set up and transformation of the OfS, and particularly for his work tackling unconditional offers, senior executive pay and grade inflation.
  • As the higher education sector emerges from the pandemic, I look forward to the findings of the review into ways of enhancing the quality of online learning and driving innovation, which will be critical for the future of the sector.

Let’s hope Sir Michael’s review receives ministerial attention quicker than that of the TEF or the Augar reports.

Brexit

We haven’t mentioned the ‘B’ word more than in passing recently. However, we’re halfway through the transition period and the Government is adamant it will end without extension on 31 December. Little progress has been made in talks and businesses are fearful of no deal particularly following the economic downturn associated with the pandemic. Dods have a Brexit briefing examining the key areas of contention in the talks, the possibility of an extension, and the implementation hurdles that need to be overcome before the end of the year.

Easing Lockdown

The House of Commons Library have issued a briefing paper on the impact of easing lockdown restrictions within the FE & HE sectors (in England). The paper covers the expected issues including re-opening campuses, prospective student numbers (2020/21), and temporary student number controls.

Parliamentary Updates

APPG Universities: Ex-universities minister Chris Skidmore has been appointed co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary interest group for Universities. Daniel Zeichner continues to also co-chair the APPG.  Chris states: I look forward to continuing to make the case for why our world leading UK universities can drive innovation, lift social mobility and regenerate local economies- and why they deserve support. Chris has also committed to a monthly spot writing for Research Professional too. Between Chris and Jo Johnson it seems Michelle Donelan’s time in the spotlight will be harried by two ex-Ministers who are willing to speak out. This is likely good news for the sector (for now) as Donelan has been keen to stick closely to the party line to date.

Parliamentary Questions

Contract Cheating; If you’ve been following this topic in the policy update for a while you’ll be aware that Lord Storey continues his campaign to stamp out essay mills and academic cheat services. He often asks nuanced parliamentary questions on the topic and this week he got an encouraging answer. Here it is in full:

Q – Lord Storey: Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on academic performance in those countries who have banned contract cheating services; and what plans they have, if any, to adopt similar policies. [HL5328]

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • The government is aware that legislation has been introduced in several countries to ban contract cheating services, including in New Zealand, several states in the USA and, most recently, Ireland. It should also be noted that a bill was introduced in Australia in December which, if passed, would make it an offence to provide or advertise academic ‘contract cheating’ services in higher education.
  • We would be willing to consider supporting any legislation, including a Private Members’ Bill, that is workable and that contains measures that would eliminate essay mills in ways that cannot be delivered through other means, provided that the Parliamentary time permitted.
  • Ministers have called on universities, sector bodies, educational technology companies and online platforms to do everything in their power to help eradicate academic cheating of any kind from our world-class higher education sector. We have set a clear expectation that the Office for Students (OfS) should take a visible lead in challenging the sector to eliminate the use of essay mills. We expect the OfS to work with the members of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment to ensure that the sector has the support it needs and that it is taking firm and robust action to ensure that this threat to the integrity of the higher education system is being tackled.

Other Questions

  • Financial and educational support for postgraduate students whose education is now online.
  • This question is about schools rather than HE but it reminds us that young/student carers may be more disadvantaged as they may have had to self-isolate throughout lockdown to protect the vulnerable condition of those they care for.

Oral questions in the House of Commons on Further and Higher Education covered a range of topics this week (no new news). Some are covered in other sections.  The student number cap, international students, support for students and the economy all featured.

Research Professional cover all the major HE oral questions and add a little entertainment value in their descriptions.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There aren’t any new HE consultations or inquiries this week. However, if you are interested in the bigger picture you may like to be aware that:

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

 

Student experience news, more guidance on reopening, OfS share analysis, and Wonkhe highlight some uncomfortable exclusions within the additional student number place bidding requirements.

Reopening campus

The OfS has published Guidance for providers about student and consumer protection during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It includes

  • Protecting student interest by providing clear and timely information (current and prospective students)
  • Ensuring T&Cs and complaints processes are accessible and fair
  • Providing alternative teaching and support that is broadly equivalent to the usual arrangements
  • Projecting and considering the students most vulnerable to disruption (unwell, self-isolating, international students, those struggling to engage with remote learning, care leavers, estranged students and students with disabilities).
  • Engagement with student unions
  • Prospective students should understand what the institution plans to deliver during the disrupted period and plans in place should matters change. Enough information is required for the student to make an informed decision about whether to commence the course with the adjustments in place or whether to defer or go elsewhere. As the plan can be a moving feast providers should be clear what is definite and what is fluid. Including the differing scenarios, i.e. as restrictions ease and what can be expected from any face-to-face teaching in each scenario version.
  • When students can change their mind about the offer is also set out.
  • Fee levels should be clear including if reductions will be made as a result of the disruption and, if so, when students can expect fee levels to return to normal.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS stated:

  • These are exceptionally challenging times for both students and universities, but students must be told clearly how their courses will be taught next year.
  • While many universities and colleges have responded to the crisis with innovation and ingenuity, all current students have had their studies disrupted. Any adjustments that continue into next year must be clearly communicated, and students must have access to a transparent and flexible complaints process should they feel that suitable changes have not been made.

Research Professional cover the guidance here.

Wonkhe have four offerings:

The DfE published HE Reopening Buildings and Campuses – just after UUK and others issued their guidance (and some time after universities have already made and publicised decisions). The guidance restates all the sensible common sense approaches the sector is already adopting. It also mentions the OfS quality and standards guidance.

On the curriculum the guidance states:

  • We recognise that, for many courses, online teaching and learning is working effectively and has a high degree of learner engagement (while it will also benefit those who are not able to physically attend, for example those with family members who are shielding). You should identify the appropriate mix of online and face-to-face content for each subject, reflecting what will maximise learning as well as supporting more vulnerable learners, and enabling the provider as a whole to minimise transmission risk.
  • Certain types of course, for example in the performing arts, have involved a degree of practical face-to-face teaching and assessment…You might consider how to encourage new ways of delivering in-person teaching and assessment that adhere to guidelines on social distancing, so that all students can receive a high-quality educational experience in a way that protects both students and staff.

On international students the government warns universities to make provision to support the 14 day self-isolation and requirement to adhere to safe travel between arrival in UK and the self-isolating accommodation destination. Furthermore, to ensure students are safe and well looked after during the 14 day self-isolation period. The guidance states:

  • While it is for institutions to decide how they support international students, we believe it is important that you make every effort to welcome them to the UK and your responsibilities should start as soon as a student lands, if not before. And: You should also consider the needs of students, including international students, who may be suffering hardship or be without the ability to travel as a result of the outbreak.

There are also the expected reminders around duty of care, student and staff wellbeing and suicide prevention (both of which are Governmental priorities).

Wonkhe report on Life interrupted! Report 4 stating that

  • students are unhappy about “full fees” because of perceptions that their learning experience, or the wider student experience, will be compromised.
  • Prospective students are willing to accept limitations on learning in September provided that additional academic support is readily available, and that contingency plans are made for practical aspects. They are also concerned about the social aspects they will be missing out on – and are hoping that universities and/or students’ unions will help to provide alternative arrangements including delayed freshers events, online societies and a virtual introduction to their peers. Students are most keen to meet those with a shared choice in subject, societies and accommodation.

The Times published this ‘advice’ in a student’s opinion piece: Without free-range socialising, university life will be barren: are you planning to start university in September? My advice is run for the hills and defer. The first year of university is too important to be conducted in a socially-distanced manner, and not worth the £9,250 it will cost you. Not quite as drastic as it seems it goes on to mention all the life learning that students fear missing out on: Conversations at all hours of the day and night are where ideas are exchanged, opinions formed, and insights shared across subjects. It is interesting as a young undergraduate perspective but also for demonstrating affluent privilege and not recognising all the commuter students, carers, and online students who do not have access to this experience throughout their HE journey.

Deferrals: A Guardian article highlights the on-course students who are not being permitted to defer their studies due to C-19. Meanwhile Wonkhe report:

The Telegraph covers worries among major student landlords that Covid-19 might lead large numbers of students to defer, disrupting their reliable revenue streams; and has advice for students considering deferring their place at university, including reasons why that might be a bad idea.

The BBC also has advice for students considering deferring the start of their academic studies due to Covid-19.

The BBC look at the gap year as a choice forced by the pandemic.

Students Parliamentary Questions

Student Academic Experience Survey

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Advance HE published the results of the 2020 Student Academic Experience survey.  Jane attended the launch webinar which was different from the last few – no big ministerial speech and a reflective approach on the experience of under-represented and disadvantaged groups in the pandemic and more generally, including an excellent panel presentation from the President of Bath University’s student union. There are differences in the results too, and they have analysed some of the responses into before and after lockdown. It will be interesting to see if the same approach is used in presenting the NSS results, which are due on 15th July now (a delay from the original 1st July date).

It is worth reading the report in full but here are some headlines:

  • Value for money perceptions have fallen again, after a rise over a couple of years – possibly linked to the pandemic as students were interviewed before and after lockdown and those interviewed after lockdown gave a lower response.
  • The decline was most keenly felt by students in England and Scotland (which may not be where they are studying). Students from outside the EU showed an increase in their perception of value for money.
  • Cost is always a factor driving negative perceptions. This year 7% said “another reason” which is unusual for this survey and they mentioned contact hours linked to strikes and the pandemic.
  • There are interesting charts on the impact of paid employment – which is increasing, which raises concerns about financial hardship next year when job may be harder to find.
  • There is an uptick in people saying that their experience has been better than expected.
  • Different ethnic groups have very different perceptions of their experience
  • There is also a set of challenges around clearing students. AS the government is trying to encourage more students into clearing this year to change their choices it will be interesting to see what impact this has. There is a challenge for universities here to address these issues.
  • A real challenge around student wellbeing – linked to concern about the future and students who feel that they have learned a lot may be better prepared.
  • New question – why did you go to university – focus on career and skills in terms of what will determine their future success.
  • There is growing support for university spend on areas that are not student facing – including research, management and financial support. There is an increase in support for spend on student support.
  • Technology results are interesting especially given the impact of the pandemic– better technology has a good correlation with good experience.

Continuation, participation and attainment

The OfS published Differences in student outcomes: further characteristics examining the impacts of care experience, free school meal eligibility, parental higher education, sexual orientation and socio-economic background on outcomes in higher education. It is an experimental release ‘ad hoc statistical report’. It looks for answers on the differences in continuation rates, attainment and progression but other factors are omitted, there is no weighting or statistical modelling and – sadly – they do not look at the interaction of factors (which limits its usefulness).  It really is a first stab at considering additional factors. The definition of continuation, attainment and progression is explained in point 10 on page 4. The definitions of care, free school meals, etc, can be seen on page 6. The OfS also looked at gender identity and religion/belief but the data integrity wasn’t high enough to include these factors within the report.

The report aims to look at the differences in by the below five additional outcomes which are not usually included within the OfS access and participation sector-level summary because identifying differences in outcomes is a key part of the OfS approach to access and participation and allows the OfS and higher education providers to make targeted decisions to reduce and remove these differences.

Effect of Care

Care experienced students have lower continuation and attainment rates than non-care students (5.6% lower continuation; 12% lower attainment). However, their progression rate is 0.4% higher than non-care students.

The continuation rates of students who have not been in care have changed little between 2014-15 and 2017-18 but during this time the continuation rates of care experienced students increased. This means the difference in continuation rates has been shrinking.

Effect of Free School Meals

Students who were eligible for free school meals (FSM) have lower continuation (5.4% lower), attainment (13% lower) and progression rates (5%) than students who did not receive them when at school. Students who receive free school meals are also less likely to access HE in the first place (26% of FSM pupils versus 45% of non FSM pupils). So FSM correlates highly with the POLAR measure which measures how likely people living within a certain geographical area are to progress to HE. There is a slight widening in the attainment rate gap. And as outlined above there is a big gap in progression to highly skilled employment/

Effect of Parental HE experience

A student who attends HE when their parents didn’t is one of the social mobility markers – access to HE is broadly the same between those whose parents did and didn’t not attend HE. However, students whose parents did not attend HE have lower rates across all 3 categories – continuation 3% lower; attainment 6% lower; 2.6% lower progression. The continuation rate gap is slowly increasing over time for this group.

Effect of Sexual Orientation

Continuation rate of LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) students was 1% lower than heterosexual students; those classed as not heterosexual or LGB was 5.6% lower than heterosexual. The attainment rate of LGB was 2.4% higher than heterosexual, but those not heterosexual or LGB was 7% lower than heterosexual students. There isn’t data for progression to lack of data collected in earlier years.

The difference in continuation rates between heterosexual students and LGB students has been shrinking while the difference between heterosexual students and students who are not heterosexual or LGB has been growing.

Effect of Socio-economic background

Continuation and attainment rates reduce as socio-economic background (measured by NS-SEC) becomes less advantaged. Comparisons were made against the students with parents in higher level professions. Those with parents in intermediate occupation have a 2% lower continuation rate, 5% lower attainment rate. With bigger differences for students whose parents work in routine and manual occupations or are unemployed. There isn’t data for progression due to lack of data availability.

Continuation rates dropped slightly between 2015-16 and 2017-18 for all socio-economic backgrounds but this drop was larger for students whose parents do not work in higher occupations, meaning the differences in continuation grew between 2015-16 and 2017-18.

Students with parents classified in the unemployed category also fare worst in the attainment rates.

While this national picture provides some interesting, and unsurprising, benchmarks the lack of intersectionality of the data highlighting the overlaps between the categories considered limits its overall use. However, institutions are already looking at combination of characteristics and their APP plans address the gaps identified. It does provide fair warning that the OfS is more willing to tackle wider factors and the report states that OfS plan to take a similar first look at estranged students, household residual income and children from military families in the future.

Chris Millward, OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, stated:

  • The biggest equality gaps – access to the most selective universities and the black attainment gap – are still our top priorities. But there are important new insights in this data which universities and colleges can use to improve their support for students during the courses. Students who have overcome barriers to get into higher education may need more support once they arrive to ensure that they unlock their potential, but we know that when this happens they do succeed.
  • Care experienced students are already severely underrepresented in higher education, so it is particularly important that universities and colleges improve their support for this group to ensure that they stand to benefit from the experience when they get in.
  • The current crisis has revealed different experiences and outcomes across our educational system, so it is more important than ever to maintain our focus on tackling inequality in higher education. We have been clear throughout the pandemic that we still expect universities and colleges to meet their financial commitments to support the most disadvantaged students on course, and we have given them the flexibility to put more funding into this for crisis support.
  • As the country begins to move out of lockdown, we will now be working closely with universities and colleges to get their plans to tackle equality gaps back on track.

The attainment gap in primary and secondary schools narrowed between 2011-19. However, at the Education Select Committee session (3 June) concerns were expressed that C-19 would wipe out this narrowing. The Educational Endowment Foundation representative stated the primary gap would widen from 111 to 75% between March and September 2020. The Sutton Trust agreed the gap would widen. This may have a future knock on effect for HE provision gap reduction measurements. Alongside this it was noted that C-19 would lead to significant numbers of newly-disadvantaged pupils, particularly in already geographically deprived areas.

Admissions and student number controls

Student Number Controls

Wonkhe highlight that analysis of the criteria for bidding for the 5,000 non-healthcare additional student numbers excludes every institutional member of Million Plus and includes every member of the Russell Group. The eligibility criteria, based on absolute (non-benchmarked) values for highly skilled graduate employment and student continuation as used in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), work to exclude providers who recruit large numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • Greg Walker, chief executive of Million Plus told us: “It is not clear why the government used the particular exclusion criteria they did, when their own published TEF ratings were available to them. Even better would be to use criteria that related to the quality of the programmes themselves, rather than metrics directly linked to the socio-economic background of the student body and the academic selectivity employed by the university.”

The detail and examples are in this Wonkhe blog; it concludes:

  • we have an emergency growth policy that primarily supports well-off applicants attending established universities. And we deserve better.

The comments responding to the article are worth a read too (e.g. All this will do is create a further layer of privilege, for both students and institutions, in an already uncertain time).

International Student Outlook

Research Professional cover the latest survey, this time from the British Council, examining 8 East Asian regions. They draw on the survey results to predict:

  • UK universities face at least a £463 million shortfall in the coming academic year as a result of decreased international student recruitment from these regions and the associated loss of fee income. In fact, there will be “nearly 14,000 fewer new enrolments from east Asia in 2020-21 compared to the 2018-19 academic year”, the analysis suggests—a 12 per cent decrease. The figure of £463m is roughly equivalent to the annual income of a large UK university.
  • the British Council estimates that there could be a 61 per cent decrease in new enrolments from the eight territories, meaning more than 68,000 fewer students than in 2018-19. This would mean a £2.3 billion decline in tuition fee income for UK universities. And that is before you consider whether current students opt to continue their studies.
  • The British Council says that prospective postgraduate students “overwhelmingly prefer to delay plans for a face-to-face start in January 2021”. Indeed, 63 per cent of would-be postgrads favour a face-to-face start to their course in January 2021, compared with just 15 per cent who would like to kick things off online this September.
  • Since most postgrads are heading to the UK to study one-year masters courses, they have the most to lose if there is significant disruption to their first term

British Council report author, Matt Durnin, said:

  • Prospective international students are facing a lot of uncertainty, but many are clearly trying to find a way to keep their overseas study plans. There is a window of opportunity over the next two months to create a greater sense of certainty about the upcoming academic year. If responses are clear and quickly communicated to prospective students, UK higher education will face a much more manageable scenario.
  • The potential short-term shock to the system caused by the recruitment dip may take three or four years to recalibrate.

Media coverage in The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, ITV news.  UUK also write for Research Professional (and their own blog) urging for comms and clarify so that international students understand they quality for the post study work visa despite an online start to their course. They also call for the visa window to be lengthened to accommodation the indecision surrounding the ongoing C-19 pandemic.

On Friday the Universities Minister announced the appointment of an International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith (ex VC Exeter University), at the British Council’s launch event. The Government’s press release describes the Champion’s role: to work with organisations across the breadth of the education sector, including universities, schools, the EdTech industry, vocational training, and early years schooling providers. The Champion will also target priority regions worldwide to build networks and promote the UK as the international education partner of choice…spearhead overseas activity and address a number of market access barriers on behalf of the whole education sector, including concerns over the global recognition of UK degrees.

Donellan also spoke of international student visa flexibility and stated: International students are an integral part of our society, culture and economy… I want to stress to overseas students at this unprecedented time that they will always be welcome in this country. Supporting international students is one of our top priorities and we are working hard to make sure we are as flexible as possible and make processes as easy as they can be, including around current visa regulations. Now, more than ever, it is critical we work together internationally, sharing our knowledge to mitigate the challenges we all face.

The press release continues: A letter from the Universities Minister to international students last month detailed a number of measures designed to safeguard students from the impacts of Covid-19 and enable them to continue their studies as planned.

These include temporary concessions to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 and ensure the immigration system is as flexible as possible, the launch of the new points-based Student route later this year and the new Graduate Route in the summer of 2021, which will enable international students who have been awarded their degree to stay and work in the UK at any skill level for two years.

The Minister’s response to this parliamentary question contained similar content to the above too.

UUK’s point is to ensure the Minister is closing loopholes and confirm online post graduate starters will be eligible for the post study work visa. Here is a parliamentary question on one such loophole: International students studying less than 11 months and starting online – eligibility for graduate visa route.

Admissions PQs

Widening Participation

HEPI have published a new blog: A call to action on widening participation in the era of Covid-19.The authors are concerned that C-19 has swept away the access gains of the last few years and call for prioritisation to mitigate the pandemic’s impact in the short term. This includes positioning work to widen participation within the Government’s levelling up agenda for each of access (pastoral support, tutoring and mentoring for year 12 and 13), student success (belonging and engagement focus for new starters, with variations for years 2 and 3) and progression (work experience – Government support for SME placements with University signposting and support). On Progression placements the authors also state:

  • The Office for Students (OfS) should further relax the conditions of use for Access and Participation Plan (APP) funds to allow expenditure shortly after graduation, to facilitate APP funds to support paid internships / jobs for target graduates, rather than limiting this to current students. Evidence based approaches are emphasised throughout.

Research

Research Professional ran an article urging for a doctoral training rethink within the context of the ESRC review into the social science PhD.

UKRI Chair Sir Mark Walport published an open letter to the research community outlining UKRI’s actions and response to the pandemic.

Parliamentary Academic Fellowship Scheme – Open call

The Parliamentary Academic Fellowship scheme open call is inviting expressions of interest from colleagues with the minimum of a PhD to compile and submit a project of interest to parliament to work on as a Fellow from January 2021. These are the research blog posts providing you with the details here and here. This is the full document providing lots of lovely detail and helpful advice – in particular it highlights which elements of Parliament would welcome an approach. All Select Committees are welcoming projects plus the Commons and Lords library teams, POST and a range of other offices (see pages 10-12). This is the original website announcing the call and providing other links. Your faculty impact officer and the BU policy team are here to assist colleagues to pull together their expression of interest. The deadline to apply is Friday 26 June. The Fellowships are competitive and funding will need to be provided by BU (unless the colleague has access to an external grant that may support some costs). It is important you speak to your Faculty Dean in advance of the expression of interest. Faculties are considering support on a case by case basis. Successful projects will be asked to progress to the full application phase in September. The Fellowships are prestigious and provide unparalleled access to Parliament, allowing you to understand the inner workings of policy, establish contact networks and working relations, and likely provide a big impact and exposure boost for your research. Please share this information with all colleagues who may be interested in applying.

Research PQs

Nursing

The Education Select Committee published the follow-up correspondence from the Secretary of State for Education on tuition fees for nursing students. The letter states:

  • Nursing students who volunteer as part of the COVID-19 response will receive a salary and automatic NHS pension entitlement at the appropriate band. They will continue to be required to pay fees for their final term and will continue to receive their student maintenance loan and Learning Support Fund payments as normal. Universities will continue to provide support to students. The time that students spend in clinical practice will count towards the number of practice hours that they need to qualify

Public Perception of Universities

A Public First survey conducted for the University Alliance mission group (professional & technical universities) in May demonstrates public support for HE institutions and acknowledges their role as important for the UK’s recovery from C-19. It also recognised their role in supporting the NHS during the crisis.

  • 71% people think universities will play an important role in supporting the UK’s economic and social recovery post Covid, by:
    • improving scientific research for innovation and development (74%),
    • training public sector workers (52%)
    • providing practical support at times of national crisis (52%)

19% disagreed that universities would play an important role.

  • The respondents believe universities should prioritise the supply of professionally qualified graduates – for example nurses, social workers and doctors – above all other subjects
  • 62% believe it’s “very important” that universities teach applied subjects (for example nursing, medicine or engineering) as the country tries to rebuild after the Covid19 crisis overall other subjects. However,
    • 50% support STEM subjects
    • 24% social sciences
    • 13% languages
    • 12% the arts.
  • 61% believe nurses and other medical professionals such as midwives, should be educated at university, and that more funding should be made available to ramp up the number of places.
  • Voters identified contributing to research around a vaccine (71%), sharing laboratories and other facilities (56%) and accelerating training of nurses and other medical professionals

iNews cover the survey.

HE funding

Emma Hardy, Shadow Universities Minister, writes for Research Professional how the C-19 crisis could result in a redesign of the HE funding system to draw mature, commuter and part time students back into HE study.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Virtual future: Jisc have a blog on UUK looking at how future changes (post crisis) could take the elements of online learning that worked well in the rapid change to virtual study. The blog also links to an online webinar on 17 June on the topic. Excerpts:

  • Let’s use this knowledge and new-found technological confidence to identify the methods that are working best, and expand and build on them for 2021–22 and beyond.  
  • those that get left behind will find it harder to compete in a system where student choice is ever more important.
  • other subjects could be covered completely online, appealing to those students who might find a campus existence difficult because of a disability, mental health issue, or financial reasons.
  • By developing a strategic plan to embed technological practice effectively and sustainably at scale, universities can build a solid base to thrive in future.

Plagiarism: Research Professional report on the ending of the WriteCheck service which plagiarism companies were misusing to ensure their essay mill productions slipped past the checks.  Lord Story continues his campaign against contract cheating with a parliamentary question asking about the impact on academic performance in countries which have banned the cheating services.

Mergers: HEPI examine lessons learnt from private sector business mergers as the current outlook exacerbates HE institutions on the financial brink. It concludes: we need to ask if mergers are really the appropriate solution. If the underlying financial position of an institution is not sound, then a merger is definitely not the answer. In other cases, where potential changes of ownership or management are more likely to be cosmetic – to justify, for example, a financial bailout or a write-off of previous ‘debt’, rather than something that will change the underlying financial situation of an institution – then it is still unlikely that a merger can significantly improve financial performance on its own. The only exception to this rule would be if the acquiring institution changed the business model somehow, such as by moving away from research to a teaching-based model of provision. While that may offer a perceived silver lining, it hardly supports the UK’s ability to lead worldwide in higher education in the decade to come. All in all, mergers are not the magic bullet they may appear to be, and we should tread cautiously into any post-pandemic future where the pressure may be high to cutback, downsize or rescale.

OfS Student Panel: The application process for students to join the OfS Student Panel is now live with a blog on the role of the student panel here.  The OfS are particularly seeking applications from:

  • Pre-HE students (GCSE/A-Level, BTEC, Apprentices)
  • Disabled students
  • International students
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, students of colour and students from traveller communities
  • Estranged students
  • Care experienced students
  • LGBTQ+ students
  • Postgraduate research students

Graduate jobs: With the fallout from the C-19 pandemic compared to the 2008 financial recession the BBC have three case studies of 2008 graduates’ journey through the recession to find satisfying employment and their words of advice.

Student Complaints: The office of the Independent Adjudicator write for Research Professional to advise providers on how to support and work with students to avoid complaints.

Virtual Internships: The Times reports  on the major companies who have launched a three day intensive high quality virtual internship scheme for 800,000 graduates and school leavers to replace cancelled programs due to happen over the summer.

Technical Education: The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee  published a report on University Technical Colleges and its impact on Britain’s economy and job prospects, it finds that UTCs have performed less well than other secondary schools against key measures of educational performance.

BAME: Research Professional examine BAME representation at the highest levels of university management.

University Mental Health Charter: A Student Minds press release details three universities piloting the university mental health charter award – Derby, Glasgow Caledonian, and Hartpury University.

International Squeeze: Earlier in the week the Times ran an article suggesting that international students were squeezing out UK students from HE by taking up the places they could attend. Three prominent figures have written to the Times to refute this including Jo Johnson (ex-Universities Minister), Nick Hillman (director of HEPI) and Alastair Jarvis (Chief Exec of UUK).

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HE policy update for the w/e 3rd June 2020

Parliament has returned from recess and happily so has your policy update. Here are the main stories from the last two weeks.

Parliamentary News

The FT reports that ministers are preparing to unveil a stimulus package in July, with money expected to go into training schemes and infrastructure projects plus support for technology companies. “With unemployment rising rapidly, the prime minister is also due to make a major speech in June aimed at encouraging Britons into work”. The fiscal event is not expected to constitute a Budget. Some No 10 officials are reportedly pushing for the national infrastructure strategy to be repackaged as spending to fuel the economic recovery after the Covid-19 crisis.

House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle  wrote to MPs   to outline new voting arrangements  after hybrid proceedings were ended. Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has tabled a Government motion on proposals for voting, which could include socially distanced queues through the halls of Parliament.

The Labour Party and other opposition parties tabled an amendment to the Government motion on voting in the Commons, which they lost.  Valerie Vaz  MP, Shadow Leader of the House, said

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg‘s discriminatory proposals would result in two classes of  MPs. Those who can physically attend and those unable to owing to the Government’s own rules, including having an underlying health condition or shielding responsibilities.   The abolition of the hybrid remote parliament which allowed all MPs to take part regardless of their personal circumstances is discriminatory and would not be acceptable in any other workplace.   We remain ready to work with the Government and all parties to reach a consensus that would allow all MPs to participate on an equal basis.”  

In Wednesday’s PMQs, the PM appeared to say that proxy votes would be allowed, which contradicted the statement from Rees-Mogg – this debate will probably continue.

Apprenticeships

The DfE published an update to their Apprenticeships and Traineeships (England) statistics paper.  In 2019/20 (up to March) higher level apprenticeships made up 24.1% of all starts (62,600). In the March – April 2020 (C-19 and lockdown period) 33.8% of starts were on higher apprenticeships – nearly double the proportion for the same period in 2018/19 (which was 17.1%). Overall the number of apprenticeships starting in this period were much lower meaning the almost doubled proportion of higher starts overtook the proportion of intermediate apprenticeships.

Postgraduate LEO data

The Government published statistics on the employment and earnings outcomes of postgraduates.

UK Postgraduates

2017/18 saw an increase in Level 7 (Masters level) postgraduate earnings one, three and five years after graduation, although earnings ten years after graduation saw no change in nominal terms.

For 2014/15 to 2017/18 tax year median earnings for the most recent postgraduates (one year after graduation) increased by £1,400 (5.6%) and by £1,200 (3.9%) for the five years after graduation cohorts. However, in real terms recent postgraduates saw no increase in their median earnings and those five years after graduation saw a fall of £500.

Five years after graduation, level 7 postgraduates earn more than first degree graduates (£32,200 compared to £26,600). However those who continue onto postgraduate study are a non-random subset of the first degree population and these figures do not control for differences in the characteristics of those who continue to postgraduate study.

The absolute increase in earnings between 2014/15 and 2017/18 for Level 7 postgraduates five years after graduation is largely equal for males and females but the gender gap is larger than that seen for first degree graduates. Five years after graduation male Level 7 graduates earn 19.1% more than females compared to first degree graduates where males earn 14.3% more than females.

International graduates

For EU domiciled graduates, those who completed a Level 8 qualification were more likely to be in sustained employment and/or further study in the UK after graduation compared to those who completed a Level 7 (taught) qualification. For example, 43.9% of Level 8 graduates were in sustained employment and/or further study one year after graduation compared to 35.3% of Level 7 (taught) graduates. This pattern is also true for Non-EU graduates where 28.9% of Level 8 graduates were in sustained employment and/or further study one year after graduation compared to 13.0% of Level 7 (taught) graduates.

Overall, within each study level, Non-EU domiciled graduates were less likely to be in sustained employment and/or further study in the UK than EU domiciled graduates. However, when looking at those who graduated with a Level 7 (taught) qualification ten years after graduation, nearly the same proportion of EU (18.1%) and Non-EU (17.6%) domiciled graduates were still working and/or studying in the UK.

Median earnings five years after graduation for Non-EU domiciled Level 7 graduates are in line with those for UK domiciled graduates (£32,100 compared to £32,200).  Whereas earnings for EU graduates are higher at £35,000.

However, this pattern varies by English region.  London has a similar picture to the overall national data but in a number of regions UK domiciled graduates have the highest regional earnings. This is particularly noticeable in the more northern regions. For example, in the North West median earnings for UK domiciled graduates are £29,600 compared to £27,400 for EU graduates and £26,600 for Non-EU graduates.

International Students

Immigration statistics

The Home Office published  immigration statistics for the year ending March 2020.

  • In the year ending March 2020, there were 299,023 Sponsored study (Tier 4) visas granted (including dependants), a 23% increase on the year ending March 2019, and the highest level since the year ending June 2011.
  • Chinese nationals were the most common nationality granted Tier 4 visas in the year ending March 2020, up 18% compared with the year ending March 2019 to 118,530 (accounting for 40% of the total).
  • The number of grants to Chinese students is now more than double the number in 2012.
  • Indian nationals also saw a notable increase in the number of Tier 4 visas granted, more than doubling (up 136% to 49,844) compared with the year ending March 2019, continuing an increase seen since 2016
  • Those coming on Tier 4 visas bring relatively few dependants, with 94% of the visas issued being to main applicants, compared with 71% for Work visas.
  • The vast majority (97%) of those with Tier 4 visas expiring in the year ending March 2019, were known to have departed from the UK before their visa had expired. In 2018, 46,782 former Tier 4 visa holders extended their leave in the UK, either for further study or to remain in the UK for other reasons, such as for marriage or work.

Sponsored study visa applications                                                                                    

In the year ending September 2019 sponsored study visa applications rose 13% to 258,787. The majority (86%) of these were for study at higher education (university) institutions, whose number increased by 14% to 222,047, the highest level on record.

Applications per sector: higher education (86%), independent schools (5%), further education (5%), English language schools (3%), other (1%)

Frank words

Jo Johnson writes for the Spectator on movement in the role international students will play within the universities of the world. Some of the content is the same old but it is worth a read to hear the Ex-Universities Minister speaking frankly and adding nuance to newer aspects. Excerpts:

  • The UK’s ability to bounce back will be gravely impaired if international students are no longer around to underpin the foundations of institutions central to our performance as a knowledge economy. A drop in international student numbers of potentially 50 to 75 per cent will threaten the vitality of dozens of mid-sized British university towns from Chichester to Newcastle and send into reverse one of the great boom businesses of the globalised economy.
  • ..The £7 billion they bring in fees provides an annual cross-subsidy that compensates for losses incurred in research and the teaching of high-cost subjects. These include not just laboratory-based sciences but also courses vital for our creative industries.
  • ..So far, a plea from lobbyists Universities UK for a sector-specific bailout package has gone largely unanswered. Barring a £100 million dollop of research funding and the bringing forward of £2.6 billion of tuition fee payments, universities have been told to manage their financial risks with the same grant, loan and furlough schemes available to others.
  • To say the sector feels unloved is an understatement….It is a victim of its own relentless growth, itself a function of the poor quality of the alternatives, a demand-led higher education funding model and, above all, the changing occupational structure of the workforce.
  • But the message to the sector from government is clear: any university approaching the Treasury for special treatment can expect to emerge in a very different shape following a rigorous debt workout. Forced mergers and the closure of programmes deemed to be offering low quality or poor value for money will be the order of the day, even if measuring this objectively will prove to be immensely challenging.
  • The return of domestic student number controls, ostensibly on a temporary basis to prevent an unseemly scramble to backfill places left empty by international students this September, will in time turn into a tool to dial back the expansion of the sector. It will make international students more keenly sought after than ever.
  • Those institutions that have the financial reserves to ride out the storm this coming academic year will find that pessimism about the medium-term future for international education is overblown. …As developing countries seek to improve their own league table performance and welcome overseas students themselves, international education will cease to be considered in terms of a mainly Western and English-speaking archetype.

Parliamentary questions relating to international students:

Research

Ministerial Research Taskforce

The Ministerial University Research and Knowledge Exchange Taskforce has published its membership, terms of reference and ways of working confirming it will be a time limited endeavour.

The purpose of the taskforce is to provide an advisory forum for ministers at BEIS and DFE to engage with university research and knowledge exchange stakeholders with the aim of sustaining the university research base and its capability to contribute effectively to UK society and economy in the recovery to coronavirus (COVID-19) and beyond.

It will:

  • share information and intelligence about the health of the university research and the knowledge exchange carried out by and within higher education institutions (HEIs)
  • identify potential impacts on the sustainability of university research and knowledge exchange directly arising from the response to COVID-19
  • share intelligence on government and other sources of support or funding that may be available and develop approaches that building on these to address the impacts of coronavirus and protect and sustain HEI research capability and capacity
  • where possible share evidence of the impacts on university research and knowledge exchange of the taskforce’s advice

The taskforce will have an advisory role, providing views on these topics alongside a range of other sources of advice.

Regional Research & Development Funding Imbalance

NESTA have taken a look at the geographical location of R&D investment. It states Innovation drives economic growth. It makes people and places better off by creating modern, productive businesses and higher paid, more meaningful work. Research and Development makes innovation possible. Businesses and governments spend money on R&D to create and test new ideas. There’s a lovely little map which highlights how badly the South West does on R&D funds compared to other locations. And their Design the Future tool is interactive allowing you to adjust the priorities based on your view of their importance and see what impact it has on the regions. Maybe you can find the right combination of policy options for the South West’s prospects to improve but I found there wasn’t much movement even with extreme policy combinations! NESTA’s report: The Missing £4 Billion calls for things to be done differently. Excerpt:

  • The current situation is the result of a combination of deliberate policy decisions and a natural dynamic in which these small preferences combined with initial advantages are reinforced with time. For example, of a series of major capital investments in research infrastructure between 2007 and 2014, 71 per cent was made in London, the East and South East of England, through a process criticised by the National Audit Office. The need for continuing revenue funding to support these investments lock in geographical imbalances in R&D for many years. Imbalanced investment in R&D is, at most, only part of why the UK’s regional economic divides widened in the past and have failed to close in recent decades. But it is a factor that the government can influence. It has failed to do so. Where attempts have been made to use R&D to balance the UK’s economic strengths, they have been insufficient in scale. They describe the South West’s position as: low levels of public investment but slightly higher private sector spending on R&D, similar to Northern Ireland.

NESTA report summary from Wonkhe Monday – A report for Nesta by Tom Forth and Richard Jones, which explores the regional imbalance in research and development funding, estimates that it would take an additional £4 billion in funding for regions, cities, and nations to be funded at the same rate as London and the South East of England. Though stuffed with technical detail at its core, the report is calling for a review of political priorities in the allocation of research and development funds, incorporating an overt agenda for economic growth whose benefits are spread across the nation. An accompanying online tool allows users to explore the relative impact of a series of possible priorities for research and development funding. Though released with relatively little fanfare, we shouldn’t underestimate the likely influence of the report, which goes very much with the grain of current government policy thinking.

Research Budget

BEIS have announced the 2020-21 R&D budget allocations. Research Professional cover it here, and state on the face of it, the proposed science budget of £10.36 billion looks as if it has been trimmed from a previously promised £11.4bn.  And there is no mention of the much-vaunted Advanced Research Projects Agency backed by Cummings—unless it is coming from within the UKRI budget.

Recent research parliamentary questions

UCAS Plus

UCAS blog about Clearing Plus on Wonkhe:

Clearing Plus works by suggesting courses to students that are typically favoured by similar applicants, and that they are eligible for.

Two critical factors are involved:

  • Available courses and a university’s own recruitment criteria.
  • A match score of students and courses based on historical acceptances.

From early July, those not holding an offer or place can see their individual list of matched courses in Track (their online UCAS account) by clicking a button. From there, they can easily send an expression of interest to their chosen universities. After a conversation, the student can decide whether to officially add them to their application. As ever, admissions teams have the final say over who they admit onto their courses

University of X wants to recruit to their physics course, and therefore submits physics to Clearing Plus, stipulating that it is only visible to applicants with a confirmed A level grade B in maths. They will then receive the details of all unplaced applicants who have clicked on their course to register interest. Applicants won’t see the course if they don’t have the required B (or higher) grade, so admissions teams can have confidence in those registering interest. This means that the applicant’s achieved regulated grade is used, as it would be in any other year.

The widening participation opportunities are obvious. Admissions teams can also choose to use POLAR and SIMD as part of their criteria to effectively reach underrepresented applicants, helping them achieve a diverse student population.

The article goes on to explain matched scores and clusters and promises:

…by basing matches on clusters of students who have been previously placed on courses, using factors mentioned earlier (e.g. grades and not sex), students will discover courses which may not have been on their radar in the past, but are qualified to succeed on.

