We’re a little late this week, and the sector was firmly back in the fast lane – we’ve a host of reports and activity for you. Monday’s Education Questions provided parliamentarians with the chance to put Gavin Williamson and Michelle Donelan on the spot. The Secretary of State and the CEO of the OfS also spoke to the sector at a HEPI conference, after HEPI published their annual student academic experience survey.
New National Science and Technology Council: The PM has announced a new National Science and Technology Council, to provide strategic direction for the use of science and technology to address national and global challenges. Boris will Chair the Council with Sir Patrick Vallance as National Technology Adviser (on top of his other roles!). Vallance will also be responsible for developing a new Office for Science and Technology Strategy, which will be based in the Cabinet Office. The Office will support the ministerial council to strengthen Government insight into science and technology, so it can be placed at the centre of policies and public services. Potential priorities identified for this unified work are “developing technology to reach net zero, curing cancer and not only treating it, and keeping our citizens safe at home and abroad.”
A few days later the Government announced a £50 million upgrade for specific infrastructure projects and scoping studies in line with the new ministerial Council and Office for Science and Technology Strategy. The investment will be delivered through grant funding through UKRI’s Infrastructure Roadmap programme.
Research Professional consider the PM’s leadership of the new Office, the Government’s interference in Science and Vallance’s juggling of the new role with his other significant appointments. Excerpt:
- The reality of an Office for Science and Technology Strategy run out of the Cabinet Office is that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UKRI are being sidelined in strategic decision-making. There now has to be an open question over how much of the planned increase in the science budget UKRI can expect to see.
- That also leads us to ask how much of the budget increase will make its way to the quality-related pot that funds blue-sky research in universities. The appointment of Indro Mukerjee as chief executive of Innovate UK, and the choice of Andrew Mackenzie as preferred candidate for UKRI chair, alongside the emergence of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, suggest that the strategic agenda for science is pivoting away from universities and towards subsidising inward investment and industrial capacity.
- … Is creating parallel offices for science and technology—and multiplying the number of scientific councils advising the prime minister—something we should be “incredibly positive” about?
Research Professional also have an exclusive interview with UKRI Chief Executive, Ottoline Leyser. A snippet of the interview is here. Ottoline is supportive of the new Office.
It appears the focus on innovation may overlap with ARIA, although presumably the research will be monitored to a greater degree and perhaps less ‘blue-sky’. At this stage it appears a key benefit will be the connect between Government research priorities and policy development. This factor has been welcomed by the sector.
UKRI Chair: The Science and Technology Select Committee held a pre-appointment Hearing with the Government’s Preferred Candidate for the UKRI Chair – Sir Andrew Mackenzie. The committee questioned Mackenzie discussing his credentials for the role, his experience, potential for conflicts of interest, the climate emergency, aspirations for the role, the ongoings of the UKRI, the Asia-Pacific region, COVID-19, investments and incentives, funding priorities across research areas, co-funding, and the Government’s Levelling Up agenda in relation to UKRI.
Specifically on levelling up, Dods summarise:
- The Chair asked Mackenzie about the Government’s objective to level-up performance across the country; and whether he believed there was over-investment in the Golden Triangle. Mackenzie said there was a placing strategy in UKRI which contributed to the Levelling Up agenda. As universities were evenly distributed in the UK, they could be a critical component to the wellbeing of towns outside of the Golden Triangle. Mackenzie said the UKRI should consider the fabric and health of these universities; and that more funding should go to Innovate UK to stimulate greater technological transfer with the view of levelling up.
- The Chair asked whether it was a problem that research funding tended to be concentrated in certain geographical areas of the country rather than others. Mackenzie recognised that it should be an area of examination. There could be opportunities to create greater investment if researchers were attracted to certain geographical areas.
Strengthening Clinical Research Delivery: The Department for Health and Social Care has announced £64m funding to support UK-wide plans to strengthen clinical research delivery. A new implementation plan published today sets out the first year of activities to deliver a vision for the Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery.
Following the publication of Saving and Improving Lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery in March, the UK Government and devolved Administrations today set out the first phase of activity to ensure research will have better health outcomes and allow more patients to be involved in research of relevance to them. The full policy paper on the Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery is available here.
