Posts By / jforster

Science and Technology Committee – Leaving the EU report

The House of Commons Science and Technology committee’s report into leaving the EU has been published.

To quote the main points from the summary:

  • “The Government has provided some helpful and welcome short-term reassurances in relation to underwriting EU funding for research and maintaining access to student loans, but the Government’s strategy for communicating these recent announcements is insufficient.”
  • “we are not convinced that the needs of science and research are at the heart of the Department for Exiting the European Union’s (DExEU) thinking and planning for Brexit. Science should have a strong voice as part of the negotiations. DExEU needs a Chief Scientific Adviser urgently. The Government should also involve the interim Chair of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)”
  • “the Government should now act to reduce uncertainty by setting out a vision for science. This should include commitments to raise science expenditure as a percentage of GDP (as we have previously urged).  It should also include measures to attract skilled researchers and students, to be taken forward in Brexit negotiations separately from immigration controls more broadly, and should include an immediate commitment to exempt EU researchers already working here from any wider potential immigration controls.”
  • “The Government must also seek to capitalise on the opportunities of Brexit, including in terms of setting regulations to facilitate accessing markets and research collaborations beyond the EU.”

On the EU funding guarantee, the report concludes that this is helpful to provide reassurance but that it doesn’t go very far, because it would be strange if the EU were not required to honour its contractual commitments under awards made before the UK leaves the EU and so it is unlikely that there will ever be a call under the guarantee.  However, given that there was widespread concern – whether justified or not – in the summer, the guarantee has been given in order to encourage people to keep bidding and to provide reassurance of the government’s commitment to mitigating these potential direct negative effects of Brexit.  However, if this is its main purpose, the report notes that it hasn’t really been communicated very well – hence the high level point noted in the report’s summary.

What matters to science and research?  The report highlights 5 main issues:

  • Funding – e.g. on-going participation in H2020 after Brexit or a UK replacement for it
  • People – guarantees for those already here and attracting EU researchers after Brexit, and Erasmus
  • Collaboration – being able to participate in international projects and influence the EU research agenda
  • Regulation – influencing EU regulation which might otherwise stifle innovation
  • Facilities – access for UK researchers to EU facilities

Note on people that the Education Committee are running a separate inquiry into the impact of Brexit on staff and students, and we have just submitted evidence – read it here.  The report notes that it is not clear whether Brexit will mean that EU staff become subject to the same controls as international staff – and of course there is about to be a new consultation on what the controls for international employees are going to be.

The report calls for a specific guarantee for staff already in post.  Note that Jo Johnson made helpful noises about this in the House of Commons this week – he “expects” that this assurance will be given but it depends on reciprocity (so it will come later in the negotitations?).

HE policy update

Dear all

Schools that work for everyone consultation

In addition to the consultation workshop (second one on 17th November) we have set up a short survey for staff members who have experience of working with schools as governors or otherwise – please complete the survey here and let us have your views (closing on 18th November).  Please do pass it on to other colleagues if you know that they are involved with schools.  I would also be grateful for relevant research, evidence or case studies about what does and doesn’t work to improve attainment in schools.


The big story this week is of course the court decision that Parliament must be consulted before article 50 is triggered.  It is hard to say at the moment what the impact will be, there will be a government appeal, the House of Commons may well approve it (after what will no doubt be a lively debate), there may be a more difficult debate in the House of Lords.  The only effect may be a delay (although the government say there won’t).  There is also speculation about a possible early election either before a vote on article 50 (if it looks difficult) or after if the government loses.  There will also be efforts to link approval of the article 50 issue to a further approval of the deal and a possible second referendum  – the latter seems unlikely to succeed.

The Committee for Exiting the EU is running an inquiry into government objectives in the Brexit negotiations.  There is no deadline but written submissions are requested as soon as possible to inform later oral evidence sessions.

In an article in the Telegraph on 28th October, Alastair Jarvis of UUK writes about government priorities for HE in the Brexit debate:  “So what should Government do to maximise the positive impact of universities? In my view, there are four priorities: encouraging students from around the world to choose to study in the UK; making the UK an attractive destination for talented staff; enhancing international research partnerships; and increasing public investment in research and innovation.”