Admissions

Student number controls were announced on Monday with the regulatory adjustments presented to Parliament on Tuesday. Here is the written ministerial statement. A reminder of the main points:

  • Introduced to help maintain the overall health and stability of the higher education sector in these unprecedented times. Time limited as direct response to C-19 and the potential financial instability facing HE institutions. Student number controls aim to prevent large swings in the number of students between providers, with much higher levels of recruitment at some providers potentially leaving others in financial difficulty. They also aim to prevent recruitment practices which are against students’ best interests because they may encourage them to accept an offer from a provider that is not best suited to their needs.
  • Aim to prevent excessive recruitment. Allow for planned growth (based on submitted institutional plans). Grumbles within the sector state the cap favours the highest tariff institutions/those who normally recruit high levels of international students because they will be able to replace lost international students with more domestic students plus still have growth room. It remains to be seen if this will widen access at the highest tariff institutions. The other variable is whether international recruitment really turns out to be as dire as predicted.
  • Institutions who recruit above the cap will be penalised financially by a reduction in the fee level the following academic year (penalties on page 15 here). A loophole is institutions who already have confirmed offers above the cap level before they received their capped value.
  • Part time, most postgraduate and international students are not included within the capped numbers count. Foundation years are. Students with a family income above the level to access student loan funding are not included within the cap. On this Wonkhe say: providers that recruit many students from well-to-do backgrounds can, seemingly, fill their boots.
  • The number cap placed on each institution will not be published as it is considered commercially sensitive, but the methodology for calculation has been published.
  • Institutions can apply for a share of the additional 5000 places for nursing and allied health once the planned numbers plus 5% have been filled (and assuming enough clinical placements can be offered) . Alongside this an additional 5000 for ‘strategically important subjects’ (see annex B here for the list). For example, STEM, architecture, teacher training, social work, veterinary but not medicine. Institutions can bid for 250 of these places. There are other conditions such as a continuation rate of 90+% and 75% go onto highly skilled work/further study. Providers scoring highest on these two conditions are most likely to succeed in securing the additional places, this is the Government’s high-quality agenda.
  • For HE institutions in the devolved nations recruitment of English domiciled students is capped with 1.5% growth. You likely won’t have missed the arguments raging in the early part of the week from the devolved nations who feel their different funding rules and situations shouldn’t be subject to imposed restrictions. Penalties for devolved nations that go over their share of English domiciled students are set out at page 15-16 here. And if you’ve lost the threads of what is up and down within the devolved nations HE policies Wonkhe have a beginner’s guide.

There is a good article from Wonkhe here it critiques the approach and points out several loopholes, including students retaking exams in autumn and January starters.  And a commenter on the Wonkhe article says: A topic that hasn’t had so much attention is that the fact that it’s Department for Education managing these rules rather than the Office for Students. Presumably the HE regulator felt it lacked the time and the legal authority to take quick action. Just two years after OfS started work and the department is stepping in to regulate where the regulator can’t.

Research Professional have the usual coverage of the cap and some interesting points on how the over recruitment penalties which reduce the fee levels the providers can charge in future years will make the ‘naughty provider’ more attractive to students who wish to pay a lower fee in the following academic year. Although it isn’t clear if students would be expected to take and pay the higher fee with the Government pocketing the difference between what the institution is allowed to charge. A dangerous policy for the Government’s PR! There are also the arguments equating a drop in income with lower quality teaching.

And a parliamentary question with a different admissions focus: Increasing the number of students enrolling on courses with a public service focus.

Returning to Campus

There has been much talk about returning to campus and how it affects recruitment and the student experience in recent weeks. Refreshingly. Wonkhe have a new blog looking at it more from the professional services perspectives of estates space requirements and timetabling. The blog also refers to this briefing paper produced by consultants which: explores the impact of Covid-19 on the process of timetabling, the timetable itself, and the way that academic space is used, both in transition and in the “new normal”.  We include our thoughts on the impact of wider space use, including a challenge to institutions to think about space as enablers of activities, as places where people come together to co-produce something. This extends to digital space as a place where people come together and links both to digital education and other work that we are doing on digital service delivery.

The Times reports on Dublin City University which is offering flexible accommodation options – booking accommodation for just a few days or a week at a time.

Wonkhe report that Advance HE has published guidance on creating socially distanced campuses, with communication, humanity, inclusion, and partnership with SUs as four key principles.

Student Perspective

UCU and Youthsight surveyed (only 516) students due to start in September 2020:

  • 32% of students are worried their university will go bust
  • 71% support a delay to the start of term if it means they’ll receive more face to face teaching rather than online content
  • 72% are concerned pandemic related funding cuts will negatively impact their education
  • A previous survey estimated that 120,000 students may defer this academic year. The deferral figures are interesting because it is unclear what prospective students would do instead – travelling abroad is limited, work opportunities are limited and there are high levels on unemployment, internships have been slashed, apprenticeships are disrupted and mean a longer term perspective change. Of course the danger is the student defers and then never returns to HE study. And ITV news have a short piece on the perspective of two students who are opposed to online study and considering deferring instead.

On their survey UCU General Secretary, Jo Grady, said:

  • It is hardly surprising that students are anxious about what the future holds for universities and for their education. Given the impact this uncertainty is having on students, it is now critical that government agrees to provide increased financial backing to the sector. Students need to be confident that they will get a high quality education, despite the hugely damaging impact of the pandemic.
  • Without increased support, our research has shown that thousands of jobs could go in a £6bn shock to the economy. While university staff and students will bear the brunt of this, higher education is also important to many local businesses around the UK who will be fatally damaged by this contraction.

Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), commented:

  • COVID-19 has shown that university management is not prioritising staff or students at this time, but is forced instead to focus on how to bring money into an institution because the government refuses to sufficiently underwrite the higher education sector.
  • It is no surprise that university management would like to continue as if it is ‘business as usual’ for fear of losing out on the income students provide – but students and staff are not just figures on a balance sheet. Bringing students and staff members back onto campuses too early could result in deaths that are entirely preventable.
  • The government must underwrite the higher education sector to ensure its survival as a vital public good and integral part of our economic recovery. This should include a student safety net and funds to allow all students to redo this year at no extra cost, or have their tuition fees reimbursed or written off.

A parliamentary question on reopening with the response we’d expect:

Q – Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has for the re-opening of universities in autumn 2020. [48283]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • We expect universities to be open for the autumn term, with a blend of online teaching and in-person tuition that they consider appropriate, taking account of the need to minimise risk to staff and students.
  • We are working with the higher education sector to identify guidance and best practice that will be needed for universities to make informed decisions about their provision. This will help them to decide when and how they can make facilities accessible again for staff and students in a way that minimises the risks and in line with public health advice.
  • Universities have remained open throughout lockdown and have applied their research expertise to finding solutions to the COVID-19 outbreak in this unprecedented period. They have also delivered some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning, and now the sector is working hard in preparation for the new academic year.

Summary of Intentions

The Student Crowd website is amalgamating a list of the type of learning providers plan to offer from September.

Strategic Guidance

On Wednesday UUK, QAA and UCEA released strategic guidance on factors to consider for HE providers to move forward as the UK slowly emerges from lockdown. The principles have been released rather late – BU finalised our principles three weeks ago. Here are our Major Incident Group planning principles for how we are planning our return to campus if you haven’t already read them. And all three sets of guidance cover what you would expect with nuanced differences relating to their organisational missions.

UUK published Principles and considerations: emerging from lockdown stating it is imperative that its universities can emerge from lockdown safely and in line with guidance from governments, public health advice and health and safety legislation. They offer 9 priority areas that HE institutions can use as a framework…to adapt to their own institutional settings and contexts. Here are the 9 principles in brief:

  1. The health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff, visitors, and the wider community will be the priority in decisions relating to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in universities.
  2. Universities will make appropriate changes to university layout and infrastructure in accordance – at minimum – with public health advice, including guidelines on social distancing.
  3. Universities will review their teaching, learning and assessment to ensure that there is the required flexibility in place to deliver a high-quality experience and support students to achieve their learning outcomes in a safe manner.
  4. Universities will regularly review the welfare and mental health needs of students and staff, and take steps to ensure preventative measures and appropriate support are in place and well communicated as restrictions are eased.
  5. Universities will develop effective processes to welcome and support international students and staff, including throughout any self-isolation period.
  6. Universities will regularly review their hygiene and cleaning protocols in all university spaces, and adapt them in response to changing public health advice and risk levels, to ensure students, staff and visitors have confidence in their safety.
  7. Following appropriate risk assessment, universities will introduce measures to enable research to be conducted in a safe and responsible manner, following government guidance specifically designed to protect researchers in laboratories and other research facilities and spaces.
  8. Universities will engage with students and staff, including consultation with recognised trade unions, to ensure the transition from lockdown both protects the wellbeing of staff and students and enables the safe resumption of university activities.
  9. Universities will work with civic or local partners wherever appropriate including councils, local resilience forums (in England) and community groups.

The full 21 page document pads out these headline principles with further details to guide institutions.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association worked with the major HE unions to publish: Principles for working safely on campus during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. It covers health & safety, risk assessments and, as you would expect, a focus on consulting with unions, communicating with staff and assessing the impact of different staff groups alongside a close eye on equality. It advocates for reasonable actions to mitigate possible adverse impacts on specific group/s including those, or those living with, people who are shielding or vulnerable. The UCEA press release is here.

QAA published Preserving Quality And Standards Through A Time Of Rapid Change: UK Higher Education In 2020-21 it focuses more on ensuring the quality of curriculum delivery alongside the familiar messages of ensuring any onsite delivery is safe, engaging with and providing flexibility for staff and students whilst maintaining quality. Page 5 looks in more detail at the 3 possible models of attendance. And they have an interesting fact for onsite delivery: early sector-wide studies suggest that incorporating an approved physical-distancing requirement per student reduces useable capacity to 10-20% of actual space. There is a comprehensive section from page 8-13 on how changes to delivery will affect quality and standards.  QAA’s press release launching their guidance report is here.

HEPI are also of a quality mindset and have a new blog on the topic: How can we assure quality in online higher education?

Wonkhe blog on the principles. And Research Professional have a lighter hearted and different perspective in their coverage of what was said in the pre-launch conference of the UUK proposals on Tuesday.

On the release of the UUK guidance Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy stated:

  • The coming academic year will be a very different experience for students and staff alike and producing a clear set of principles on which to proceed, with a focus on the wellbeing of staff and students, is exactly what is needed.
  • At a time when leadership is called for it is a matter of regret that the Government has so far remained on the sidelines, introducing heavy handed powers to the Office for Students and allowed uncalled-for caps on English student numbers on the devolved regions.
  • Labour urges the Government to take this opportunity to work with UUK to ensure all universities are adequately supported through this crisis.

Mental Health

Student Minds have published Planning for a Sustainable Future – the important of university mental health in uncertain times.

Parliamentary Questions

Students

HE Sector

Outreach

The PM was questioned by the Liaison Committee last week:

Q – Robert Halfon: Cambridge University has announced it would move all courses online while Nottingham Trent said it would have a mix of campus and online learning. Which example should HE institutions follow? And second question: Should every student working in the NHS be reimbursed this academic year at the very least?

A – Johnson: I will come back to you on the question regarding the NHS students. On your point on Cambridge and Nottingham Trent, it is a matter for universities but clearly I think the implication of your question is that face to face tuition is preferable. I hope all universities understand that this is also important for their students and for social justice.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Student Accommodation (Scotland): The Scottish Bill allowing students to terminate their accommodation contracts has passed and is now law.

Nursing fees: The Royal College of Nursing is still pushing for the Government to abolish nursing tuition fees. The Government has not responded to their letter.

International Students: OfS have a briefing note containing advice and best practice examples in relation to international students.

Student Panel: The OfS will open a call to seek students to sit on their student panel from 8 June. Information will appear here on the 8th.

Graduate Skills: Gradconsult has published a series of resources including developing skills and experience in a time of reduced employment; connecting students and employers in a virtual world, and planning your early careers strategy (this one is basic – a jumping off point resource). You can access a wider range of resources here.

DSA: Wonkhe have a new blog on the additional assistance (non-medical help) utilised by students in receipt of Disabled Students’ Allowance during C-19.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th May 2020

A bumper week (again) – here is your easy way to catch up on everything all in one place

Student support

Emma Hardy, the Shadow Universities Minister, has written to Michelle Donelan (Government’s Universities Minister) to highlight students facing significant hardship.

  • In our last meeting we discussed the fact that many university students needed urgent financial help to cope with the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. You assured me you were confident that every university would be in a position to help every student in genuine need through its hardship funds. However, after speaking to universities and the NUS I do not share your confidence.

She goes on to describe universities so overwhelmed by the demand for hardship funds they have begun crowdfunding and another university with tricky fund rules which Hardy says prevents those most at need from applying. She also explains that students without children are ineligible for Universal Credit, and few have been furloughed due to the nature of their part time work contracts.

  • I do not have to emphasise the fact that it will mostly be those students who have overcome the greatest barriers to get to university who will be affected the most. I have already heard concerns from those in the sector that the drop-out rate will be higher this year and the news I am hearing, about the failures of hardship funds to support all those who need help, adds to my worry… It cannot be right for their welfare to be considered the sole province of individual universities, which under current circumstances means consigning it to the luck of the draw—a lottery which has left some unable to manage…I would urge the Government to take a pro-active role and I would welcome any proposals for guaranteeing there is adequate financial provision for the young people who have been caught in this storm.

Research Professional say:

  • This is not a shouty letter venting outrage but one that begins by thanking the minister for listening to different points of view, before shining a light on an area of government failing.
  • There has been no mention so far of universities in the UK government’s strategy for national recovery after lockdown. This is something of an oversight and one that the opposition parties might want to start asking questions about as we all begin to emerge from our houses blinking into the early summer sunlight.

They also highlight that the Shadow letter doesn’t set out suggestions for how the Government should support students. Their daily email runs through some possibilities and effectively discounts them.

Student Petition: And if you’ve been wondering what happened to the student petition to have tuition fees reimbursed due to this year’s strike and the loss of face to face teaching due to C-19 the official word is – The Committee decided to take further oral evidence on this petition, from the relevant Government minister.

Parliamentary questions

Financial Stability

The Government listened to the measures UUK requested on behalf of the HE sector and issued their support package cherry picking the elements that fitted with the Government’s aims and doing little other than moving payments forward with the rest. Research Professional have an interesting article rethinking it all from Pam Tatlow (ex-MillionPlus Chief Executive).

  • The deal that universities need to support them through the coronavirus crisis is not the one that they asked for. Nor is it the one that was begrudgingly put on the table by the Westminster government, which is little more than a lend-lease agreement with strings.

The article critiques the UUK approach in compiling and launching their request to Government.

  • UUK’s first requests focused on research…Its proposals would undoubtedly have benefited the small group of universities that receive the lion’s share of taxpayer-funded research monies. In the event, only a very modest amount of quality-related funding (£100 million) has been brought forward.
  • Universities that have used international fees to subsidise their reputations as world leaders in research will undoubtedly claim that without additional funding they will no longer be financially viable. This may well be so, but if such a bailout is forthcoming there should be conditions attached. For example, these institutions could be required to demonstrate that they are financially viable within five years based on their UK activities.
  • UUK’s own estimates suggest that there may be up to 15 per cent fewer home and European Union students progressing to university in 2020. It is therefore difficult to understand its proposal that universities in England and Wales should be able to recruit up to 5 per cent more students than the numbers they forecast
  • Nor do the elaborate rules and stern warnings from the Office for Students about unconditional offers and admissions practices add up. All a university higher up the hierarchical food chain has to do is issue many more offers at lower grades in the first place, leaving the majority to keep afloat by reducing courses, student opportunities and staff.

Pam concludes:

  • The right deal for universities has to mean a return to collaboration and an end to the market that has bedevilled higher education for a decade. It has to mean a return to the idea (which students have never abandoned) that studying a subject that you love for its own sake is as good a rationale for higher education as the money that you will earn (or probably not earn to the same extent in a long recession).
  • It has got to mean more and not less funding for social justice, giving the students who study at the most socially inclusive institutions the same resources as those whose institutions are well endowed through decades of public funding, private endowments and capital investment.
  • And of course it must mean a return to the direct funding of universities, the restoration of maintenance grants and an end to the tuition fees that have restricted the ambitions of those who would have liked to study at university when they were older, or to return to study, including as postgraduates and part-time.
  • Universities, with all their talents and ideas, should be on the front line and on the front foot in arguing that the crisis should not be paid for through extra taxes and pay freezes but that the government should borrow to invest, especially in higher education as a right for all.

Parliamentary questions

Education Select Committee

The House of Commons Education Select Committee met virtually to explore the effect of the coronavirus on children and young people’s services (including HE). You can read a summary of the sessions compiled by Dods here, one by Research Professional here, Wonkhe’s version is here, or watch the full Committee sessions here. In brief it covered:

Session 1

  • 2020/21 recruitment ramifications will not be known until September.
  • The Government’s support package isn’t enough to support the HR sector. Criticism included that it simply brought forward payments rather than provided additional funds and that the student number cap benefitted the wealthier universities at the expense of locally based universities.
  • Students have lost their supplementary incomes and are struggling financially. Wellbeing, mental health and the option to redo the year without cost were mentioned. Concerns over PhD students were raised.
  • The increased workload on HE staff was a concern.
  • The student rent situation was discussed and calls were made for the Scottish move to release students from their private rental agreements to be adopted in England.
  • Quality of online tuition was discussed covering that it wasn’t what students had expected from their degree programme and online access and assessment issues. (The Financial Times has a nice counterpoint to this emphasising the positive benefits since the move online, and why is should continue to some degree.)
  • There was discussion on fees being revisited during the pandemic.
  • The importance of how UCAS ‘control clearing’ was mentioned.
  • UCU stated Government should indicate when universities should reopen their campuses rather than it being an individual decision taken by the university itself. Research Professional give this aspect a lot of coverage in their description of the Committee’s session. iNews specifically covered this aspect of the session, as did the Telegraph.

Session 2

  • Session 2 focussed on disadvantaged students. The OfS reiterated the importance of the access and participation targets, including discussion on degree apprenticeships. The access gap and unconscious bias faced by black and disadvantaged communities were mentioned. The OfS stated they believe the next 5 years will show the biggest step forward in social mobility and social justice for 2 generations.
  • On a return to ‘normal’ campus based learning in autumn 2020 OfS stated that they required universities to be as clear as possible in explaining students what to expect if they accepted an offer. They did not want any promises of a return to university life when it might not be possible. The Times and BBC covered this.
  • OfS stated there were not any HE institutions at immediate risk of collapse but they do expect the financial sustainability of the sector to be affected by the pandemic and C-19 poses serious risks to the sector. They also stated that international students were not being chased simply as cash cows. Research Professional disagree and name SOAS as teetering on the financial edge.
  • OfS stated they have disseminated good practice examples in student mental health and accommodation and that sharing good practice examples is a powerful way to influence the agenda.
  • OfS dodged an answer to whether student paying full tuition fees was justifiable if they were only receiving partial online learning stating it was a ‘live’ question and that it depended on the quality of the university provision. However, at present students should pay full fees and if the provision is inadequate take this up with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
  • Chair, Robert Halfon, followed up on how OfS judged quality to which they responded they measure through output indicators and student complaints. (Wonkhe give this a mention here.)

Research Professional cover the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee who have

  • issued a 19-page letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, setting out “10 key lessons the UK government should learn from its experience of handling the first months of the pandemic”. The Chair of the Science and Technology Committee is the ex-Secretary of State for BEIS, Greg Clark.

Virtual Parliament

Prospect Union, who represent staff working in the Houses of Parliament, will be resisting government plans to cancel the virtual parliament and bring MPs back to Westminster as early as next month over fears about safety and the practicality of social distancing. Prospect says it will work with government on restoring any essential functions but that the key elements of the system must be retained for now. Politics Home have an article on the return to parliament schism.

However, a survey by The House says only 23% of MPs believe the virtual ability to ask questions and take part in debates remotely via video link should be retained. Only 11% believed the right to vote remotely under any circumstances should be retained. Although 55% agreed that remote or proxy voting for MPs unable to attend due to ill health should be retained and there was some support for parental leave remote measures. MPs representing remote areas of the country (such as the Outer Hebrides) have called for online voting to continue and emphasised it would stop a huge amount of unnecessary journeys by MPs and 35% agreed MPs on overseas trips should be allowed to vote remotely. Yet only 19% of MPs agreed that MPs with constituencies over 4 hours travel away should be allowed to vote remotely. Some MPs are opposed to the remote working because it would restrict access to

  • get hold of government ministers in person. The fact that we can nab the chancellor of the Exchequer in the division lobby is worth an awful lot. I think that would be a huge mistake.

Another says

  • Though the temporary measures are working “reasonably well”, he fears that MPs could risk losing out “on reading the mood of the room and picking up water cooler chat” if they continue to work remotely in the future. He adds: “I am sceptical about this becoming the default. I don’t ever want to be the moaning voice on the screen and the wall that you can basically mute and ignore.”

Others point to gender equality and greater diversity measures that can be achieved through the technologies.

Conference Recess

The Labour Party has cancelled their annual September conference due to C-19. It remains to be seen if the other parties will follow suit and Parliament will continue to sit rather than take recess.

Autumn opening

The Financial Times talks of a blend of online and in-person education post pandemic, not just as a temporary measure but as a more accessible and comprehensive overall offer. It states it

  • could revolutionise universities, help them survive the economic crisis and bring higher education to tens of millions of people who have never set foot on campus…Many “left-behind” adults everywhere would love to learn from home, get qualifications and change their lives, especially if the pandemic has left them jobless…We need more adult learners. Their numbers in the UK almost halved between 2004 and 2016…As lifespans expand, and technology changes, we should top up our education over the decades, while keeping our jobs and families. University is wasted on the young…Blended teaching could help more students enter higher education, argues Chris Stone of Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. He proposes a model in which some students spend a month on campus, then months studying from home, before returning to campus for the final weeks. That would allow universities to teach multiple cohorts a year, cutting tuition costs…Anita Pilgrim, who teaches at the UK’s Open University, which pioneered blended learning, cautions that remote learners need lots of support. Her university has educational advisers who help students find a study-life balance, apply for funding, access resources for dyslexia etc…Teaching online has shortcomings — but so does in-person teaching.

OfS, UUK, Advance HE and the QAA are all rumoured to be putting together guidance for the HE sector on autumn 2020 possible commencement. Whilst answering questions at the Covid-19 press conference Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, stated that: The education secretary will be returning to the subject and providing guidance. Meanwhile more and more sector sources are acknowledging that the teaching model is likely to be a blended approach from the autumn.

Wonkhe have a blog ostensibly about student spirit with a nice slant looking at how online interaction and socialisation worked well during lockdown for a sporting tournament. Rather than the deficit approach of what has been lost during lockdown it illustrates new self-organised approaches which were different and positive.

On Tuesday evening Cambridge University stated it intended to conduct all teaching online possibly with some smaller in-person taught groups if social distancing could be achieved. Of course, they intend to adjust their model in-year should restrictions be relaxed or further curtail contact.  The University of Bolton takes a completely different approach – they intend to open for in-contact teaching: be able to study and engage in person regularly with other students and staff. With students allocated 12 hours on campus per week. Of course, the remaining time will be topped up by online and self-study.

Wonkhe cover both stories and provide media links:

  • Cambridge may be one of only a few universities that could still expect a full, or near-full cohort to start in the autumn with the year ahead expected to be online – as other providers that have struggled to recruit in the past may yet find it challenging to convince students to turn up to a fully online academic year. The position is complicated further by the fact that the college system may not be an easy point of comparison for others that rely more on large lectures.
  • The news was originallybroken by Varsity, was picked up last night by the BBC, and is covered this morning by the Times, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Express, the Evening Standard, the Guardian, the Independent, the Tab, the FT and is on the Press Association It’s also on several international news sites including Forbes.
  • Meanwhile, the University of Bolton has moveddecisively in the other direction, announcing a number of technical measures – from temperature sensors, to queueless catering, to bike loans – to support a return to campus in the autumn. Manchester Evening News has the story, and the university has released an animated video.

Here is the full list of Bolton’s intended changes to enable on campus teaching:

  • Providing regular socially distanced face-to-face tutorials, laboratory experience, access to arts studios and specialist facilities, etc
  • Implementing an effective scheduling system, limiting significantly the number of students on campus at any one time to keep you secure
  • Dividing sessions for access on campus into set times per day, for example, possibly between 8am-2pm and 2pm-8pm
  • Strictly observing recommended social distancing guidelines at all times
  • Installing sophisticated airport style walk through temperature scanners at every building entry
  • Making bicycles available for loan by students, enabling them to avoid crowded public transport
  • Providing on-campus bike parks as well as car parks
  • Ensuring there are adequate additional sanitiser stations
  • Providing and making the wearing of face coverings on campus compulsory for the foreseeable future to safeguard the safety of those around you. In exceptional circumstances, such as misplacing or forgetting face coverings, students will be issued with replacements
  • Carefully managed walking routes including one-way navigation
  • Multiple ‘learning zones’ being created across the campus, by identifying and transforming large spaces into areas featuring tables with plastic dividing screens to allow communication between people facing one another. (E.g. The ground floor of the National Centre for Motorsport Engineering will be cleared to become such a zone and other areas will also be repurposed)
  • Additional self-service, café-style takeaway food and drink stations to minimise queues
  • Instigating a rigorous cleansing programme throughout all university buildings.

On Bolton the Manchester Evening News says:

  • Students are currently using video calls to take classes virtually and the campus is unable to reopen until the government gives the all clear.
  • This will mean widespread changes to create a ‘new normal’ on campus and enable all students to physically attend the university campus safely at specified sessions.
  • During those sessions they will be able to work in laboratories, studios and workshops, attend tutorials, meet other students or converse with their tutor, on top of continuing their learning online.

This British Council article on how Chinese Universities are returning (in part) to face-to-face teaching contact is worth a quick skim through.

Parliamentary questions:

Access, Participation & Success

This week one of the main discussion topics has been access to university and disadvantaged success whilst at university. This isn’t surprising – as lockdown ‘eases’ and contemplation of what the autumn 2020 restart may consist of, alongside the constant recruitment conundrums – attention focuses more and more on how the national situation may play out for equalities.

Advance HE have a blog on the entrenched structural inequalities in HE. Looking through the lens of the student lifecycle in the UK, these have resulted in many challenges, including:

  • Underrepresentation of specific student groups: both generally, and in different disciplines, levels of study, and types of institution.
  • significant degree awarding gaps for different student groups – particularly relating to ethnicity (and gendered intersections) and disability.
  • differential experience of safety and harassment
  • unequal progression to highly skilled employment, and postgraduate study
  • teaching staff and senior academic staff who do not yet reflect the diversity of student cohorts.

OfS have relaxed the monitoring requirements of the Access and Participation Plans, whilst emphasising institutions should still do all they can to deliver the chosen goals. Advance HE continue:

  • all these external drivers – APPs (or equivalents), transparency returns, funded projects, Equality Charters – should ultimately be considered instruments collectively working to achieve a greater aim: a vision of an equitable student learning experience. The test of COVID-19 is how embedded that aim is in an institution’s vision of what sort of educational experience it can and wants to provide coming out of this crisis, and for whom.

The article concludes with 5 suggestions to keep student equity momentum going.

SRHE published the blog: Paid, unpaid and hidden internships: still a barrier to social mobility.

It explains the different sources of data from which to judge whether and how big an issue unpaid internships are. At the end of the article it puts the current data into perspective:

  • These findings show that, whilst unpaid internships appear to be declining in most sectors, they are still a key access route in some key industries and occupations and that this is likely to present a barrier to entry for less privileged graduates. The fact that graduates with better grades or from more prestigious institutions are more likely to do the paid internships reinforces findings from previous studies that suggest paid internships are more competitive and sought after. The findings also show that participation in graduate internships, paid or unpaid, is more commonplace in less vocational subjects, such as mass communication and documentation, historical and philosophical studies and creative arts and design. This may suggest that graduates of these subjects feel more need to supplement their educational qualifications with internships to ‘get ahead’ in an increasingly competitive graduate labour market.

The Wonkhe blog In this pandemic, admissions policy is being developed in real time urges organisations to work collaborative on the principles of admissions implying the Government will impose changes if the sector doesn’t move on its own consensus and practice first. It also states

  • Now is certainly the time to think about what to do if demand for places drops significantly in September. If selective courses start forecasting to under recruit in 2020 then maybe some of this demand can be absorbed by a greater focus on helping previously excluded WP students gain access to these programmes and a new way of thinking about how these courses recruit and select students.

Another Wonkhe blog, Delivering remote support for neurodiverse learners. this time by an assistive technology trainer, highlights the positive and negatives within an online learning environment for some students. The comments at the end that remind about autism are worth a read.

The admissions problem isn’t just about “prediction” takes a good gallop through why the use of predicted grades will double hit disadvantaged students, mentions other contributing factors, and gently calls for admissions reform.

Andrew Ross from University of Bath talks digital outreach.

A Bridge Group blog argues we should ensure that disadvantaged students are admitted to university at the same proportion as previous years so as not to lose progress on widening participation after the lockdown.

The OfS published a briefing note on the needs of students without family support during the pandemic. It covers all the main concerns and aims to share ideas, case studies, and signposting between universities to support these most vulnerable of students. Examples include:

  • offering personalised financial support in the form of hardship funds and graduate bursaries
  • tailoring mental health and wellbeing support and providing a buddy system to mitigate the isolating effects of lockdown
  • prioritising the provision of internet access, laptops and any other necessary course equipment for care experienced and estranged students.
  • The importance of addressing challenges faced by prospective students – whose access to information, advice and guidance to make informed choices for next year may have been affected by school closures.

And Wonkhe report that:  An open letter promoted by NUS and UCU is circulating regarding specific reasonable adjustments during the pandemic for disabled, chronically Ill and neurodivergent PhD students. It argues that many actions being taken by universities and funding bodies do not provide for the differentiated impacts and pressures experienced by disabled, chronically ill or neurodivergent students – or if they do, frame them entirely as matters of “health and wellbeing” rather than marginalisation, inequity, or structural discrimination.

It’s foster care fortnight and care leavers across the UK have amalgamated their definition of care into an online collaborative poem.

Wonkhe report that: New research from the Cardiff University’s Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre finds that young people who were either in care or care-experienced at 13- or 14-years old, had significantly lower expectations of attending university than their peers. The report recommends that social workers, teachers, and higher education providers can all contribute to closing this gap.

Marginal prospective students

The Research Professional (RP) blog All being equal reports that TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) met this week with RP stating that:

  • One worry is that Covid-19 will not only widen existing gaps but also make it harder to collect the evidence needed to find what works in reducing them. The group has already had to cancel plans to assess the effectiveness of summer schools, since none are happening this year. Given all this, the ambitious target set by the OfS to eliminate gaps in entry and dropout rates and degree outcomes between different groups of students in higher education within 20 yearslooks to be at risk.

However, they report that

  • Anna Vignoles, professor of education at the University of Cambridge, suggested Covid-19 could also potentially offer “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a big widening participation intervention”.
  • While going to university just to hide from a difficult labour market is not ideal, the evidence still points to higher education generally benefiting young people both economically and psychologically, Vignoles said. The chances are that they will be better off if they go. And she suggested to Playbook that stronger communication from higher education institutions was needed to make this happen.
  • Her main concern is for the students “at the margins”—not those who have always assumed they will be going to university. It is these “marginal” students who will suffer most from a bad labour market, she says, including the many apprentices likely to see the firms they work for go under, leaving their qualifications up in the air. Higher and further education institutions need to work together to help this group, she argues—and by this, she means those higher education institutions with traditional roots in their communities, that are used to responding to local skills needs.

Science Outreach for School Pupils

UKRI is funding to I’m a Scientist, Stay at Home! a school-age outreach platform for pupils to engage with STEM research during the school closures. UKRI say it is a unique programme where students can engage with scientists over fast-paced online text-based chats. Pupils can ask them anything they want such as: What’s the nearest meteorite to us? What’s your favourite thing about being a scientist? These chats are complemented with lesson plans for teachers to engage their students and at the end students vote for their favourite scientist. Part of the UKRI’s vision for public engagement is to nurture a future generation passionate about research and innovation and they state that I’m a Scientist provides a safe, moderated space for students to be inspired by science through conversations with active research staff.

UKRI state that with limited opportunities for practical science classes and engagement with research, I’m a Scientist provides a unique opportunity for classes to reconvene and explore cutting-edge scientific research together. Taking part in I’m a Scientist has been shown to help students get a better understanding of research and gain confidence in asking questions about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It also supports researchers to improve their communication skills and enables them to engage with young people from regions across the UK.

Medical Research Council (MRC) has funded the Medical Research Zone with around 30 MRC-funded researchers and technicians engaging in conversations with school pupils.

Tom Saunders, UKRI Head of Public Engagement, said:

  • “This is a great opportunity for us to support STEM teaching during this difficult time for everyone. I’m a Scientist, Stay at Home! will inspire young people about research and the role it plays in our lives as well as provide a great way for UKRI researchers and technical staff to engage with young people,”

Parliamentary questions

Postgraduate Education

HEPI and the British Library have published a 154 page report: Postgraduate Education in the UK. It considers the changing postgraduate landscape over the last decade. It takes a pre C-19 perspective, however, it does tackle how postgraduate education was affected by 2008 recession – when students sought out additional education to help surmount the economic challenges and when those who already had postgraduate qualifications fared better than others in the labour market.

The 8 page executive summary is a quicker read for those with only a passing interest.

Some key Points taken mainly from HEPI’s press release:

  • There were 566,555 postgraduate students in 2017/18, of which 356,996 (63%) were in their first year – up by 16% since 2008/09
  • Two-thirds (65%) of new postgraduates are studying for Master’s degrees, 10% are taking doctorates or other research degrees, 7% are doing teacher training and the rest (18%) a range of diplomas, certificates, professional qualifications and modules
  • The most popular discipline is Business & Administrative Studies (20%), followed by Education (14%) and Subjects Allied to Medicine (12%). Research postgraduates (64%) are more likely to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) but most taught postgraduates (68%) take non- STEM subjects
  • Just over half of new UK-domiciled postgraduates (53%) study full-time, reversing past trends favouring part-time study – back in 2008/09, most postgraduates (59%) were part-time students
  • More than half (60%) of new postgraduate students at UK institutions come from the UK, while one-third (32%) come from outside the EU and 8% come from EU countries. The majority of Master’s students (53%) come from outside the UK
  • The female:male ratio among new postgraduates is 60:40, or 62:38 among UK-domiciled students alone. This reflects greater female participation over time – in 2008/09, the overall female:male ratio was 55:45
  • The gender ratio varies considerably by discipline: women are in a big majority in Subjects Allied to Medicine (77%), Veterinary Sciences (72%) and Education (70%) and men are in a big majority in Engineering & Technology (78%), Computer Science (76%) and Mathematics (71%). Males outnumber females among PhD researchers (51%)
  • White men, particularly disadvantaged White men, are less likely to undertake postgraduate study than others. Among UK-domiciled postgraduate entrants from the poorest areas, 64% are women and 36% are men
  • The proportion of postgraduate students aged under 30 has grown from 52% to 57% since 2008/09, reflecting a broader decline in people accessing lifelong learning opportunities
  • The introduction of £10,000 Master’s loans for home / EU students in 2016 has had a big positive impact: UK-domiciled student numbers grew by 29% in one year and by 59% among those from the most disadvantaged areas. The loans have also encouraged above-inflation fee increases
  • The number of people taking Taught Master’s courses grew by 30% from 2008/09 to 2017/18, but the total has been volatile, particularly among UK students. Among all new postgraduates, just over half (51%) were full-time Taught Master’s students in 2017/18 (Table 3.1 and p.23).
  • Between 2008/09 and 2017/18, UK-domiciled postgraduate entrants increased by 10% but students from overseas grew faster: EU-domiciled student numbers increased by 11% and non-EU international students grew by 33%
  • Chinese students formed 38% of the non-EU postgraduate cohort by 2017/18. Such heavy reliance on a single country exposes universities to greater risk from geo-political events
  • Since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, the number of new postgraduate students from EU countries has fallen (by 2% in 2017/18 and another 2% in 2018/19), but the reduction in the value of the pound contributed to a 10% increase in non-EU postgraduate starters in 2017/18
  • The great recession following the 2007/08 financial crash witnessed a marked rise in Master’s take-up, as employment opportunities were restricted and people brought forward their plans to study
  • The abolition of post-study work visas (announced in 2011 and implemented in 2012) had a negative impact on demand for postgraduate study, most notably within India. The announcement that this policy is to be reversed is welcome but needs communicating quickly and clearly
  • Women have a bigger boost to their earnings from postgraduate study, earning 28% more than women with only undergraduate degrees – the comparable figure for men is 12%. But women with postgraduate qualifications still earn 14% less on average than men with the same level of qualifications
  • In the last crash, employment among those with postgraduate qualifications was slower to fall and faster to recover than for those with only a first degree, which may signal how the labour market will respond to the current Covid-19 crisis
  • Demand for postgraduate education is likely to grow over the long term: there could be an additional 22,750 undergraduates moving directly to postgraduate study by 2030 in England alone. While Brexit could mean a drop of around 11,500 EU postgraduates, successful implementation of the UK Government’s International Education Strategy could see an increase of 53,000 in other overseas postgraduates by 2030, although this partly depends on how the world recovers from the current Covid-19 crisis
  • Transnational education, where people take UK qualifications abroad, has seen substantial growth, more than doubling since 2007/08 to 127,825 postgraduates in 2017/18 and overtaking the number of overseas postgraduate students in the UK. Students studying in this way are excluded from the other figures in the report.

Dr Ginevra House, report author, describes her concerns for fair access to postgraduate study:

  • Despite a tumultuous decade, including the 2008 financial crash, restrictive changes to visas and Brexit, the UK’s postgraduate sector has emerged bigger and more diverse than ever before. However, the gains in fair access to postgraduate education – and by extension the professions – delivered by the introduction of Master’s loans may yet stall as rising fees consume most of the funds, leaving little or nothing for living costs. Other challenges to fair access remain, with under-participation by males, by White British students, and by those from less advantaged backgrounds. When writing this report, the Covid-19 pandemic had yet to reach its current height, but the risk posed by universities’ increasing reliance on international students was evident. The crisis is providing a timely reminder of the importance of a diverse and balanced student body to weather future shocks to the system, supported by government policies that foster international co-operation and mobility of the world’s brightest. With the shadow of a new recession ahead, combined with a rapidly changing, more automated job market, postgraduate education has never been more important, to build the highly skilled, knowledgeable, flexible and independent workforce needed to tackle the challenges of the future.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

  • ‘A proper study of UK postgraduate education is long overdue, given the growth it has enjoyed in recent years and the changing demographics of postgraduates. Postgraduate qualifications are increasingly expected by employers and more people want to achieve them. In some respects, postgraduate education now more closely resembles undergraduate study, with today’s postgraduate students more likely to be women, full-time and young. A higher proportion of postgraduate students are also from overseas. The higher education sector is in the midst of an horrendous and unprecedented crisis that is pulling the rug from under our institutions. But the story in this report is a positive one, showing the power of higher education to do good, extending people’s options, delivering the skills employers need and pushing forward the boundaries of knowledge. Another big positive in this report is the power of public policy to help individuals. The introduction of taxpayer-supported loans for postgraduate study has opened doors that were previously locked for many people who wanted to continue studying. If international postgraduate numbers fall, some courses will become unviable – this is true even if there are more home postgraduates because of the higher fee levels for international students.

Wonkhe describe the media sources covering the report:

The report is covered in the Times, the Telegraph, and ITV. HEPI also has a response to the report from Diana Beech, Head of Government Affairs at the University of Warwick [and who used to write for HEPI]. And Research Professional also describe the report in: Avoid ‘shocks’ by diversifying postgrad intake, says think tank.

Following on, some days later, Wonkhe state:

  • What that [HEPI] report didn’t set out to cover was what it’s like to study at postgraduate level, especially if you’re doing so with a view of trying to enter academia. And so today’s publication of initial findings of a survey by the Student Mental Health Research Network and Vitae exploring the impact of Covid-19 on doctoral and early career researchers provides a complementary and concerning picture.
  • Of the early career researchers whose contracts end in 2020, only 10 per cent report their funding has been extended. Only 12 per cent of doctoral researchers said their institution has provided an option to extend their doctoral studies. The impacts on research progress are largely negative, ranging from reduced access to essential software and reduced ability to collect and analyse data, disseminate findings, and maintain contact with colleagues to widespread stress about work, future plans, and finances. Four-fifths of doctoral researchers are showing some level of mental distress.
  • For many students, postgraduate study and early career research are a high-stakes endeavour, whether because of the investment of time and money, or because they’re trying to accrue enough academic capital to take the next step in a hugely competitive career path. It’s not entirely surprising, then, that a crisis like Covid-19 is causing serious distress – many of these people were walking on a knife edge before the pandemic hit.

Research

Research Professional have been on a reporting mission to find out all they can about the University Research Taskforce. They describe the run around they got trying to obtain the names of the taskforce members. The membership list is here and on the membership RP say: That is a lot of know-how in the room: the people who know the right questions to ask but also have their hands on the levers that might actually lead to solutions.