Activity for the coming months will include:
- the development and trial of new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines
- making UK clinical research delivery easier through more rapid ethics reviews and faster approval processes
- boosting clinical research capacity with more virtual and remote trials
- increasing diversity and participation in research in communities traditionally under-served by research
- digitising the clinical research process to allow researchers to find patients, offer them places in trials, and monitor health outcomes
The vision is underpinned by five key themes:
- streamlined, efficient and innovative research– so the UK is seen as one of the best places in the world to conduct fast, efficient and cutting-edge clinical research
- clinical research embedded in the NHS– to create a research-positive culture in which all health and care staff feel empowered to support and participate in clinical research as part of their job
- patient-centred research– to make access to, and participation in, research as easy as possible for everyone across the UK, including rural, diverse and under-served populations
- research enabled by data and digital tools– to ensure the UK has the most advanced and data-enabled clinical research environment in the world, which capitalises on our unique data assets to improve the health and care of patients across the UK and beyond
- a sustainable and supported research workforce– which offers rewarding opportunities and exciting careers for all healthcare and research staff of all professional backgrounds – across the length and breadth of commercial and non-commercial research.
Key commitments within the plan include:
- Continuing to deliver on existing commitments to make UK clinical research delivery easier, more efficient and more effective. This includes an offer of HRA Rapid Research Ethics Committee review as part of the roll-out of the Ethics Committee and MHRA combined review of clinical trials of medicines.
- Reducing the variation and time spent negotiating costsfor commercial research through the National Contract Value Review, ensuring an aligned process for contracting of research across the whole UK.
- Taking the first steps towards digitising the clinical research processto make it faster and cheaper by beginning to create a holistic data-enabled Find, Recruit and Follow-up service.
- Expanding flexible workforce and delivery models, including increasing capacity for research in primary and community care.
- Providing recognition for key groups of staff across the NHS who play a key role in delivering research, including through a new accreditation schemefor Clinical Research Practitioners.
- Supporting and enabling the delivery and evaluation of innovative modelsof trial delivery such as hub and spoke models, decentralised models and remote participation.
- As the pressures of the pandemic ease, manage the recovery of research across all phases, therapy areas and treatment types, with COVID-19 becoming one speciality among a diverse research portfolio.
- Brush up on the ARIA Bill in this Lords Library briefing.
Section 3 is most interesting as it summarises the amendments, critique, and response to the Bill to date. Such as:
- Following its introduction, many organisations and stakeholders in research, science and technology have welcomed the bill. Some concerns have been raised about the agency’s mandate and whether the Government will fund the agency in the long-term.
- Greg Clark, Chair of Commons Science and Technology Committee, stated – There remains much that is unclear about what ARIA is meant to be. It’s not clear if it is a new institution that will conduct its own research and attract global scientific talent, or if it is another funding agency for researchers in existing organisations.
- Stephen Flynn (SNP) had concerns. Describing the bill as “incredibly vague on details”, Mr Flynn queried what the wider mission of the bill would be, as he was unsure whether the bill was trying to achieve better outcomes for health, defence or transport…
- Labour oppose the ARIA Bill’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Ed Miliband highlighted that DARPA in the US had 47 requests for information last year, contending that it is “hardly an obstacle to getting on with the day job
- The public (78-79%) are supportive of providing equitable access to medicines for sufferers of rare diseases even if it costs the NHS more. 46% also agreed to raise the cost threshold for medicines to enable their use.
The Secretary of State speaks (several times)
The Secretary of State gave the opening speech at the HEPI conference last week [we discuss the main report discussed at the conference below] You can read the speech here. There wasn’t much that was new, but some things are worth pulling out.
GW seemed to suggest that the minimum entry requirements might include a requirement for a pass in Maths and English at GCSE. Possibly as well, or instead of the 3 Ds, he didn’t go into that. He also said that the cost to the government of media studies shouldn’t be less than maths.
GW pulled out as “unacceptable” the Proceed data for some institutions (not named but mostly identifiable from the OfS data) who were below 40%. The Proceed metric is a combined metric looking at completion as well as outcomes – except in a very small number of cases very few universities have employment outcomes anywhere near as low as he was talking about.