Using research to influence policy: Kate Dommett from the University of Sheffield in the Guardian on 1st November, on why Michael Gove may have a point and experts need to raise their game “There are some easy ways to improve things. At a basic level, academics can focus on timely ways of translating and communicating their research, in a form that is clear, accessible and relevant to parliamentary requirements. They can ensure that expertise is targeted at the most appropriate part of parliament, recognising that the various elements of the system – MPs, advisers, committee clerks and others – have different knowledge requirements. The deeper challenge is to incorporate an understanding of what different audiences want into the research process itself. Whether working with parliament, government, charities or the media, academics can benefit from engaging in a more open dialogue throughout the research process, to ensure that evidence and expert input come in a useful and accessible form.”

Teaching Excellence: The HEFCE TEF guidance was issued this week along with the template for the provider submission, and HEFCE launched its National Mixed Methodology Learning Gain Project to add to the existing pilot studies.  The new study will involve 27,000 students from 10 organisations.  There is an interesting article on Wonkhe looking at learning gain and other alternative metrics that could be used in the TEF

International Students: Former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has criticised Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s proposals to limit the sector’s ability to recruit international students based on quality. The article, which appeared on Conservative Home, questioned how ‘high-quality’ universities and courses would be defined.  The consultation on this is expected at the end of the month – possibly after the autumn statement.

Credit transfer.

The government is due to respond on to its consultation on credit transfer and accelerated degrees before Christmas.  The consultation apparently received 4500 responses (which will have been the result of a request for evidence from individual students about their own experiences.  Credit transfer already happens but in a provocative and interesting article anticipating the response, Wonkhe suggest 4 areas for review:

  • “Credit can only flourish if it is constituted as a form of common currency, grounded in the clear demonstration of outcomes against a national standard (the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications) and subject benchmarks.”
  • “If providers don’t recognize credit given by another higher education institution, the implication is that QAA’s expectations for standards, and the whole UK quality assurance system, might be called into question – a dangerous double standard.”
  • “In hierarchical subjects, where higher level work builds directly on a lower level grounding (I need to do Biochemistry 1 before I can do Biochemistry 2), then there is a need for a close matching of course content, but not all subjects are like this. When learners are making a substantive personal and financial commitments to their education this is unnecessarily restrictive.”
  • “most graduates don’t go into employment in areas directly related to their degree subject and learners who are in employment, seeking to transfer credit and have their wider learning recognised, may find that traditional honours degrees are not the most appropriate progression route or benchmarking point.”



Stern review of the REF – what next?

ref-logoThe Stern review of the REF was published in July 2016. The government have accepted the main recommendations, and we are expecting in November a HEFCE technical consultation on implementation – to affect the next REF exercise (probably in 2021). It is expected that the new arrangements will be settled by the summer of 2017.

So what did Stern recommend – and what is likely to be in the consultation?

  1. The main thing that Stern might have done, but did not do – following widespread concern in the sector – was move to a metrics-based approach for the REF. Peer review and case studies will remain and there will be an opportunity to celebrate success wherever it is found in the REF – not a metrics based ranking. There may be new metrics, and a new Forum for Responsible Research Metrics has been launched, but the key is that these metrics should be used responsibly and carefully.
  2. All research active staff should be returned in the REF (and allocated to a unit of assessment).
  3. Outputs should be submitted at Unit of Assessment level with a set average number per FTE, but with flexibility for some faculty members to submit more and others less than the average. A total cap should be set based upon two outputs on average per FTE with an individual cap (e.g. six) and a minimum per FTE (potentially 0).
    There has been some concern expressed about these changes – Maddalaine Ansell (University Alliance) via Wonkhe and James Wilsdon in The Guardian, 29th July 2016. At BU, our strategy is that all academic staff should be active in research as part of Fusion, so we will not be moving towards teaching only contracts. We hope the sector will not do so either – we will consider pressing for all staff to be included and remove any risks around the definition of “research active” to avoid this
  1. The total number of outputs per UoA should be adjusted so that it does not significantly exceed the 190,000 reviewed in REF2014. This may require the average number of outputs submitted per faculty member to be below two.
  2. Outputs should not be portable. The review proposes that outputs should be submitted by the HEI where the output was demonstrably generated and that work should be allocated to the HEI where they were based when work accepted for publication. There may be some flexibility around maximum numbers when staff have moved- e.g. maximum three outputs from those who have left.
    Concern has been expressed that this will restrict employment options for early career researchers, e.g. Paul Kirby. James Wilsdon again “the broader move to reduce output numbers and decouple them from individuals should reduce pressure on those at the start of their career, or who take time out of research because of childcare, illness or caring responsibilities” Other views: – it might be fairer to early career researchers who will be recruited on potential not previous publications
  1. Institutions should be given more flexibility to showcase their interdisciplinary and collaborative impacts by submitting institutional level impact case studies
  2. Impact should be based on research of demonstrable quality. However, case studies could be linked to a research activity and a body of work as well as to a broad range of research outputs
  3. Guidance on the REF should make it clear that impact case studies should not be narrowly interpreted, need not solely focus on socioeconomic impacts but should also include impact on government policy, public engagement and understanding, cultural life, academic impacts outside the field and impacts on teaching – the report recommends that research leading to impact on curricula and/ or pedagogy should be included. BU welcomes these changes and we look forward to seeing more details of these plans.