On the group’s purpose RP state:

  • The terms of reference for the group have not been released, but Playbook understands that this membership will be flexible—waxing and waning—depending on the topic under discussion. The taskforce certainly has some firepower and no shortage of issues to discuss.
  • However, it is clear from this membership that universities are very much outnumbered by politicians and civil servants. The purpose of this group is not to receive future requests for a bailout from higher education.
  • Rather, it is there to gather evidence on the state of university research during the Covid-19 pandemic, to look at possible policy solutions and to present all this in a coherent way to the big bosses who really matter: the UK Treasury, the prime minister’s office and the leaders of the devolved nations (in that order).
  • There is no union representation, nor are there multiple voices from the mission groups that represent smaller but no less important research efforts in higher education. There is a strong sense that this is a task and finish group that will put something of substance on the table, even if it is not necessarily something that universities have a casting vote over.
  • It is to be hoped that, when the need arises, the taskforce will take soundings from independent voices in university research—such as a Graeme Reid, a Richard Jones or an Athene Donald—because it is always wise to consult those you are about to do something to before doing it to them.

PG Research Degrees – The UK Council for Graduate Education released a guidance note on the potential impacts of Covid-19 on the delivery of postgraduate research degrees and the institutional support doctoral candidates should expect to receive, including possible mitigation strategies. And as mentioned earlier there is an open letter circulating which request reasonable adjustments and time extensions for chronically ill and neurodivergent PhD students as a result of C-19.

New UKRI Head – Professor Ottoline Leyser has been appointed as the new CEO of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and will replace Sir Mark Walport on 29 June. One of her key functions will be to guide the delivery of the government’s ambition to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, establishing the UK as a global hub for science and technology.

Professor Ottoline Leyser commented:

  • UKRI has a unique opportunity to make a profound contribution to tackling the many challenges facing the world. During my career, I have seen the power of genuinely collaborative cultures to catalyse the transformative thinking needed to create effective solutions. I look forward to working with the UKRI team to ensure that the UK’s superb research and innovation system continues to work for everyone, by pioneering new partnerships, developing innovative funding models and strengthening international collaboration.

You can read UKRI’s press release on the appointment here, the Government’s press release here and Research Professional’s coverage here. Research Professional have also dug two articles by Ottoline out on UKRI (written in 2018 as UKRI was about to begin official operations) and the REF.

UKRI also published their preventing harm policy for safe research and innovation environments this week.

The British Academy have published a comment ahead of their formal response to the UKRI Open Access Review Consultation.

Other Research News

Mental Health

UUK have updated their mental health framework in Stepchange Mentally Healthy Universities. The framework calls on universities to take a whole university approach, meaning that mental health and wellbeing is considered across every aspect of the university and is part of all practices, policies, courses and cultures. The four areas cited in the framework are: Learn; Support; Work; Live. These map onto the University Mental Health Charter, developed by Student Minds.

Recommended actions within the new framework include:

  • demonstrating visible leadership and senior ownership of mental health as a priority to promote open conversations and sustain change
  • working closely with students and staff to develop mental health strategies and services
  • ensuring accessible and appropriately resourced support for mental health and wellbeing for all students and all staff
  • focusing on staff mental health; inclusion of mental health in staff performance discussions and provision of appropriate training for line managers and supervisors
  • clarification of the key role of academic staff in supporting the mental health of students through appropriate training and development
  • commitment to assessments and course work that stretch and test learning without imposing unnecessary stress

The Guardian have an article looking at the value and changes to Nightline mental health support on its 50 year anniversary.

Admissions – offer making

The sector is (almost) over talking about OfS’ intention to obtain temporary powers to prevent what OfS consider unscrupulous admissions behaviour that is not in the student interest. There is a consultation currently open on the topic. However, HEPI have a new blog written by Dean Machin (Jane’s equivalent over in Portsmouth) – The Office for Students’ new power: a ‘necessary and proportionate’ response to the pandemic, or not wasting a crisis? – challenging the OfS thought process on the student interest. The blog concludes by calling on the OfS to address 6 concerns:

  1. Will the OfS publish its evidence that the proposed non-compliant conduct has systematically and non-trivially increased since 11 March?
  2. Given the Government’s prompt action on 23 March, why has the OfS taken so much longer to act?
  3. Will the OfS publish the criteria it will use to form its opinion on whether the new condition is violated and what constitutes a material negative effect?
  4. Will the OfS explain how it understands the ‘student interest’ in this area and what steps it has taken to get students’ views on the student interest in the pandemic?
  5. Has the OfS considered the effect on students’ interests of fining universities potentially millions of pounds just at the time they are expecting a significant decline in income? This question should be viewed in light of the fact that the Government support package for universities includes no extra funding.
  6. Finally, if the problems the condition seeks to solve are pandemic-specific and created by the conduct of a small number of universities, why is the condition ‘broad and onerous‘ and why will it be in force until at least the middle of 2021?

In fact the OfS have published frequently asked questions including covering the time-limited condition of registration and other topics (although the regulatory answers are a bit hard to navigate).

Degree Apprenticeships and Social Mobility

The Sutton Trust have published COVID-19 and Social Mobility Impact Brief #3: Apprenticeships. Here I include detail only on the aspects most relevant to HE.

Many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds undertake apprenticeships. They are more likely to be concentrated in apprenticeships at lower levels, be paid lower salaries, and work at smaller companies. At early April, employers surveyed reported that on average just 39% of apprenticeships were continuing as normal, with 36% having been furloughed and 8% made redundant. 17% of apprentices had their off-the-job learning suspended.

The Sutton Trust has previously raised concerns over degree apprenticeships and the prioritisation of spending in the levy. Degree Apprenticeships (level 6 and 7) are dominated by those from less deprived areas – there are twice as many degree level apprentices from the wealthiest areas as there are from the poorest.

The number of degree apprenticeships has grown rapidly, from 756 in 2015/16 to 13,587 in 2018/19.

  • Since 2017, there has also been a big rise in other degree-level apprenticeships, award qualifications equivalent to a degree but not from a university, from just 19 four years ago, to 8,892 last year.
  • Much of this growth has not benefitted young people, with more than half of degree apprenticeships taken up by people over 30
  • Senior leadership courses – equivalent to an MBA – have expanded significantly, growing six-fold from 552 to 3,410 in 2018/19
  • Conversely, the proportion of young apprentices from deprived communities taking degree level apprenticeships up has fallen (from 9% in 2016 to 6% last year).
  • The number of older apprentices from well-off areas has more than doubled (from 5% to 11%), leading to a growing access gap for those under 25.
  • Senior leadership and chartered management courses alone now make up almost half (46%) of the entire degree apprentice cohort as employers look to put their senior staff through these courses rather than train younger, less affluent employees.

Recommendations

  • At a time of economic downturn and limited resources, apprenticeship levy funding should not be spent subsidising senior executives taking MBA-style qualifications, but should instead be focused on providing new opportunities for young people facing a challenging labour market. The Government should consider a maximum salary ceiling for levy-funded apprentices to avoid it being spent on highly paid and well qualified senior staff. Employers could also be required to top up level funding for certain categories of apprentice or conversely incentivise apprenticeships to increase opportunities for groups who need it most.
  • The priority for current apprentices should be to continue training where possible, even when on furlough or if redeployed within a company
  • In order for apprenticeships to deliver on the social mobility agenda as we come out of the coronavirus crisis, social mobility and widening opportunity should be an explicit criterion in the government’s review of the apprenticeships levy.

FE Week covers the brief with good volume of content on degree apprenticeships.

International Students

The surveys and speculation on international students’ intention to commence UK universities in autumn 2020 disagree. Some predict dire impacts with low recruitment, others suggest there will only be a smaller reduction. Wonkhe round up two news points from this week:

A new survey from QS suggests that seventy two per cent of prospective international students are interested in starting their UK course online this autumn. This breaks down to 46 per cent being definitely committed to the idea, and 26 per cent being unsure. Sixty-two per cent of international students have had their plans to study abroad affected by Covid-19.

The Russell Group has set out proposals to support international recruitment, which includes further improvements to visa conditions and a new international marketing campaign. PIE news has the story.

Research Professional also cover the Russell Group’s proposals in Big Ask and talk of the Group distancing themselves from UUK after the Government snubbed their bailout proposals. Excerpts:

  • The government is being asked to continue “reforms to ensure Britain remains a globally attractive destination for students”. What this means in practice is passing “the two-year post-study work visa through emergency immigration rules (secondary legislation) immediately”. The Jo Johnson-Paul Blomfield amendment has yet to pass into law and surveys suggest it is not well known among prospective international students.
  • The Russell Group also wants: international students to be prioritised in visa applications once travel restrictions are lifted; the government to increase the visa to 30 months to give UK universities a competitive edge; students to be allowed to apply for their visa six months in advance rather than three, to avoid those taking online classes facing the prospect of starting courses and then potentially being refused a visa; visas to be extended for current students affected by the pandemic; rules to be relaxed on monitoring students in the UK, such as reporting to police stations; European Union students to be allowed to apply to the EU settled status scheme; and universities to be allowed to conduct their own language capacity assessments.
  • The problem is that “many overseas governments do not recognise degrees which are comprised of significant amounts of distance learning. This lack of recognition could deter students from studying in the UK where they fear their qualifications will not be recognised.” This is a particular concern in China, the UK’s primary market for international students… Accordingly, the Russell Group is calling on the government to work with the international community to agree reciprocal recognition of online classes following the impact of Covid-19. The problem is also that international cooperation is in short supply at the moment, especially where popular nationalism encourages both protectionism and undercutting of rivals.
  • Recently, one forlorn international recruitment expert in the north of England told Playbook that if the student cohorts did not return to Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham and Durham, the economic impact would be like closing the mines all over again. That might be an argument worth making to those still aspiring to level up.

Graduate prospects and student employment

The Resolution Foundation published a report on young workers in the coronavirus crisis using evidence from a survey they conducted. The report finds that younger and older workers have experienced the brunt of the hit to jobs and pay, with the very youngest in the most challenging position.

  • A third of 18-24-year-old employees (excluding students) have lost jobs or been furloughed, compared to 1 in 6 prime-age adults.
  • Similarly, 35% of non-full-time student 18-24-year-old employees are earning less than they did prior to the outbreak, compared to 23% of 25-49-year-olds.
  • The proportion of 18-24-year-old non-fulltime students who have lost their main job since the coronavirus outbreak began (9%) is three times as large as the figure across all employees
  • Young people are more likely than other age groups to work in atypical jobs. Recent analysis shows that people in atypical work are concentrated in ‘shutdown sectors’ directly affected by lockdown measures, such as hospitality and non-food retail.
  • Those aged 25-39 are most likely to be working from home during the crisis, and most likely to expect to do more of this in the future. Conversely, the youngest employees and those aged 55 and older are the most limited in what they can do from home.

Maja Gustafsson, report author said:

  • Our findings show the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus crisis on the youngest and oldest earners. These employees are more likely to have lost work or been furloughed due to the crisis than those of prime age, and have experienced the biggest pay swings with large proportions losing earnings. Government support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is helping many of these affected workers get through the crisis. As the crisis continues to unfold, comprehensive support across ages and targeted support for the very youngest workers will be essential to minimise the damage done, and especially to minimise long-term employment and pay scarring for the young.

The Institute of Student Employers has issued a report on the graduate labour market and Chief Executive, Stephen Isherwood, writes for the Guardian. He explains there are still glimmers of hope for graduate employment – although overall volume is down (12% cut in graduate jobs and 40% cut in placements) many employers are still recruiting or delaying induction programmes until later in the Autumn. Furthermore, certain sectors are not anticipating a downturn and this alongside vacancies in key sectors (STEM and digital) offers many opportunities. The article states interviews, assessments, and seeking out recruitment talent have been online for some time, but C-19 has increased the overall volume of virtual activity and that we can expect this increased practice to continue post-virus:

  • Many of these practices are long-term trends accelerated by coronavirus. Even though broadband can falter, interviews and assessments are delivered faster and more economically online. Employers won’t revert to labour intensive methods as business returns to normal. Finally, Stephen warns about the lure of a Masters. Stating There is absolutely nothing wrong with the pursuit of postgraduate study for the love of learning, if students are making an informed investment decision. And warning that some employment sectors did not value a Masters above an undergraduate degree.

The Financial Times has an article which begins with the doom and gloom outlook (worst economy since the Depression, UK hiring intentions at their lowest level in 15 years). However, it goes on to highlight how some larger firms are running their summer programmes online with almost-guaranteed jobs at the end to fill their need for ‘fresh blood’.

  • … the onus on companies that can work virtually to step up and prevent this generation from paying a disproportionate price. We’ve had a lot of talk during this crisis about stakeholder capitalism and the need to prevent economic scarring. This is one of those moments where push comes to shove.
  • …the big Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, are pushing ahead with online summer programmes and will bring in thousands of new trainees on schedule in the autumn. “We want to be there for our communities. We need new blood to make sure that we can forge ahead,” says Ryland McClendon, who runs career development programmes for JPMorgan. Citi has also guaranteed that participants in its abbreviated summer intern programmes will be offered full-time jobs in 2021, as long as they meet minimum requirements. “We saw an opportunity to relieve some of the stress and uncertainty so many young adults are feeling right now, especially those preparing to enter a job market in the midst of great economic uncertainty,” bank executives explained in a
  • That is not only admirable but good business. Recovery from Covid-19 may come slowly. But, when it does, some companies will have well-trained young staff ready to get to work. Others will only have a string of disappointed youngsters with bitter memories. 

Wonkhe have new blogs:

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

New loans: The Guardian have an explainer article on loan application following the Student Loan Company who have urged prospective students to apply for their 2020/21 loans early to ensure they don’t face delays.

Devolved consequences: Both Wales and Scotland are reporting significant consequences of C-19 on universities finance, recruitment and stability. If you are interested in the devolved position Wales Fiscal Analysis has issued a paper.

Home School: The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a report on learning during the lockdown focusing on the experience of children.

Immigration: With the Immigration Bill passing the vote Wonkhe talk about the Impact Assessment: The Impact Assessment for the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill suggests that 20 per cent of EU/EEA students would be deterred by newly applicable visa requirements – around 15,000 per annum during the first five years of the policy, an estimate of up to 25,000 fewer EU higher education students in the UK by academic year 2024-25 relative to the baseline.

However the projections of an increase in non-EU/EEA international students following the implementation of the Post-Study Work Visa dwarf these changes – a 10 per cent increase in enrolments would mean an estimated annual increase of around 25,000 over the first five years of the policy. The projected increase in international tuition fee income would be between £1 billion and £2 billion over the first five years.

Behavioural changes and migration flows are notoriously difficult to predict, so the document cautions that these figures are indicative only.

Home working: in non-policy news the CMI have found that many managers have found working from home a largely positive experience and intend to incorporate it into their regular working week post-virus. And New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern urged employers to  consider flexible working options, including a four-day week , as part of efforts to rebuild the economy after the pandemic.

Online graduation: Wonkhe have a comedy round up of the latest (mainly American) virtual graduation antics.

Post Covid Society: Politics Home cover a survey by The House (parliament) on MPs expectations of a post Covid society.

  • Three quarters of MPs believe taxes will increase to fund public services in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
  • Almost two-thirds of MPs believe pay for NHS and care workers should be higher, while 56% say the pay packets of key workers such as bus drivers should also increase
  • 72% of MPs agree that “taxes will increase to fund public services”, while 83% agree that “the state will play a greater role in the economy”
  • 73% agree that “tough spending choices will have to be made” – but just four in ten would back cuts to public services to rein in spending
  • Freezing public sector pay was opposed by the majority of MPs
  • 90% believe that unemployment will be higher
  • 65% agree that “people will be kinder to each other” after the pandemic – but just 10% say politics will “be less partisan”
  • Just 8% believe the public will have more trust in politicians
  • 51% of MPs support a further extension to the Brexit transition period (49% don’t)
  • On handling coronavirus 9 in 10 MPs believed the NHS had performed very well, with half of those selecting performed ‘very well’. 60% of MPs surveyed believed the police had performed well. 63% of MPs felt the British media had performed poorly (10% felt had performed well).
  • Conservative opinion on the debt is split. Some warn against increasing taxes to pay off the debt accumulated from tackling the virus. However, a number of Conservative backbenchers would prefer Sunak to pursue economic growth and pay off the obligations over time.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 13th May 2020

Speculation on what the easing of lockdown means for universities and particularly research labs. Contention over the Augar Review recommendations. Further concerns for the employment outlook of the graduating cohort alongside conjecture that the lack of work may mean those who hadn’t planned to may consider postgraduate study or even commencing university at undergraduate level. And more parliamentary questions than you could ever dream of!

Parliamentary News

BEIS Chair: Darren Jones MP won the vote and has been appointed as the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee chair. The Labour representative on 13 other select committees will also change due to the incumbents accepting Shadow Cabinet roles. Dawn Butler and Kim Johnson will replace Lucy Powell and Fleur Anderson on the Education Select Committee.

Virtual Parliament Ends: Despite all the investment and flurry of activity finding a virtual solution for Parliament it has been announced that the hybrid arrangements whereby some Parliamentarians remain in the chamber for business and some remote in virtually will end by Friday 22 May. MPs and staff have been told they’ll need to return ‘to normal’ from June. Many MPs feel this is precipitous and inappropriate.

House of Lords HE Debate

Last Wednesday (6 May) the House of Lords debated the impact of the Coronavirus on the HE sector and students. You can read the full debate here. Summary:

Lord Blunkett (Lab) tabled a private notice question on the support package unveiled for universities and students and what steps the government were taking to protect quality and accessibility in the sector.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Berridge, said that all providers must adhere to Office for Student conditions on quality and access. She affirmed that the Government were bringing forward £2.6 billion of forecast tuition fee income to help universities’ cash flow, and providing students with more support, including increasing student hardship funds.

Lord Blunkett (Lab) queried whether the definition of a 5% student uplift referenced in the package was based on forecast numbers, rather than a historic benchmark. He also pressed the minister for timelines of the publication on the work of the research sustainability taskforce, “in respect of the likely catastrophic loss of income from overseas students and the urgent need to underwrite research funding”.

The Minister confirmed that the precise figures to determine the 5% uplift on the cap would be provided at provider level, and the methodology for that will be published shortly.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) said the loss of income from foreign students would be compounded by the loss of research income from Horizon 2020 and other EU participation programmes. She queried what steps were being taken to encourage overseas students to come to the UK.

The Minister confirmed that the Department for Education was working with the Department for International Trade to amend the international education strategy. “The clear message is that the UK is open for business and for international students to come at the start of the academic year”, she said.

Opposition Spokesperson for Education and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Lord Bassam of Brighton, commented that “the Government are allowing universities to charge students the full £9,250 annual tuition fee while our campuses remain closed—as long as there are highest standards of online teaching”.

He posited that many courses were simply unfit for online learning and contended that the market-driven higher education system had forced students to see themselves as consumers, “and they are not getting what they have paid for”.

The Minister responded that the Office for Students had been very clear on quality of provision that should be maintained during this period.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) queried how future policies could help universities move towards a more co-operative model and eliminate the waste emanating from competition. “The kind of waste that could be eliminated is, as the Augar report highlighted, the £500 per student that is spent on marketing”, she added.

The Minister responded that the Office for Students was a modern regulator, encouraging greater innovation and putting student choice at the centre of the system.

Tuition Fees

In last week’s policy update we highlighted the petition to Government to refund student’s tuition fees. On Thursday the Petitions Committee examined the petition and took oral evidence. You can read a summary provided by Dods here.

Research Professional report on a conversation with UUK on the dangers if universities are required to repay tuition fees – paying back fees could see some universities pushed to the edge.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, answered another parliamentary question to confirm that tuition fees remain payable as long as the quality and volume of delivery is appropriate.

Q – Stella Creasy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether universities that have closed as a result of the covid-19 outbreak will require their students to pay their fees in full.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Fee loans are being paid directly to universities as planned at the start of the third term.
  • We are working with universities to make sure all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to continue their studies to the best of their abilities. There are some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by institutions across the UK, and the sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the summer and autumn terms.
  • Students ordinarily should not expect any fee refund if they are receiving adequate online learning and support. However, the government has made it clear that if universities are unable to deliver adequate online teaching then it would be unacceptable for students to be charged for any additional terms of study, which would effectively mean that they were being charged twice.
  • Whether or not an individual student is entitled to a refund of their fees will depend on specific contractual arrangements between the student and their university.
  • In the first instance, students should speak to their university. We expect student complaints and appeals processes to be operated flexibly, accessibly and sympathetically by institutions to resolve any concerns. Students who are not satisfied with their institution’s final response can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint if their institution is based in England or Wales.

A Lords response on (not) adjusting tuition fees for online provision.

Student Accommodation

There is a Bill before the Scottish Parliament that will allow students who cannot take up their place in university accommodation because of C-19 to end their lease. Research Professional report that

  • those already with halls of residence contracts will be able to cancel their agreements with seven days’ notice, and those who enter into such contracts will also be able to cancel with a month’s notice. This, if passed, will stop students from being liable for rental costs for next year when, in all probability, at least part of their teaching will be taking place virtually.

The BBC has covered the news of the Bill.

Parliamentary questions:

Government’s Support Package for HE

The Shadow Universities Minister, Emma Hardy, was unimpressed with the Government’s support package for HE institutions. Research Professional (RP) ran the exclusive with her writing an open letter to higher education.

  • RP report that the Shadow Minister stated: I was very disappointed that the government rejected the collective proposals put forward by Universities UK and chose instead just to bring forward the payment of student fees alone. This does nothing to address the underlying loss of income in the long term and consequently universities are being forced to set budgets in the dark without a safety net.
  • RP continue: In her letter, Hardy addresses university budgets, widening participation, casual contracts, student rent, open learning, mental health, anchor institutions, skills and training. She rounds on the government’s apparent neglect for students, saying that students are seen as “somehow a different category of person whose welfare is the sole province of universities and the Office for Students”. She calls Monday’s financial rescue package an “abdication of the government’s responsibility”.

On easing Lockdown Emma Hardy was similarly unimpressed stating the PM’s speech contained a total lack of clarity. Research Professional has also considered what easing lockdown could mean for Universities.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has published a coronavirus analysis modelling the impact of the virus and the measures put in place to tackle and ameliorate for it. Research Professional reported from the report on Sunday that while universities may not suffer in terms of income lost until September, they would be the sector hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Wonkhe explain why the schemes the Government want Universities to access (furlough and business continuity schemes) don’t really work for the HE sector.

There is lots of talk about the Policy Exchange report, A training opportunity in the crisis, which some sector reporters suggest is another way for the Government to close down the degree courses they don’t feel add value to the UK economy – “mickey mouse courses”.

This Wonkhe blog looks at the options available for the sector and highlights these excerpts from the Policy Exchange report:

  • …a Policy Exchange report that’s officially on “skills”, but is really onreorganising tertiary. First some clickbait keywords – current bail out conditions provide Government, he says, with short term leverage to “weed out” weaker courses and push back against “grade inflation”, “unconditional offers” and other “pathologies of modern”, market-driven HE.

Dods summarise the key points of the Policy Exchange paper:

  • [The paper] sets out how the coronavirus crisis could be a watershed moment for education and training in the UK. Among other recommendations, it urges the Government to undo the policy error of abolishing the polytechnics in 1992… it argues that the current crisis offers an opportunity to cut through many of the normal blockages and vested interests, not least since we may – in the wake of coronavirus – be moving into a period of high unemployment, which will require a radical rethinking of current policy.

These are the executive summary points taken from within the paper itself:

  • The coronavirus crisis underlines the need for an education and training system that is better aligned with the economic and social needs of the UK. We can no longer afford the luxury of a wasteful mismatch produced by low value degrees and a disorganised approach to vocational training.
  • The Government must overcome the resistance of the higher education sector, which has quietly become a powerful cultural and economic vested interest.
  • This paper recommends that a new “opportunity grant”, to train or retrain, of at least £3,000 should be on offer for every individual, with added loans to cover more expensive courses and maintenance costs for those who want to take courses full time (repaid in the same way as student loans). The grant money would not go to the individual but would be drawn down by the training provider or FE college or, in a few cases, university.
  • It recommends suspending the apprenticeship levy for new entrants and replace it with a radically simplified model focused on school leavers (only about 9 per cent of whom currently enter an apprenticeship) and young people up to the age of 24, with Government and employers splitting the full cost 50:50.
  • Lastly, it recommends the creation of a sub-set of “applied universities,” essentially undoing the policy error of abolishing the polytechnics in 1992. With the exception of the “higher” vocational courses in medicine, engineering, and perhaps law, most vocational degrees should be clustered in the applied universities

Parliamentary questions:

  • Admissions – support for HE providers who recruit only at a significantly decreased level for 2020/21 (answer – just the package already announced).
  • What plans the Government have to provide financial assistance to universities during C-19.

New guidance as lockdown “eases”

As educational institutions make decisions on where to go with Sunday’s announcements on the easing of lockdown from Wed 13 there is clear guidance on Gov.uk on a couple of points at least.

Q – Can students return to their family home if they’ve been in halls all this time?

  • A – In general, leaving your home – the place you live – to stay at another home is not allowed. If a student is moving permanently to live back at their family home, this is permitted.

Q – Who is allowed to go to work?

  • A – In the first instance, employers should make every effort to support working from home, including by providing suitable IT and equipment as they have been already. This will apply to many different types of businesses, particularly those who typically would have worked in offices or online.
  • Where work can only be done in the workplace, we have set out tailored guidelines for employers to help protect their workforce and customers from coronavirus while still continuing to trade or getting their business back up and running. We will be publishing even more detailed COVID-19 secure guidelines in the coming days, which has been developed in consultation with businesses and trades unions.

These ‘back to work’ guidelines apply to selected groups, including those working in labs and research facilities.

There are specific guidelines for those who are vulnerable, shielding, or showing symptoms.

And on attending university – there is no answer (yet) but there is a question.

Q – Can children go back to early years settings, schools or university?

  • A – We initially urge those who are currently eligible to use school provision (children of critical workers and vulnerable children) to attend. As soon as it is safe to do so we will bring more year groups back to school in a phased way when it is safe to have larger numbers of children within schools, but not before. Keeping children and staff safe is our utmost priority.
  • Schools should prepare to begin opening for more children from 1 June. The government expects children to be able to return to early years settings, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to be back in school in smaller class sizes from this point.
  • Secondary schools and further education colleges should also prepare to begin some face to face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year, in support of their continued remote, home learning.
  • The government’s ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible.

There might be some clues here for what the answer will be when there is one:

Q – How will you make sure it is safe?

  • A – Schools can now operate if they are organised in a way that is compatible with minimising the spread of the virus. The next phase of measures will require the development of new safety standards to set out how physical spaces, including schools, can be adapted to operate safely.
  • We will publish guidance advising schools on reopening to ensure schools can adequately prepare for the next phase. One of the main protective measures we can take to reduce transmission is to have small consistent group and class sizes.

Labs and research facilities – there is a specific set of broad guideline for cautious reopening

On lab based researchers returning to work research Professional write:

  • Perhaps of most immediate interest to higher education people—particularly those engaged in lab or field-based research—was the announcement that as of today, those who cannot carry out their work from home are “actively encouraged” to go back to work.
  • While Johnson used the example of the construction industry, it is hard to argue that researchers whose lab work is housed on campus or in research institutes can meaningfully carry out their work from home. Those who have such work to go back to (though who knows how many experiments have been lost, either due to a lack of attention or by lab capacity being usurped by urgent coronavirus work) are now, it would appear, permitted to do so.
  • That is, provided that they can get there—without using public transport, wherever possible. Also, their employers (which is where university professional and support services come in) must ensure that their workplaces have been made “Covid secure”.

Easing back to Education

Another week brings a further set of opinions on what a graduate emergence from lockdown might be like within HE. These two were written before Sunday’s announcements:

  • Wonkhe consider the middle ground with some aspects back on campus but respecting social distancing.
  • Research Professional (RP) report that Italian research labs reopen and describe their working conditions.

And these published after the announcement:

  • RP look for clues within the published schools reopening guidance and speculate about which research labs it is most important to open first. Alongside the tricky issue of the volume of support staff that would be needed back on site to support those working in labs (cleaners, post services, estates functions, senior supervision).
  • RP cover Portugal (instructed to blend face to face with distance from September, and relaxing the entrance rules) and Germany (partially open for teaching and research where face to face necessary – but digital learning prioritised, some states prefer digital only, face to face contact remains controversial).
  • The Centre for Education and Youth has produced a report stating that summer schools likely won’t deliver the catch up for school pupils that is needed (although different approaches may result in success). They also recommend balancing academic ideals and emotional wellbeing. Teachers are most concerned about their disadvantaged pupils. Furthermore, special consideration should be given to pupils transitioning between phases or schools.
  • RP suggest that Universities or parts of universities could be moving in and out of quarantine on a regular basis. And another article details the institutions who do not intent to (immediately, at least) reopen their labs.
  • A Wonkhe student union blog looking at what we’re allowed to do, able to do, and willing to do when the autumn term commences – and how individual differences may create further inequities.

General Public Opinion on easing lockdown

A snap YouGov poll conducted after Sunday’s easing of lockdown announcements showed divided sentiments within the nation.

  • 44% of surveyed support the easing, 43% are opposed, 13% are ‘unsure’.
  • Conservative voters support the intended measures more than Lib Dem or Labour voters.
  • Support for the easing rises with age, and men are a little more likely to support the work and exercise relaxation rules than women.
  • However, those opposing the easing measures are not opposed to ending lockdown, instead 91% of the opposed feel the relaxation of measures go too far.
  • 70% of the survey population weren’t keen on the new Government catchphrase either (stay alert, control the virus, save lives), finding it unclear on what they are supposed to do. Again there is a party divide influencing whether the responders like the slogan.

Another YouGov poll finds that 82% of the public think they could easily cope with the current state of affairs until June.

  • Those that would find it hard is up 2% from 11% to 13%.
  • 63% said they’d be OK until July. But by August predicted coping drops to 44%, with 50% of respondents saying they’d have a hard time continuing as present until August.
  • It drops again to 35% who could cope into September. And 22-25% believe they’d be OK until January 2021.

YouGov say: The fact that figures level off at this point [November] could simply reflect the limits of how far into the future Britons are able to imagine their emotional state, rather than representing the bedrock figure for how many people could effectively cope indefinitely.

Augar Review

The surprise news of the weekend was Phillip Augar stating that C-19 has changed the sector and that he no longer stands by some of the recommendations the Post-16 review of tertiary education report made.

You’ll recall that the Augar report has been published for nearly a year but due to Government procrastination, in part caused by the change in Conservative leadership, there has been no official response to the recommendations.

Now Augar writes in a personal capacity for the Financial Times stating now might not be the time to reduce the social science/humanities fee level as the Augar review originally recommended. However, it is not quite the ‘U-Turn’ that the HE media are reporting. Much of what Augar has to say continues along the report’s party line, i.e. not all courses financially benefit the economy as much as others. Here are the key excerpts from the Financial Times article – the time is ripe to reform UK university finance.

  • Higher and further education will play a key role in shaping this [the way the world of work will change due to C-19]. England, where the sectors are disconnected and unevenly funded, faces particular challenges. A panel on post-18 education, which I chaired, reported a year ago and the government says it will respond this year. Reform would be timely.
  • However, there are signs that the dividend from higher education as currently delivered in England has played out. One in three graduates are not in graduate-level employment; one in five would have been better off financially had they not gone to university; and outcomes for the disadvantaged vary too widely. Recruiting large numbers on to poor quality, irrelevant courses is not a triumph of social mobility. Better directed recruitment at scale could be.
  • This is a public as well as a private issue. University education in England is funded by state-backed student loans, written off after 30 years. Nearly half of all students receive a government subsidy in this way. The write-off varies between subjects. The state loses money on around a third of all subjects studied. It writes off more on social studies subjects than on maths, computer science or engineering; more on communications and media studies than on agriculture and veterinary science; and more on creative arts than on any other subject. Without denigrating any subject as being unworthy of study, there is a clear misalignment between the subsidy and the economy’s needs.
  • The funding model is the root of the problem. It allows universities to charge £9,250 for all courses, cross-subsidising research and expensive subjects from fee income earned on high-margin courses and overseas students. This has led to an oversupply in some disciplines, under-investment in science degrees and over-reliance on overseas student fees, which necessitated this week’s government support package.
  • The panel I chaired recommended cutting tuition fees to the average cost of a humanities degree — £7,500, according to Universities UK — and increasing the existing top-up for strategically important courses. Covid-19-related disruption may now mean that such a fee cut would be too destabilising. But the problem has not gone away. An alternative would be to freeze fees for a further five years and ramp up the teaching grant for strategic subjects. Other options include number caps on some courses or a payment back to government by universities for reinvestment in priority subjects.
  • One final point. The importance of the country’s research base has been underlined during this crisis. In future, university research needs to be funded openly, generously and strategically, not partly via the back door.

So he hasn’t really changed his mind as others are reporting. He’s just saying make the proposed cuts by another method so as not to add to the immediate destabilisation of the sector. And the alternatives he proposed might not be that popular either, although they will resonate with those who like the Policy Exchange report referred to above.

Research Professional reached out to Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, to ask his opinion on Augar’s pronouncement. Here’s his response: Augar’s tuition fee U-turn made me splutter into my Pimm’s.

  • One of the great unwritten rules of politics is that if you ask a member of the great and the good to review a policy area for you, you can reliably expect them to defend their conclusions for years to come… Augar’s volte-face is nothing to do with the government ruling out his idea. We are still waiting for them to tell us what they think of a report that was originally announced at the Conservative Party conference back in 2017… Indeed, the U-turn is oddly timed because, in some respects, the chances of the Augar report’s main proposal being implemented have improved in recent months. Alison Wolf, an influential member of the Augar panel, has started advising Number 10 and numerous people have called for fee reductions to help students hit by Covid-19. Former UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook, for example, has called for a 20 per cent fee discount.

Hillman takes exception with Augar blaming Blair for the 50% young people entering HE aspiration. Hillman states:

  • This historical inaccuracy matters because it allows Augar to continue portraying the recent expansion of higher education as an error. He argues that “the dividend from higher education as currently delivered in England has played out”. That is a very odd argument to make on the cusp of a recession. Earlier downturns have proven that being better educated is an insurance policy against unemployment.

And on Augar’s FE points (see article) Hillman also disagrees:

  • But his third argument is highly questionable. He says there is a need to boost further education to provide “a viable alternative to degrees”. This is half true and half crazy. Do we need a better offer for people who do not undertake higher education? Indubitably. But are there too many people doing degrees? No.
  • The problem the UK faces, as shown clearly in comparative OECD data, is that we have too many low-skilled people, not too many highly skilled people. In eduspeak, too many people are educated only to levels 2 and 3, and not enough at levels 4 and 5 and levels 6 and 7.

Nursing students

The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), UNISON and the NUS have written to Matt Hancock asking him to “acknowledge students’ selfless service, not only with words, but in a tangible and quantifiable way”. By:

  • reimbursing tuition fees or forgiving current debt for all current nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students;
  • abolishing student-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students starting in 2020/21 and beyond, in recognition that they will be supporting vital public services; and
  • introducing universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.

The RCN have been a very effective lobby force over recent years as they have ceaselessly campaigned again the introduction of tuition fees and the removal of the NHS bursary. Have you ever noticed how we talk about nursing fees far more than the other allied health professions? This is down to the organisation’s effectiveness in keeping their demands in the spotlight, the relationships they’ve developed with policy makers and applying pressure on the Government. While these demands are not new, especially during the increased calls for it during C-19, nurses have even more public attention, awareness and positive public feeling behind their campaign for change now. But will the Government cave and reform the system at a time when the pressure on public spending is almost unprecedented? It could go either way, we wouldn’t like to predict!

There was also a parliamentary question on the topic:

Q – Stuart Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of replacing tuition fees with a teaching grant for courses taken by (a) health professionals and (b) other key workers.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The government subsidises the costs of higher education through the teaching grant and write-off of unpaid tuition fee loans, which ensures a sustainable system. Nurses and other healthcare students are currently eligible for a range of financial grant support in addition to tuition fee and living cost loans. There is also a range of additional support and bursaries for students in other professions where they are considered to be critical workers.

This week we had International Nurses Day and Nursing Times have published a call from NHS England’s Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, for universities to increase the number of nursing students they take each year. The article claims that 8,000 more clinical placements are available for trainees. Outstripping supply of students by an additional 4,000. NHS England has called for a Spring start as well as the traditional autumn intake. The Council of Deans have confirmed several universities already do this and it primarily attracts mature students. Dr Kolyva from the Council of Deans stated:

  • Multiple student cohorts do have implications for staffing and timetabling…Though these are not necessarily insurmountable if there is enough student interest, it would be useful to work with Government on supportive measures, including more flexible student finance arrangements and policies to boost the academic workforce. [There are also] …challenges to be addressed around student placements and the provision of support in practice so long as the pandemic continues”.

The Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive also contributed to the article commenting that to truly grow the nursing workforce more needed to be done including the scrapping of tuition fees. The Independent also cover the story of additional clinical placements without students to fill them. Wonkhe have an older (2019) blog on difficulties associated in the expansion of nursing.

Graduate Outlook

This week has seen a myriad of sources all covering the graduate outlook for those students finishing their degree this year. Prospects have published Graduating into a pandemic: the impact on university finalists. The article leads with: Nearly two-thirds of university finalists feel negative about their career prospects and many have lost job offers or placements as a result of the COVID-19 crisis – but others say they now have more time to plan their future. The article goes on to describe the results of their graduate recruitment survey:

  • 1% lost their work placement/internship
  • 2% lost their job
  • 2% had their job offer deferred or cancelled.

Some other stats:

  • 47% are considering postgraduate study
  • 82% feel disconnected from employers

See the article for more content including what students expect from Careers services and would like to know from employers.

The Telegraph covers the survey in Almost a third of graduate jobs have been cancelled or deferred due to coronavirus and on the national situation in Graduate job adverts fall by three quarters ahead of ‘extremely challenging’ summer.

Financial Times write that The class of 2020 need help to start their careers.

i News reports that the job crisis may persuade more young people to commence a degree in September. They quote Nick Hillman of HEPI as saying: If you were leaving school this summer you’re not going to get a job frankly… If you were thinking you might go and get a job, you might as well stay on and go to higher education. Although there isn’t comment on how this potential phenomenon might impact of non-continuation rates. i News also reports on the Prospects survey we mention above:

  • Separately, a survey by the careers service, Prospects, found that nearly half (47 per cent) of final year students are now contemplating postgraduate study, as graduate job opportunities have dried up in the wake of the pandemic. The survey found that 28 per cent of final year students have had their graduate job offers deferred or rescinded. There could be a marked rise in applications for courses which lead towards occupations which are perceived to be “recession-proof”, such as teaching.

The same article states UCAS have noted calls from students who planned to defer but now wish to attend in September – perhaps because their internship or travelling plans have to be rethought. Finally iNews state that applications by mature students and graduates wishing to take postgraduate courses are also set to rise, as older adults seek a safe haven amidst the economic turmoil caused by Covid-19.

The British Academy are upbeat (their report has a general outlook – it isn’t commenting on the effects of the Coronavirus) and they have published a report examining the employment prospects of graduates from different subject groups. It finds that graduates in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) are just as employable as their counterparts in STEM subjects, fuel some of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK and enjoy rewarding careers in a wide range of sectors. They are also more likely to change sector and role voluntarily, without wage penalty, suggesting greater flexibility and choice than STEM graduates. Furthermore graduates of arts, humanities and social sciences are just as resilient to economic upheaval as other graduates and are just as likely to remain employed as STEM graduates during downturns.

Research Professional also write that further study could ease the pressure from graduating into a collapsing job market in More time at university could protect graduates from recession.

And Wonkhe have scoured the Student Hut’s Covid-19 tracker finding that students

  • are hoping for discounts on postgraduate fees as compensation for time lost due to the pandemic – with more than half prepared to accept a “significant” discount on future study or continuing professional development to make up for interruptions to their learning this year.