- In a very clear signal to universities about a baseline for future quality standards, he said;
- And while higher education remains a good investment for most, at 25 higher education institutions, fewer than half the students who begin a degree will go on to graduate employment or further study.
- I want to be clear that this is not an attack on the arts. Many of our arts institutions are world leaders and every subject can be taught well, and so many universities do teach it well, and every subject can lead to good outcomes. But this is not always the case.
- For example, while there are many are many good psychology courses, at one university only 39% of those who enrol in psychology go on to graduate employment or further study. This is not good enough.
- While there are many good bio-science courses, at one university only 38% of those who enrol in bioscience go on to graduate employment or further study. This is not good enough.
- While there are many good computing courses, at one university only 35% of those who enrol in computing go on to graduate employment or further study. Again, this is just not good enough.
GW mentioned the OfS review of assessment practices in response to media stories about “dumbing down” assessments in the name of inclusivity. This was announced last week with very little detail. The OfS say that the review is part of a range of activities to drive up the quality of higher education courses and ensure that standards are maintained. Commenting on the announcement on Twitter, WonkHE’s Jim Dickinson said “A cooked up (and for most of the day it ran) incorrect moral panic story in the MoS now becomes major project work for OfS,” citing the review as an example of the OfS priorities having no relation to the priorities of students, and “everything to do with Ministers and newspapers.”
The CEO of the OfS, Nicola Dandridge, also spoke. Her most interesting point made a clear link between plans for funding and quality. This is one of the possible “top up” grant options we have been suggesting if there is a headline fee cut. A version of her speech has made it onto the OfS website as a blog here.
Research Professional have a summary of the event.
Education Committee: GW was questioned by the Education Committee during the regular accountability hearing. Dods summarise the content most of interest to the HE sector.
- White working-class children: Chair Robert Halfon noted the committee’s recent report on poor educational outcomes for white working-class children when compared to other cohorts. In response, Williamson said the report was right to highlight that there were a variety of problems with WWC children progressing in the post-16 environment, including university entry. When Halfon asked if there should be target solutions for this group alone, Williamson said he favoured targeted solutions but based on the status of any child left behind. Williamson said any change in the terms of reference for the Pupil Premium with regard to additional funding for this cohort could not be done without another spending review. [See the section below on this report.]
- Baker clause: Halfon asked for comment on the Baker Clause, which stipulated that schools allow colleges and training providers access to all students in years 8- 13 to discuss non-academic routes. In response, Williamson said he supported all schools adhering to the Baker clause. He said most schools were open to this and hoped parents did not have to resort to legal action to force this to happen. Williamson said in the summer the government would be consulting on proposals to strengthen the legislation and that Ofsted should be enforcing it. He said government schools funding could be made conditional on compliance.
- Undergraduate degree apprenticeships: Asked by Halfon to comment on the idea of a teaching undergraduate degree apprenticeship, Williamson said there was a compelling case for this.
- University funding: Anderson said in the last financial year universities had lost out on £790m from various problems caused by Covid such as reduce funding for conferences and lack of foreign students. She also suggested the DfE was biased against funding arts and humanities provision. In response Williamson said there had been strong growth in foreign students last year, with more students coming from outsider the EU (though EU students were down). He said the DfE had no bias against arts and humanities funding.
- Free speech in higher education; antisemitism in universities: Hunt asked whether new free speech legislation might mean people with hateful views could potentially claim compensation if blocked form speaking on university campuses. In response, Williamson said this would not be the case. He said the new legislation was only intended to enforce existing laws and would not permit activities such as holocaust denial. Gullis asked what action was being taken to penalise universities which did not subscribe to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. In response, Williamson said he had been working with Lord Mann to ensure all universities signed up to the IHRA definition. He said if they did not take it up voluntarily the government was looking at a broad range of actions related to funding constriction.
Education questions in the House of Commons
Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, responded to Education questions in the House of Commons. From Education Topical Questions:
Q – Andrew Bridgen: Could the Secretary of State update the House on progress on changing A-levels to enable students to apply with known grades rather than predicted grades?