So watch this space – once the consultation is launched the Research and Knowledge Exchange team will be working with the policy team to prepare a BU response. You can read more about BU’s policy and public affairs work on our intranet pages.

HE Policy update

Teaching Excellence

The Higher Education Academy released a report on teaching excellence in a range of subjects – part of their response to the teaching excellence framework.  It includes a useful literature review and a report following interviews with academics.  The conclusions of the report include:

  • pedagogic approaches are different for different subjects – the roles and relationships between teachers and students, the degree of independence and engagement expected of students, the sources of knowledge and their modes of transmission, and the balance between a subject -centred and a student-centred emphasis;
  • on some important issues, there is a lack of clarity about causality, especially in distinguishing between the effects of input and process factors. There is very considerable diversity in the HE student population, in relation to social and educational backgrounds, aspirations, support networks, nationality, age, race and gender and so on. To what extent do different students require different pedagogic approaches and different measures of ‘teaching excellence’?
  • several of the deans interviewed mentioned the uncertainty of students’ futures. They would be living in a fast-changing world. Higher education was seen as an important preparation, but a preparation for what?
  • past excellence was no guarantee of future excellence. Teaching in higher education would need to adapt, recognising both the changing and diverse backgrounds of its students and their changing and uncertain futures

Schools and universities – and raising attainment:

Here is an interesting HEPI blog  – it cites the BU Fair Access research and is an interesting perspective on attainment v aspiration from Nottingham Trent.

Changes to plans for schools were announced this week – while introducing the Technical and Further Education Bill, Justine Greening confirmed that plans to force schools to become academies have been abandoned (which was expected).  This does not affect the  “Schools that work for everyone” consultation which includes provisions relating to grammar schools and the way universities work with schools: We will be holding workshops to discuss our response to this proposal:

  • Friday 4th November in Studland House S206 from 9.00-11.30
  • Thursday 17th November in Christchurch House from 2.00-4.00

Please contact if you would like to attend one of these sessions and read a presentation about the questions in the consultation here, and a specific presentation about the questions relating to universities here.

International Students:

UCAS released their early 2017 application figures on 27th  October with extensive press coverage – notable highlights are a call in 9% in EU students – of particular concern given that funding reassurance has now been provided for this group – and interesting in the light of the next few bullets.

After last week’s storm in a teacup when Philip Hammond and “other sources” seemed to suggest that international students would be excluded from immigration numbers, quickly stamped on by No 10, who said firmly that this was not being considered, there have been a couple of WonkHe articles looking at the impact of the immigration changes (due to be out for consultation in the next few weeks).  Of course, we don’t know what the proposed changes might be yet, and while removing students from the numbers might mean that there is less focus on them, it isn’t a complete answer to everyone’s concerns about potential limits on international students – and it also doesn’t address concerns about how restrictions might affect international (and EU) staff recruitment.