Labour Market Statistics

The DfE published  graduate labour market statistics for 2019 graduate, postgraduate and non-graduate employment rates and earnings (for England). These set out a breakdown of employment rates, unemployment rates and gross median annual earnings by different age groups and by undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Key Points:

  • Non-graduates were most likely to be employed in medium/low-skilled roles (48.1%). The proportions for graduates and postgraduates were 21.9% and 9.8% respectively; 0.4 and 1.2 percentage points lower than in 2018.
  • In 2019, the median salary of working-age graduates was £34,000. This represents no change from 2018. Non-graduate salaries rose to £25,000, narrowing the gap between the two groups to £9,000.
  • Post-graduates saw the largest increase in median salary from 2018 (+£2,000). Increasing the gap between graduates and post-graduates to £8,000, the largest it has been since 2007.
  • The employment rate for working-age graduates in 2019 was 87.5%, slightly lower than the rate in 2018 (87.7%).
  • 6% of working-age graduates were in high-skilled employment in 2019, compared with 78.9% of postgraduates and 23.9% of non-graduates. Although this represents a slight increase of 0.2 percentage points since 2018 for graduates, the rise was larger for both postgraduates (2.4 percentage points) and non-graduates (1.0 percentage point).
  • Young non-graduates performed the worst across (employment rate, inactivity and unemployment). The inactivity rate for young non-graduates (20.2%), was more than double the rates for young graduates (7.9%) and postgraduates (8.0%). However, this cohort is likely to include a significant proportion of economically-inactive students.
  • Across all qualification categories those aged 21-30 were more active in the labour market than the general working-age population, however, with the exception of graduates, the unemployment rates of the young cohort were also higher. This could indicate that young postgraduates and non-graduates find it relatively more difficult to find employment than their working-age counterparts.
  • Across all qualification types, individuals in the young population had lower high-skilled employment rates than their working-age counterparts. This may provide some evidence for graduates and non-graduates ‘upskilling’ as they acquire increasing amounts of labour market experience. It could also, however, reflect the limited number of high-skilled employment opportunities available to younger individuals and the potential difficulties they face matching into relevant jobs early in their careers.

Skills Challenges

The Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards has published a report on which industries face the biggest skills challenges. The report takes a longer term view, beyond immediate challenges posed by C-19, and compiles data on long term and transformative trends shaping the future of skills, such as automation and the ageing workforce. Dods summarise the key challenges:

  • Automation – The fourth industrial revolution could alleviate skills challenges, but some industries are more amenable than others. While 58% of jobs in hospitality are at risk of automation, this falls to just 34% of jobs in Information and Communication.
  • Ageing workforce – By extending working lives, this is as much an opportunity as a challenge. Agriculture, forestry and fishing is the sector with the oldest workforce. Over 50% are over the age of 50 compared to just 17% in hospitality.
  • Brexit – Immigration policy will be a more significant challenge for some sectors than others. While only 3% of the Public admin and defence workforce are EU nationals, this rises to 15% for the industry known as households as employers (e.g. gardeners, babysitters, cleaners etc.).
  • Staff turnover – Skills policy often concentrates on the talent coming into an industry. But stemming the flow of talent leaving the industry can build up the stock of skills. Sectors like Education have a low proportion of employees leaving the industry each year (14%) while for Arts, entertainment and recreation it stands at 35%.

Research

There has been a lot of reflection on research this week,

Research Professional have a blog which argues for the practice of using international tuition fees to cross subsidise research to be reconsidered – which an emphasis on Government support to pay more. It is set both within the context of expected reduction in international student numbers (so less money available to fund the research) and that post-crisis research should be funded more comprehensively and fairly.

Wonkhe have a blog  A bold plan for research will guide choices in a post-Covid economy.

Another Research Professional article reiterates last week’s messages that the Government support package only represents a 5% drop in the ocean against what UUK calculated was needed.

Taskforce: The University Research Sustainability Taskforce (part of the Government’s non-bailout support package) held its first meeting on Tuesday co-chaired by both Ministers (Michelle Donelan – universities and Amanda Solloway – science). Details from the meeting haven’t yet been released.

The Power of Place: CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering) have an 11 page report with case studies demonstrating the importance of investing in regional R&D.

Access, Participation and Success

Wonkhe report that Student Minds have called on the government to offer further mental health support for students during the Covid-19 pandemic.

HEPI have a blog by UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant Above and beyond predictions – No exams presents an opportunity for innovation in contextual admissions.

Parliamentary questions:

 Unite blog for HEPI on their concerns for care experienced and estranged students who are struggling without a familial support network or their part time employment during the coronavirus crisis. They call on Government to put: in place an emergency grant for care-experienced and estranged students, to make sure that they are not forced to drop out of their studies in order to support themselves.

Changes in Further Education

Wonkhe report that the government is planning on bringing further education colleges back into public ownership in (another) major shakeup of that sector. Gavin Williamson has suggested that a white paper about this is imminent – we should watch this closely for clues as to the government’s plans for the whole tertiary landscape.

FE Week cover the story, excerpts:

  • Work has begun on a White Paper to be followed by legislation, after recent attempts to financially stabilise the sector with an area review programme and restructuring funds totalling around half a billion pounds were deemed to have failed.
  • The number of colleges in formal intervention over their finances, currently more than 30, continues to rise and government bailouts have not stopped in recent months despite attempts to end them last March with the introduction of a new education administration regime.
  • …it is understood that civil servants have concluded the first and so far only colleges to be put into administration… have been both too slow and too costly.

FE week states the Government have been working on a FE Bill since January and that SoS Education, Gavin Williamson, has stated the reforms will be ‘revolutionary’. Government is concerned that where a college is failing both financially and poor quality provision the governing body remains independent and the Government has limited powers of intervention. FE week says:

  • It is understood Williamson and the team around him are becoming increasingly frustrated by this inability to step in when they deem there to have been leadership failures.

On the planned changes the DfE have stated:

  • The education secretary has already made clear that we are working on a White Paper aimed at delivering ambitious reform in our vital FE sector. The FE sector is playing a pivotal role in making sure more people can access the high-quality education and training they need to progress and will support our economic recovery following the Covid-19 outbreak. Our reforms will build on and strengthen the excellent work already happening across the country and will ensure the FE sector is at the heart of every community.

It seems the Government intend to seize all opportunities to change of course of tertiary education through coronavirus leverage.  One wonders whether Augar is needed at all.

On the expected FE changes Research Professional state: The implications could be far reaching for universities as part of the government’s skills and levelling-up ambitions.

Parliamentary Questions

An absolute flood of parliamentary questions this week! We’ve put them where relevant in the main part of this update and the rest are here:

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

OfS Board papers: Research Professional highlighted that OfS are censoring an unexpectedly large amount of their Board papers and other materials. Read the article for more detail. On this the Shadow Universities Minister stated during this incredibly difficult time, the need for honesty and transparency is even more important and I would encourage the OfS to reflect on the need to redact such huge quantities of information. Wonkhe also pick out 20 points of interest in the Board papers.

NSS results:  NSS results are to be published on the OfS website on 1 July (09:30am). With provider-level and subject-level question responses, open text comments, and all providers’ NSS results published on the results portal at the same time. OfS stated

  • UK funders and regulators will look at the data when received to assess any impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on the results and make professional judgements about its statistical reliability.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 6th May 2020

Dissection of the Government’s HE support ‘package’ has dominated all this week and the Sutton Trust have a new report reminding us of the importance of considering disadvantage within HE access and participation.

HE ‘package’

The Government announced its ‘package’ to support the HE sector through the financial trauma caused by C-19. It has dominated all HE news this week so we’ve included a big feature on the most relevant content here. We will outline the facts, then unpack and interpret it, followed by sector stakeholder reaction, and a little humour.

The package doesn’t provide new money for the HE sector, it is not a bailout, rather it moves payments forward (a bit) to ease cash flow and, although it has not been explicitly stated, the Government continue their watch and see approach awaiting the outcome of the autumn term recruitment. There may be some emergency cash earmarked for OfS distribution should recruitment turn disastrous, however, Government have consistently stated they will not bail out what they consider as poor quality or failing HE providers and this will be an absolute last resort.

The ‘package’ has been about as popular as the proverbial regifted toiletry set from Great Auntie Doris. While the wait and see is an understandable policy measure (universities are way down the priority list, and it isn’t “urgent” (yet),  the C-19 crisis has finally provided an opportunity for the Government to change aspects of admissions and quality that were previously limited by institutional autonomy (as enshrined in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017). While student number controls and new licence conditions are described as temporary, there may be long term impacts of these changes.

The (English) package aims to stabilise admissions across all providers as the recruitment of domestic students takes higher precedence against the expected drop in international student enrolment. To this end:

Stabilising admissions

Temporary student number controls will be put in place for domestic and EU students for academic year 2020/21, to ensure a “fair, structured distribution of students across providers”. These measures mean that providers will be able to recruit students up to a temporary set level, based on provider forecasts, which allows additional growth of up to 5% in the next academic year. We await more details of the actual numbers by institution.

If a provider does not abide by its student number controls, the Government will reduce the sums available to the provider through the student finance system in the subsequent academic year.

The Government have also made funding provision for an additional 10,000 places on top of 5% growth student number controls. 5,000 of these places are ringfenced for students studying nursing or allied health courses. The remaining 5,000 places will be allocated at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Education. Again, we await more details of where these will go.

The OfS is running a consultation on a new temporary condition of registration which intends to  prohibit (registered) HE providers from any form of conduct which would have what they describe as a negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English HE sector.

  • Examples include conditional unconditional offers, mass unconditional offers, offers not linked to prior educational attainment, tempting students with incentives such as free laptops (a strange choice of example given the current virtual learning concerns for disadvantaged students) or cash incentives.
  • Any admissions tactics which are considered to put undue pressure on students or conduct leading to commercial advantage over other providers are a big no no, with a whopping fine per case (£500,000+) if the institution breaches this. The justification for the fine is to negate the positive financial effects any institution would feel from the recruitment boost as a result of engaging in the prohibited behaviour.
  • There is also concern over how the OfS intend to implement this retrospectively – with some concerns it may seek to outlaw and punish activity that was not prohibited before the C-19 crisis. The proposal is to look back to behaviour since 11th March and for patterns or linked actions by institutions since then.
  • Although this is a consultation, the sector is expecting the conditions to be implemented and there are questions over how temporary it will actually be given the expected long term effect of C-19 on university finances. This condition is seen as a significant erosion into the autonomy of universities over their admission policies which has always been enshrined in law, most recently in the HERA legislation.
  • OfS have blogged regulator warns of penalties for recruitment practices.

UUK is working on a new sector agreement and statement of fair admissions practice. Including adhering to a new principle where HE providers will not put undue pressure on students, and new rules to restrict destabilising behaviours such as use of unconditional offers at volume. Both key aims the Government has been trying to influence for several years.

Wonkhe added more detail on the conditions:

  • Outlawed actions would include making conditional unconditional offers, making a lot of unconditional offers (or very low offers), offering gifts or discounts designed to attract students away from their original choices, and making false or misleading statements (including comparative claims) about one or more providers.
  • Outlawed actions would also include using financial support packages made available by the government for purposes that do not serve the interests of students or the public, failing to secure the standard of qualifications awarded to students, making offers to international students that significantly lower the academic or language requirements for a course, taking advantage of OfS relaxing particular regulatory requirements during the pandemic, and even “bypassing, or seeking to bypass, the admissions processes of the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), where the provider would normally use UCAS processes”.
  • If that all sounds wide, it’s because it is. It’s another of these huge, open-to-interpretation regulatory nets designed to catch all sorts of behaviour. It’s significant – the new condition would enable OfS to consider imposing penalties that would “cancel out any financial benefit to providers of acting inappropriately”. It doesn’t so much chip away at as kick a big chunk out of institutional autonomy. But the question remains whether now is the right time for providers to kick up a fuss about autonomy, when the sector is desperate for financial support?

Research Professional reported that failing to abide by “voluntary requirements” is also included. Quite the catchall! On the conditions consultation Research Professional state: …But these are not normal times. The condition—which is out for consultation but is almost certain to be implemented—could even be “actively renewed” in the future. Take a look at RP’s article here –  well worth a read! Key excerpts:

  • When considering a fine, the OfS would look at whether universities have stuck to Universities UK’s framework on fair admissions practices for 2020-21, agreed as part of the government’s so-called bailout package to help institutions through the coronavirus crisis.
  • But Smita Jamdar, head of education and partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, warned the proposals in the consultation were “so much broader” than admissions and could mean the condition applied to institutions’ actions in other areas such as employment.
  • “It has got a huge potential for unintended consequences”, Jamdar told Research Professional News, adding it was a “quite frightening set of proposals when you put it all together”. Jamdar also warned universities could expect fines to be handed out if the current proposals are carried out, and pointed out that breaches could be back-dated to 11 March. “It’s quite clear they are putting this in place and they intend to use it,” she said.

Smita has more detail on her viewpoints in her own blog on the topic.

Supporting Students

The last few years have seen an increase in the number of students entering clearing, many joining the admissions process for the first time at clearing having not previously applied to university. The government package sets out to boost the role of clearing – and specifically the adjustment part of it – even further.

In conjunction with UCAS the Government have arranged for both ‘placed’ and ‘unplaced’ students to have a greater – or at least more visible – opportunity  to change their choice of provider/course once they receive their grades. This will be supported by a new service that can suggest alternative opportunities, based on their achievements, their course interest, and other preferences.

UCAS is also working with BBC Bitesize to give students enhanced advice on applying to university and Clearing. In the weeks leading up to results day, UCAS will be running a high-profile and multi-channel campaign, ‘Get Ready for Clearing’.

This fits well with the Government’s agenda – they are concerned that able students, especially disadvantaged ones, are not accessing high tariff ‘prestigious’ institutions– and therefore not receiving the social mobility employment boost associated with graduating from certain HE institutions. As has been pointed out by many, this does not support the stability of the sector, and confirms that protecting the sector is not the government’s first priority .

  • The 5% increase cap will allow room for growth and many “prestigious” institutions will have a significant amount of capacity as they usually take high numbers of international students, who are expected not to come this autumn. This is interesting as these same institutions have fought back for a long time against arguments that “foreign” students take places that home students could take. The reality of course is that international students help to fund places for home students by paying higher fees – so the financial impact of this change in balance is quite complex.
  • The UK is still coming out of the demographic dip and there was already increased competition for domestic students. The lowest tariff institutions are expected to fare worst. These may be the institutions which also have the lowest financial reserves, take the highest number of disadvantaged and local students, and have higher associated drop out rates (at least partly as a result of their student profile). A gloomy picture given the Government has stated it won’t bailout “failing” or “poorer quality” providers.
  • However, a little discussed element in recruitment is localisation – students attending institutions near to them locally or regionally. This year, students may choose to stay close to family for lots of reasons, including ongoing restrictions on travel, or a wish by students to stay closer to home. Given the publicity about rent payments this summer, some new students may decline to commit to accommodation contracts and choose to stay closer to home instead.

On the 5% admissions cap Research Professional state:

  • That is quite a loose cap and for some institutions it represents the opposite of a bailout—they will feel that the pistol has been fired for open season on their students. For universities struggling to recruit before the pandemic, the news that other institutions can now maximise recruitment of the limited number of UK school leavers will seem like the government has just poured a bucket of water into an already sinking canoe.

Wonkhe comment:

  • From a student perspective, the offer is even thinner – the Office for Students has clarified that universities can allocate student premium funding and expenditure committed in access and participation plans to provide additional financial support for students, which is far from addressing the economic impacts of Covid-19 on students’ families or the inherent lack of protections in the system for students.

Michelle Donelan also confirmed that students should continue to pay full tuition fees even if provision from Autumn 2020 is online. While this supports Universities (and stops Government from having to fund even more to stabilise them) there is, of course, a policy point emphasised in her tweet: To be clear, we only expect full tuition fees to be charged if online courses are of good quality, fit for purpose & help students progress towards their qualification. If Unis want to charge full fees they will have to ensure that the quality is there. Reading the comments to Donelan’s tweet also paints an interesting picture of the public’s perspective.

Student Fee Petition

The Commons Petitions Committee has rejected the government’s initial response to a petition requesting the reimbursement of 2019-20 student fees due to Covid-19 and industrial action. The committee felt the initial response did not address the issue directly. The petition received 336,265 signatures (see this map of the signatures’ locations, including Bournemouth West – BU’s constituency). The Petition is now awaiting a date for a parliamentary debate (which may not be as exciting or drastic as it sounds, and potentially will go over the same Government messaging we have heard already).

The petition stated:

  • All students should be reimbursed some of this year’s tuition fees as universities are now online only due to COVID-19, with only powerpoints online for learning materials which is not worthy of up to £9,250. Furthermore, all assessments are being reconsidered to ‘make do’ and build up credits.
  • Field trips have also been cancelled which our tuition fee was to pay for. There is also no need for accommodation which students have paid between £4,000-£8,000 for in advance and adding to their student debt. Lastly, the extended strikes of this year have severely disrupted student-staff interaction and personalised help, with staff not replying to emails or available for meetings. Grading is also being delayed. Overall, university quality is poor this year and certainly not worth up to £9,250.

If you scroll down on this page you can read the Government’s response to the petition. The Petition’s Committee rejected the government response. They require the Government to provide another response because they felt that the response did not directly address the request of petition. Once the Government issues a further response it will be published on the same page.

Parliamentary Question:

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether (a) his Department and (b) the Student Loans Company plan to provide support to (i) current and (ii) prospective students whose parents have lost their jobs as a result of the covid-19 outbreak by (A) facilitating access to full maintenance loans and (B) reinstating maintenance grants. [38455]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Many higher education providers will have hardship funds to support students in times of need, including emergencies. The expectation is that where any student requires additional support, providers will support them through their own hardship funds. Contact details are available on university websites.
  • In addition, students will continue to receive payments of maintenance loans for the remainder of the current academic year, 2019/20. Students who need to undertake additional weeks of study on their course in the current academic year may also qualify for additional long courses loan to help with their living costs.
  • Parents who have lost their jobs and whose income has dropped by 15% or more in the current financial year will be able to apply to Student Finance England to have their children’s living costs support reassessed for the 2020/21 academic year from 1 August 2020 onwards. This will increase the amount of support students and prospective students are entitled to in 2020/21.
  • Information for parents on how to apply for a current year assessment is available on the Student Finance England website at: https://media.slc.co.uk/sfe/currentyearincome/index.html.

International Students

The Government has stated it will work to update the International Education Strategy, designed to support the recruitment of international students, by autumn 2020, in respond to the impact of COVID-19.

They have also restated the commitment to a graduate immigration route launching in summer 2021, giving international students (who graduate summer 2021 onwards) the right to remain for two years after their studies and providing an incentive to study in the UK. This includes students who have already started their courses, even if, due to coronavirus, they have needed to undertake some of their learning remotely.

The Government is ‘applying discretion’ to ensure that international students are not negatively impacted if they find themselves in a position where they cannot comply with certain visa rules as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Much of the media coverage on the prospects of international students to commence HE provision in autumn 2020 has been negative. However, several opinion surveys have hinted that prospective students remain committee to UK study. Here is another one – Wonkhe report that it might not be all bad news for international recruitment – a new survey today from IDP Connect finds that 69 per cent of a sample of nearly 6,900 prospective students applying to universities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US are intending to commence their studies this year as planned. Only 5 per cent expect to abandon plans to study overseas.

However, the UK face to face nature still seems to be the sticking point. Wonkhe continue: The survey found a huge willingness to start learning in January 2021 if this meant that the course could begin with face-to-face learning. Just 31 per cent would be happy to start online and move to the campus later on. Exposure to international culture is clearly a key component of the decision to travel for study.

Of course, another unanswered question is what happens if lockdown goes really long – would the post-study work visa still be honoured if all of the course is delivered online and the student is never resident in the UK?

Financial Sustainability

The Government will bring forward the second term tuition fee payments (expected to be worth £2.6bn) for providers so that they receive more cash in the first term of academic year 20/21 to help with cashflow issues. Currently HE providers receive the tuition fee payments in this profile: **25% on October, 25% in February, 50% in May. Instead the second payment will be brought forward – it’s not clear when it will be paid.  That’s not a big shift.

Alongside this the Government have reiterated that HE providers are eligible to apply for Government support schemes, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS, COVID Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. All of which are not straightforward for the HE sector due to the sources from which our finance comes. However, the OfS estimates these schemes could be worth £700m to the sector.

It comes with strings attached. HE providers are expected to make efficiencies. Furthermore, the bringing forward of tuition fee payments will mean very careful management of finances to cover the whole academic year and avoid fresh cashflow problems further down the track.

The Government state that they

  • will only intervene further where we find there is a case to do so, and only where we believe intervention is possible and appropriate, and as a last resort. In such instances, DfE will be working with HMT and other Government departments to develop a restructuring regime, through which we will review providers’ circumstances and assess the need for restructuring”.

The sector has interpreted this as bespoke individual support, with a host of conditions attached (potentially including losing land), and the erosion of the management of the institution.

Research Professional comment:

  • The £2.6bn on offer is neither a grant nor a loan. It is an advance payment of tuition fees from the next academic year. Theoretically, this will smooth immediate financial shortfalls. But it will also mean that universities have to cut their cloth further down the line.
  • A haircut is coming, says the department. The advance payments will “help universities better manage financial risks over the autumn, including taking steps to improve efficiencies and manage their finances in order to avoid cash flow problems further ahead.” ‘Efficiencies’ is an ominous word at the best of times… It is very clear indeed that the government has no appetite to bail out badly run universities.

The Government has also set aside £100 million to purchase land and buildings to create new or expand schools and colleges. While this money isn’t solely for purchasing HE assets many HE institutions do have large estates with substantial potential. Once again, the Government has thought carefully about its ideals and seen an opportunity to acquire land to meet its policy ideals. During Theresa May’s time as PM one of her big pushes (which was unsuccessful) was to bring HE, FE and schools together in collaboration to improve quality, opportunity and cohesion within communities. Sharing resources and expertise. Potentially acquiring land and placing conditions on failing institutions seems another wizard wheeze for overcoming the reluctance of the HE sector to get behind the initiative.

Wonkhe comment:

  • The Government expects [that] access to the business support schemes, reprofiling of public funding and student number controls should be sufficient to help stabilise most providers’ finances, and that should certainly be the first port of calls for providers.
  • This implies that a calculation has been carried out using OfS financial sustainability data and projections on student numbers that may or may not turn out to be accurate. We can’t see those calculations, as OfS’ annual report on the financial sustainability of the sector is missing in action. The sector would want to see the workings so that if the wider situation follows worst-case scenarios (mass deferrals of current students, even worse international numbers, etc.), the government could be approached with a freshly minted begging bowl.
  • That ominous paragraph also describes the development of an HE “restructuring regime” in which DfE would review providers’ circumstances and assess the need for restructuring – and where action is required, this will come with “attached conditions.

And some breaking news – the OfS on 6th May published the outcome of their recent consultation on cuts to OfS spending. Bad timing, as the cut in budget and the consultation all started before the pandemic hit.

A selection of Parliamentary Questions

Q – Colleen Fletcher: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) the number of (i) international student numbers and (ii) domestic student numbers intending to take up a university place in the 2020 academic year and (b) research and innovation funding. [39637]

And

Q – Rachel Hopkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support UK universities affected by reduced international recruitment as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [38988]

A- Michelle Donelan:

  • We are very grateful for the work that universities are doing in supporting students, undertaking ground-breaking research and providing specialist equipment. We are working closely with them to understand the financial risks and implications that they might face at this uncertain time.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak will have an impact on international students. The government is working to ensure that existing rules and regulations relating to international students, including visa regulations, are as flexible as possible under these unprecedented circumstances.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has also announced an unprecedented package of support, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and a range of business loan schemes, to help pay wages, keep staff employed and support businesses whose viability is threatened by the outbreak. We recently confirmed universities’ eligibility for these schemes, and we are working closely with the sector, the Office for Students (OfS) and across the government to understand the financial risks that providers are facing, stabilise the admissions system and help providers to access the support on offer. [This response was provided before the package was announced.]
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UK Research and Innovation analysts are working closely with the Department for Education, OfS and wider non-government stakeholders to undertake a rapid programme of analysis to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on a range of research institutions including universities and analyse suitable policy responses.

Q – Emma Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to engage with (a) small and specialist higher education institutions, (b) institutions that are not members of Universities UK and (c) universities in remote, rural and coastal areas on their financial sustainability as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [41578]

A – Michelle Donelan: answer here, but it doesn’t specifically mention rural or coastal universities

Research

In England, the Government will bring forward £100 million of quality-related (QR) research funding for the current academic year for ‘vital’ activities to address some of the immediate pressures being faced for university research activities and “to ensure research activities can continue during the crisis”. The QR top up is intended “to offset short-term impacts caused by the coronavirus outbreak, including alleviating immediate cash flow issues and where other income which would normally pay for research is no longer available”. Research Professional state: This does not come close to the cross-subsidy that research receives from the £7bn in tuition fee income that international students provided last year.

A joint DfE/BEIS Ministerial Taskforce – the University Research Sustainability Taskforce – will also form, jointly led by Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, and Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan.

It aims to act as an advisory forum for ministers and will:

  • share information and intelligence about the health of the university research and the knowledge exchange carried out by and within HE providers
  • identify potential impacts on the sustainability of university research and knowledge exchange directly arising from the response to coronavirus
  • share intelligence on government and other sources of funding for research, and develop approaches building on these to address the impacts of coronavirus and protect and sustain HE research capability and capacity
  • where possible share evidence of the impacts on university research and knowledge exchange of the taskforce’s advice

The Government have stated they expect universities will also want to develop their own proposals to build an efficient, effective and sustainable research and development system, focused on driving recovery. (See Chris Skidmore’s comments below.)

Research Professional have this to say:

  • It is the research proposals that have received the most criticism. A £100 million advance on quality-related funding represents just 5 per cent of what Universities UK had asked for…Why, then, was there so little in this announcement about shoring up research? If the research budget is due to double in five years, why the reluctance to spend now?
  • Writing exclusively for Research Professional News today, former universities minister Chris Skidmore appears to think there is more on the way—accepting that while £100m “may not be what the wider sector was hoping for…it remains a promising start”…“This first £100m of additional QR funding should be welcomed, but universities should try to do all they can to demonstrate its vital importance for the Covid-19 recovery—by going out to sell its benefits together,” he says. “Ideally, institutions should publicise and highlight where this money will go, working in collaboration where possible to demonstrate its necessity.
  • …Was there a clue too in the statement from Research England’s executive chair David Sweeneyyesterday? He said: “The higher education package announced today builds on some detailed proposals recently from UUK…English universities will want to similarly develop more detailed proposals to build an efficient, effective and sustainable R&D system and Research England looks forward to working with them and the government to achieve that end.” In the politesse of statements from senior civil servants, ‘universities will want to’ usually means ‘universities should hurry up and get on with’.
  • Following the announcement of the underwhelming bailout plan, we spoke to several well-placed figures in the research firmament. According to one of them, the government feels that while there has been some good thinking on the education side from universities, there has been less thought on the research side. They have “talked turkey on education, now it is time to talk turkey on research”, we were told.
  • In other words, ministers are not simply going to release £2bn into university accounts without a quid pro quo. As a number of sources close to government told us yesterday, there will be no substantial cash injection for research without recognition from universities that they have a shared responsibility to contribute to the post-coronavirus recovery. In other words, what are universities going to put on the table and what is the government going to get out of it? We understand that the government is looking for movement on topics such as: regional inequality, or levelling up; skills and training; and precarious contracts for researchers. 
  • …By allowing the Office for Students to consult on sweeping new powers, universities have put their admissions autonomy at risk. Do they really want to do the same with research in return for the false security of 100 per cent full economic costs?

Meanwhile Wonkhe note that:

  • UKRI hasupdated its useful “guidance for the research and innovation communities” to incorporate research focused aspects of yesterday’s government announcements. It links to Research England’s brief note on the funding advance related to next year’s QR allocation.

And Scotland have announced their own £75 million research boost for Scottish universities.

The Guardian has an article by Chris Skidmore

On HEPI former director Bahram Bekhradnia describes the proposed student number cap as “unworkable”.

Legal firm Pinsent Masons ran the article UK higher education restructuring ‘inevitable’ without targeted support stating the UK university sector should brace for potential insolvencies and reluctant mergers as the medium term impact of the coronavirus pandemic becomes clear. They base their analysis on the London Economics & UCU report of several weeks previous (the report has not escaped criticism for aspects of its calculations and assumptions).

Wonkhe also have lots of blogs, of course, here are some:

And Michelle Donelan also responded to a parliamentary question outlining the Government’s package.

Finally Research Professional’s spoof column Ivory Tower has a particularly good grasp of the ‘bailout’, especially as it was published in advance of the Government’s announcement of the ‘support’ measures. Do read Spads: bailout for a little light relief. (If you hit a log in page from the link select Bournemouth University and then log in with your BU username and password.)

What next?

The support package has been announced and whilst the dust is settling sector press is asking what next for the ‘new normal’? Both Wonkhe and Research Professional (RP) ran features on it on Wednesday. RP considered the new normal from the institutional perspective of what could open and how social distancing could be maintained. The blog is a neat consideration of the complexity of the HE context. Excerpt: The pressure will therefore be on institutions to open their doors for educational business as soon as possible, especially given student grumblings about paying full fees for courses that are now being delivered entirely online. However, as an educational setting, it is probable that universities can expect to be handed guidelines by the Department for Education as well.

Wonkhe tackle risk, audit and the student interest but from a strategic University Board perspective. Here are their series of blogs:

RP also state that AdvanceHE is launching an international project this week to help university leaders share information and find solutions to the difficulties posed by a socially distanced campus.

Education Select Committee

The Education Select Committee met this week to question Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson. Much of the Committee session focused on school aged children alongside disadvantage and SEN concerns; exam grades for FE courses including BTECs were touched upon. HE content has mainly been superseded by the Government’s support package announced after the Committee met. However, it also covered international students (no answer from Williamson), the difficulty in taking English language tests, and there was still no answer on nursing tuition fees. Dods summarise the nursing exchange:

Halfon [Select Committee Chair] said that “apparently” the Department for Education had not clarified whether nursing students who worked for the NHS during the pandemic would still be paying tuition fees. Pressed on this, the secretary of state said he would come back to the committee.

The Minister reiterated that a response to the Augar review is still expected around the time of the next Spending Review. Also that T Levels will go ahead in the original timeframe set out because the introduction of T-Levels and raising the status of vocational qualifications was “one of the most important tasks this Government had”.

Finally Johnson asked about domestic students who were stuck at university alone and unable to return home. The Government would “very much” want to facilitate their return, Williamson said.

On lessons the DfE have learnt from the crisis Williamson thought there were many. The ability to support children within the home and through holidays had been really transformed, he said. The department recognised that resources could be much more rapidly shared and they would be looking at how this could be used to reduce the workload for teachers. Additionally, by moving tribunals online, the department were getting through them much more rapidly, the committee heard. (Summary of the Minister’s response supplied by Dods.) The Education committee also published Ministerial letters for transparency:

Sutton Trust

The Sutton Trust published a brief on the impact of covid-19 on university access. The research surveyed 511 university applicants (pupils aged 17 to 19); found that working class applicants are more likely to be worried about the impact on them than their middle-class peers. Also that almost half of university applicants think that the coronavirus crisis will have a negative impact on their chances of getting into their first-choice university. The report also covers poll of 895 current university students raising their financial concerns resulting from the pandemic.

Access, Participation & Success

Social Mobility Commission

Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, Dame Martina Milburn, has resigned. The press points out that the social mobility commission has lost two Chairs in 2.5 years. Her predecessor Alan Milburn resigned (en masse with all other members of the Commission) in frustration at the Government’s failure to do more to tackle social mobility. Dame Martina stated she was resigning “with deep regret, and after several sleepless nights”  her substantive role as Group Chief Exec of The Prince’s Trust required her full commitment. Her letter states:

  • I am extremely proud of what has been achieved at the Commission in the last two years – appointing the 12 very diverse commissioners, re-establishing the secretariat and commissioning a variety of reports from the State of the Nation to an employers’ toolkit. Currently, we have 16 reports in the pipeline, have conducted a popular series of webinars for employers and have begun to form partnerships with bodies such as the metro-mayors and with other important commissions. We have also brought the social mobility charities together and appointed a range of social mobility ambassadors.
  • However, it is not nearly enough and given the strong links between social mobility and poverty I fear this current crisis will only serve to make social mobility harder than ever. My reflections from my time in office are that appointing a Chairman on three days per month, as I was, has proved a real challenge. To make an impact, what the secretariat needs is an executive chairman on at least three days per week or a different structure perhaps something more akin to that of the Children’s Commissioner?

She also stated that either of the Deputy Commissioners she appointed are capable of taking over her role.

Education SoS Gavin Williamson responds to her letter here.

Other blog posts

  • The BAME degree-awarding gap is likely to be an even bigger issue now. Gurnam Singhreflects on what universities should do next (Wonkhe blog).
  • The University Mental Health Advisors Network (UMHAN) blog covers the OfS briefing on supporting student mental health. Excerpt: given the disruption to normal study patterns, and potential longer-term changes to higher education as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is possible that universities and colleges will see new patterns in their students’ mental health and wellbeing emerge. They also plan a White Paper setting out good practice and recommendations.
  • The Guardian has an article written by the Master of Birkbeck explaining why unconditional offers for foundation years are important for social mobility

Finally another Guardian piece bringing to life the rhetoric around disadvantaged students struggling with online access

Disadvantaged Catch Up Plan

The Education Policy Institute has published a policy paper with proposals to prevent the disadvantage gap from increasing due to C-19. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, EPI research found that disadvantaged children are already on average one and a half years of learning behind other pupils by the time they take their GCSEs.

Graduate Employment Outlook

Wonkhe report that

  • the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) forecast of a 6.1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate due to the impact of Covid-19 will have a disproportionate effect on the employment prospects of young people, according to a new briefingfrom the Resolution Foundation. Graduates would have a 13 per cent lower likelihood of being in employment three years after completing their education, with non-graduates seeing an even worse impact.
  • There’s also bad news on pay – with forecasts suggesting real hourly graduate pay would be, on average 7 per cent lower two years on. But the recession will disproportionately hit sectors where young people tend to work – non-food retail, hospitality, travel, the arts, and entertainment. One year after having left full-time education, more than one-third of non-graduates, and more than one-in-five, graduates would expect to work in a sector that is now mostly shut down.
  • The briefing suggests that – as in previous recessions – young people will be more likely to remain in education rather than enter the workforce. However, the demographic dip will make it easier for the government to offer support for those making this decision.

Youth movement:

  • 70 of the country’s leading youth charities, employer groups and experts have united to form the ‘COVID-19 Youth Employment Group’, a cross-sector emergency response to rising concerns about the economic and educational impact of coronavirus on young people. The Youth Employment Group is led by Impetus, the Youth Futures Foundation, The Prince’s Trust, Youth Employment UK and the Institute for Employment Studies. It will design, deliver, and campaign for solutions to the immediate and long-term impact on young people’s employment prospects, particularly those who already face considerable challenges entering the labour market.
  • As research increasingly warns of the potentially catastrophic impact on young people’s future employment prospects, there is a clear need for a rapid cross sector approach. The group will work to ensure young people receive quality support now, as well as helping plan for a healthy recovery of the youth labour market post-lockdown.
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that younger workers will be hit the hardest, as they are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to work in a sector that is now shut down. The research also shows that on the eve of the crisis, sectors that shut down as a result of social distancing measures employed nearly a third (30%) of all employees under 25; compared to just one in eight (13%) of workers over 25.
  • The group’s membership meets virtually every week as they begin to pool together expertise and develop rapid solutions during and after lockdown. They have set up a LinkedIn Groupfor those interested.

Parliamentary updates

Online Voting: Chair of the Commons Procedure Committee, Karen Bradley, has written to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to confirm that the remote voting system for MPs is now ready to go live. The confirmation stated the system is suitable ad secure as long as MPs behave: MPs will have a “personal responsibility to ensure the integrity of the system”, a warning against letting others vote on their behalf. And with a tone as stern as the OfS’ she emphases: It is highly likely that any action by a Member which led to an authorised person casting a vote in a division would constitute a contempt of the House and a breach of the Code of Conduct, and would be likely to be punished accordingly.

Parliamentary Questions 

Schools – Q – Alex Sobel: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department plans to allow parents who are in the covid-19 at risk groups to decide whether their children return to school, when schools reopen. [39792]

A – Nick Gibb: Schools will remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children.

Heath Professions – Training – Q – Geraint Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether final year trainee (a) doctors and (b) nurses will be charged tuition fees while working for the NHS during the covid-19 outbreak. [37381]

A – Helen Whately:

  • Medical students and student nurses will continue to be required to pay tuition fees for their final term. Given the extended length of medical degrees, which can be up to six years in length, Health Education England pay medical student tuition fees from year 5 of study.
  • As part of the Government’s COVID-19 response, current year 5 medical students are currently being graduated by their medical schools early to enable them to apply for Provisional Registration with the General Medical Council, and if they so choose to deploy in to Foundation Year 1 posts. Those that do so will be contracted from the date they start their employment and employed under the 2016 terms and conditions for doctors and dentists in training. They will also continue to get their National Health Service bursary and student maintenance loan.
  • Year 3 nursing students have been invited to opt in to paid placements in the NHS. All students who do opt in to support the COVID-19 response will be rewarded fairly for their hard work. Students will be getting a salary and automatic NHS pension entitlement at the appropriate band. They will also still receive their student maintenance loan and Learning Support Fund payments too.
  • Decisions about the NHS workforce in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, including the funding that they provide for students, are a matter for the devolved administrations of those countries.

Scam Risk

C-19 and lockdown have increased fears that loved ones, particularly those newly venturing online, will experience attempts by scammers to obtain money, resources and personal information. You may be familiar with the work of BU’s National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice. Professors Keith Brown, Lee-Ann Fenge and their close knit team have published many freely available downloadable guides in recent years, worked closely with Government agencies and held successful parliamentary receptions to raise the awareness of policy makers. The team have a new publication out – Scams the power of persuasive language. Do download it to take a look and share with loved ones, neighbours and vulnerable contacts. All the team’s publications on fraud, scams, mental capacity and advanced care planning can be accessed here.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and 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:

The Skills Commission have launched a new inquiry, entitled; The Workforce of the Future – ‘Learning to earning’ transitions and career development in a challenging labour market.

Other nes

Student complaints: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for HE (OIAHE) published the 2019 annual report setting out:

  • The number and outcomes of complaints received and closed
  • Examples of the complaints students make
  • Trends and common themes in complaints and lessons learnt

NUS VP for HE Claire Sosienski Smith commented on the report release making the same calls for action as in previous weeks:

  • “We know that next year, the number of complaints as outlined in the report might look quite different: NUS’ Coronavirus and Students Survey of 10,000 students showed that 74% of students are worried about the impact of the pandemic on their final qualifications and 20% of students who had been offered online learning did not agree that they were able to access it adequately. A lot of providers have been leading the way by offering ‘no detriment’ policies, to ensure that their students’ attainment is not unfairly captured by end of year exams this year. We believe a policy of no-detriment should be the way forward for the sector as a whole.
  • Students need a safety net, and urgently. The OIA is a fantastic service to make students more powerful, but it is set up for individuals or for small groups of students on courses. The pandemic has impacted every single student in the UK, and we need a national-level, government solution to this problem: that can only be the ability to redo the year at no extra cost, giving students the chance to make up for the education they are missing out on, or have their debt and fee payments written off or reimbursed.”

Graduate Outcomes: HESA announced dates for the publication of the first datasets from the Graduate Outcomes survey –  high-level findings on 18 June and the full release (including provider level data) on 23 June. This is a month’s delay to existing plans, and reflects the time required to prepare and assure data under lockdown conditions.

Virtual Open Days: Wonkhe have a thought nudging article on the benefits of a virtual campus tour for recruitment.

Evidence based policy making: Research Professional report that trust in science in at a record high in Germany with approval for evidence-based policy skyrocketing.