A – Gavin Williamson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The consultation closed on 13 May and we are looking at the response very closely. We really want to bring post-qualification admissions forward as rapidly as possible. We would like to do so without legislation and in co-operation with the sector, but if we are not able to have that co-operation, we will drive this forward. All the evidence, from the Sutton Trust and from so many others, is clear that PQA helps children from the most disadvantaged families more than any others. That is why we will make it happen.
So, the Government signals intent to push ahead with post-qualification admissions no matter what the consultation says or evidence provided by the sector to the contrary.
Q – Rachael Maskell: Will the Secretary of State ensure that, instead of experiencing disruption to a third academic year, universities are able to determine their own return of students in September this year? The University of York and York St John University have advanced plans in place and they do not want to see further delays, including staggered starts. Can they now also have the ability to allow international students to quarantine at their local university?
A: The Minister for Universities (Michelle Donelan): We have every expectation that by the autumn term we will be able to move forward beyond step 4, meaning that there will be no further restrictions on the provision of in-person teaching and learning. During the pandemic, many providers have developed a digital offering and, as autonomous institutions, they might choose to retain elements of that approach, as well as undertaking risk assessments, but our expectation is clear that universities should maintain the quality, quantity and accessibility of provision. In terms of international students, we have been one of the world’s leaders in our visa concessions and flexibilities. I shall continue to work closely with the Home Office and the Department of Health to ensure that the best interests of students are always maintained, as well as public health.
So, no change and no firm answer. The Government will continue to intervene if they feel the national situation warrants it.
The Lords questioned compulsory redundancies in the university sector and their potential impact on teaching and research.
With Gavin Williamson focussing on graduate employment (as presented via the Proceed metric) in his speech, there may have been less focus on salaries recently. However, the latest version of the LEO data has come out and David Kernohan has a blog on Wonkhe, pointing out all the challenges, including the big problem about part-time work for example, 25% of creative arts graduates and more women than men work part-time, and LEO doesn’t adjust for this. There are all sorts of interactive graphs if you want to play.
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – amendments
The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill continues its way through the House of Lords (it started there and will go to the Commons later). Committee stage, the detailed review, starts on 6th July 2021. As of 28th June the running list of proposed amendments is here.
Lord Storey has continued his campaign against essay mills by proposing a new Clause as an amendment to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services. It is in line with his current private Members’ Bill (PMB). The Bill will be considered at the Committee Stage on 6 July 2021, it is unclear whether Lord Storey’s amendment will be addressed. However, his PMB is due for second reading this Friday. At the Education Committee Gavin Williamson said that the government would seek a way to support the PMB (which they would presumably prefer to an amendment to the Skills Bill.
Wonkhe described the amendment from Lord Lucas which proposes a mental health monitoring role for the Office for Students (OfS) that would require the regulator to assess the extent to which the mental health and wellbeing of students are sustained and improved while attending the institution, the quality improvement and response to mental health crises, and the pastoral and academic care of students attending the institution. While the government may seek to reject the amendment on the basis of the focus of the bill, it will face pressure to explain whether and how OfS does oversee that agenda.
Lord Lucas has also proposed other additions that would ensure that the interests of local potential students and an assessment of national skills needs are represented in Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs), and Lord Lingfield has suggested a regular review of how these plans support learners with special educational needs.
Gordon Marsden continues to press the Government to thoroughly think through the modular approach to funding and learning proposed by the Bill. He writes in Research Professional’s Sunday Reading: The arguments over skills, modules and devolved initiatives this summer need to define the outcomes for transformation, not just the rhetoric around it. It’s a decent short article if you want to read more on the importance of getting the modular aspect right.
Other amendments include a requirements to review provision for special educational needs in a local area, reviewing how the apprenticeship levy is being used in the context of local skills plans, a proposal to remove the limits on prior qualifications and restrictions on student numbers (eg for medicine), and a proposal about access to universal credit. We can expect the list to grow before 6th July.
White working class
The Education Committee has published its final report following its inquiry into left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, which originally opened in April 2020. They say:
- Early years: In 2018/19, just 53% of FSM-eligible White British pupils met the expected standard of development at the end of the early years foundation stage, one of the lowest percentages for any disadvantaged ethnic group.