The first WonkHe blog (David Morris, 24th October) highlights where the international students are

  • there are some very high percentages at UG level – mostly in London and in Scotland but also Liverpool – 25%, Manchester – 19%, Coventry – 18%, Sheffield – 17% – for example.
  • the story in Scotland is different as reported widely (see the report by Audit Scotland July 2016) because the funding arrangements in Scotland have pushed them to recruit increasing numbers of international students and fee paying students from the rest of the UK.
  • at PG level, the percentages are much higher – 64% at Cardiff Metropolitan, 48% at Sheffield, 45% at Newcastle, 49% at Leicester, for example.

In a second blog published on 26th October, David looks at the anticipated link between quality and immigration using the THE’s Mock TEF (flawed, as we know) – flagging particular risks for London universities but also pointing out our own position (at 94 in the Mock TEF and with 9% international students according to their analysis).

The article concludes:

“From the Home Office’s point of view, there seems an added futility here. There are more than twice as many international students at the top 20% institutions of THE’s mock TEF than there are at the bottom 20%. Only 36,900 international students study at institutions that are projected for a Bronze TEF award, and several institutions in that category are more oriented to serving their local communities (and so not on the above list), such as Abertay, Cumbria, Bolton, and Suffolk.”

Impact, research and political engagement:

The Parliamentary outreach service have announced an event on Research, Impact and the UK Parliament in Southampton in 18th January – it costs £40 but should be interesting – if anyone does go, please let me know how it goes.

I held a first workshop on “influencing policymakers with research” this morning as part of the RKE Development Framework – thank you to those who attended – we will do more.

Latest calls for evidence are listed here  -lots of new ones added this week, including:

As always, if you are interested in contributing to a BU response to any of these, please let me know- and read our responses to previous consultations here

Best wishes


HE Policy update

Posted a little late – I’ve missed a couple of blogs so catch up on the last few here.

Read the UUK evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee inquiry into industrial strategy.
This highlights the role of universities in:
• making long -term, sustainable contributions to productivity and growth,
• creating the best possible environment for businesses to thrive
• sustaining the world-class excellence of the UK’s research base to attract businesses from all over the world to locate and invest in the UK
• meeting the demands of business through a strong supply of higher-level skills

Research Professional have highlighted a sharp drop in H2020 participation from members that are not full or associate members – “Only 11.7 per cent of Horizon 2020 grant agreements were found include a partner who was not an EU member or Horizon 2020 associated country, the report said. Under Framework 7, 20.5 per cent of agreements included at least one non-European country.”

The Higher Education and Research Bill has finished its Commons committee stage and the amended legislation has now been returned to the Commons. A date for its third reading, when MPs will vote upon whether to pass the amended legislation, has yet to be set. Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, batted away all opposition amendments at the final committee meeting on 18 October, which examined the bill’s research provisions. The opposition amendments sought to provide additional protections for the existing research councils and to ensure a closer relationship between research and teaching, which Johnson said were “unnecessary” since such powers will be developed in the framework documents, and would jeopardise the flexibility he wants for the legislation. He also confirmed that If the bill is passed into law in its present form, ministers would have powers to change the names and functions of the research councils without consulting the academic community. Meanwhile, peers are holding informal conversations about how to approach the bill when it enters the Lords.

Brexit speculation continues – this week there was a rumour that students would be excluded from immigration figures after all, squashed quickly by No 10:
“The Government objective is to reduce annual net migration to the tens of thousands, and in order to deliver this we are keeping all visa routes are under review.
“Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included.”

A UUK task force has been looking at violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students and has now reported. See the UUK press release here.
“The evidence showed that while many universities have already taken positive steps to address these issues, university responses are not always as joined-up as they could be. There is more work that can be done to share effective practice across the sector.

HESA published a report on the DLHE consultation – this is not the outcome of the consultation, just an analysis by HESA of the responses, but it gives a sense of direction. HESA will publish a proposal based on this feedback and run a second consultation on it towards the end of the year.

Two research reports were also published – these were commissioned by HESA to support the review.
CFE Research’s report on ‘What do good outcomes from HE look like’ considers what good outcomes are for a range of groups, including students and graduates, higher education providers, employers and society/the state.
Warwick Institute for Employment Research’s report on ‘Richer information on student views’.

And a reminder to engage in the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation – workshops on 4th and 17th November – e-mail for more information