Apprenticeships: The Government have published their annual update on the apprenticeship reform programme. It reports progress towards the 3 million starts apprenticeships target between 2015 and 2020. The Government have achieved 69.6% of the 3 million target (2.09 million starts). Much fuller detail on other factors within the apprenticeship report is contained in the above link.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 1st May 2020

Hi all – we are bit late against our Wednesday deadline this week, we’re sure you’ll understand.  Still lots going on and some of it doesn’t even relate to the crisis – KEF concordat high on your priority list, anyone?

Students in the lockdown

Minister under the spotlight: Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has responded to several parliamentary questions this week, and come under fire for some, perhaps unintentionally misleading, answers during interviews. Most widely reported in the media was her statement responding to a question on supporting student rent costs that students had not been told to return to the family home (as a C-19 distancing safety measure) – “I can assure you that we never instructed students to return to their permanent addresses.” Also causing raised eyebrows were the implications within some of the Minister’s responses putting the onus on universities for certain decisions and support measures – such as blanket hardship support and IT funding (see the parliamentary questions below).

Q – Richard Holden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that university students in their final year receive the support they need during the covid-19 outbreak.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The government is doing all it can to keep staff and students at our universities safe in this unprecedented situation, while mitigating the impact on education. I have written to students to outline the support available and we continue to work closely with the sector, putting student wellbeing at the heart of these discussions…
  • My clear expectation is that universities should make all reasonable efforts to enable students to continue and complete their studies; for their achievements to be reliably assessed; and for qualifications to be awarded securely…The Office for Students has also recently confirmed that providers are able to use the student premium to support students to access IT equipment and internet connectivity where needed. Students will continue to receive scheduled payments of loans towards their living costs for 2019/20. Both tuition and living costs payments will continue irrespective of closures or whether learning has moved online. Many students will be feeling uncertain and anxious and it is vital that students can still access the mental health support that they need. Many providers are bolstering their existing mental health services and adapting the delivery of these services to means other than face-to-face. These services are likely to be an important source of support to students during this period of isolation.

And:

Q – Peter Kyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to support online learning for disadvantaged university students.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • As my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have both made clear, the government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID-19. Despite the significant disruption being felt across the higher education (HE) sector, students rightly deserve the appropriate support and recognition for their hard work and dedication. HE providers take their responsibilities seriously and are best placed to identify the needs of their student body as well as how to develop the services needed to support it. Many HE providers have moved rapidly to develop new ways of delivering courses through online teaching and alternatives to traditional end-of-course exams. When making changes to the delivery of their courses, HE providers need to consider how they support all students, particularly the most vulnerable. This includes students suffering from COVID-19, students who need to self-isolate, international students and students who are either unable or less able to access remote learning for whatever reason, as well as care leavers, students who are estranged from their families and students with disabilities. The Office for Students (OfS) has recently published guidance setting out the actions that it will take to support providers to maintain standards and teaching quality. It highlights flexible models for teaching, learning and assessment that will most likely satisfy OfS quality and standard conditions. On 23 March, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education published the first in a series of good practice guidance notes that are available to all UK HE providers.
  • HE providers should make all reasonable efforts to enable students to complete their studies, for achievement to be reliably assessed and for qualifications to be awarded securely. Many HE providers will have hardship funds to support students in times of need, including emergencies. The expectation is that where any student requires additional support, such as access to the Internet, providers will support them through their own hardship funds. The OfS have stated that providers are permitted to divert more of their student premium funding to their hardship funds to support students, including through the purchase of IT equipment. Providers should particularly ensure that students in the most vulnerable groups are able to access this support where needed.

On Friday Wonkhe reported that Paul Blomfield, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Students, blasted Universities Minister Michelle Donelan for “failing to acknowledge” concerns raised by 110 MPs from across Parliament – arguing in a fresh letter that the issues “have only become more pressing” over the last three weeks. Reflecting concerns about some institutions’ refusal to adopt “no detriment” policies, Blomfield argues that plans on exams “vary widely” and, for that reason, “create a sense of unfairness” among students.

Student connectivity : HE organisations have called on the Government to provide parity of online access for HE learners during the current crisis. Chief Executives from JISC, the Association of Colleges, Universities UK and UCISA ask the Minister to work with telecoms providers and Ofcom to make all relevant online education sites free for access for UK further education and higher education students and that they be considered a priority group of vulnerable consumers in discussions with telecoms providers. The letter states:

  •  ‘With campuses closed, thousands of students are now learning online at home, where both broadband and access to mobile devices is prohibited by availability, connectivity and cost. The further education (FE) and higher education (HE) sectors have worked very hard to successfully ensure the continual provision of teaching and learning online but, put simply, this is unaffordable and inaccessible for many learners. Not only does this prohibit their education, but it is damaging for their overall wellbeing.’

MPs calling for support for students who usually work throughout their degree and are ineligible for universal credit continues – see this Guardian article. There is another Guardian feature giving the student perspective on hardship (including university hardship funding).

Accommodation: Last Wednesday the Office for Students published a briefing note for universities on how to help students with accommodation problems during the coronavirus pandemic, including worries over rent, access to kitchens and bathrooms shared with self-isolators, and signposting to sources of information. Research Professional cover the guidance here.

Student Loans: The Student Loan Company updated their FAQs with COVID19 content.

More parliamentary questions:

Q – Barry Sheerman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what representations he has received from disabled students on access to assistive technology via the disabled students’ allowance due to the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak; and if will make a statement. [37453]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) provide for the additional costs that disabled students may face in higher education because of their disability. A basic computer is a mainstream cost of study and students are therefore expected to make a £200 contribution towards the cost of any computer recommended as part of their needs assessment. The contribution is for computer hardware only; students are not expected to fund recommended specialist software or training in how to use it.
  • There are currently no plans to suspend the requirement for disabled students to contribute £200 towards the purchase of a computer. The department has not received any representations from disabled students on access to assistive technology through DSA support in relation to the economic effect of the Covid-19 outbreak. It is too early to assess the effect of the Covid-19 outbreak on the employment opportunities for disabled students. These are rapidly developing circumstances; we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

Q – Tommy Sheppard: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when she plans to respond to Question 30815 of 17 March 2020 from the hon. Member for Edinburgh East. [38568]

A – Will Quince:

  • Students who do not ordinarily have entitlement to Universal Credit (UC) and who receive a maintenance loan or grant through the student finance system, will continue to be able to draw upon this financial support until the end of this academic year.
  • Those who do not receive student finance and who would ordinarily not have entitlement to UC, such as those undertaking a part-time course which would otherwise not be considered as compatible with the requirements for them to look for and be available for work, will have entitlement to UC. We have disapplied UC and both legacy and new style JSA work preparation, work search and availability requirements and related sanctions. This will initially be for a three-month period. After three months, consideration will be given as to whether a further extension is required.

Q – Emma Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on enabling students that are unable to (a) work and (b) be furloughed to claim universal credit during the covid-19 pandemic. (37820)

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Students with a part time employment contract should speak to their employer about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which has been set up to help pay staff wages and keep people in employment. HMRC are working urgently to get the scheme up and running and we expect the first grants to be paid within weeks.
  • Students suffering hardship should in the first instance contact their provider. Many universities have hardship funds to support students most in need and contact details are available on university websites. Undergraduate students studying on full-time courses will continue to receive their maintenance loan payments as planned for the remainder of this academic year, 2019/20. Eligible students who need to undertake additional weeks of study on their course in the current academic year may qualify for additional long courses loan to help with their living costs.
  • Certain groups of students eligible for benefits such as lone parents will continue to qualify for Universal Credit in addition to their maintenance loans.

Universities and the crisis

Student number controls: you will recall that this is part of the UUK package of measures – a cap on forecast numbers plus 5% (which doesn’t sound like much of a cap anyway given that the OfS keep saying that the forecasts are unreasonably high and suggest a problem with financial sustainability because they won’t be achieved…) –Wonkhe have a blog by Mark Corver suggesting they would cause more problems than they would solve.  Some extracts below:

  • The case for quotas is that by restricting student choice they can divvy up fee income across universities in a way that can offer financial stability. But quotas make a fundamental mistake in placing little value on what students want, assuming that their personal aspirations can be redirected around the system as required. This could well lead to many students opting not to go to university, making quotas of very limited use in helping stability this cycle.
  • The best response to uncertainty is flexibility. Imposing quotas strips both students and universities of the ability to respond to events.
  • A more reliable approach to securing stability is the same as what government is considering across the economy. If a large, but likely temporary, change risks destroying productive capacity then the government considers support until the temporary conditions abate.
  • For some transport operating companies they have done this through partially compensating for the loss of passengers their finances reasonably assumed. They have not proposed offering potential passengers a take-it-or-leave-it offer to buy tickets for journeys they don’t want make to places they do not want to go. Because it would not work.

Remember that UUK bailout package? UUK and Millionplus came out with an additional specific one for the key worker sectors this week.  Working with universities, the government could take a major stride towards mitigating against future capacity shortfalls with a simple three-pronged approach:

  • Supporting students and graduates to become key workers in public services, by offering a maintenance grant of up to £10,000 for all students in training, removing any recruitment caps, and providing fee-loan forgiveness for those remaining in the relevant professions for at least five years.
  • Strengthening and enhancing key public service HE capacity in universities by increasing the funding to the Office for Students to reflect the added costs while creating a new Public Services in Higher Education Capital Fund to enable universities to invest in simulation equipment, additional staff costs and other infrastructure.
  • Retaining and developing key workers in public services, by increasing general staffing budgets and creating a new professional development programme focused on enhancing skills of current key workers in public services and the new NHS volunteer reserve.

Flexible Learning: Advance HE published guidance on flexible learning accompanied by a blog stressing the importance of flexibility: Flexible learning comes of age.

Ex-Ministers speak: Research Professional cover an excellent session in which three past university ministers (Willets, Johnson, Skidmore) discuss the dangers of allowing a Government imposed temporary student numbers cap and instead urge the sector to agree its own self restraint version. International students are also mentioned. The Express also cover Willetts’ comments.

Discussion and speculation over Government’s thinking on university bail out/support measures continued this week.

HEPI have published the blog: Don’t panic…yet? Explaining their perspective as to why Ministers wouldn’t immediately jump to support the HE sector. It contains a couple of fresh perspectives alongside reiterating reasons already stated. In essence the statement:  “Frustrating though it is, it is not unreasonable for officials to want to see this play out a little before making firm decisions that could cost billions of pounds” sums the blog up.

The Guardian ran Ministers split over bailout package for universities.

The Times have a piece explaining that Universities that would benefit well from a rescue package based on research funding are also some of the richest universities. The article reiterates familiar messages including Ministers wanting to wait to find out what the real situation is in September rather than jumping the gun unnecessarily. Excerpt:

  • Smaller, newer institutions are getting the scraps from the table. Yet they can reasonably argue that they will be the ones to spearhead an economic recovery, being in many cases the biggest employers in their areas. They are now doing their own lobbying.
  • “Frustrating though it is, it is not unreasonable for Whitehall officials to want to see this play out a little before making firm decisions that could cost billions of pounds,” Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and a former government adviser, said.
  • The danger is the Treasury, where officials are not short of self-belief, think they know more about the sector than everyone else and can direct any bailouts to, for example, universities already in financial trouble to make sure they do not go under, rather than seeing the bigger picture of protecting Britain’s research prowess and global reputation.

New Normal

Wonkhe have a lot to say on the ‘new normal’:

  • We’re being asked to consider what living with Covid-19 in the medium to long term might mean.
  • Most universities now think they have this term under control, but it’s September that poses the biggest headache. Universities have done their best to shift the rest of this year’s teaching and assessment online – but it’s starting to become clear that this hasn’t worked for some students and some courses. A big debate about adequacy is coming, as is one about which emergency adaptations, both to teaching and to assessment, will be scrapped or retained (and when). Some of the compromises made mid-crisis may be harder to justify – and charge full fees for – in the autumn.
  • Learning and teaching teams are working around the clock to plan for a full or mostly online student experience from September. This will require much more careful thinking about remote student engagement, and in many cases a full redesign of existing courses…But delivering change on this scale at pace is bound to tax universities to the very limits.
  • If the institutional approach to dealing with this tension is truly in the student interest, then students will at the very least need to be involved in the debate. At the moment, they, like the rest of us, would love to return to a normal that isn’t on offer.

And Wonkhe offer a plethora of new blogs on the topic of what change is to come:

Parliamentary Business/Updates

Select Committee Chair elections – 6 May: The process for election to the coveted BEIS chair has been confirmed. Nominations will open (by email) on 17 April and close on May 4 and must be accompanied by 15 letters of support. Select committee membership is representative of the proportion of MPs elected at the beginning of the Parliament and a balance of Conservative, Labour and members of other parties are agreed in advance of the Committees reforming. This includes which party will chair which select committee. BEIS is chaired by Labour so only Labour MPs will be nominated to stand. The (outsourced) online ballot will elect the chair on 6 May. Chair of the Standards Committee (to replace Kate Green who was appointed Shadow Minister for Child Poverty Strategy) will also take place on 6 May 2020 again only members of the Labour Party may be candidates.

Employability after the crisis

HEPI continue to talk about new graduate career anxiety although the latest offering suggests students feel confident they will find work in Open for business? Students’ views on entering the labour market. This publication was based on a survey of 1,000 full time undergraduate students. HEPI highlight:

  • 79% of graduates feel confident of getting a graduate level job once they graduate
  • However, when asked about their feelings towards entering the labour market:
    • 28% cite anxiety, ahead of confidence (23%), uncertainty (16%) and feeling overwhelmed (16%)
    • 14% selected excitement as their primary emotion, 3% felt relaxed
  • 29% say the Coronavirus pandemic has altered their feelings (71% no feeling change)
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) have a specific career in mind for when they graduate, compared to 18% who do not and 17% who are unsure.
    • 72% intend to go into a career directly related to their degree subject
    • Work experience is seen as important (61%)
  • Students think there are four main factors that make for a successful career: doing something they are interested in (49%), being happy and fulfilled (48%), having stability (47%) and having a high salary (41%).
  • 35% of graduates to be intend to spend up to 2 years in their first role; 24% plan on staying for over three years (19% pumped for 2-3 years; 18% intend to stay less than a year and 3% intend to spend less than six months!

Rachel Hewitt, HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

  • ‘These results show students feel confident about finding work, but anxious about starting their career. This anxiety has been there since before the current pandemic for many students, but for almost a third the current circumstances have exacerbated these feelings. Universities need to provide as much support as they can for students who are entering the labour market in such uncertain times and employers need to be mindful of these results in their hiring processes.
  • The polling also shows a number of misconceptions that students have about the labour market. Most expect to go into a career directly related to their degree subject, while employers tend to see subject of study as less important than the skills they have gained. Students expect to only spend a short time in their first graduate job, when research shows that many stay in their first role for longer than expected. University careers guidance should seek to tackle these misconceptions, so students are better informed about their future careers.’

In the Foreword to the report, Jonathan Black, Director of Oxford University Careers Service, writes:

  • Students graduating this year could, perhaps, be forgiven for thinking they have lived against a backdrop of uncertain and threatening events: the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent wars, the 2008 financial crisis, the turmoil and division of Brexit, and throughout the period, an increasingly obvious climate crisis. Now, along comes a global pandemic that is beginning to make the previous environment look almost benign and limited.
  • This HEPI report confirms that students’ familiarity with uncertainty is measurable by the fact that the majority of respondents say their perceptions haven’t changed solely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They remain generally positive about their future – perhaps the optimism of youth who either don’t know or don’t believe the predictions or maybe they see opportunities in the changes to come.
  • ‘This report forms a useful benchmark of how much the pandemic is changing students’ views of their career. The extent, scale, and life of this pandemic and its accompanying economic shock are only just emerging, and there could be a very long way to go before we return to a “new normal”’

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Office for Students responded to the HEPI paper:

  • Coronavirus will clearly have a profound impact on the economy, so it is unsurprising that students are anxious as they enter the next stage of their lives after graduation. However, the skills and experiences of graduates will be crucial to the economy as we rebuild, and there will be many opportunities for well qualified graduates to embark on rewarding careers.
  • The careers services that universities and colleges provide have a crucial role to play in helping to equip students with the confidence and skills they need to find professional employment. Their expertise will be particularly important during these difficult and uncertain times.’

Research

REF: The REF team have published a set of FAQs covering adjustments to the REF (timetable still under discussion) following last week’s webinar discussing the changes needed to adapt for C-19.

Academic Travel: HEPI have a blog considering how conducting PhD vivas online would be a forward step in reducing emissions and make a positive impact on carbon reduction supporting both universities environmental policies and national goals – Conducting PhD vivas online is working fine: there will be no need to return to excessive flying habits. It was inspired by the change in practices forced by lockdown.

Similarly HEPI have another blog on universities achieving carbon neutral status and what this means for academic travel.

Research Professional published Alarm as Covid-19 recovery plan neglects to mention R&D discussing how research and education has been left out of EU roadmap just two days before discussions were due.

Knowledge Exchange Concordat

The Knowledge Exchange Concordat was published on Friday. Research Professional covered the publication announcement here. It was a slight surprise to the sector as originally it was anticipated to be delayed and launched alongside a process allowing providers to explicitly sign up to the Concordat high level implementation plan (which won’t happen until later in 2020). And as Ivory Tower (tongue-in-cheek Friday comedy HE column) so eloquently imagine, lockdown seems a strange time to be launching an outward focussed process – excerpt from Ivory Tower imagined diary of Trevor McMillan, vice-chancellor Keele University:

  • This is definitely the right moment to release the knowledge exchange concordat. I’ve been working on this for a decade.
  • Now is the time to find out how staff in universities are getting out into their communities and interacting with people. Oh, hold on… can I start this again?

(Trevor McMillan is the Chair of the Concordat Committee on real life.)

Wonkhe have a short blog from Trevor McMillian himself  The Knowledge Exchange Concordat: published but not yet activated explaining a little on the concordat and timing:

  • Universities all have different strengths and we are committed to applying them to maximise their impact. When we are through the acute stages of the Covid-19 pandemic there will be the need for an enormous recovery programme to turn around the social and economic deficits that will be left by the current crisis. Universities will have a critical role in this, by engaging staff from right across our disciplinary base.
  • Hopefully, the Knowledge Exchange Concordat will provide a framework in which we can, as universities, ensure that we have the approaches in place to facilitate our staff and students to continue to have a major impact.

Dods explain the basics on knowledge exchange for those less familiar with the purpose of the concordat:

  • Knowledge exchange includes a set of activities, processes and skills that enable close collaboration between universities and partner organisations to deliver commercial, environmental, cultural and place-based benefits, opportunities for students and increased prosperity. This KE concordat therefore seeks to provide a mechanism by which universities can consider their performance in KE and make a commitment to improvement in those areas that are consistent with their priorities and expertise.
  • UK universities received £4.9 billion from knowledge exchange activities in 2018-19, helping fund activities to boost scientific, technological, medical and cultural breakthroughs. More effective knowledge sharing between universities and businesses will be essential in underpinning the Government’s target spend of 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027.

David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England, said: I am pleased to see the publication of the KE concordat and very much welcome that its development has been sector-led. The concordat provides the means to continuously improve institutional KE performance and I see it as critical in assurance of our funding, especially driving efficiency and effectiveness.”

Joe Marshall, CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Business, said: “Universities’ knowledge exchange activities play an incredibly important role in attracting, supporting and enhancing businesses and other organisations. The Concordat is an important vehicle for universities to proactively show their commitment to collaboration with others and demonstrate to external partners that through self-improvement they want to build better and deeper partnerships.”

And our view: it doesn’t look to have changed much from the version that was consulted on. It still includes aim 3 “to provide clear indicators of their approaches to performance improvement”. They have added more language to the guiding principles. “Working effectively” has become “working transparently and ethically” but the language underneath it is the same. It still includes “continuous improvement” and “evaluating success” as principles. The list of examples is hedged about with more “could” language but we still under the final commitment have to commit to producing an action plan for improvement and consider and respond to feedback from their panel. It still feels more like a regulatory framework than anything else.

Social Mobility and Widening Participation

Care Leavers and Estranged Students: The Care Leavers Progression Project shared several links aiming to support the vulnerable community of care leavers who are disproportionately affected by the crisis:

Disadvantaged school pupils: Education Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, is reported in iNews as suggesting retired teachers, graduates and underemployed Ofsted inspectors could support the reduction of the gap in the attainment of disadvantaged children by volunteering to tutor them post-lockdown. Halfon suggests they could be assigned to their local school. TES also covers Halfon’s volunteer army plan, excerpt:

  • “I’m really worried that the left behind pupils get left further behind because they aren’t able to learn during lockdown. So I’ve been proposing a catch-up premium and also a nationwide army of volunteers – including graduates and retired teachers – going in and helping the schools…The research shows if you have half an hour of mentoring three times a week you can advance by about five months.”

The Nuffield Foundation and Bristol University have also published a report highlighting how children in England who have been supported by a social worker at any point during their schooling fall behind educationally by at least 30% by the age of 16. Other findings include:

  • Young children, who needed a social worker before the age of seven, achieved better GCSEs if they had experienced a long-term stay in care than those who had not.
  • Children in need and children in care were more affected by other forms of disadvantage, such as poverty, socio-economic status, special educational needs, and disabilities, which led to lower educational attainment
  • Absence, temporary or permanent exclusions, and changing schools at the age of 15 or 16 were other factors shown to worsen academic performance.
  • A quarter of all children who had ever needed a social worker were still receiving a social work service in the final year of their GCSE exams.

Many parents of children in need interviewed as part of the study said they were living in poverty and struggled to pay for their child’s school needs, such as uniform, computers and internet access. Older children interviewed indicated they liked primary school but regarded secondary schools less favourably, due to their size, complexity and difficulties with teachers.

Recommendations:

  • Make support available for children in care applicable to children in need, such as Pupil Premium Plus payments provided to schools and Virtual Schools which oversee their education.
  • Teacher training for pupils’ well-being.
  • Measures to address the affordability of schooling are cited as other necessary changes.

The report has led to a national call to action, appealing for more comprehensive and coordinated support.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Too many children in this country are growing up in disadvantage, struggling at home and at school. The educational prospects for many thousands of children in need are, frankly, terrible. Many leave the education system without even the basic qualifications. The government has promised to ‘level up’ across the country, and this must include properly-resourced, cross-departmental strategies for tackling the issues that blight the life chances of the most vulnerable children. The response to the coronavirus shows that coordinated action and political will on funding can have a transformative impact. The ‘new normal’, post-coronavirus, is an opportunity for similar brave action which gives help and support to vulnerable children from their early years and throughout their childhood and tackles the generational problems that have held back so many.”

Brexit

Dods report that the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier has stated that there has been a “disappointing” amount of progress made between the UK and EU in post Brexit talks. Speaking after talks with his UK counterpart David Frost, Bernier said that the “clock was ticking” and warned that “genuine progress” was needed by June if there was to be an agreement reached on the UK/EU future relationship by the end of the year. Despite talks stalling, and having to be reduced due to Coronavirus, the UK Government is still insisting that it will not request or accept an extension to the transition period beyond 31st December 2020. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the transition period can be extended by up to two years if both sides agree by 1 July 2020. Barmier told the press conference a joint decision would be taken on 30 June about whether to extend the transition period. “The UK cannot refuse to extend transition and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas,” he said. The UK and EU are failing to make progress primarily on the areas of level playing field arrangements, fisheries and justice. The next round of talks are due to be held the w/c 11 May and 1 June.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

People News: Stian Westlake has been appointed as Chief Executive of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS). Stian was previously policy advisor to Universities Ministers – David Willetts, Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah. RSS describe Stian’s previous roles:

  • As an executive director at Nesta from 2009 to 2017, Stian ran the organisation’s think tank. Under his leadership, the team launched a range of initiatives on data and evidence, including the Alliance for Useful Evidence, the Innovation Growth Lab and the Innovation Index (in partnership with ONS), as well as significantly increasing its external income. After this, Stian served as policy advisor to three successive ministers for universities and science. He is co-author of Capitalism Without Capital, a book about intangible investment and the economy. He is also a governor of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research and advisory board member of the Institute for Community Studies.
  • At the RSS, Stian will lead on a programme of activities that take forward its strategic goals, including the Society’s Covid-19 Task Force, Data Manifesto and National Lottery-funded initiative, Statisticians for Society.

Skills Toolkit: The DfE have launched a Skills Toolkit for the public. SoS for Education Gavin Williamson describes it in his written ministerial statement: a new online platform giving people access to free, top-quality digital and numeracy courses to help build up their skills, progress in work and boost their job prospects.

NHS Visas: The Home Affairs Committee has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel seeking further clarification on issues relating to NHS visa extensions.

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JANE FORSTER                                         |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                   Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 15th April 2020

Hi all, a short update this week, with a couple of important updates

Office for Students update

The Office for Students issued another update to providers on 14th April.

They confirm the on-going uncertainty on access to government schemes for HE providers – there are hopes that this will be resolved (in a positive way) later this week. The update says:

  • We understand that the two coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Schemes and the COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility are open to higher education providers, although final confirmation about eligibility for these schemes has still to be determined. We will continue to work with the Department for Education and HM Treasury to get further information about eligibility and will provide further information as soon as we can.

 

And this on the TEF:

  • As you will be aware, we were previously planning to develop and consult on a new framework for the TEF during the first half of 2020. The impact of the coronavirus crisis means that we do not currently have a date for the next TEF exercise. We will provide further information as soon as we can. We intend to consult on the future TEF scheme after the government has published the Independent Review and its response to the Review’s recommendations. Publication of the subject-level TEF pilot reports has been delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Some commentators (see Johnny Rich here) are seeing this as a major step – an indefinite postponement of TEF using the virus as cover. After all, there are rumours that the Pearce review is not very positive about the TEF.

But this could be over-egging things. The OfS has postponed all its consultations and hasn’t yet set new deadlines for any of them – so this is just the OfS being consistent. Don’t read too much into the postponement, folks – we would be very surprised if TEF goes away, even though the 2020 data will be weird.

There is comment from Wonkhe here:

  • From the looks of the scant paragraph we get it would seem that this is a temporary measure, and that there would be every expectation that we would get a new date in time. But it is not hard to imagine this indefinite pause as a quiet death for a basket of metrics that has failed to capture the imagination of the audience it sought…..
  • It could, of course, be argued that the current situation suits everyone involved perfectly well. The Government seems in no hurry to publish a review of TEF that is likely to have been less than glowing, the OfS doesn’t need to respond to it or consult on it (making it easier to integrate TEF into the mainstream of regulation), and TEF remains on pause forever. Nobody loses face, the decision to cancel TEF is never explicitly taken (so the government never goes back on a manifesto promise) but it is quietly understood that no future work will be done on an indicator that signally failed to indicate anything.

 

[PS there is still no news from UKRI on the KEF deadline extension]

The Office for Students has a webpage which brings together all their guidance, FAQs and the Ministerial letters, which is a useful resource. They keep adding to the FAQs – what we are all waiting for now is the next news on admissions, due on 20th April

  • We have created a provider guide to coronavirus which includes information about our regulatory requirements, FAQs, and links to all letters and guidance issued by the OfS. There is also a student guide with FAQs and signposting to sources of information beyond the OfS.

 

Support for Universities

Universities UK issued a package of measures to address concerns in the sector – and shared it with Gavin Williamson in a telephone call.

They highlighted the many challenges to the sector, the work that we are doing to support the national effort and our staff and students. They asked for specific confirmation that confirmation that universities are eligible for the Job Retention Scheme (furloughing staff), and the Business Interruption Scheme and the Corporate Financing Facility and recommended a range of actions, including:

  • increasing funding for research and covering the full economic cost for UKRI funded research;
  • introducing a one year “stability measure” in the form of a student number cap equal to the number of UK and EU students forecast for 2020-21 plus 5% and a new sector agreement on fair admissions practices that would, amongst other things, restrict unconditional offers at volume;
  • provide further funding for courses that support key public sector services, including nursing and healthcare and some short and part-time courses;
  • a transformation fund to support universities to reshape and consolidate through federations and partnerships or mergers;
  • bridging loans and support for changes in lending terms, reprofiling funding allocations including the student finance payments towards the beginning of the academic year, and halting the planned cuts in teaching grant; and
  • mitigating the impact on international recruitment by providing flexibility of visa requirements and delaying changes that would apply to EU students after Brexit who would join in the 2021 academic year.
  • We don’t know when there will be a response, if at all.

The Opposition view

Research Professional has an interview with Emma Hardy, shadow Universities Minister. It’s an interesting read:

  • The model of intense competition is failing. Having read Universities UK’s submission to the government, letters from the University and College Union and other higher education organisations and interest groups, what is not surprising is the amount of consensus there is. If we continue down the same path of “unseemly competition” as UCU has warned, then some universities will face financial failure and as it stands the Office for Students has been clear that it will not bail them out.
  • As highlighted by UUK, the likelihood is that ‘cold spots’ will develop, exacerbating the regional inequalities and putting already disadvantaged students at a greater disadvantage.
  • There is a consensus around the need for change, and we should look to create a more collaborative system. UUK has already acknowledged that changes need to be made and that these could include “federations and partnerships”. Labour believes there should be greater collaboration between higher education, further education and adult community learning, to anchor those institutions in their communities and reform their governing structure.
  • Institutions offering similar academic courses in the same region could cooperate with the aim of staff development and educational improvement to benefit students and our national interest.

 

  • There needs to be a collective acknowledgement of the unpalatable idea of asking mature students who find themselves unemployed as a result of this crisis to commit to a lifetime loan of over £27,000 for a degree which the government knows they will never repay. Labour will continue to argue for free education for all as we face of challenge of upskilling our country in a post-Covid-19 world.

 

  • A higher education system funded by government, industry and commerce has the power to hold universities to a higher standard, and it should use this power to radically reform the terms and conditions of university staff and in particular the use of insecure contracts.
  • If we wish the UK to maintain its reputation as a world leader in research, then research grants must be balanced and distributed regionally to create regional institutions of excellence.
  • The Research Excellence Framework has been discredited nearly as frequently as the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework and the space provided by the suspension of the REF due to Covid-19 opens the discussion on what makes for effective accountability. If we are to build a future based on cooperation, and universities acting in the national interest, then market-based accountability measures serve no purpose.

 

This follows an intervention by Rebecca Long-Bailey, the new shadow Education lead, who wrote to Gavin Williamson last week, as reported by Research Professional

  • In a missive dated 9 April, that also addresses schools and further education policy, Long-Bailey—who finished second to Keir Starmer in the recent Labour leadership election—asks Williamson if he believes universities are “likely to require additional financial support” as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, and how decisions on such support will be made? She also asked the Department for Education to protect institutions from closure “for the duration of this crisis”.

 

  • She also asked if overseas staff working in universities would be offered the same one-year visa extension available to NHS staff and sought reassurances that international students’ visas will be extended where required.
  • “I believe in the current circumstances some additional support should be given to students,” Long-Bailey writes. Specifically, she calls for ministers to immediately suspend all interest on loans, waive tuition fees for the period that students are not receiving full tuition, and give students the opportunity to “defer to next academic year without needing to pay extra tuition fees”.
  • There should also be an assurance that students do not have to pay for accommodation that they are no longer able to use, Long-Bailey wrote, while those in receipt of a maintenance grant should be able to return all or part of it in exchange for it being written off.
  • The shadow education secretary also calls for clarity on student assessment practices during the Covid-19 outbreak and asks the government to “urgently consider” creating a student hardship fund for those who encounter financial difficulty as a result of the pandemic.

 

Opportunities

Finally, we are delighted that two members of academic staff have submitted evidence to an All Party-Parliamentary Group this week and we are very proud of the work that staff across BU are doing to support the national effort, and to contribute to the national debate.

If you haven’t done so before, now may be a good time to explore the APPGs active in your area of expertise and see if they are doing interesting work – the full list is here. Look under subject groups and follow the links  Some APPGs don’t update their websites very often (or have them at all) but some are very active.

And if you have a news story or a plan for research, or a solution to a practical problem linked to the virus, speak to the M&C press team or Becca Edwards.

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE Policy Update for the w/e 8th April 2020

Well, what a week! Lockdown hasn’t reduced the volume of content, analysis and comment out there (although there is a bit of a theme). Welcome to your fully stuffed policy update which contains more goodies than the average panic buyer’s larder (we know, that is such an outdated concept already). Exams, grades and admissions remain a key focus for the sector, Parliament plan to embrace virtual working, there are some fab opportunities for researchers and we’ve a new Labour leader and Shadow Cabinet.

Good news

One good thing to come out of all this is that the role that universities can play in contributing to wider societal issues is being highlighted – not that it will make much difference to perceptions long term, but it’s nice to share good news.  Take a look at the UUK website for more information on their #wearetogether campaign.  There’s more on the BU website about our own efforts, and the BU news team are looking for more stories so let them know what you are up to.

Parliamentary Business

Virtual Parliament – There is a push for Parliament to operate virtually in a formal capacity during the Coronavirus lockdown. This is challenging because, as we mentioned in the policy update two weeks ago, Parliament has terrible facilities for this. However, Labour’s shadow minister for innovation, Chi Onwurah, sums it up: “People up and down the country have made huge behavioural changes in a matter of days and we must show we are capable of it too”.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg have both given their backing to the virtual Parliament proposals from 21 April (the end of recess). The plan is for certain types of important business to be conducted virtually. Lindsay Hoyle writes:

  • Parliament’s role of scrutinising government, authorising spending and making laws must be fulfilled and in these unprecedented times that means considering every technological solution available. We are exploring options with the parliamentary authorities in readiness for parliament’s return… Once the house returns, if we are still in the grip of the crisis where the physical presence of members, or too many members, in the palace is not appropriate, I am keen that they should be able to participate in key parliamentary proceedings virtually, for example oral questions, urgent questions, statements.

Some select Committees are already operating virtually (you can read the key points from the Education Committee’s session later in this policy update).

In addition, the Speaker is urging the Government to set up a forum of Ministers and senior Government representatives during recess for MPs to ask questions at set times on different days ‘about how things work and how they can be improved’. Hoyle writes: MPs are being swamped right now with questions and case work from distressed constituents who need answers…Responses cannot wait for the House to sit again.

Acting leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey is calling for a specialist select committee focusing on Covid-19. He stated:

  • If it wasn’t a dangerous infectious virus but a major emergency, parliament would have been recalled. We wouldn’t have gone on recess. …We think scrutiny is good for government policy. We’ve shown opposition parties are prepared to behave responsibly. I think we can find a way to get things cracking and get an online virtual parliament to serve the nation.

The Guardian report on the virtual parliament here.

PM powers – ICYMI Prime Minister Boris is in hospital and has designated Dominic Raab (Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State) to deputise “where necessary”. The UK’s unwritten constitution does not provide a clear outline of what the situation now allows, but as Cabinet takes collective decisions it is understood that Raab will be the first amongst equals. It is unlikely Raab will be afforded the prerogative powers of the Prime Minister, such as the ability to conduct reshuffles or take significant security decisions. However, there isn’t a clear outline of Raab’s new responsibilities nor the limits he has been given by the Government. The decision on whether or not to extend or end the lockdown is due to be taken next week, but it is likely this will be deferred or made by Cabinet collectively if the Prime Minister is incapacitated. In extreme circumstances, it would be expected that the Queen would ask Raab to form a government on a permanent or interim basis.

On Raab Dr Catherine Haddon, from the Institute for Government, said  the situation remains uncertain and that some powers could be distributed to a number of Cabinet ministers – “the power would derive from the prime minister saying who he wants ministries to respond to“.

Labour Leader & Shadow Cabinet – Keir Starmer was elected the leader of the Labour Party in the first round, of voting. He won 56.2% of first preference vote (more actual votes than Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, although a smaller overall percentage of the total). He also won the majority of votes across all three groups – MPs, affiliates and party members. Rebecca Long-Bailey took 27.6% of the vote share and Lisa Nandy 16.2%. On Keir Research Professional say: His grass-roots mandate is significant—and is coupled with a shift away from Corbyn loyalists on the party’s national executive committee.

The new leader pledged to work constructively with the Government whilst holding them to account:

  • Under my leadership we will engage constructively with the government, not opposition for opposition’s sake. Not scoring party political points or making impossible demands. But with the courage to support where that’s the right thing to do…We will shine a torch on critical issues and where we see mistakes or faltering government or things not happening as quickly as they should we’ll challenge that and call that out.

Here is the full Shadow Cabinet Line up:

  • Leader of the Opposition: Keir Starmer
  • Deputy Leader and Chair of the Labour Party: Angela Rayner, elected in the third round of voting with 52.6% of the vote.
  • Shadow Chancellor: Anneliese Dodds
  • Shadow Education: Rebecca Long-Bailey
  • Shadow Home Secretary: Nick Thomas-Symonds
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care: Jonathan Ashworth (incumbent)
  • Shadow Foreign Secretary: Lisa Nandy
  • Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: Rachel Reeves
  • Chief Whip: Nick Brown
  • Shadow Justice: David Lammy
  • Shadow Defence: John Healey
  • Shadow Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy: Ed Miliband
  • Shadow International Trade: Emily Thornberry
  • Shadow Work and Pensions: Jonathan Reynolds
  • Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Jo Stevens
  • Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Bridget Philipson
  • Shadow DEFRA (Environment, Food & Rural Affairs): Luke Pollard
  • Shadow Communities and Local Government: Steve Reed
  • Shadow Housing: Thangam Debbonaire
  • Shadow Transport: Jim McMahon
  • Shadow International Development: Preet Kaur Gill
  • Shadow Women and Equalities: Marsha de Cordova
  • Shadow Employment Rights and Protections Secretary: Andy McDonald
  • Shadow Minister for Mental Health: Rosena Allin-Khan
  • Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement: Cat Smith
  • Shadow Attorney General: Lord Falconer
  • Shadow Leader of the House: Valerie Vaz
  • Shadow Northern Ireland (interim): Louise Haigh
  • Shadow Scotland: Ian Murray
  • Shadow Wales: Nia Griffith Shadow
  • Leader of the Lords: Baroness Angela Smith (incumbent)
  • Lords’ Opposition Chief Whip: Lord McAvoy

Shadow Secretary of State for Education – Rebecca Long Bailey has the Shadow Secretary of State for Education brief replacing Angela Rayner. Rebecca has held Shadow Ministerial posts for almost all of her parliamentary tenure. This gives us little evidence from which to judge her opinions and intents for Education. Dods have pulled together snippets from her parliamentary career when she has spoken out on Education matters.

Universities: That brings me to local industrial policy. Labour has been clear on the need for a national industrial strategy, but we are also clear about the need to be regionally powerful and distinctive, with the resources to match, and to build on the already world-class universities and businesses in our regions and nations (2018)

Further Education: Businesses also need a highly skilled workforce, but the Government have cut real-terms school funding, scrapped the education maintenance allowance and imposed huge cuts to further education funding over the past seven years (2017)

Schools: We have rampant regional inequality, hunger in schools and public services pushed to breaking point by a policy that even the Chancellor now admits was a political choice all along—the choice of austerity (2020)

Technical and Adult Education: Key policies include establishing a technical education system, investing £406 million in maths, digital and technical education, and creating a national retraining scheme with an investment of £64 million. Again, the intent is good, but let us remember that the Government cut £1.15 billion from the adult skills budget from 2010 to 2015. Similarly, on first analysis the £406 million appears to be the sum of the amounts the Government have already spent on maths, computing and digital skills (2017 budget debate)

T levels: Some of the Government’s commitments are welcome, including the national retraining scheme and the T-levels that she has just mentioned, but sadly they are meaningless in the context of the cuts that we have faced over recent years (2018)

Research Professional have this to say on Rebecca’s expected approach to the universities brief:

  • …for the foreseeable future Long-Bailey will double down on the Corbynite legacy of the National Education Service. Starmer committed during the election campaign to retaining the party’s pledge on the abolition of university tuition fees.
  • With Angela Rayner—former shadow education secretary—as chair of the Labour Party and now having a considerable say in policy formation, the National Education Service is probably safe for now. The problem with it as a policy is that it manages to be simultaneously expensive and vague, without cutting through to the public.
  • The appointment of Long-Bailey as shadow education spokesperson is perhaps indicative of how Starmer views the brief. It is not a priority for now and is a safe holding pen for the thwarted aspirations of those still loyal to the Corbyn project.
  • Long-Bailey will find an appreciative audience among many within the University and College Union, which Corbyn’s Labour Party leaned on heavily to outsource thinking about universities. However, others in the union will regret that the choice of shadow education secretary will make it harder, not easier, to move on from past impasses.
  • Playbook would be very surprised if Long-Bailey made it to the next election still in the education role. It is standard practice for a party leader to appoint their recent rivals to sit around their first cabinet table, only to rotate them out in the fullness of time.