- GCSE performance: In 2019 just 17.7% of FSM-eligible White British pupils achieved grade 5 or above in English and maths, compared with 22.5% of all FSM-eligible pupils. This means that around 39,000 children in the group did not achieve two strong passes.
- Access to higher education: The proportion of White British pupils who were FSM-eligible starting higher education by the age of 19 in 2018/19 was 16%, the lowest of any ethnic group other than traveller of Irish heritage and Gypsy/Roma.
Among the many factors that may combine to put white working-class pupils at a disadvantage are:
- Persistent and multigenerational disadvantage
- Placed-based factors, including regional economics and underinvestment
- Family experience of education
- A lack of social capital (for example the absence of community organisations and youth groups)
- Disengagement from the curriculum
- A failure to address low participation in higher education
They set out the following solutions:
- Funding needs to be tailor-made at a local level to level up educational opportunity. (page 45) A better understanding of disadvantage and better tools to tackle it is needed – starting with reforming the Pupil Premium.
- Support parental engagement & tackle multi-generational disadvantage. (page 33) To boost parental engagement and mitigate the effects of multi-generational disadvantage, a strong network of Family Hubs for all families is needed. These should offer integrated services and build trusting relationships with families and work closely with schools to provide support throughout a child’s educational journey.
- Ensure the value of vocational training and apprenticeship options while boosting access to higher education. (page 49) Reform the Ebacc to include a greater variety of subjects, including Design & Technology. Ofsted must be stronger in enforcing schools’ compliance with the Baker Clause, to ensure they allow vocational training and apprenticeship providers to advertise their courses to pupils. Where there is non-compliance, schools should be limited to a ‘Requires Improvement’ rating.
- Attract good teachers to challenging areas. (page 43) Good teaching is one of the most powerful levers for improving outcomes. Introducing teaching degree apprenticeships and investing in local teacher training centres may support getting good teachers to the pupils who need them most.
- Find a better way to talk about racial disparities. (page 14) The Committee agreed with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that discourse around the term ‘White Privilege’ can be divisive, and that disadvantage should be discussed without pitting different groups against each other. Schools should consider whether the promotion of politically controversial terminology, including White Privilege, is consistent with their duties under the Equality Act 2010. The Department should issue clear guidance for schools and other Department-affiliated organisations receiving grants from the Department on how to deliver teaching on these complex issues in a balanced, impartial and age-appropriate way.
Education Committee member Kim Johnson (Lab, Liverpool Riverside) has sought to distance herself from the report, saying on Twitter it was “deeply depressing that we are seeing a Government that has presided over deep cuts to education diverting attention from that onto a fake culture war.”
Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:
- “For decades now White working-class pupils have been let down and neglected by an education system that condemns them to falling behind their peers every step of the way. White working-class pupils underperform significantly compared to other ethnic groups, but there has been muddled thinking from all governments and a lack of attention and care to help these disadvantaged White pupils in towns across our country.
- “If the Government is serious about closing the overall attainment gap, then the problems faced by the biggest group of disadvantaged pupils can no longer be swept under the carpet. Never again should we lazily put the gap down to poverty alone, given that we know free school meal eligible pupils from other ethnic groups consistently out perform their White British peers. In 2019, less than 18% of free school meal eligible White British pupils achieved a strong pass in English and Maths GCSEs, compared with 22.5% of all similarly disadvantaged pupils. This equates to nearly 39,000 White working-class children missing out.
- “So far, the Department for Education has been reluctant to recognise the specific challenges faced by the White working class, let alone do anything to tackle this chronic social injustice. This must stop now.
- “Economic and cultural factors are having a stifling effect on the life chances of many White disadvantaged pupils with low educational outcomes persisting from one generation to the next. The Government needs to tackle intergenerational disadvantage, inbuilt disadvantages based on where people live and disengagement from the curriculum.
- “What is needed is a tailor-made approach to local funding and investment in early years and family hubs. This should be alongside more vocational opportunities, a skills-based curriculum and a commitment to addressing low participation in higher education.