HE Connections – Labour does have substantial academic and HE connections within its elected representatives. The shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, was a lecturer in public policy at King’s College London and Aston University before becoming an MP. Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, was a history and politics lecturer at Oxford. Rupa Huq was a lecturer at Kingston University. Shadow Justice Secretary, David Lammy, was the Universities Minister under Gordon Brown’s Government. Robert Zeichner, who doesn’t have a ministerial brief in the reshuffle, is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Universities. Lastly, Paul Blomfield worked with then Universities Minister Jo Johnson to amend the post-work visa system for international students.

Exams, Grades & Admissions

GCSE & A Level – The Government released their grading system for GCSE and A level exams at the end of last week. Alistair Jarvis, UUK Chief Executive, commented:

  • No aspiring student should be disadvantaged because of the current Covid-19 outbreak and this is welcome progress towards ensuring students and universities alike can take confidence in the way A-levels are awarded this year. It is clear that a robust process will be in place that takes account of a wide range of information about a student and their performance throughout the course of their current study, and that standardised judgements and an agreed methodology will ensure consistency and fairness. We are committed to supporting Ofqual as they continue to develop their precise methodology.
  • To provide additional reassurance to students, it is important to note that universities will also have the power to be flexible in taking an applicants’ context into account as part of the admissions process.

On students dissatisfied with their grades who will opt to take the autumn exam Independent Schools Council Chairman, Barnaby Lenon, said: We hope that universities will show flexibility to ensure that students who take this option are able to begin their course with a delayed start time.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

  • It’s essential for their future education and careers that students receive a set of fair and justifiable examination results. The processes outlined by Ofqual today will do exactly that. The best available evidence in the extraordinary circumstances we are all in will be used to calculate regulated grades that will stay with students for years to come. For those applying to higher education, we expect them to be treated fairly and consistently, and universities and colleges to consider these grades in the same way as any qualifications from previous years.

On Tuesday Wonkhe reported that A poll by the Student Room found that nearly two-thirds of GCSE and A level students in the 700-person sample answered “no” to the question “Do you think you will be given a fair grade this summer?”. Tes has the story.

Wonkhe discuss HE uncertainties for admissions colleagues from the proposed grading:

  • we don’t know when the 2020 A level results will be available, which is a big deal for universities and those applying to them. This year’s grades will be predicted by teachers and normalised by a nationally applied formula – meaning that taken together, results will look very similar to those from previous years. While this feels fair, there are risks that high-achieving students in historically low-achieving schools may be disadvantaged.
  • A level grades are predicted every year, of course, as a part of the UCAS application process. We are familiar with the weaknesses of those predictions and, in many ways, compensate with these in offer-making and admissions behaviour. With offer-making still furloughed for the time being, it remains to be seen if these same mitigations will work against newer, normalised, predications as the end point – or how many students will want to take the opportunity to sit an exam later in the year.
  • Universities will understandably want to think through how to proceed with admissions in the way that supports good decision making, and is as fair as possible.

 The blog We can make admissions work without A levels explores:

  • a model that dataHE has developed to support admissions on the basis of predicted grades. Though predicted grades are less accurate than exam results, this matters less this year, because there won’t be any exam results. Importantly, since predicted grades were assigned before exams were cancelled, they have roughly the same amount of bias baked in as in any normal year. That makes it possible to use them – carefully, and in an evidenced way – to build a model of exam-awarded grades on which to base admissions decisions.

Wonkhe’s data expert David Kernohan has a blog setting the current situation in context with the wider practice of predicting grades.

And there is another on Changing student recruitment in light of Covid-19.

HE Exams – Wonkhe report that QAA will publish new guidance this week:

  • on academic standards and student achievement alongside a section on practice and lab-based assessment during the Covid-19 crisis. These materials offer examples from providers around the sector alongside principles-based planning – there are detailed proposals for digital assessment alongside suggestions for student support.
  • The general guidance covers modifications to academic regulations (emergency academic regulations), gathering details of local circumstances from students and applying mitigations accordingly, arrangements for progression with reduced academic credit (apparently OfS guidance is on the way here), and assessment boards.

As many universities have already worked out, or made good progress in working out what they are going to do in this area, this is a bit late, really.

There is also a blog by Douglas Blackstock, Chief Executive of QAA, on Wonkhe describing how QAA is helping universities and PSRBs (Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies) accredit students as meeting the requirements to practice within their field.

Surveys – It was inevitable that potential HE students would be surveyed to death and asked about their concerns and whether they intend to continue with their plans to commence HE. The UCAS poll (sample size – 500 students) states the 86% intend to continue on to HE despite the pandemic disruption. 60% have selected their first choice place. 27% are waiting before they confirm their firm choice of institution. UCAS also report that over half (51%) of respondents feel supported at the moment, but want more help. While 37% said felt fully supported now, this is higher amongst white applicants (40%) and lower amongst BAME applicants (29%).

Research Professional (RP) cover the survey and mention the uncertainty surrounding when the next academic year will commence. Humorously, RP remind us that After months cooped up at home with their parents, it’s understandable—and their hopes [to attend HE] might be the only thing keeping us all going.

TES also cover the UCAS poll results.

HEPI have a wider poll, we’ve covered this separately below due to the volume of detail. However, they find that a third of applicants feel less confident they will get into their chosen university since the pandemic.

The Times reports on a QS survey in Universities face crushing blow as overseas students stay away. QS surveyed 11,000 prospective international students (only 4,600 intended to study in UK). 55% stated their plans to commence study in the UK in September 2020 had changed. 32% were still deciding and 14% were determined to go ahead despite disruption and potentially online learning. The Times article states: Our higher education sector will be crucial to the post-crisis recovery, so it is vital that the UK remains a welcoming place for people from across the world, including from China.

International Admissions – HESA released HE sector finance data on Friday and Wonkhe have produced a series of tableau tables showing where institutions sit against the variables. There is an interesting table highlighting the providers with the highest international student incomes (those who may be hit hardest if the predicted downturn in international students for September 2020 intake is realised). Predictably UCL and other London institutions congregate at the top. However, the table can be filtered down to other regions and exclude PG or UG or full/part time provision. You may also be interested in the key financial indicators table, again filterable by different measures of financial health and stability.

The Times and the Telegraph also cover the data release.

Unconditional Offers – Moratorium Extended

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has extended the moratorium preventing universities from making unconditional offers until 20 April.

Research Professional (RP) say: The Department for Education seems to have rejected the argument that making unconditional offers to prospective students following the cancellation of A levels would be in the interest of stressed and concerned applicants.

RP report in the same piece that Donelan states: I know many students will be anxious at this unprecedented time and worried about what it means for their future..My top priorities are to both reassure students and protect our world-leading higher education sector. That is why I am calling for an extension to the pause on changes to university offers, and I urge universities to adhere to this so we ensure long-term stability across the admissions system.

The OfS are supporting the Minister by exploring the use of regulatory powers to take enforcement action against universities and colleges not acting in the best interests of students or undermining the stability and integrity of the higher education sector—including – considering options for enforcement during the moratorium period. And: Universities and colleges must also ensure that their admissions processes work effectively to identify applicants with the potential to succeed, particularly where those applicants have experienced barriers and disruption on their route to higher education.

RP conclude: The Department for Education has been rattling its sabre over admissions and the regulator has threatened fines. But autonomous university admissions are guaranteed by the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. When push comes to shove, the government might find that there is not much more it can do beyond expressing censure.

Fighting talk certainly, but a later RP blog with content from HE Legal expert Smita Jamdar and Nick Hillman (HEPI) considers the grey areas. The blog is well worth the quick read.

The Times has a related article: Fines for universities using low offers to ‘poach’ students from rivals. In the article they report the OfS as stating it would be looking closely at the financial stability of universities over the next few weeks: “Clearly coronavirus will have a significant impact on universities. One of our main areas of focus in the coming months will be to support the financial sustainability of the higher education sector in England.”

RP were quick to point out The Office for Students has always insisted that it will not bail out universities that are failing. The next few years could test that to the limit. There is also a RP piece on the reduced regulatory load the OfS is requiring of HE institutions during the current crisis: OfS freezes normal regulatory requirements during pandemic and here are the details of the suspended requirements from the OfS website.

OfS

The OfS has been busy. First, they supported the Minister in the extension of the moratorium (above) and pledged to crack down on any wizard wheezes that universities had found around the request. They’ve also reduced the standard regulatory requirements so universities can focus on the most pressing operational issues caused by C-19.

Next they issued guidance for universities on quality and standards of learning and academic assessment during the pandemic. And accompanied it by an introductory descriptive blog: Maintain good courses and credible qualifications for students during pandemic, says regulator urging flexibility, reasonable adjustments, teaching and support on a relative par to ‘normal’, clear communications to students to keep them informed and setting out what the OfS considers examples of effective practice from across the higher education sector.

HEPI Student Survey

HEPI polled 1,000 full-time UG students and 500 HE applicants to explore how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting them.

Current Students on Assessment

  • 70% of students feel the messaging from their HEI on Coronavirus has been either ‘clear’ or ‘very clear’
  • 36% think the current crisis should lead to their assessments for the rest of the year being cancelled
  • 42% expect universities to continue assessments online but 17% would prefer for the assessments to be postponed until after the crisis.
  • A greater proportion of first year students (44%) thought assessments should be cancelled, compared to second year students (32%) or students in their third year (31%).
  • Just under half of students (49%) are satisfied with the online learning that has replaced their face-to-face teaching; 23% of students are dissatisfied.
  • The majority (55%) of students are living away from their normal term-time residence as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. However, another 45% of respondents said they are still living in their term-time residence.

Applicants

  • 29% of applicants are concerned about whether they’ll get a place at their chosen university (the overall picture is interesting – see later chart).
  • 46% expect their predicted grades to reflect their final grade, whereas 27% think their predicted grades are worse than their final grades would have been.
  • 79% of applicants stated the pandemic has not had any impact on which university will be their first choice. Only 7% plan to change their first-choice university and another 14% are undecided.
  • 53% of applicants feel the messaging they have received on Coronavirus from their prospective universities has been clear.

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

  • These results show universities are supporting students and applicants well through these challenging times. Despite having to scale up online provision very quickly, few students are dissatisfied with the offering from their institution. Both applicants and students feel they have had clear information around the pandemic. On admissions, it is clear applicants need greater certainty about what will happen to their university places. It is essential this group, who have already lost out on the end of their school experience, are not disadvantaged from getting into the university of their choice. The data shows this is a concern for a significant minority of applicants. Despite all the uncertainty, much remains the same. Two-thirds of students still want the opportunity to complete their assessments from afar. The majority of applicants still intend to go to the same university as before the crisis. What’s more, many students are still living in their term-time residence, meaning they may be reliant on the support of their university and accommodation providers.

Dods say:

  • Whilst the poll suggests that the pandemic has had a limited impact on students consideration of their first choice institution, there is concern that the combination of cancelled exams, the absence of university open days and the potential that the UK could still be moving in and out of phased social distancing measures, could have an impact on the number of students choosing to defer their entry to higher education by twelve months. For universities, the financial impact of a decline in international students, coupled with the cancellation of potentially lucrative conferencing opportunities over the summer, could be further exacerbated by a fall in domestic uptake. Given the lack of control over how students are distributed across institutions and subjects, a decline could result in some providers significantly under recruiting. As such, calls have emerged for the Government to mitigate against volatility in the market by exercising control over student numbers. This could be achieved via statutory instrument under the emergency Coronavirus Bill.

Education Committee – Disadvantage

The Education Committee has published a summary of their 25 March private meeting (with the DfE as part of the inquiry investigating the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services). The meeting tackled the impact of school closures on the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier peers.

  • DfE expects schools to do all they can to ensure lessons continue online or via other means, and that learning should continue. Schools to remain open for the most vulnerable but acknowledged that the effect of school closures on vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils was a concern.
  • DfE expect the system to act flexibly to support vulnerable children. Local Authorities should work with schools and the sector to ensure children with an education, health and care (EHC) plan or social worker are supported and there is appropriate oversight of children remaining at home.
  • Children’s services, already under significant financial pressures, will be given additional resources – an additional non-ringfenced £1.6 billion has been allocated to support councils on areas including social care. The Department said that Clause 5 of the Coronavirus Bill would allow the emergency registration of social workers, to tackle the strain on social care.
  • On concerns where the key worker status is being interpreted differently by schools, parents and employers – DfE stated that if a school refuses to take a child of a key worker as defined by the Department, the parent should raise this with their local authority in the first instance. Initial feedback from schools is that the number of key workers sending children to school is lower than expected.
  • On whether the DfE will undertake longer-term work on the public health implications of exam cancellations on young people (for example, the possibility of increased rates of drug and alcohol abuse). They answer was no, that the DfE expect young people not at school to continue their education at home and would not commit to undertaking work on public health implications.
  • Support for further education (FE) colleges and their students – The number of eligible students taking advantage of provision is very low, and there was already substantial online learning in place for 16-18-year-olds. The DfE said it was working with exam boards on advice and guidance on qualifications. They said this was complicated because of the number of types of qualifications there are for this phase.
  • Support for independent training providers – the DfE stated that as ITPs operate as businesses, they can access the support for businesses that the Treasury has announced. The Department explained that they will not pay for training activity that is not taking place, and encouraged providers to consider greater use of online and remote learning to allow their business activities to continue.

Access & Participation

Graeme Atherton, Director of NEON, writes for Research Professional, No closed doors, summarising the threats facing disadvantaged access to HE as a result of the current Covid-19 crisis. Graeme points to the cancellation of the Aim Higher outreach programme after the 2008 financial crash and issues a plea for the recent progress reducing the access gap and the new, stretching, access and participation targets set by universities with the OfS not to be lost.

Jonathan Simons, Director of Education at Public First, blogs for Wonkhe: We must not abandon widening participation this year following a similar line to Graeme and urging the section to retreat on equality work.

The Telegraph has an article suggesting that undergraduates should be drafted into a national service to boost social mobility by acting as English and Maths tutors for underprivileged children at local schools.

The OfS has a provider guide to coronavirus with a Q&A section. Commenting on the Q&A content Wonkhe suggest that providers are expected to deliver their full access and participation plans. In assessment the regulator will take into account the efforts and suitable modifications each university has made.

There is a HEPI blog tackling concerns over How to square widening participation with student number caps: Student number caps are normally a bad idea. But we don’t live in normal times. If needs must, a one-off cap might be a necessary measure to whack a particularly problematic mole. But we need to make sure that, in implementing it, we don’t hit disadvantaged applicants too.

The Sutton Trust has a report on this too looking at the implications for social mobility and setting out priority areas:

  • Widening access to private and online tuition, both during and after the school closures, in order to minimise the impact on the attainment gap.
  • Ensuring access to technology and online resources for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds while schools are closed.
  • Fair access to higher education, and making sure this year’s changes to A levels and the admissions process do not impact negatively on the prospects of young people from less welloff backgrounds
  • Protecting apprenticeships, making sure that current apprentices are protected financially, and trying to ensure that the apprenticeship system is ready to bounce back when restrictions are lifted.

Allied Health Profession students – paid jobs during COVID-19 outbreak.

Health Education England (HEE) is asking universities to contact their eligible Allied Health Professional (AHP) students to discuss their options for using their education programme to help with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I.e. if they would like to opt-in to undertake a paid NHS role.

HEE state the options vary depending on the student’s stage of study and that HEE has worked collaboratively with the HCPC, professional bodies, Royal Colleges, Council of Deans of Health, Government departments of the four nations, NHS Employers and staff side representatives to consider how best to support AHP students to continue their studies and where appropriate use their skills and expertise to support the health and care system during this time of emergency in the safest possible way.

Emergency legislation was also passed by the UK Government earlier in March, giving the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) powers to automatically register former Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) who had de-registered in the last three years and final year AHP students on UK approved programmes who have successfully completed their final clinical placements.

Beverley Harden, Associate Director for Education & Quality at Health Education England, said;

  • We are continuing to develop proposals to provide safe and beneficial opportunities for our AHP students that allows them to keep developing their skills while supporting the NHS at this difficult time. I would like all students to read Suzanne’s and my letter to them, and for those eligible to consider voluntary opting-in to help in the COVID-19 response alongside their registered AHP colleagues.
  • AHP students, during the course of their education and training all spend a large percentage of their time working in clinical environments, learning alongside qualified staff to develop into the outstanding professionals we need.
  • You will be given the option to opt-in to a voluntary revised programme structure whereby students can spend, for example, a maximum of 60% of their time in a support worker role, which would be remunerated, and a minimum of 40% of their time in academic study. The exact nature of the role to be undertaken and the level of supervision will be agreed between you, your university and the organisation in which you will be working in. These roles may be able to be used to support achievement of required practice hours; your university will determine if this is the case.

Research

REF – Kim Hackett, REF Director at Research England writes for Wonkhe on the uncertainty surrounding the REF submission deadlines. The blog reiterates when the clock does start again that institutions will have at least 8 months notice to submit, that they are keen to discussion options with Universities as soon as possible when the disruption associated with the C-19 timescales are better understood.

  • Unless we’re looking at a very considerable delay, the funding bodies do not intend to alter significantly the period being assessed in REF 2021. So the issue around the existing deadlines is really one around determining what the best approach will be to ensuring the exercise can take account of affected areas of submissions.

On consulting with the sector:

  • We’ve paused the REF because universities have other priorities right now. So we can’t fill that with lengthy consultation documents and expectations of similarly lengthy responses. We’ll also need to approach the issues in a phased way, balancing the urgency of the question with how well it can be answered in the current context. That means we’ll be looking to get input on the deadline for impact and environment first.
  • The overarching timetable for developing the revised framework is not fixed – and it has to be this way, so that we can stay responsive while so much is still unknown. But our aim will be to ensure the exercise remains a level playing field, is fair in recognising the extent of impact this period has had, and is also able to capture the tremendous contribution UK research is making to this fight.

On the REF2021 site there is a blog by Anna Grey, York University – Stopping the REF clock – highlighting the changes within an institution and particularly how professional services are reducing the burden on academic colleagues and recognising fears relating to fixed term contracts roles.

Statistics – The Office for National Statistics published estimates of research and development performed and funded by business enterprise, higher education, government, research councils, and private non-profit organisations, for 2018. This is set within the Industrial Strategy target to increase Research & Development investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Key figures:

  • Research and development (R&D) expenditure rose by £2.3 billion to £37.1 billion in 2018; this is an increase of 6.6%, which was larger than the 4.8% growth in 2017 and the largest annual rise since 2013.
  • Total R&D expenditure in the UK in 2018 represented 1.71% of GDP; this is up from 1.67% in 2017, but it remains below the EU (EU-28) provisional estimate of 2.12%.
  • Funding of UK R&D from overseas increased by 1.4% to £5.1 billion in 2018 compared with 2017, but this was 8.4% lower than the peak in 2014 of £5.5 billion.
  • The UK spent £558 per head of population on R&D in 2018; this is up from £527 in 2017.

Contribution of Each Sector: 

  • In 2018, the business enterprise sector spent £25.0 billion on performing R&D, accounting for 68% of total UK expenditure. The sector grew by 5.8% from £23.7 billion in 2017, which was larger than the growth between 2016 and 2017 of 4.8%.
  • The product groups with the largest R&D expenditure in 2018 were: pharmaceuticals (£4.5 billion), motor vehicles and parts (£3.8 billion), computer programming and information service activities (excluding software development) (£1.9 billion), aerospace (£1.7 billion)
  • The higher education sector had the second highest R&D expenditure of £8.7 billion in 2018. This accounted for 24% of total UK R&D expenditure in 2018. However, this was up one percentage point from 23% in 2017.
  • Government (including UKRI) R&D increased by 11.5% to £2.5 billion. This accounted for 7% of total expenditure on R&D carried out in the UK in 2018.
  • UKRI R&D expenditure (excluding Research England) grew by 11.1% from £866 million reported by the seven research councils in 2017 to £962 million in 2018. This jump is in part a result of the new reporting structure established in 2018, which is inclusive of Innovate UK.
  • The Private-Not-For-Profit sector, (including, for example,several cancer charities that carry out extensive research, from cancer prevention to drug development and clinical trials), spent £0.8 billion, up 9.2% from 2017. This contributed 2% to total UK-performed R&D expenditure

Academics – POST

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology launched a Covid-19 Outbreak Expert Database as the lockdown began. It provides parliamentarians and civil servants with information on academic colleagues’ research specialisms to help them find the experts throughout the country whose wide-ranging work can be applied beneficially to the national context during these changed times. It is a fantastic opportunity for colleagues to obtain greater reach with their research and connect into networks that in the past relied on a ‘who you already know’ system. The database is live and accepting new entries. Please share this information with any academic colleagues you have contact with and encourage them to sign up – the categories are much wider than the Covid-19 context because the pandemic is touching on every aspect of life.

Survey Opportunity – POST also offer the opportunity for colleagues fill in a 15 minute survey sharing expert insights around the short, medium and long-term concerns and issues you perceive relating to COVID-19 and its impacts. The insights derived from the survey will be shared within Parliament and will be used to help inform the work of the POST. POST expect to publish anonymised responses and/or a public synthesis of these insights with a list of acknowledgements to experts who have contributed (no responses will be directly attributed to individuals). POST intend to analyse the first set of responses Tuesday 14 April. They may do a further round of analysis after this initial deadline if the responses warrant it. Colleagues need to be signed up to the Expert Database before they complete the survey.

Learn more – As colleagues will be aware policy impact can be an influential factor within REF gradings. POST support Parliament’s evidence base decision making agenda and aim to maximise engagement with academic research. MPs, Peers and parliamentary staff all use research in their work carrying out the functions of Parliament; scrutinising Government, debating important issues, passing legislation and representing the people. There is a video describing how Parliament uses expert research. And resources and general advice and information on how you can work with Parliament as a researcher here.

Best of all is that POST will be running free 90-minute webinars – Parliament for COVID-19 outbreak experts. The webinars will cover a brief overview of what Parliament is and does, and how it uses research. It will explore the different ways you might engage with Parliament through your research over the coming weeks and months – both in the context of COVID-19 and its impacts, and regarding other areas of research. And share tips around communicating with Parliamentarians and those who work to support them. Don’t be put off by the Covid-19 mention – the majority of the content is usually offered through a paid for traditional training session. This is an opportunity for colleagues to access the training for free and without travelling! Please do share and encourage research colleagues to sign up. We’ll let you know as soon as registration is open.

NUS

Wonkhe tell us about the new NUS executive team that was elected last Wednesday:

The National Union of Students (NUS) has published the results of its full-time officer elections, the first election held since last year’s reform. Only three full-time roles were available – national president, and vice presidents for further and higher education – and each officer will hold their role for two years, starting this July.

Larissa Kennedy, a former officer at Warwick SU and member of NUS’ National Executive Council, has won the election for NUS national president, promising to “build a movement that stretches across the whole of the UK, across students’ and trade unions across the world”. Kennedy is profiled in the Times.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, undergraduate education officer at Bristol SU and Wonkhe contributor, has been elected vice president for higher education, advancing the view that “students should be at the centre of their education, not simply viewed as metrics in a market”.

The role of vice president for further education has gone to Salsabeel Elmegri, vice president of Bradford College SU, who says she will “ensure that tackling climate change, fighting for better mental health provisions and tackling harassment all top the agenda”. Elmegri has a profile in TES.

Student Concerns

Wonkhe report that MPs and Peers from every party in Parliament have called for action from the Government to address concerns of students on exams, accommodation costs and financial difficulties caused through the loss of earnings from casual employment. 110 MPs have signed a letter to Universities Minister Michelle Donelan calling for a flexible approach to assessment, refunds of rents on unoccupied accommodation, and a temporary suspension of the rule preventing students claiming universal credit. They argue that students should have the option to resit the year without further fees and with additional financial support. i News covers the letter to Donelan, and the Mail also reports the story. 

And…yes you guessed it…yet another Wonkhe blog – Students need strong leadership and practical solutions from Government sets out practical advice to the Government on changes which would reduce the student struggle. The blog has some refreshing ideas.

The Guardian has an article where 5 students from A level to PhD make sense of the sudden change in their education.

Student Rent – In the Scottish parliament a proposed amendment to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill that would have allowed students to bring their tenancies to an immediate end without having to fulfil notice requirements was defeated.

Disability

The Government has a news story announcing that the Cabinet Office’s Disability Unit is working with government colleagues, disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, charities and businesses to achieve practical changes that will remove barriers and increase participation. This work is tied to the National Strategy for Disabled People and is planned work rather than a response to C-19.

The Strategy aims to put fairness at the heart of government work, to level up opportunity so everyone can fully participate in the life of this country. The strategy will build on evidence and data, and critically on insights from the lived experience of disabled people. It will include existing commitments, such as to increase special educational needs and disability funding and support pupils, students and adults to get careers advice, internships and transition into work, whilst identifying further opportunities to improve things.

The press release sets out the following objectives for the National Strategy for Disabled People:

  • develop a positive and clear vision on disability which is owned right across government
  • make practical changes to policies which strengthen disabled people’s ability to participate fully in society
  • ensure lived experience underpins policies by identifying what matters most to disabled people
  • strengthen the ways in which we listen to disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, using these insights to drive real change
  • improve the quality of evidence and data and use it to support policies and how we deliver them

The strategy development has been delayed by the Coronavirus and the press release states we want to ensure we have enough time to get this right and undertake a full and appropriate programme of stakeholder engagement.

Parliamentary Questions

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support universities during the covid-19 outbreak. [32182]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The higher education (HE) sector is facing challenges during these unprecedented times. The government’s priority is the safety and wellbeing of students and staff. On Friday 20 March, I wrote to HE providers to thank them for the huge amount of work they have done to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and to outline the steps that the department is taking to support them. On Thursday 26 March, I wrote a second letter to HE providers, giving further government advice on key issues.
  • We are ensuring that information-flows between the department and providers are as strong as possible. We are actively supporting the Universities UK-led Sector Coordination Group and providing guidance on GOV.UK relating to all educational settings. Working with the Office for Students (OfS), as the regulator in England, we will supplement this general guidance with more HE-specific information and have suspended a number of regulatory reporting requirements for the duration of the crisis, so providers can focus on doing their best for students.
  • We will do all we can to support our HE system. The department is working closely with the Home Office, the Student Loans Company, UCAS and Ofqual, as well as equivalent bodies in the devolved administrations, on measures designed to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the HE sector. We are also working closely with the OfS to ensure that we understand the potential financial implications of COVID-19 on the sector and to keep abreast of developments.
  • The latest guidance for schools and other educational settings can be found here.

Q – Angela Eagle: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what his policy is on universities charging accommodation fees for students while they are closed as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [33432]

A – Michelle Donelan: We expect universities to communicate clearly with residential students on rents for this period and administer accommodation provision in a fair manner. I have written to vice-chancellors and set out this expectation to them.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There are a number of inquiries which focus on the coronavirus context:

These inquiries will be placed on the tracker if colleagues indicate they intend to submit a response.

Next Week

The Policy team are taking a few days off over the Easter break. We’ll return with the standard policy update on Wednesday 22 April. In the meantime if there is big news we’ll issue a short email to keep you abreast of developments.

Other news

Online Graduation: The Daily Mail describes how four students used robots to cross the stage and ‘attend’ their graduation ceremony in Tokyo.

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JANE FORSTER                                         |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                   Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

BU policy update for the w/e 1st April 2020

HE news in the media has been dominated by talk of student number controls while the sector wrestles with decisions over student exams.

Parliamentary Business

Appointments

Alex Chisholm has been announced as the new Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office and Chief Operating Officer for the Civil Service. Alex is currently serving as Permanent Secretary at the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and was previously Chief Executive of the Competition & Markets Authority. He has also held senior executive positions in the media, technology and e-commerce industries, with Pearson plc, Financial Times Group, eCountries Inc and Ecceleration Ltd.

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, said:

  • In the medium term, much of Alex’s work will necessarily be coronavirus response related. But Alex will be responsible for supporting ministers to develop and then drive forward a reform programme for the Civil Service, building on the Government’s existing efficiency programme. He will also supervise all the Cabinet Office’s various work programmes including on preparing for the end of the transition period, strengthening the union, and defending our democracy.

Jeremy Pocklington has been appointed as the new Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Health Education England has announced that current interim Chief Nurse Mark Radford has been permanently appointed.

Student Number Controls

The major news since the last policy update is speculation over the potential return of student number controls to limit recruitment. It is suggested that capping numbers (limiting the number of students a university can take for a particular programme) would help stabilise the sector by preventing some universities from taking a higher number of UK students to fill places that would have been filled by international students, who may not come because of the virus.

Alongside the domestic young population dip hitting the lowest point this year (increasing competition between providers) Coronavirus also threatens the international student recruitment. With Government intimating that lockdown or lighter restrictions last between 3 and 6 months the concern is that the much-needed funds from international students won’t be forthcoming if the students cannot enter the country or undertake face to face tuition. EU student numbers would fall too if lockdown continues to prohibit travelling.

Since the removal of student number controls in 2015 there have been regular stories about financial stability as the higher tariff or ‘prestigious’ universities recruited increased numbers of students – leaving the mid or lower tariff providers with less demand for their places, especially as the UK approached the bottom of its demographic dip in the number of 18 year olds.

The flip side is that capping student numbers means some students are unable to get a place on a programme or at their preferred provider. The government wants all students to aspire to the “higher tariff” institutions and to have a choice of providers. Of most concern in this scenario is the risk that disadvantaged students are the least likely to achieve the place at the provider they wished for due to a combination of lack of careers support, guidance, lower predicted grades, parental support and intervention and access to relevant (unpaid) work experience or social networks. And the government has said, for some time, that it does not want to cap the number of students attending university, with the social mobility benefits that this has.  So the government doesn’t like student number controls.

The coronavirus pandemic has destabilised business, education, the whole economy, and this may be one way for Ministers to prevent some HE providers becoming big winners from the disruption whilst the losers collapse. The lower tariff providers are most at risk and these are the institutions that often sit at the heart of communities that have no one local or regional HE institutions, and that take higher numbers of disadvantaged students. If these institutions collapse it is a big fail for social mobility, affecting the lives of these students and future generations.

So far the Government has moved to prevent new unconditional offers being made or converting conditional offers already made to unconditional while they are finalising the exam grade awarding strategy. The Government has not spoken out on the return of student number control (yet). Although the media and HE blogging organisations seem to be doing the job for them! Here are some of the sources:

The Guardian has been at the centre of the debate from the outset:

  • Strict limits on the number of students that each university in England can recruit are set to be imposed by the government in an effort to avoid a free-for-all on admissions, with institutions plunged into financial turmoil as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Guardian has learned.
  • A government source said each university would face limits on the number of UK and EU undergraduates it could admit for the academic year starting in September, in a move backed by higher education leaders.

As the Guardian article mentions UUK’s response to the proposal has also been at the forefront.  The Guardian article states the board of UUK approved the return of student number caps and an edited article quotes Alistair Jarvis (Chief Exec UUK) as saying

  • “The UUK board discussed a range of measures needed to promote financial stability of the sector in these tough times. Foremost was the need for government financial support for universities. Student number controls were discussed and it was agreed that further consideration of the pros and cons were needed, with further input from members.” (Alistair tweeted to state the Board had not approved student numbers after the original Guardian article was published, hence ‘student number controls were discussed’ and RP cover the backtrack here).

The offers for students – Research Professional (RP) analyse whether degree outcomes vary based on unconditional offers (including conditional unconditional offers).

The Mail Online is convinced that student number controls are back and write as if the Government has already announced this – Government will place strict limit on student numbers in bid to avoid admissions free-for-all at universities hit by coronavirus

RP also ask in Aftershock if number controls are reintroduced then…: The Guardian’s article is well sourced but lacks detail. Are students who have had their A levels cancelled now going to be told that they cannot go to the university of their choice? That could have a significant impact on recruitment across the board come September.

The Guardian followed up their original article with Concern for A-level students over chaos on university admissions which covers exactly what RP raise above – that students holding offers may no longer have a place to attend. It also includes comment from David Willetts:

  • David Willetts removed student number controls from 2015 when he was minister for universities and science. Writing for the Higher Education Policy Institute in a blog due to be published on Tuesday, he said: “University is a safe haven for young people in these tough times. We can expect many more 18-year-olds to try to get to university now as the alternatives are so poor at the moment. If the government does reintroduce number controls (which I would regret), it must not do so in a way that reduces opportunities for young people to go to university.”

The Guardian also publish an opinion piece – Covid-19 is our best chance to change universities for good.

HEPI have much to say on student number controls. Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, worked for David Willets ex-Universities Minister and recalls that the abolishing of student number controls was announced on his last day in the job. Elsewhere on HEPI there is a blog Eight interventions for mitigating the impact of Covid-19 on higher education; number 1 is the re-imposition of student number controls to ensure that institutions have a viable first year student population. They suggest that – Realistically, given the damage to school students’ education and examination preparation, this will not be a one-year exercise. There are a number of ways this could happen, either by setting institution by institution limits on admissions (as was the case until 2011) or by limiting variance to +/-5 per cent for any institution against a three year average of admissions (from 2017 to 2019 inclusively). In the longer term, there should be a fundamental review of the operation of the market.  The blog is worth a full read covering other topical elements such as impact on current student retention and progression rates, rent support, contextual admissions, ditching the NSS (national student survey for 2020), increasing quality-related research funding to stabilise the research base and establishing a digital learning leadership fund.

Nick Hillman (HEPI) is also quoted in the Guardian article:

  • …there are people who have long wanted to restrict access to higher education who might see this as the chance to do it. Yet when there are fewer jobs to go around, education becomes more important, not less. And: Reintroducing number caps would protect those universities that have grown the most in recent years by locking down the number of home students that they educate and stopping others from growing at their expense. Older, more prestigious universities would be the biggest losers, as they had hoped to be able to replace lost international students with more home students.

Other HEPI blogs:

Other sources:

There may be more news on this soon.

Exams

The NUS has called for all non-essential (year 1 and 2) exams to be cancelled to reduce anxiety for these students and allow HEIs to focus on facilitating the best possible assessment experience for the final year students. Coverage in the Guardian states that NUS say: disabled, international and poorer students would be significantly disadvantaged if universities go through with plans to hold online exams and assessments next term. [Because accessibility has been lost or left behind in the swift move to online teaching and assessment.]… final-year students should be given a choice of how to complete their degrees, such as receiving an estimated grade based on prior attainment, doing an open book online exam, or taking their finals at the university at a later date.

Claire Sosienski-Smith, the NUS vice-president (Higher Education): “In the current climate, student welfare must come first…It is vital that there are no compulsory exams this year.”

NUS also call for PG students to have a 6-month extension on their submission deadlines.

Similar to student number controls there is a wealth of media attention and material on exams this week. There are nationwide reports of petitions and students campaigning on a range of factors, including ‘no detriment’ policies. No detriment means the average grade the student has already earned from previous assessments is taken as a given and any further assessments can only build to increase the overall grade awarded (not decrease). However, the devil is in the detail and the application.  For example, how can students demonstrate they have met professional registration or statutory regulatory requirements? And in some approaches students have to pass this year’s assessment – if they do better their grade goes up, if worse their grade remains at previous average, if they don’t pass the assessment then their average grade may be in question. No doubt at some point a bright spark will point out that a no detriment policy when going into a final exam is much the same motivation as entering A levels with an unconditional university offer. Brace yourself for headlines not only about grade inflation but about final exam underachievement.

BU readers should know that BU has also announced a “no detriment” policy with the details being worked out on a programme by programme basis.

The Tab summarises a range of approaches and highlights which details universities are following that approach. It covers final and earlier year exams, graded assessments versus pass and fail marking, and dissertation extensions.

Other media:

Horizon Scanning

To catch up on wider regular policy issues –  you can read our BU policy horizon scan.

Research & KEF

On Tuesday Wonkhe reported that the Knowledge Exchange Concordat has been postponed.

A research related parliamentary question:

Q – Dr Lisa Cameron: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with reference to Budget 2020, what proportion of the £22 billion investment in R&D he plans to allocate to (a) performing and (b) funding R&D. [33613]

A – Jesse Norman: The Government is committed to supporting the UK’s leadership in science and innovation, and set out an ambition to increase economy-wide investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. At the 2020 Budget, the Government announced that it would increase public investment in R&D to £22bn by 2024-25, the largest ever increase in support for R&D. This will support innovators and researchers across the UK to develop their brilliant ideas, cutting edge technologies and ground breaking research. The majority of this uplift will be allocated at the Spending Review, including support for various R&D programmes. The Government will set out further details in due course

Mental Health

The Department of Health and Social Care released new public guidance regarding mental health support during the coronavirus outbreak covering areas from medication, to managing wellbeing, medication and coping mechanisms. There is easy read guidance for those that need this. The Government have also announced £5 million for leading mental health charities, administered by Mind. And NHS Mental Health Providers are establishing 24/7 helplines.

Paul Farmer, Mind Chief Executive, stated:

  • We are facing one of the toughest ever times for our mental wellbeing as a nation. It is absolutely vital that people pull together and do all they can to look after themselves and their loved ones, when we are all facing a huge amount of change and uncertainty…Charities like Mind have a role to play in helping people cope not only with the initial emergency but coming to terms with how this will affect us well into the future. Whether we have an existing mental health problem or not, we are all going to need extra help to deal with the consequences of this unprecedented set of circumstances.

Claire Murdoch, NHS mental health director, said:

  • The NHS is stepping up to offer people help when and how they need it, including by phone, facetime, skype or digitally enabled therapy packages and we also have accelerated plans for crisis response service 24/7…We are determined to respond to people’s needs during this challenging time and working with our partners across the health sector and in the community, NHS mental health services will be there through what is undoubtedly one of the greatest healthcare challenges the NHS has ever faced.

The Times has an article on student mental health focusing on anxiety caused by uncertainties such as exams: Panic and anxiety after education is plunged into limbo.

Brexit & immigration

Withdrawal Agreement

The Government has published a press release outlining that the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee met virtually on Monday 30 March to discuss the application and interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement. There is a factsheet about the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee here.

EU Settlement Scheme

The EU settlement scheme continues. However, the Home Office has clarified that while applications continue to be processed, during this challenging time they will take longer than usual. And the resolution centre will only respond to email inquiries, not telephone; all the ID document scanner locations have been suspended as is the postal route to submit identity evidence. The Home Office reminds: there are still 15 months before the deadline of 30 June 2021 for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme, and there is plenty of support available online to support those looking to apply. This includes translated communications materials and alternative formats being made available.

Visas

The Government has announced visa extensions until 31st May for all foreign nationals in the UK. Individuals who are in the UK and whose visa expired after 24th January are being urged to contact the Home Office to be issued with the May extension. The Government have confirmed they will continue to kept the timescales under review in case further extension is needed.

A dedicated Covid-19 immigration team has been set up within the Home Office to make the process as “straightforward as possible” for visa holders. To help those who want to apply for visas to stay in the UK long-term, the Home Office is also temporarily expanding the in-country switching provisions. In light of the current advice on self-isolation and social distancing, the Home Office is also waiving a number of requirements on visa sponsors, such as allowing non-EU nationals here under work or study routes to undertake their work or study from home.

Priti Patel, Home Secretary, stated: The UK continues to put the health and wellbeing of people first and nobody will be punished for circumstances outside of their control. By extending people’s visas, we are giving people peace of mind and also ensuring that those in vital services can continue their work.

NHS Visas – 1 year extension & Student Nurses

The Home Office have announced that doctors, nurses and paramedics will automatically have their visas extended for one year, free of charge. The extension also covers family members. This measure will also help bolster the number of NHS staff able to work during the coronavirus situation.

Restrictions limiting the number of hours that student nurses and doctors can work in the NHS have also been lifted.

Priti Patel said:

  • Doctors, nurses and paramedics from all over the world are playing a leading role in the NHS’s efforts to tackle coronavirus and save lives. We owe them a great deal of gratitude for all that they do. I don’t want them distracted by the visa process. That is why I have automatically extended their visas – free of charge – for a further year.

NUS

NUS ran its hustings and voting for the election of the presidential and executive officers online for the first time ever. Hillary Gyebi-Ababio has been elected NUS UK’s Vice-President Higher Education for a two-year term receiving 85% of the vote. Hillary is currently the Undergraduate Education Officer at University of Bristol Students’ Union. She states she believes that education should be free, accessible and open to all, with students from all backgrounds and identities being able to engage with and shape the education they deserve. She wants students to be at the centre of their education, not viewed as metrics in a market. She will be fighting for an education system that puts students first. Hillary commented:

  • “It is an honour to be elected as the new Vice President Higher Education of our new and reformed NUS. The fact that students all over the country have trusted me with this role is a sign of how much there is a need for a NUS that puts students at the heart of all it does. I am committed to ensuring that every student, regardless of background, circumstance or identity is heard, seen and cared for. This is going to be an exciting time for the student movement, and the beginning of a new and revitalised NUS.”

Student Experience

Lawyer Smita Jamdar blogs on the consequences of the changes to teaching, assessment and student services as a result of Covid-19 and what universities should be considering to ensure they stay on the right side of the Consumer Rights Act.

Accessibility & Mitigation

Wonkhe write: Is online teaching accessible to all? The sector has (mostly) shifted teaching online – but this has been the very opposite of the kind of planned migration that would be considered best practice by digital delivery experts. In the rush to ensure that students could continue their studies it is very likely that the needs of some students – specific learning needs, disabilities, and external factors – have been forgotten. The next phase of the great leap online will be unpicking where mitigations and alternatives need to be put in place to ensure every student can continue their education during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Wonkhe have one blog on the ethics sitting behind it all: The sudden shift to online provision has failed to consider the needs of all students, and may have been built on tools of uncertain provenance.

And a further blog from Martin McLean from the National Deaf Children’s Society on the mitigations required for deaf students to succeed in online teaching and assessment.

Parliamentary Questions

Student Enrolment/Employment

Q – Dr Luke Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with universities on ensuring that students remain enrolled at their institution in the event (a) that they lose their part-time employment and (b) of another change in their financial situation as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [33725]

A – Michelle Donelan: The government is working closely with the sector on a wide range of issues, and student wellbeing is at the heart of those discussions. It will be for universities to deal with individual students’ situations. Universities know how best to provide support and maintain hardship funds, which can be deployed where necessary, which is especially important for students who are estranged from their families, disabled or have health vulnerabilities.

Students will continue to receive scheduled payments of loans towards their living costs for the remainder of the current, 2019/20, academic year. If they are employed or self-employed, they may also be able to benefit from the wider measures of support announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If agreed with their employer, their employer might be able to keep them on the payroll if they’re unable to operate or have no work for them to do because of coronavirus (COVID-19). This is known as being ‘on furlough’. They could get paid 80% of their wages, up to a monthly cap of £2,500.

Loans

Q – Preet Kaur Gill: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the chief executive of the student loans company on the potential merits of refunding loans for the third term of this academic year. [33730]

A – Michelle Donelan: The Student Loans Company (SLC) will continue to make scheduled tuition and maintenance payments to both students and providers. Both tuition and maintenance payments will continue irrespective of whether learning has moved online. This has been communicated via the SLC website. We are continuing to monitor the position.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and 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:

  • The Commons Education select committee is running an inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services – how the outbreak of COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of the education sector and children’s social care system and will scrutinise how the Department for Education is dealing with the situation. It will examine both short term impacts, such as the effects of school closures and exam cancellations, as well as longer-term implications particularly for the most vulnerable children. Closes: 30 September 2020
  • The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has launched an inquiry to hear about the different and disproportionate impact that the Coronavirus – and measures to tackle it – is having on people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act. Closes: 30 April 2020

Other news

  • Data Futures: HESA have published the latest data futures guidance. Wonkhe write on the release: The release of version 1.0.0 of the HESA Data Futures manual offers a welcome indication that, Data Futures, the long-planned overhaul of student data collection will be going ahead. The new materials suggest three data collection points (one per “reference point”) each year, confirming the move away from continuous collection. Also from HESA, a detailed methodology statement (in two parts) on Graduate Outcomes.
  • Student rent: The BBC has an article on the Bristol students staging rent strikes. They are campaigning about the lack of flexibility or forgiveness from landlords. In particular students who have lost their part time jobs or are unable to work because they are self-isolating are detailed. And Wonkhe report that Shadow Secretaries of State John Healey and Angela Rayner have written to government ministers to raise concerns about student accommodation fees for the summer term – requesting action for students living in halls and for those in the private rented accommodation sector.

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

HE Policy Update as at 25th March 2020

Welcome to your new mid-week update! If you missed our admissions special last week, you will also not have seen that we are moving away from Friday afternoon e-mails because we want to support your wellbeing. Nothing much has changed on admissions yet, by the way, so that one is still worth reading.

 Government Updates

Parliament is commencing recess early today (at close of business on Wed 25 March). This will allow MPs to return to their homes and self-isolate with their families. In normal circumstances, recess would end and parliamentarians would return on Tuesday 21 April, however they are not expected to return this year. The Houses of Parliament are ill-equipped to continue normal business remotely. The beautiful, old buildings are crumbling and do not have the high-tech infrastructure to manage remote voting systems. There was much talk of a need for electronic voting in the tight votes over Brexit (with MPs coming in from hospital in wheelchairs or appearing a very few days after having babies) but they haven’t found a way yet. Select committees may be able continue remotely via video link. Home broadband is so much more reliable than trying to get a Wifi signal in Parliament!

The Coronavirus Bill 2019-20 has completed its stages in the House of Lords (just after 4pm on 25th March) and has gone for Royal Assent. The Coronavirus Bill gives the executive wide ranging and unprecedented powers, which will allow them to continue to govern without Parliament over the next few months if necessary.

The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing covering the education provisions in the Coronavirus bill in more detail. The Explanatory Notes and Impact Assessment explain more on the financial implications of the Government’s powers to close educational institutions. Should the government decide to compensate providers, it may be able to provide funds to “approved (fee cap)” institutions using powers under s39 of the Higher Education and Research Act (“Financial support for registered higher education providers”). For “approved” providers these powers could not be used – it is assumed that wider powers for the government to deploy public funds would apply, but this is not certain.

The impact assessment also suggests that, should a provider be sued for breach of contract or under customer protection rules regarding the provision of accommodation or education, force majeure is believed to apply. The Bill also gives the Office for Students a specific power to disregard its conditions of registration for providers.

Research Professional report that the Government’s response to the Augar review:  “has been kicked even further down the path after chancellor Rishi Sunak told cabinet that the 2020 comprehensive spending review, due this summer, would be delayed because of the pandemic. The Augar response is expected to be published alongside the review.

University education in the pandemic

Monday night announced the lockdown for the UK population, meanwhile three Ministerial letters winged their way to English HE and FE institutions and apprenticeship providers. The Universities Minister wrote (link on Wonkhe here):

  • to curtail the practice of unconditional offers
  • to offer DfE support as institutions move towards online provision
  • clarification on Tier 4 visa issues which will arise from shifting to online provision
  • mitigation for enrolment difficulties (with support from the Home Office, the British Council, UCAS, and Ofqual)
  • student residences and support services particularly for students who are unable to return ‘home’ such as care leavers, estranged students, and international students.

Within the FAQs it was stated that DfE will be working closely with the HE sector and OfS, as regulator, to ensure that we understand the potential financial implications of the issues and risks Covid-19 is bringing to bear on the sector, and to keep abreast of developments.

Summer Exams

The Minister issued a Written Ministerial Statement on the impact of Covid-19 on summer exams. Below is the sector stakeholder reaction to the impact of summer exam cancellations: 

The heads of University Alliance, the Russell Group, GuildHE, and MillionPlus  put out a joint statement confirming that universities will do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to university:

  • We know many students are anxious about what the cancellation of exams and assessments might mean. Our message to students is: we understand and universities are here for you. Universities are committed to doing all they can to support students and applicants and ensure they can progress to university. This will involve being flexible and responsive in their admissions processes. We want to reassure students who have applied to university, or are thinking of doing so through clearing, that every effort will be made to ensure they are not disadvantaged in any way by the decision not to go ahead with exams this summer.

Association of Colleges (AoC), Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

  • “The cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series is the right decision. However, it will have unsettled the many thousands of students who were preparing for exams and assessments in the full range of qualifications and they will need reassurance about alternative arrangements which support their progression plans. The whole education system will need to work together to ensure that no young person is disadvantaged as a result of the cancellation. There are many challenges to overcome to achieve that, but this is also an opportunity to reconsider some aspects of our high-stakes exam regime. We are working with the Department for Education and Ofqual to ensure that the particular challenges faced by colleges and students are understood. Any decisions about assessment and accreditation for the students affected need to take into account the college context because nearly two thirds of all 16-19 year old students study in colleges. Colleges are determined to play their part in helping to safeguard the educational and progression opportunities of every student affected.”

The AoC also made the following recommendations:

  • The guarantee of a place in post-16 education for every student affected by the cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series.
  • Additional resources to increase teaching time for all 16-19 year olds in 2020/21, make up for the lost teaching time in 2019/20 and support catch-up classes and skills development.
  • A national record of achievement and reference system for recording students’ capabilities and achievements in a common and comprehensible way as they transfer between institutions.
  • The development of national online tests in English, maths and other subjects, to support receiving post-16 institutions in advising and guiding students to make appropriate choices for 2020/21.
  • A revision of the English and maths condition of funding in light of the cancellation of GCSEs this summer.
  • Employer agreed skills standards and accreditation requirements for entry-level employment in various sectors and the use of nationally approved skills tests to provide the evidence of students’ skills that employers need.

Teach First wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, calling for:

Support for disadvantaged children to learn at home

  • Internet providers to lift data caps for vulnerable households.
  • Technology firms to provide safe devices for children most in need to be able to study.
  • Energy companies to provide electricity for disadvantaged pupils to learn from home.

Fair exam grades

  • Many young people face uncertainty about their exam grades and futures. We must ensure that steps are taken to award grades fairly and prevent further increases in inequality. Marks linked to past performance could disadvantage hard working pupils, teachers and improving ‘turnaround’ schools.

Long-term support to recover

  • When schools return support must be weighted towards those serving disadvantaged communities. This must be a priority to prevent the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils from growing.

Finally HEPI have a blog – School performance tables are cancelled – should university league tables be cancelled too?

Unconditional offers

On unconditional offers, the Minister’s letter on 20th March followed our update last Friday and, as predicted, criticised those providers who had switched offers to unconditional in reaction to the news about exams.  It was followed by a request on 23rd March to put a two week moratorium on any unconditional offers.

As Research Professional report the Government was unprepared for this quick response from some within the sector. During the pause period the DfE will continue to develop the methodology of how grades will be awarded to students not sitting exams and consider how the application process should be run. The Minister has threatened that any institutions not complying with the ban will undergo regulatory interventionWe will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.  UUK have supported the intervention.

On practical matters UCAS have extended the admissions deadline. Students usually have to decide which university offers to accept by early May. UCAS have confirmed the deadline will be extended by two weeks. UCAS states: Universities and colleges will also have additional time to assess applications and adjust their processes in these unprecedented times… We will email students this week with information on their new May decision deadline, and ensure they understand they have additional time over the coming weeks to make their decisions.

Research Professional (RP):

  • The government is clearly not on top of the situation. On 18 March, rather than mandate the closure of universities, Williamson said that he would support the decisions of vice-chancellors. Less than a week later, universities are being threatened with regulatory action… Vice-chancellors will have acted not out of malice but with the best of intentions to offer comfort to anxious applicants—that’s what comes of sending mixed messages.
  • Donelan says that switching offers to unconditional “risks destabilising the admissions system, increasing financial uncertainty and volatility for all institutions at a time when universities are already facing significant pressures”. The minister wants universities to “avoid actions which might not be in students’ best interests simply to maximise their intake over other universities”.
  • That was probably not the idea behind the switch to unconditional offers, but in a sign of how quickly the world is changing…

The Government’s edict that no new unconditional offers can be made has stimulated debate. Some speculate they may capitalise on the pause to take future action banning all or most unconditional offers (the OfS Admissions consultation has been understandably paused for now). Many lament the impact of the ban on the disadvantaged students who were always intended to be the main recipients of unconditional offers to alleviate some of the turbulence in their lives.

Meanwhile the DfE has reminded students and parents that they are not obliged to accept an unconditional offer and even if they have they can release themselves to explore other options during clearing. DfE state that the release process was introduced last year to support student choice and promote flexibility, and nearly 30,000 students used this functionality.

The OfS press release language is very interesting – they have assumed right up front that NO unconditional offer is in the best interest of a students – they may relax that when they come up with their guidance, but we shall see.

  • ‘Universities and colleges must stop making offers that are not in the best interests of students. They should not make any unconditional offer or amend existing offers for at least two weeks while Ofqual develops the details of the new system.
  • ‘Many universities and colleges have been responding to the enormous challenges of coronavirus with innovation and ingenuity. But it is critical that every university and college puts the student’s interest first in these difficult times. 
  • ‘So, I want to make it very clear to any university or college – and its leaders and governors – that if any university or college makes unconditional offers or adjusts any offer to students during this two week moratorium we will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.

So although they have not done anything about it yet, except issue a review and now a short-term suspension – you could read this as them having already made up their mind and expecting to judge the sector retrospectively against the outcome.

We will let RP have the final word: As higher education pauses admissions activity, it is time now for the government to come up with a workable solution. No more mixed messages: some clarity is needed. As the government has realised on the economy and social distancing, a laissez-faire approach will not see us out the other side of this crisis.

Media coverage: The BBC, The Times and FE Week.

Research in the pandemic

The Under-Secretary of State for Science, Amanda Solloway issued a letter thanking the HE sector for the Covid-19 research and urging institutions to prioritise supporting colleagues (employment terms and conditions) who are working on mitigating this crisis. Skills Minister Gillian Keegan wrote to colleges and training providers and Scottish HE minister Richard Lochhead also issued a letter.

REF 2021 will be pushed back to adjust for the effects of Coronavirus. Currently, the 31 July 2020 census date will be retained. However, the final submission deadline will be delayed. No date for the submission has yet been set but universities have been told they can expect an 8 month notice period when the new date is announced. BU is continuing with the mock REF exercise but will review future timelines as appropriate.

Student Loans

The Student Loans Company has confirmed third term payments will be made as normal even with most teaching moving online.

Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS National President, commented:

  • NUSis pleased that the Department for Education and the Student Loans Company have responded to the strong concerns that we and our member students’ unions have raised in the last week by confirming third term payments will be made as normal, despite the many changes to teaching arrangements made by universities in response to the pandemic. We will continue to work with them to ensure clear communication to students and to ensure students are treated fairly. 
  • Where a students’ family income falls significantly in the year of study, they can ask for a reassessment of their student finance if they are not already receiving the maximum levels of support, and so students should contact the relevant student finance agency as they may be able to receive more support.
  • Students’ income will already be affected as many rely on part-time jobs in hospitality and retail – while we welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to support those who lose employment income we are concerned that those students who are self-employed or who work in the gig economy will not be supported, and most full-time students cannot claim benefits. We need to ensure a safety net is in place for these students, either by extending the wage protections or ensuring access to hardship funding in universities and colleges.

Several parliamentary questions relating to student loans repayments were asked this week. Most have already been superseded in the Government’s announcement that repayments will continue as normal but be reassessed and cease if an individual’s income drops below the repayment threshold.

Last, Peter Lauener was appointed as Chair of the Student Loans company. He replaces Andrew Wathey who was in the role on an interim basis.

The Student Loans Company has announced the temporary closure their contact centre. They state:

  • [We are] closing our customer contact centres temporarily for new and existing students, and for any customer in repayment.
  • The closure of our customer contact centres will not impact summer term maintenance payments to students or tuition fee payments to education providers. These payments will be made as normal. New and existing students in England and Wales can continue to apply for student finance and we will continue to process any applications that have been received as quickly as we can.
  • We are working to restore service at our contact centres as soon as we can and we will provide further information on this over the coming days.

Brexit

A poll on Coronavirus set out to measure the public’s support for the Government’s actions to limit the spread of the virus. It shows favour for a practical potential policy U turn on extending the Brexit end of transition phase. You Gov say: despite it being one of the most dramatic debates in British politics just weeks ago, a majority of the public (55%) would now support extending the Brexit transition period as negotiations have now had to be delayed. A quarter (24%) are still opposed, while 21% say they don’t know.

You can read the full poll analysis here.  An interesting further point is made about the need for the Government to appeal to the young to ensure they understand the seriousness of the crisis and follow social distancing (and now lockdown) requirements. You Gov say: While Boris is still divisive, the public are warming to Rishi Sunak and Chris Witty. Because of this, the Government needs think carefully about its messengers to make sure they are best cutting through with the public.

Parliamentary Questions

Covid-19 Support for Universities

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support universities during the covid-19 outbreak. [32182]

A – Michelle Donelan: The Department for Education has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

Covid-19 – Student Accommodation/Online Learning (both due for answer on Thursday)

Q – Rosie Duffield: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will take steps to ensure that universities allow students to terminate their accommodation contracts early without incurring financial penalties during the covid-19 outbreak.

This is due for answer on Thursday – here is the link to follow the response. If you have trouble accessing the response (sometimes they change the link when they add the answer) contact us and we’ll locate it and send it over to you

Q – Stuart Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he is taking steps to ensure that online access to learning is put in place for pupils and students at schools and higher education institutions that have not developed online resources; and if he will make a statement. [34409]

Disability: Q – Sharon Hodgson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect on the health and wellbeing of students in higher education with visual stress of the removal of colorimetry funding for those students.

A  – Michelle Donelan: The department is in discussion with the Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education as to whether any additional types of assistance would be appropriate for students with a diagnosis of visual stress.

And there is one on brain injuries disability funding.

Access: Q – Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Viscount Younger of Leckie on 6 November 2018 (HL10959), whether they are now in a position to ensure that higher education providers have access to free school meals data at the start of the undergraduate admissions cycle as part of measures to widen access to higher education.

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • Everyone with the talent and capability to succeed in higher education should have the opportunity to benefit from a high-quality university education, regardless of age, background or where they grew up.
  • So that providers are identifying talent in areas of disadvantage, they need to use good-quality and meaningful data. We encourage higher education providers to use a range of measures including individual-level indicators, area data (such as Participation of Local Areas, Index of Multiple Deprivation or postcode classification from ACORN), school data, intersectional data such as Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’s (UCAS) Multiple Equality Measure, and participation in outreach activities.
  • We are actively considering how we can make available free school meals data, taking in to account relevant data protection legislation, and will continue to work closely with UCAS and the Office for Students to this end. In general, we are looking to make data as illuminating as possible.
  • The government believes that every young person with the potential should have the opportunity to access higher education, if it is right for them. A person’s background or start in life should not determine their future.

Disability Employment Gap: Q – Marco Longhi: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps she is taking to support people with mental disabilities (a) into and (b) to remain in employment. [30042]

A – Justin Tomlinson:

  • The Government is committed to reducing the disability employment gap and seeing a million more disabled people in work by 2027.We help disabled people, including those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities, return to and stay in work through programmes including the Work and Health Programme, the new Intensive Personalised Employment Support Programme, Access to Work and Disability Confident.

Mental Health: Q – Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, pursuant to the oral statement of 18 March 2020, what steps he is taking to ensure that children and young people whose educational institution is closed are able to access mental health services provided through those institutions. [32157]

A – Vicky Ford (Chelmsford):

  • The department is working with NHS England and Public Health England who are providing guidance on seeking mental health support, including guidance for parents and carers of children and young people on addressing mental health and wellbeing concerns during the COVID-19 outbreak. Where in place, mental health support teams are also actively considering how they continue to deliver a service to support children and young people.

Industrial Strategy: Q – Alex Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what progress has been made on meeting the objective in the Ageing Society Grand Challenge to ensure that people can enjoy at least 5 extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035. [29943]

A – Helen Whately:

  • Delivering the Ageing Society Grand Challenge (ASGC) mission will require complex systems thinking across a number of areas and we are already working closely across Government, industry, academia and the voluntary sector to do this.
  • We have invested £98 million through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Healthy Ageing programme to enable businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver services and products to support people as they age. We have also announced Andy Briggs as the ASGC Business Champion and our plans to establish the UK Longevity Council.
  • In 2019, the Department published the consultation document ‘Advancing our Health: Prevention in the 2020s’, which has the ASGC mission at its core and sets out the commitments to contribute towards achieving it.

Skills Gaps: A question on skills gap vacancies and whether qualifications and apprenticeships can fill the gaps.

Free Speech: Q – Marco Longhi (Dudley North): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to protect freedom of speech and promote diverse debate within universities. [30031]

A – Michelle Donelan (Chippenham):

  • This government has committed to strengthen free speech and academic freedom and ensure our universities are places where debate can thrive. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education has made it clear that if required he will look at changing the underpinning legal framework. We have made it clear that if universities do not uphold free speech, the government will.

Student Accommodation

Safely managing student accommodation through the crisis is a tricky process for the HE sector. Thorny issues include: ensuring adequate safeguards where students are self-isolating and moving back to the family home is not possible or inappropriate; requirements for students to continue paying for accommodation or pay retainers whilst not in residence; student evictions as providers close down student residences; concerns over 2021-22 contract pressures. Here are two blogs on student accommodation. On Research Professional Fiona McIntyre reports that universities have been told to pressure firms in charge of private halls of residence to make sure no student is left without a place to stay during the coronavirus epidemic, while the Student Loans Company has said that third-term payments will proceed as planned.

And on Wonkhe Eva Crossan Jory from NUS describes the crisis facing student rents resulting from coronavirus, and what universities, private halls operators and government should do to avert it.

Wonkhe also report that: Student accommodation providers Unite and Liberty Living have promised not to charge students for accommodation for term three if email notification is received before 10 April. Arrangements will be made to support students who need to stay on in accommodation through term three and beyond.

Student Trust

HEPI have a blog from Mary Curnock Cook on Connectedness, Trust and Student Engagement. Excerpts:

  • A new report from Enlitened, part of the Student Room Group, looks at how ‘connected, engaged and supported’ undergraduate students are in the UK. In a classic virtuous circle, the report suggests that feeling connected is highly correlated with trust, and trust increases with awareness of and confidence in university resources. Addressing these areas quite directly could help universities significantly improve theirstudents’ overall experience, as well as helping prepare them better for the world of work. It goes without saying that in the current coronavirus crisis, universities resorting to remote working and online learning will soon feel the pinch if they don’t have some connectedness-credit in the bank.
  • The research suggests that only just over half of students feel ‘connected’ to their university. Connectedness is a wider and more nuanced concept than student experience because it signals a whole range of propensities from supporting the university more generally, being prepared to help it out or give it the benefit of doubt when things go wrong, to getting actively involved in the university’s success. But it goes further than this because this new research indicates that connected students are more likely to trust their university, and when they trust their university, they will be more likely to seek support with emotional and wellbeing issues as well as more prosaic issues such as academic or financial support. 
  • Feeling connected and trusting the university will also help overcome the lack of confidence and shyness that respondents cited as some of the key barriers that stop them from accessing support. This is important as 63 per cent of respondents reported to have kept their mental wellbeing concerns to themselves in the last year, without seeking help from their university. With the findings showing that third year respondents are more likely than both second and first year students to keep concerns around anxiety, stress, depression, and academic and financial issues to themselves, trust and self-confidence seems to erode rather than deepen as students progress through their courses. Unsurprisingly, students with disabilities are even more likely to hold back from asking for help.

Also buried in the report is an astonishingly low engagement level with student unions (which also score relatively poorly on the National Student Survey). Given that peer support is often the first port of call for students in distress, it’s worrying that only 12 per cent of respondents said they trusted their student union and only 3 per cent would go to them for information and support.

Friends and family remain the most trusted source of support for students for a range of anxieties and concerns but it’s worth noting that students are also likely to turn to online resources. The anonymity of online help is often a draw for students shy or lacking in confidence to seek face to face help… With universities across the sector reporting huge increases in demand for student support services, online resources and apps can be vital in making sure that students know about and connect with their university services when they need help.

BU has two 24/7 anonymous online platforms and support services – the Employee Assistance Programme for staff and Big White Wall which supports staff and students. There is also a wellbeing section on the staff intranet.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and 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:

Other news

Student Nurses: Next week student nurses will join the ‘front line’ to support the NHS as the nation battles Covid-19. The Times covers whether they should be paid.

Home Working: As the majority of the nation converts to home working on a more regular basis than usual the Office of National Statistics have published their research which investigates to what extent different people within the labour market work at home, either on a regular or occasional basis (pre-crisis).

Of the 32.6 million in employment, around 1.7 million people reported working mainly from home, with around 4.0 million working from home in the week prior to being interviewed for the survey.

  • Around 8.7 million people said that they have worked from home; this is less than 30% of the workforce.
  • Some industrial sectors, such as transportation and storage, accommodation and food services, and wholesale, retail and repair provide relatively few opportunities for people to work from home.
  • Other industrial sectors, such as information and communication, professional, scientific and technical activities, financial and insurance activities, and real estate activities, provide far more homeworking opportunities.
  • Occupations requiring higher qualifications and experience are more likely to provide homeworking opportunities than elementary and manual occupations.
  • Younger workers are the least likely to be working from home, whereas those who continue to work beyond State Pension age are increasingly likely to be working from home.

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

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 20th March 2020

We are going to change the way that we do the BU HE policy update to respond to current circumstances.  No-one wants to receive a long bulletin on a Friday evening after a long week juggling working from home with all the other requirements on your time.  And really, we need to discourage anyone from working at the weekend if you don’t have to.

So, we will move to publishing mid-week, probably Wednesday.  However, as admissions are such a hot topic we are doing one last Friday update focussed only on admissions and the current state of affairs.

What on earth are we going to do about admissions

Since the summer exams were cancelled earlier this week, HE policy communications channels have been lit up with speculation, opinion and views about what might happen next.

The latest government guidance (afternoon of 20th March) says:

There will also be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who wish to.

Ofqual will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students.

  • The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.
  • To produce this, teachers will take into account a range of evidence and data including performance on mock exams and non-exam assessment – clear guidance on how to do this fairly and robustly will be provided to schools and colleges. The exam boards will then combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student, which will be a best assessment of the work they have put in.
  • … More information will be provided as soon as possible.
  • The aim is to provide these calculated grades to students before the end of July. In terms of a permanent record, the grades will be indistinguishable from those provided in other years. We will also aim to ensure that the distribution of grades follows a similar pattern to that in other years, so that this year’s students do not face a systematic disadvantage as a consequence of these extraordinary circumstances.
  • We recognise that some students may nevertheless feel disappointed that they haven’t been able to sit their exams. If they do not believe the correct process has been followed in their case they will be able to appeal on that basis. In addition, if they do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance, they will have the opportunity to sit an exam at the earliest reasonable opportunity, once schools are open again. Students will also have the option to sit their exams in summer 2021.
  • There is a very wide range of different vocational and technical qualifications as well as other academic qualifications for which students were expecting to sit exams this summer. These are offered by a large number of awarding organisations, and have differing assessment approaches – in many cases students will already have completed modules or non-exam assessment which could provide evidence to award a grade. We are encouraging these organisations to show the maximum possible flexibility and pragmatism to ensure students are not disadvantaged. Ofqual is working urgently with the sector to explore options and we will work with them to provide more details shortly.
  • The Government will not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020.

Issues raised include:

Does no exams = no results = students who want to, not being able to go to university either because they have to go back to school and do another year or because they are just left in some sort of limbo? Under the government plan some students might choose to go back and take exams later, or even in summer 2021. But most will end up with grades calculated using the new process.

Does no exams = no results = all existing offers become unconditional and we enter a mass clearing and adjustment process? As everyone will have a grade, this is not necessary.  However, some universities seem to be already doing this in the meantime.

  • The government doesn’t like unconditional offers because they think they are a form of “mis-selling” with students potentially being bamboozled into taking an offer from a university when they could go somewhere “better”, and because they then don’t try too hard with their A-levels.   We have written about this before and remain unconvinced about either of these arguments, but this is why the OfS are doing a (now paused) review of admissions.  If you are stuck at home with not enough to do, it is worth looking at the OfS questions, a new deadline will be set at some point and your policy team are co-ordinating a BU response (read more here).
  • There was always going to be a risk that the Minister and the OfS would, retrospectively, require universities to inform them if they have done this and then criticise those institutions for “taking advantage” of the situation and “taking advantage” of student anxiety to get bums on seats and protect their financial position.    Institutions will of course argue, not unreasonably, that they have done it to reassure students.  But it is certainly too late to reverse it.  And sure enough, after we wrote this, the OfS asked universities to pause making unconditional offers: Some universities and colleges have in recent days reportedly been making unconditional offers that may not be in students’ best interests. We are today asking that all universities and colleges pause unconditional or other offers that could disadvantage students. Given today’s reassurances there is no reason to depart from the normal admissions processes. All universities and colleges should work to put the student’s interest first.’

Does no exams = different assessment methods = wait until “results day” in August and carry on as normal – including a clearing and adjustment process once the results are out? This is what we have got.

  • Students could simply have been given their predicted grades – this would have had the advantage that for those students already in the UCAS system these grades already exist.  It has the disadvantage that they are notoriously inaccurate.  They may have been “gamed” to help a student with an application to a super-elective university.  They may not reflect the potential of a disadvantaged student.  These things are problems in the current system.  They are mitigated to some extent by adjustment and clearing – mitigations that would not be available if everyone was just given their predicted grades.  Although simple, at least for HE, this did not look like a totally attractive solution.

So we have a new calculated grade process:

  • Teachers will recommend a grade based on mocks and other non-exam assessment – using guidance from the DfE.
  • Exam boards will moderate this using other data – including prior attainment (that suggests looking at GCSE for A-levels).
  • The distribution of grades will follow a similar pattern to other years (“so this year’s students do not face a systematic disadvantage”, it says – but also no grade inflation either).

What does this mean for HE?

In theory, not much changes.  Offer have been made, we will get grades a little bit earlier than usual, clearing can happen more or less as usual.  But is it that simple?

  • Research Professional on 20th MarchSmita Jamdar, partner at the law firm Shakespeare Martineau, suggested to Playbook that if students were assessed in a new way, offers based on meeting a different kind of assessment would no longer be valid; from a legal perspective, the whole offer-making process would need to start again, although higher education institutions might still be able to come up with a practical solution. [We say: surely not – the government won’t want that to happen. Their announcement says: “ In terms of a permanent record, the grades will be indistinguishable from those provided in other years.”]
  • The government plan while it aims to reduce some of the risks with using predicted grades, still potentially has problems in relation to disadvantaged students and Johnny Rich has a good thread on twitter on this

And what about the sector more generally?

  • Will student numbers go down across the UK with a potentially devastating effect on some institutions? Even if the virus itself is in retreat by September it seems highly likely that international student numbers will go down as students across the world miss their own assessments, are unable to take language tests, are still subject to travel restrictions or are simply unwilling to take the risk and travel abroad for a while.
  • That has led some to speculate that universities will be rushing to fill the corresponding gap in their budgets by recruiting additional UK students, leading potentially to a “rush to the top”. Remember that we are also at the bottom of the demographic dip.
  • So will the government take steps to cap student numbers? There have been rumours that they are thinking of doing this anyway, although in a more sophisticated way than time would allow this year.  [HEPI responded to the more general story on 19th March here]
  • And will there be other financial support available for universities? Read Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe on 19th March here.

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Unfortunately we cannot subscribe you to receive the updates direct to your inbox as they may contain privileged content from our partners and subscriptions which we may only be permitted to share with our internal staff. However, you can continue to read our truncated updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

He policy update for the w/e 13th March 2020

The first budget of the new Government was delivered on Wednesday. Overall a quieter week as most focussed on the nation’s health.  We can do no better than refer you to the BU website and for staff, the BU intranet pages.

The Budget

There was very little specifically relating to HE in the budget. Of most relevance is the increase in the research and development investment:

1.220 The Budget sets out ambitious plans to increase public R&D investment to £22 billion per year by 2024-25. This landmark investment is the largest and fastest ever expansion of support for basic research and innovation, taking direct support for R&D to 0.8% of GDP and placing the UK among the top quarter of OECD nations – ahead of the USA, Japan, France and China. This unprecedented increase in investment will support a range of objectives, including:

  • supporting world-leading research in all regions and nations of the UK, including by cutting bureaucracy, experimenting with new funding models, and establishing a new funding agency to focus on high-risk, high-reward research
  • meeting the great challenges facing society, including climate change and an ageing population, and providing funding to pursue ‘moonshot’ scientific missions
  • investing in the government’s own strategic science capability and improving public services
  • backing businesses to invest and innovate so that they can compete in the global technology-driven economy

1.221 Details of how this funding will support these and other objectives will be set out  at the forthcoming CSR, but the Budget announces a set of measures that will have an  immediate impact.

And

  • The government is providing an immediate funding boost of up to £400 million in 2020-21 for world-leading research, infrastructure and equipment. This will help build excellence in research institutes and universities right across the UK, particularly in basic research and physical sciences.  The government will also provide £300 million for experimental mathematical research to attract the very best global talent over the next five years. This will double funding for new PhDs and boost the number of maths fellowships and research projects.
  • The government will invest at least £800 million in a new blue-skies funding agency here in the UK, modelled on the extraordinary ‘ARPA’ in the US.65 This agency will fund high-risk, high-reward science.
  • In recognition of their excellence and global reach, the government will increase funding for the UK’s foremost specialist institutions by £80 million over the next five years. This will support world-leading organisations such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Royal College of Art and the Institute of Cancer Research among others. At the CSR, the government will examine how R&D funding as a whole can best be distributed across the country to help level up every region and nation of the country.
  • The government is committed to ensuring that the UK’s fast-growing and innovative businesses continue to have access to the finance they need to invest and grow. The Life Sciences Investment Programme will provide the British Business Bank with additional resources to make up to £200 million in equity commitments to support the UK’s most innovative health and life sciences firms over the next five years. Invested alongside private sector capital, this is expected to enable £600 million of finance to create high-quality jobs and help UK patients benefit from more ground-breaking treatments and care. This funding will build on the £350 million of finance to life sciences firms currently supported by the British Business Bank by supporting large-scale venture growth funds. The programme will launch within a year.

Other HE matters

  • Freezing the maximum fee cap – As announced in July 2019, the government has frozen the maximum fee cap in England for the 2020-21 academic year at £9,250 for regular full-time undergraduate courses and at £11,100 for accelerated degree courses.
  • Removing the student finance three-year residence requirement for victims of domestic abuse – From academic year 2020-21, the government is removing the three-year ordinary residence requirement for student finance for those granted Indefinite Leave to Remain as victims of domestic abuse.
  • Entitlement to part-time Maintenance Loans – The Budget takes into account the fiscal impacts of part-time Maintenance Loans not being extended to sub-degree (level 4/5 courses) and distance learners, as announced in June 2019 and March 2019 respectively.
  • Institutes of Technology – The government will provide £120 million to bring further education and higher education providers in England together with employers to open up to eight new Institutes of Technology. These institutions will be used to deliver high-quality higher level technical education and to help close skills gaps in their local areas.

On FE

  • Further education capital funding – The government will provide £1.5 billion over five years (£1.8 billion inclusive of indicative Barnett consequentials), supported by funding from further education colleges themselves, to bring the facilities of colleges everywhere in England up to a good level, and to support improvements to colleges to raise the quality and efficiency of vocational education provision.
  • Facilities and equipment to support T levels – The government will provide £95 million for providers in England to invest in high quality facilities and industry-standard equipment to support the rollout of T levels. Funding will support T level routes being delivered from autumn 2021, including construction, digital, and health and science.
  • National Skills Fund – The government will consult widely in the spring on how to use the new National Skills Fund.
  • Apprenticeship Levy – The government will look at how to improve the working of the Apprenticeship Levy, to support large and small employers in meeting the long-term skills needs of the economy.
  • Apprenticeships – The government will ensure that sufficient funding is made available in 2020-21 to support an increase in the number of new high-quality apprenticeships in small-and medium-sized businesses.

Dods summarise and speculate on the main educational elements within the budget:

  • The spending review could represent a more pivotal moment for education funding generally, with the government set to issue their response to the Augar Review. In the interim, debates about value in HE could predominate, with the outcomes of the TEF review anticipated. The Government’s R&D ambitions and commitment on “world leading, research infrastructure and support” are interesting in this context. HEPI have urged the Government to recognise the interdependence of teaching and research, as well as prevent Augar and TEF conclusions circumscribing universities role in underpinning R&D objectives.
  • Augar will also have major implications for an FE sector desperate for investment to match the rhetoric in both 16-19 and adult education. A spring consultation on the £3bn National Skills Fund will likely elicit contrasting responses across the sector, with some demanding devolution to elected mayors and LEPs and others advocating providers be allowed to compete for funds. Colleges may also query whether today’s commitments can ensure preparedness for forthcoming T-level qualifications.
  • It was arguably education funding pledges that introduced “levelling up” to parliamentary parlance last September, with steps to harden the formula for per-pupil funding allocations presented as emblematic of government resolve to tackle regional disparities. As a result, the budget contained few surprises for compulsory education, with school budgets set to increase by £4.3bn in real terms by 2022/23. From 2010, this represents an historically unprecedented funding squeeze (IfS), with schools also required to absorb a government increases to teaching salaries.

A series of regional factsheets have been published on the 2020 budget. Here is the one for the South West, it includes:

  • £79 million for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole including funding for new cycle freeways and bus priority schemes through the Transforming Cities Fund.
  • The South West will benefit from a share of the next £5.2 billion flood and coastal defence investment programme starting in 2021. These locations will benefit from at least the following levels of funding as a result of this programme: £114 million for Bridgwater, £34 million for Poole, and £1.4 million for Gloucester to better protect over 7,000 properties.
  • The Government will support the Western Gateway, a strategic economic partnership across south Wales and the West of England, to oversee an independent economic review to identify long-term economic opportunities and challenges for the region.

And sharing the national pot to access:

  • £100 million of seed funding for 21 schemes from the Health Infrastructure Plan, seven of which are in the South West.
  • £640 million as part of the Nature for Climate Fund.
  • Over £500 million to cement our world-leading position in cutting edge technologies including space, electric vehicles and life sciences

The budget also launched the long-awaited Comprehensive Spending Review (2020). This will conclude in July when the Chancellor will set out the detailed spending plans for public services and investment, including the resource budgets from 2021-22 to 2023-24 and capital budgets up to 2024-25. It will be a key time for HE as many of the delayed big decisions such as Augar Review, student fee levels, and TEF are set to be tackled as part of the CSR.

Cross subsidisation – Teaching & Research

Cross subsidisation – whereby HE institutions fund aspects of research activity from student fee income  – has been a contentious point which bothered Government in the recent past. It was overshadowed as the value for money discussion rose; however, quiet rumblings about whether cross subsidisation is ‘right’ have continued in the background. On Monday, prior to the budget, HEPI published a report on cross subsidisation within the post-Augar context and exploring the Government’s 2.4% R&D target.

The report argues that the debate about value for money in higher education alongside parts of the Augar Review (the £7,500 tuition fee recommendation) fails to acknowledge the interdependence between teaching and research. It argues that adopting the Augar recommendations would circumscribe university investment in new programmes such as artificial intelligence and machine learning – contradictory to the Government aim to strengthen research in these areas.

  • University research is underfunded against its true costs – the latest figures show a gap amounting to £4.3 billion across the UK and £3.7 billion in England and Northern Ireland.
  • The shortfall in research funding has been partially filled by cross-subsidies from international students’ fees – each international student in the UK pays an average of £5,100 more than it costs to educate them.
  • Depending on how the Government opt to respond to the Augar review’s recommendations on tuition fees, then the shortfall on teaching home undergraduates could increase by between £0.7 billion and £2.3 billion above its current level of £0.2 billion.
  • A larger gap will need to be covered by increases in productivity, a lower quality student experience, or redirecting the cross-subsidy arising from international student fee income.
  • If international student fees are used to fill in – or merely reduce – a bigger gap in the funding of home students, they will no longer be available to cross-subsidise research, meaning the annual research deficit in England and Northern Ireland alone could rise to £4.9 billion. Teaching and research could suffer; and:
  • This will make it very challenging to reach the Government’s R&D spend target .
  • The splitting of teaching from research in Whitehall – a different Minister and Department for each hampers the joined-up approach to the two activities undertaken by HEIs.
  • An increase in overseas students could relieve some of the financial pressures but is not inevitable, given international competition, changing geopolitics and the Home Office’s general approach in recent years to international students. Dare I also mention COVID-19?!
  • If policymakers want to hold down – or reduce – tuition fees, preside over further improvements to the student experience and ensure much greater R&D spending, they are likely to need to spend more than planned.

The paper concludes:

  • The Government want to see an increase in education export earnings to £35 billion a year by 2030, up from £20 billion in 2016, with 600,000 students hosted in the UK, up from 470,000 in 2017/18. If such targets are to be achieved then it might be possible to continue cross subsidising research from international student fees while also substantially increasing the cross-subsidies for teaching home students.
  • However, this would make the university sector even more reliant on other countries at a time when there are already fears of over-exposure to fluctuations in geopolitics. Moreover, relying more on international student fees to bolster the teaching of home students will always make it harder to realise the R&D target than if all the available cross-subsidies were spent on research

Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI and the author of the report, said:

  • If the UK university sector is to continue thriving, then it is crucial that the Chancellor recognises the interdependencies between teaching and research in the budget and subsequent spending review.
  • Universities roughly break even on teaching home students but make a big loss on research. They fill in part of that gap from the surplus on teaching international students. But they now face a looming large loss on teaching home students, for example because of tweaks to tuition fees in England. If that happens, they will have to use international student fees to subsidise home students and there will be less money for covering gaps in research funding.
  • We need to redouble our efforts to ensure a better understanding of the interdependencies between teaching and research in the face of the latest Whitehall changes, which mean we now have one Minister for Universities and a different Minister for Science.

A change of heart from the OfS

Nicola Dandridge has set out her plans to improve the relationship that the OfS has with HE providers in an interesting blog on Wonkhe.

It sets out plans such as:

  • …a review that will help us assess the impact of our regulatory activity on individual providers.
  • …new guidance on an area that I know has caused frustration to some universities and colleges – reportable events. The guidance will set out in clear terms the things providers need to tell the OfS about, and explain how we will deal with those reports.
  • We are improving how we correspond with universities and colleges in response to their feedback. Some providers have found our engagement with them too impersonal. In future, letters and emails will normally be sent from named individuals so it is clear who has dealt with individual queries. We have added specific contact details to our website, so that providers can quickly reach the most relevant teams with questions, with a dedicated phone number for regulation and monitoring queries. We also plan to move to two release dates per month for letters and consultations we send to vice chancellors and principals, when possible, so that the pace of communications feels more ordered.
  • We have taken steps internally to improve the clarity and tone of our communications to individual providers, and to make them feel less bureaucratic. We have started to share calendars of key activities, updating them regularly on our website. We will also improve our communications on data requirements, ensuring clearer understanding of how to use our templates, making sure our deadlines allow sufficient time for engagement with both management and with governing bodies/councils where that is expected. We will actively seek feedback as we develop our processes for data collection and presentation
  • Later this spring, we will be hosting both a national event and a number of regional events for universities and colleges on our approach to regulation…

In the meantime the requirement to make daily reports to the OfS of numbers of staff or students with the corona virus appear to have been bypassed by advice to stay at home and not seek to get tested if you are showing symptoms – making the numbers essentially meaningless.  Universities up and down the country will be hoping that this particular requirement will be relaxed.

 The graduate premium

HESA have issued a report that says that “Research shows decline in ‘graduate premium’ less pronounced for 1st and 2:1 degrees”.

From the HESA website;

  • Researchers from HESA and the Department of Economics at Warwick University compared the pay of graduates with non-graduates. Given the growth in the proportion of graduates with a first or upper second class award, they looked for changes in the returns to a first or upper second class degree compared with lower grades. They found graduates born in 1970 who had a first or upper second class degree earned 20% more than non-graduates at age 26, compared to a graduate premium of 14% for those with a lower second class degree or below.
  • The researchers had previously found that the graduate premium has reduced over time. The same comparison for people born in 1990 found that graduates with a first or 2:1 earned 14% more than non-graduates at age 26, while the return to a 2:2 or lower class degree was only 3%.
  • The study found that the overall reduction in the return to a degree was largely explained by stronger pay growth in non-professional occupations than in professional jobs. They suggest that the accompanying increase in the gap between the returns to higher and lower degree classifications, from 6 percentage points to 11 percentage points, may relate to workplace recruitment focussing on graduates with at least an upper second class degree.
  • The research also compared the returns to a first with the returns to a 2:1, and the returns to a 2:1 compared to a 2:2. The tentative results, based on a small number of first-class degree holders born in 1970, found that the relative benefit of having a first over having a 2:1 has decreased by up to 3 percentage points. The study’s authors note that this may be due the long-term trend of more graduates being awarded a first class degree. Meanwhile the relative benefit of a 2:1 over a 2:2 has increased by up to 8 percentage points.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

DfE has published new figures on apprenticeships in England.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 6th March 2020

Pre-budget week has been as we’d typically expect with organisations releasing a hoard of reports, evidence and lobbying papers aiming to influence Government funding decisions. We’ve summarised the main reports and added links for the reports which say similar things. Graduate outcomes and apprenticeships& technical education were the loudest shouters, and this week also saw University Mental Health day and the beginning of British Science Week.

Select Committees

All but one of the select committees has now confirmed their MP membership. You can see the members and brief details on the role and future outlook of the committees most relevant to BU in our committee special edition here.

Immigration

The Immigration Bill has now been published.  Dods report that the Office for Budget Responsibility is preparing to downgrade the UK’s economic growth prospects in next week’s budget because of the country’s proposed post-Brexit “points” based immigration model. The OBR will forecast that a smaller population will lead to lower economic growth and detriment public finances, restricting the new Chancellor’s abilities to spend more money on key public services such as the NHS as well as the Government’s wider programme to “level up” the economy.

The economic impact of the new immigration system has led to tensions between the Treasury and Number 10 Downing Street. The Treasury favours a looser migration regime, without a cliff edge at the end of 2020, when the Brexit transition period ends.

Importantly, a reduction in migration rates have little to no effect on living standards because while economic growth might slow overall, gross domestic product per person was remain unchanged. The Migration Advisory Committee estimated a rise in GDP per person but added that this was very uncertain.

Science

Gavin Williamson and Business SoS Alok Sharma announced £179 million funding package for science, maths and engineering on Friday (which is the first day of British Science Week):

  • £179 million for PhDs (up to 2,200 students) within the 40+ UK universities in Doctoral Training Partnership institutions. Students will commence 2020 and 2021 academic years within the subject areas of physical sciences, maths and engineering to develop the skills for ground-breaking research and high-tech industries like cyber security and chemical manufacturing. Part of the investment will go into pilots looking at how best to attract and support those from non-academic backgrounds to undertake this type of training.
  • Encourage more young people, particularly girls, to study STEM subjects at school and university, and pursue a STEM-related career.
  • £8.9 million to continue funding science education programmes including Science Learning Partnerships and Stimulating Physics Networks, which aim to improve science teaching and increase the take up of science at GCSE level and A level and ultimately encourage young people to pursue a STEM-related career.

And on Thursday the PM hosted the Council for Science and Technology at Downing Street. The Council is comprised of senior science civil servant officials, the VC of Manchester University and attended by the Science Minister (Amanda Solloway). It advises the PM on science and technology policy matters. The official account of the meeting states the PM set out his priorities for science, research and innovation; championed science as a key part of his levelling up agenda, and emphasised the role of scientists in tackling the policy challenges of the coming decades. He challenged the Council to define their “moon-shots” for UK science, their ideas for where the UK should aim high, for example across healthcare, transport, energy and robotics. He restated the government’s pledge to invest in science and significantly boost R&D funding.

Ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore has two articles in TES: UK Universities must embrace the future and Skidmore rejects ‘university-bashing’ and urges funding stability. The first looks at the Universities Minister role and Chris reflects on what he achieved and his approach to the role:

  • I arrived with a mission. Put simply, I felt that I had to try to steer the relationship between government and the sector into a better place. No more university-bashing for the sake of a few cheap headlines. What would be the point? 
  • Of course, that still means challenging the sector to do even better, but with a change in approach and a change of tone, I knew that I was more likely to enact real change, to encourage reform and to work productively on actual solutions, rather than simply sending out press releases calling for them.
  • So much good work is already taking place – one of my rules for every speech I made was to highlight best practice
  • I wish my successors, both in universities and science, the very best. They have an opportunity to fashion and lead an exciting agenda that is at the centre of the prime minister’s vision. Of course I would have loved to have been part of this, but I hope I have played my small part in helping to steer the sector through a difficult year and helping it recognise the huge opportunities that can lie ahead – if the initiative is seized, and university leaders are prepared to tell a positive, forward-facing narrative, rather than being always on the defensive.
  • Universities are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution. We need to hear more of that message, and I, for one, will continue to do everything I can to make sure that it is voiced – and heard. 

Graduate Premium

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and DfE have published The impact of undergraduate degrees on lifetime earnings. It paints a mixed picture confirming and quantifying the graduate premium across the lifespan for today’s workforce. It also digs down into the variables highlighting the effects that current age/life stage, gender, programme choice, and institutional status have on pay levels. There has been lots of media interest alongside the Government’s keen focus on the value for money agenda. Plus some acknowledgement of the other personal benefits from studying at HE level, particularly in light of the headline grabber of male creative arts graduates who experience a negative financial return.

  • “while about 80% of students are likely to gain financially from attending university, we estimate that one in five students – or about 70,000 every year – would actually have been better off financially had they not gone to university.
  • … Other personal and social benefits may be as or more important. We also only consider the effect of each student’s choices on their ownearnings holding constant the choices of others”
  • Median earnings of male graduates grow strongly throughout their 30s, and this earnings growth far outstrips that of non-graduates. For male graduates who were 30 in 2016, we predict earnings to rise by £15k from age 30 to age 40, compared with a rise of just £5k in the median earnings of non-graduate men. The gap in median earnings between graduate and non-graduate men continues to grow strongly until individuals’ mid-40s.
  • Median earnings growth for female graduates in their 30s is moderate, but still higher than that of non-graduates. We predict median real earnings of female graduates who were 30 in 2016 to rise by around £5k from age 30 to age 40, compared with no growth for non-graduate women. Among degree subjects, law and medicine stand out in that their female graduates do see large growth in median earnings between ages 35 and 40.
  • Accordingly, the causal effect of undergraduate degrees on earnings grows after age 30 for both men and women, but much more strongly for men.  Average pre-tax returns for men at a given age increase from around 5% on average at age 30 to more than 30% on average at age 40, after which they increase more slowly to reach around 35% from age 50. For women, average pre-tax returns increase from around 25% at age 30 to more than 40% at age 40, but then fall again to between 30% and 35% at ages 50 and 60.
  • The average lifetime earnings gain from undergraduate degrees is substantial for both men and women, but much smaller than the difference between the gross earnings of graduates and non-graduates. The discounted difference in lifetime earnings between graduates and non-graduates is £430k for men and £260k for women. Once we account for differences in characteristics between those who do and do not attend HE, we obtain a discounted lifetime increase in gross earnings of £240k for men and £ 140k for women as a result of attending HE.
  • The average gain in net lifetime earnings is even smaller due to the progressivity of the tax system. Once taxes and student loans have been taken into account, the earnings premium declines to around £130k for men and £100k for women (£350k and £230k with no discounting). In percentage terms, this represents a gain in average net lifetime earnings of around 20% for both men and women.
  • The subject studied at university is hugely important. Net discounted lifetime returns for women are close to zero on average for creative arts and languages graduates, but more than £250k for law, economics or medicine. Men studying creative arts have negative financial returns, while men studying medicine or economics have average returns of more than half a million pounds.
  • However, studying a subject with high average returns is no guarantee of high returns. While average returns to law and economics are high, many students will see much lower benefits from studying those subjects, and a few will see much higher returns. In contrast, subjects such as education and nursing do not have very high returns on average, but women who study these subjects almost universally achieve positive returns.
  • Overall, we expect 85% of women and around three-quarters of men to achieve positive net lifetime returns. This means that around one in five undergraduates would have been better off financially had they not gone to university. At the other end of the spectrum, the 10% of graduates with the highest returns will on average gain more than half a million pounds in discounted present value terms.
  • Financing undergraduate degrees is expensive for the taxpayer, but on average increased tax revenues more than make up for it. Overall, we estimate that the expected gain to the exchequer of an individual enrolling in an undergraduate course is around £110k per student for men and £30k per student for women.
  • However, these gains are driven mainly by the highest-earning graduates. We expect the exchequer to gain more than half a million pounds on average from the 10% of graduates with the highest exchequer returns, but to make a loss on the degrees of around 40% of men and half of women. This means that nearly half of all students receive a net government subsidy for their degrees, even after tax and National Insurance payments have been taken into account. The selectivity of the institution has an influence too:

Michelle Donelan (Universities Minister) writes for the TelegraphUniversities minister announces crackdown on ‘low quality’ courses.  The below excerpts are interesting because they seem to suggest the Minister gets the point that earnings aren’t everything, and that low quality means poor teaching [measured somehow] AND relatively low returns for graduates (compared to other courses at other universities in the same subject that have higher earnings). Hopefully it also means ‘adjusted for background and prior attainment’!

  • We know that medicine and law, for example, will generally lead to higher earnings than languages but that does not mean to say that one degree is better than another. Its value extends far beyond what anyone is likely to earn during their lifetime and is merely one of the things to add to the mix when planning this stage of your life. 
  • There will always be some courses which do not lead to increased earnings for graduates. Value is relative and for many people their degree will lead to an immensely rewarding career even though the financial returns may be lower and society as a whole is the better for it.
  • What concerns me most are those courses that deliver neither the high-quality teaching students deserve, nor the value for money that they and the taxpayer rightly expect. In some subjects there is a very high variability in returns depending on where that subject is studied, which students need to be aware of.
  • This is one of the reasons why we created a new regulator, the Office for Students, to make sure standards throughout the sector can stand comparison with the best in the world. I fully back the regulator to step in and use its powers where providers are falling short, and am determined to crack down on low-quality courses. They do nothing for the reputation of universities and they will do even less for students who sign up for them.
  • And for those universities who are providing a world-class education, I expect them to continue offering a world-class experience. The time spent at university will help shape an individual, adding layers to their character through independence, knowledge, experiences and friendships – and no amount of data crunching can put a figure on that.

HEPI – Careers Service view on Graduate Outcomes driving institutional change

The Higher Education Policy Institute has also published a graduate outcome related report although this one contemplates change from a different angle. Getting on: graduate employment and its influence on UK HE is a more discursive paper addressing whether recent years’ policy changes (TEF and the new Graduate Outcomes survey accompanied by the tracking of graduate salary data through LEO) has changed the nature of HE institutions. It examines the sector by drawing on the views of Heads of Careers Services via the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services survey. Key points:

  • 76% of careers services have seen a change in student engagement with careers in the last three years (24% no change).
  • 93% of careers services see the increased policy focus on graduate outcomes as positive (2% negative; 5% neither positive nor negative).
  • The new Graduate Outcomes survey and the OfS Access and Participation plans are having the greatest impact on how careers services operate, rather than graduate salary data.
  • 69% say Graduate Outcomes has the most impact
  • 19% say Access and Participation plans has the most impact.
  • 2% say the LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data) has the greatest impact.
  • 45% of careers services have seen an increase in funding to cover additional demand on their services; 55% haven’t.
  • The report also covers qualitative analysis of the views of careers services, including how they, their university and students classify a successful outcome from university.

Rachel Hewitt (report author), HEPI,  said: ‘Policy changes in recent years have led to employability being a mainstream activity across all universities, rather than the specialism of a few. While some may rail against the ’employability agenda’, it is clear that universities are now better serving the interests of their students by supporting them through their transition into the workplace.’

Responding to the HEPI report NUS (Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President for HE) said:

  • “The focus on employability and graduate outcomes is not having a positive effect on students. We see this through the increased levels of stress and anxiety that they experience. Since the tripling of tuition fees, the burden of debt hangs heavily over students entering higher education and this explains why there is a greater focus among some on their future careers. As careers services have received more funding it is a natural step that they will see more use from students.
  • But this change in focus shifts attention from many of the most important benefits of studying and the transformative nature of education. Graduate outcomes is a reductive measure for whether someone has had a perceived ‘successful’ education and the report highlights the disparities between the measures institutions and students care most about.
  • It would be more insightful to look at the impact the focus on employability has had on students and their wellbeing.”

Part time study

Ahead of the budget UUK have written to ministers to urge them to reconsider the cut off points for part time learners to access student finance. The current restrictions are that students must study at least 25% of a full time equivalent per year and must commit to an approved qualification up front. Changes to these requirements would allow fractional learners to engage with HE level study in smaller bite sized chunks. UUK argue this would encourage more learners to engage or reskill, including those with commitments such as caring responsibilities or disabilities. Previous UUK publication Lost Learners (2018) highlights the three main reasons potential students chose not to enrol are:

  • 44% unable to afford tuition fees
  • 42% cannot afford the cost of living whilst studying
  • 26% course is not flexible enough to fit alongside their other life commitments

The Augar Review also highlights that having to study at 25% intensity and follow a specified qualification has been a major factor in the decline of part-time adult study. The Learning and Work Institute state that adult learning participation is as a 23 year low point with participation fallen to a record low the last three years in a row.

UUK call on the Government to run a pilot scheme targeting funding at communities with skills shortages.   Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, said:

  • We know this government is committed to investment in regional economies and to helping people of all ages and backgrounds to reskill and retrain. Universities have an important role to play in that, but the current system counts against many would-be learners by restricting access to the financial support they need to develop their skills. There should be more than one accepted path to progress in higher education, to recognise that aspiring students of all ages have different circumstances and different needs. 
  • It is time for universities and government to work together on bold new ideas to resolve the long-term skills challenges of our changing economy. Breaking down barriers to studying shorter courses would not only help students to build-up qualifications over time but boost productivity across diverse regions, target local skills needs and support economic and social regeneration.

Technical Education

Degree Apprenticeships

Education Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, has written to the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education to ask them to review their approval for a level 7 apprenticeship which includes an MBA or other masters level qualification in management. The DfE state:

  • In his letter, the Secretary of State reiterated his determination to ensure levy funds are used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or those from disadvantaged backgrounds, rather than paying for staff who already have a degree and are highly qualified to receive an MBA.

You’ll recall when Theresa May’s Government set out to reinvent technical education there was a big push for degree apprenticeships. Universities were urged to embrace and offer the qualifications in areas which served local or national industrial and economic priorities. Meanwhile the Government’s introduction of the apprenticeship levy was unsuccessful and instead of improving quality and opportunity it resulted in declining levels of new starts, amid reports of some apprenticeship providers gaming the system. Overall the profile of apprenticeship provision changed as the higher and degree level apprenticeships took off. The Government became concerned that the cost of the higher level provision was significant alongside the reduction in availability or lower numbers of level 2 and 3 apprenticeship starts. Gavin’s letter represents the Government trying to regain control over the apprenticeship system. They still want degree level provision within the genuine apprenticeship form and we may see either Government or the Institute tightening control over the programme areas in the future. Requiring the qualification to be an essential regulatory or professional requirement also provides the Government with wriggle room. Here is an excerpt from Gavin’s letter:

  • I am absolutely determined to make sure levy funds are being used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or helping more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead, and that we ensure good value for money in the apprenticeships offer…In that context, [I] am unconvinced that having an apprenticeship standard that includes an MBA paid for by the levy is in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships or provides value for money. I question whether an MBA is an essential regulatory or professional requirement to work in this field…I am of the view that we absolutely need to safeguard the integrity of the apprenticeship brand and value for money of the levy.

Investing in Higher Technical Education

Millionplus published Levelling up: investing in higher technical education at universities in England this week . Amongst the content it covers the same argument as UUK above – that the lack of financial support for part time students and the introduction of higher tuition fees have resulted in a reduction of Level 4 and 5 study. Dods go into detail on why level 4 and 5 technical education has declined:

  • In 2008 support for Equivalent and Lower Qualifications were withdrawn, barring students who had previously experienced higher education funding from studying programmes to support retraining or for re-entering the workforce
  • The long-term impact of the 2008 financial crash on the training budgets of public and private sector employers also contributed to the sharp decline in higher technical education.
  • The level of provision has been declining since 2008, with a sharp drop taking place after the 2012 university fee changes in England introduced by the then coalition government.
  • The government has, through the Sainsbury Review and the introduction of the 15 [T level, technical] routes, recognised that this area of education needs a new focus and targeted attention. However, those reforms are not going to be enough.

In Scotland, there is a much greater level of integration between bachelor and sub-bachelor levels of study than in England. In Scotland 14% of the whole of the HE system is made up of students studying HNCs and HNDs, in England it is 0.4%.  However, a decline of 45% in the number of students engaged in “other sub-degree” mirrors English trends– provision has been shrinking in Scotland as well.

There is discussion on how students are categorised in England, i.e. undertaking a level 6 programme despite years 1 and 2 being level 4 and 5 study. They argue this misleads thinking when examining level 4 and 5 study in technical areas that only standalone level 4/5 provision is appropriate (rather than the same as provision on the level 6 journey).  I.e. there is no “missing middle” of sub-degree qualifications in the English HE system. The report suggests that the Augar review understood this. Moreover:

This data should suggest to policymakers that the fundamental challenge is not a trade-off between progressing younger people either to level 4/5 or to level 6, but how we can best enable 16-25 year olds, and those later in life, to successfully complete level 3 study which can provide them with a gateway of opportunity for progression into higher education or directly into employment.

There are a host of report recommendations which we’ll avoid covering in detail. In short:

  • Level 4 and 5 (L4/5) should receive full maintenance grant support (to increase the take up of work-focused higher education).
  • All L4/5 providers to register with OfS to guarantee high quality provision and access to student finance.
  • Universities are as much a key players in the provision of higher technical education as colleges.
  • Sort the L4/5 data out to better understand nature and scope of technical education across college and university providers.
  • All level qualifications should enable progression at any life stage and financially support level 3 students to remove barriers to study.

The DfE consulted on higher technical education reform (July-Sept 2019). Like the Augar Review the Government’s response is notably late. Most likely technical changes will sit alongside however, the Government decide to implement elements of Augar, T levels will undoubtedly be of influence, and some thinkers suggest TEF changes could also be wrapped up within this surprise parcel.

Education Policy Institute (EPI)

The EPI has published a report questioning what England can learn from other nations in designing technical education funding systems. The report finds that T levels are a significant step in the direction of high performing countries, however, there is a way to before English upper secondary technical provision resembles the model and success of other nations. EPI suggest tackling the necessary issues would require substantial levels of additional government investment.

  • UK has historically funded upper secondary technical education at lower rates than academic education (23% less per student in 2016, lower than the OECD average) – this is not the case in most other countries.
  • In other countries subsidies are provided to employers to compensate for the time that an apprentice is training outside the job or to compensate for disadvantaged intakes that drive costs up. In England, subsidies are concentrated on small and medium companies.
  • More generous financial support is available in other countries. In England support funding to students has fallen by 71% per student in real terms between 2010/11 and 2018/19.
  • While over a half of students in England follow the technical pathway in upper secondary, only 16% do so through apprenticeship training. In EU its 27%.
  • English technical upper secondary education is a shorter duration (2 years, even 1 for some apprenticeships).  In high performing countries it takes 3-4 years.
  • 15% of English students are in the highest-cost groups of subjects (including engineering, manufacturing, and construction); in OECD countries its 34%.
  • The curriculum in England is relatively narrow. In the other countries many technical students  continue to study their local language, a foreign language, maths and other general subjects to equip them with a sound knowledge base.

The introduction of T levels and other proposed reforms will bring England closer to technical provision in high performing countries:

  1. Funding will be rebalanced towards more technical subjects and funding levels will increase compared to the status quo with a corresponding increase in teaching hours.
  2. Students starting from lower levels will receive an additional funded year to prepare them for the T level study programme.
  3. Industry placements will improve students’ readiness for entry to the labour market..
  4. The requirement to pass English and maths at GCSE level will result in more young people studying these subjects.

However, important gaps will remain:

  1. Most students will study T levels over just two years.
  2. Only those not achieving the level expected at 16 will continue to study English and maths and the curriculum will remain narrower than in other countries.
  3. Industry placements will remain less substantial than elsewhere.
  4. These improvements largely only apply to those taking T levels, and it is still unclear how dominant these qualifications will become.

Recommendations:

  • Funding for technical pathways: The government should provide the 16-19 phase with a more enduring financial settlement to sustain quality provision in the long term.
  • Increase the number of starts for younger apprentices:  The government should consider the options to increase apprenticeship uptake among young people, including further redistribution of levy funding towards younger apprentices, or other incentives for employers to hire younger learners.
  • Government should review the adequacy of student support, particularly whether recent changes have left disadvantaged students worse off.
  • Review curriculum breadth and programme length: The government should commission an independent review to consider whether the breadth of upper secondary study, for all students, is properly providing the basic and technical skills that young people need for the labour market and for progression to further study. Where this leads to increased provision, this must be matched by appropriate funding rates.

Working life longevity

The Social Market Foundation has published Work, education, skills and the 100-year life exploring the policy changes needed to ‘ensure the workforce is ready for extreme longevity.’ It touches on the need to retrain for an extended working period during an individual’s lifetime.

  • As life expectancy continues to rise, the number of years spent working is likely to increase.
  • The 50-year career will become the norm.
  • The career chosen at 18 or 21 is not likely to be the career of the individual when they retire. Changes to the labour market, technology and the wider environment could mean that at various points in a person’s working life they need to change careers and retrain. [So would the restrictions on studying another equivalent level qualification place graduates at a disadvantage? Currently the rules bar access to fees and finance funding (in all but priority areas), this would prevent retraining at an equivalent high level in a different subject for existing graduates.]
  • EPI estimate people should plan for five careers in their lifetime. Yet 40% of 34-54 year olds are unwilling to change careers.
  • Longer working lives will affect employers too. Employers are concerned about increased pension contributions, time out of the workforce due illness. Needing to reskill and train staff was split but overall employers were less worried about this factor.

EPI lobby for the following to address working life longevity:

  • Individual Learning Accounts  (they suggest Singapore as an example)
  • Modular learning and an inquiry into the fall of mature and part-time students.
  • Reallocate the money earmarked for the National Skills Fund for retraining those aged over 40 particularly in industries where there is a risk of automation or industrial decline.
  • Reduce Employer National Insurance contributions for certain workers over 50.
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and GPs should proactively enable people to work for longer through advice, support, and social prescribing of workplace health support.
  • Create a Minister for Lifelong Learning and Training who has responsibility over longer lives, work and skills, positioned between DfE, BEIS and DWP.

Access and Participation

Social Mobility effect of school admissions: The Sutton Trust released their fairer school admissions report at the end of February. In it they raise social mobility questions by highlighting that there is a wealth divide between low and middle income families accessing state comprehensive schools. They state that the best performing comprehensives only take half the number of disadvantaged pupils as an average state school would. And that it costs £45,700 more to buy a house in the catchment area serving a top comprehensive. The Sutton Trust wants to see a fairer system where access to schools is not as closely linked to income stating it would have benefits in terms of overall attainment, teacher recruitment and retention and social cohesion. They are calling for more balanced intakes overall, with every high-performing school committed to admitting more poorer pupils. They state comprehensives should pledge to prioritise applicants eligible for the pupil premium, to create more socially balanced intakes. Schools who are responsible for their own admissions should introduce ballots, with an inner catchment area based on proximity and the remainder of places allocated by ballot. On grammar schools they would like to give priority to applicants eligible for the pupil premium who meet the entrance criteria. They should provide a minimum ten hours test preparation for all pupils to provide a level playing field for the 11-plus and improve their outreach work to families from disadvantaged backgrounds. More details in the second Sutton Trust report: School Places: A Fair Choice?

Lords Debate – Working Classes Educational Opportunities

Baroness Morris lead a debate within Lords to take note of the educational opportunities available to children and young people from working class backgrounds. It critiqued Government initiatives including catch up clubs and the abolition of Sure Start. The Baroness said that the working class and middle class were generally pursuing different post-16 routes, with disadvantaged children entering a sector that had experienced a 20% reduction in funding.

Lord Woolley commented on disparities in outcomes between students, stating white working-class students outside big cities experienced a bottom-up lack of investment in good jobs, or in schools, contributing to communities having low expectations. Conversely, education, for the BAME community was often seen as a route out of disadvantage. However, BAME working-class students face the race penalty disadvantage that their white counterparts do not. (This comes from UCL data highlighting that BAME young people were  58% more likely to be unemployed and 47% more likely to have a zero-hours contract.)

Lord Knight of Weymouth asserted that that could be no change in working class communities without regeneration through education:

  • “that system must be designed for a long life of continuous reskilling—one that prepares people for a working life of 60 years, multiple careers, being great at interacting with machines as well as humans, but also out-competing machines at being human. It must be one that accepts that analytics will replace qualifications and that universities will have to innovate to deliver lifelong learning rather than a debt-loaded rite of passage, as at present”.

Baroness Wilcox: Those on free school meals and receiving the pupil premium are 27% less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C (grades 9 to 6).

Lord Livermore said that getting a degree from a leading university was one of the surest paths to social mobility. She was concerned that working class students receive a lack of advice, guidance and support in navigating the university application process. She lamented that this lack of support seemed to be permeating the HE sector, with disadvantaged students disproportionately more likely to not return as second year students. Concluding, she endorsed the Sutton Trust’s proposed policies of; contextual admissions, post-qualification applications, greater evaluation of university outreach activities, increased numbers of degree and higher-level apprenticeships, and the restoration of maintenance grants for students to reduce the debt burden on the least well off.

Lord Storey (Lib Dem Education spokesperson) spoke of post- 16 education stating that there should be clear signposting about the best vocational opportunities and apprenticeship schemes available: “This would help to increase parity of esteem with academic routes”.

Lord Bassam (Opposition spokesperson for FE &HE) highlighted the Sutton Trust tuition fee research which suggests that student debt may be having an impact on the aspirations of children before they even take their GCSEs and asserts that the removal of maintenance grants in favour of loans was deterring working-class young people. He also criticised the impact of predicted grades and conditional offers on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, insisting that, “poor predictions can blight young people’s life chances, often becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moreover, young people with huge potential but low predictions stand little chance of proper consideration from the top universities”.

He also raised concerns over UCAS personal statements and references as a method in assessing an individual’s aptitude and ability, and intimated that was following the OfS university admissions review closely. On admissions diversity he said: “At present, half of all children in receipt of free school meals are educated in just a fifth of all schools, and more than half of universities in England have a white working-class student intake of less than 5%, despite the fact that 75% of universities, including the Russell Group institutions, claim to use “contextual information” to admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

Baroness Berridge spoke for the Government and praised the role of the OfS in ensuring that universities produced ambitious access and participation plans. On contextual admissions she said that the Government “will look in appropriate circumstances at the background of students”, whilst stating that post-qualification applications could cut disadvantaged young people.

Admissions Review: Research Professional has a thoughtful article delving into contextual admissions which is well worth the quick read.

HE stats

HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) published income and expenditure data for HE institutions.

Income

  • Tuition fees and education contracts: £18,875bn in 2017/18, up from 15,541bn in 2014/15
  • Funding body grants: £5,112bn in 2017/18, down from £5,345bn in 2014/15
  • Research Grants and Contracts: £6,225bn, up from £5,968bn in 2014/15
  • Other income: £7,203bn in 2017/18 up from £5,902bn in 2014/15

Expenditure

  • Staff costs: £20,071bn in 2017/18, up from £18,210bn in 2014/15
  • Other operating expenses: £13.8bn in 2017/18, up from £11,770bn in 2014/15
  • Depreciation: £2,467bn in 2017/18, up from £1,986bn in 2014/15

Mental Health

Thursday was University Mental Health Day. Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, – in conjunction with the DfE and the Department of Health and Social Care – announced a funding competition: £1million for innovative student mental health projects.

  • Students identified as being at high risk of poor mental health will benefit from a £1m funding boost. Research has identified such groups as including black/ethnic minority students, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, those with disabilities, and those identifying as LGBTQ+.
  • Successful projects will also target groups of students who might face barriers in accessing support, like carers, part-time and international students and those on placements as part of their course.
  • The projects will also be judged on how they use innovative and technological approaches to addressing mental health issues, in line with the new NHS drive for improvement in digital support.

OfS will hold the money and approve proposals.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:

  • “All students deserve the opportunity to thrive at university and college, but for too many mental ill-health remains a significant barrier. We know that there are many factors which can impact the wellbeing of students and situations where students may be or feel more vulnerable. Through this funding we want to support innovative and strategic solutions that can help ensure that all students, regardless of their background or how they study, get the support they need.
  • By working together with partners including the NHS and charities, universities and colleges have the power to address the complex issues associated with student mental ill-health. We will be sharing the effective practice that comes from this funding and driving improved mental health support for all students.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “Going to university can be a really challenging time, especially if you face added pressures or if you are balancing studies alongside other commitments like carers and mature students. It is vital no student is put at risk by not getting the help they need. Universities must step up to this challenge, and this funding will help them and the sector by looking at ways support can be better targeted and improved.”

Despite the fresh announcement the funds are the same as those announced in June 2019, the change is that the bidding is now open. Research Professional cover the announcement here.

The NUS spoke out on University Mental Health Day. Eva Crossan Jory, NUS Vice President Welfare commented:

  • “Through my two years as Vice President Welfare I have seen the incredible work students and student’s unions have done to lobby for better mental health care on our campuses, but it shouldn’t be this way: we shouldn’t have to campaign for colleges and universities to do this work.
  • Universities need to acknowledge the structural barriers they create that lead to poor mental health. Our poor mental health cannot be separated from the intense pressure and competition that is deemed as a necessary aspect of our educational experience. From the spiralling costs of accommodation to the need for a better system of student funding, the student mental health crisis won’t be stopped until the problems are tackled at the root.
  • There is also intense pressure put on staff, from precarious contracts to over work, we cannot demand better mental health support for students without also fighting for better mental health care for staff in our universities.
  • Although we have seen significant movement in the sector on student mental health we must ensure that signing up to charters is not where this work stops. We need real investment made into both university services but also the NHS which is being criminally underfunded. We must also ensure the services we campaign for and win are culturally competent. That they acknowledge the structural inequalities that exist. We need a support system that understands students are not one homogeneous group.
  • We’re urging our members and students to have those hard conversations with senior leaders and challenge them, to start talking honestly and openly about the whole of student mental health. Only that way can we reach the goals of a truly mentally healthy whole university.”

Research

There were a series of  research focussed oral questions in Parliament this week. Here’s the edited version:

Julian Sturdy: What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development.

  • Alok Sharma (SoS BEIS):The Government are already increasing public spending on research and development by £7 billion over five years, the biggest increase in public funding for R&D on record. Every pound of public expenditure on R&D leverages a further £1.40 of additional private investment, generating even greater returns for the UK.

Julian Sturdy: Given that nearly 50% of the core science budget currently goes to just three cities in southern England, can the Secretary of State assure me that the increase in R&D funding will do more to favour the regions outside the south, so that in future both my city…and other regional hubs across Yorkshire…will receive their fair share for the purposes of research and innovation?

  • Alok Sharma: I absolutely agree that that is part of our levelling-up agenda. We want to support centres of excellence across the country… we will set out our ambitious play strategy for R&D in the second half of this year.

Bim Afolami: [Mentions agritech start ups and incubators – asks Minister to endorse Rothamsted Research  and visit].

  • Alok Sharma:[Agrees to] meet him to discuss how the Government can support his proposals.

Mrs Drummond: .. what further action is being taken on the proposal for a UK advanced research projects agency, following the departmental meeting last year?

  • Alok Sharma: The UK is ranked fifth in the global innovation index, and our strengths in R&D mean that we are well placed to develop a new funding body to specialise in high-risk, high-reward projects. … I am absolutely determined that the UK should be a global science superpower, and my Department is making good progress on a UK advanced research projects agency. We are engaging with a wide range of researchers and innovators, and we will set out further plans in due course.

Chi Onwurah (Lab) (Newcastle upon Tyne Central):…European research programme.. For every £1 we put into the European Union programme, we got £1.30 back, and such funding is essential if we are to retain our place as a global science superpower, so will the Secretary of State boost UK science by confirming that we will be going for full associate membership?

  • Alok Sharma: Of course I want the UK to be a science superpower, and we have set out our views on expanding the R&D budget. On Europe, our EU negotiating objectives are very clear: the UK will consider participation in Horizon Europe and Euratom, but this will be part of the wider negotiations.

Geraint Davies (Lab/Co-op) (Swansea West): [Unclean air and electric cars, subsidies]

  • Alok Sharma: ..We currently have 460,000 green jobs in this country, and we want to push that to 2 million. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the specific point that he has raised.

Jim Shannon (DUP) (Strangford):Across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, universities have played a critical role in research and development. [Requests specific help for two local institutions.]

  • Alok Sharma: Of course, UKRI provides funding for a whole range of universities. Again, if the hon. Gentleman has specific ideas for projects, perhaps he would come forward with them.

Mr Richard Bacon (Con) (South Norfolk): It is possible to build a house that costs nothing to heat, but that is not happening at scale at the moment. Does my right hon. Friend consider it part of his Department’s responsibilities to support research into making this more widespread, which would be hugely beneficial for the planet?

  • Alok Sharma: I know that my hon. Friend is an authority on the house building sector..he raises an important point. We know that 15% of emissions are from housing, and we are looking to see how we can bring that down as part of the net zero target.

And a written question on levelling up:

Q – Neil O’Brien (Harborough): What steps he is taking with UK Research and Innovation to increase funding allocated to projects in regions of lower productivity.

  • A – Amanda Solloway (Derby North): We will publish an ambitious place strategy for R&D in the next few months. This will build on existing and emerging research and innovation capabilities across the country, enabling areas to ‘level up’ and reach their economic potential. This is an important part of our ambition to increase R&D investment across the economy.

Research Professional have an article how Greg Clark (Chair) is keen to incorporate social sciences, arts and humanities within the remit of the Commons Science and Technology select committee.  RP also have a piece covering Germany’s statistics announcing they have hit 3% R&D spending target. And an article on the importance of metrics and measuring impact within research.

HE focussed Parliamentary Questions

PG Fees

Q – Dr Rupa Huq: what assessment he has made of the potential merits of abolishing application fees for postgraduate students; and if he will make a statement.

A – Michelle Donelan: Higher education providers in England are autonomous bodies and therefore have discretion over the application fees they charge for postgraduate courses.

Strikes

A question asking what guidance the Department has issued on tuition fee refunds as a result of cancelled lectures during industrial action.

Apprenticeships

Q – Sir David Evennett: What steps his Department is taking to promote apprenticeships as an alternative to university.

The full answer is here. Excerpts below:

A – Gillian Keegan:… We are continuing to promote all apprenticeships as a genuine, high-quality alternative to traditional academic only study for people of all ages and from all backgrounds. We launched the third phase of our apprenticeships marketing campaignFire it Up, in January, which promotes how apprenticeships can provide opportunities for ambitious young people.

… In January 2018 we introduced a legal requirement for schools to give training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils about technical qualifications and apprenticeships, so that young people hear about the alternatives to academic routes. We also offer a free service to schools through the Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge (ASK) project to ensure that teachers have the knowledge and support they need to enable them to promote apprenticeships, including higher and degree apprenticeships, to their students.

…We have also worked with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) to support employers to raise awareness of their apprenticeship opportunities to prospective employees through an online higher and degree apprenticeship vacancy listing.

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Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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