- “We also desperately need to move away from dealing with racial disparity by using divisive concepts like White Privilege that pits one group against another. Disadvantaged White children feel anything but privileged when it comes to education.
- “Privilege is the very opposite to what disadvantaged white children enjoy or benefit from in an education system which is now leaving far too many behind.”
The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) have responded to the Education Committee’s latest report, The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it, which found “White working class underachievement in education is real and persistent”. The Committee has called on the government to take steps to ensure disadvantaged White students fulfil their potential:
- Educational underachievement is only part of the picture. Our report, The Long Shadow of Deprivation, shows that even if students beat the odds and get good qualifications, in the least socially mobile areas of the country they still face a wage gap at age 28 of up to a third. The answer to these issues is about thinking about investment in jobs, transport, housing, welfare and wider opportunities as well as in schools.
Access & Participation
Care duration: Research Professional report on LEO data released at the end of last week which highlights that students who have been in care for more than a year are marginally more likely to take part in higher education than those who have been in care for shorter periods of time. Read more here.
Disadvantaged pupils’ confidence in A level grade awarding system: The Social Mobility Foundation published new findings which identified how confident disadvantaged students are about the grade-awarding system that will be used in place of exams for this summer’s GCSEs, AS and A Levels. It concludes that disadvantaged young people are not confident they will receive grades that reflect their ability under the teacher assessment system introduced this summer and do not have faith in the appeals process. The majority of the survey respondents were on free school meals.
- 43% are not confident that they personally will receive fair grades reflective of their ability
- 52% are not confident that they will be able to appeal grades that they do not think are a fair reflection of their ability
- 36% of young people who plan to go to university this September are not confident they will receive the grades they need to secure their place.
- 28% of participants who are sitting GCSE, A-Level or equivalent exams this summer reported that their teachers had not made it clear what pieces of work will be used to determine their final grades.
- 35% of participants did not have access to reliable broadband during lockdown.
- 74% of participants agree that: “Every student in Year 12 or S5 or above should have the option to take up a fully funded education recovery year to make up for learning time lost during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
- 74% of participants felt that not all parts of the country had suffered equally because of the Covid-19 pandemic; highlighting geographical inequality which is a key focus of the government’s levelling-up agenda.
The findings come as the Department for Education and Education Policy Institute published their own research which found further evidence that restrictions to in-person teaching following the pandemic have led to a widening of the disadvantage gap – the gap in school attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. These results received widespread national media coverage yesterday, from print news to television, and you can view a short clip of Social Mobility Foundation Chair, Alan Milburn, chatting to Sky News about the data here.
As a results of these findings, SMF are calling for the appeals process to be re-designed this year, for year 13 to have the right to repeat the year (cost £180 million in England), and for young people opting to take exams in the autumn instead of accepting teacher-assessed grades to do so free of charge.
Universal Credit & Reasonable Adjustment: Wonkhe report on a psychology student that has been granted permission to challenge regulations that prevent him and thousands of other disabled students from claiming universal credit while they are full-time students. Flinn Kays claims that new regulations that stop disabled students having a work capability assessment (WCA) and thus claiming universal credit are unlawful – and is asking the court to quash 2020 regulations on the grounds that the Secretary of State unlawfully failed to consult, that they are discriminatory and that they breach the public sector equality duty.
Meanwhile students with vision impairments experience failure from institutions to put agreed reasonable adjustments for exams and assessments into place, and a lack of expertise in accessibility, according to new research into the post-school experiences of young people with vision impairments from the Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research at the University of Birmingham and the Thomas Pocklington Trust.
Lost in Transition? also found limited understanding of vision impairment by some staff at institutions at the time of application, difficulties with the accessibility of the UCAS admissions system, and various issues with the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), including assessors not having the necessary expertise to assess students, delays in the processing of assessments and equipment being provided that did not meet students’ needs.
Access to postgraduate study: The Sutton Trust published a new report on access to postgraduate education in the UK, looking at the level of financial support available across the nations, the impact of the introduction of postgraduate loans on access in England, the growing cost of postgraduate degrees, and the likely impact of those costs on access.
- Rates of progression from an undergraduate degree to a postgraduate master’s have increased for graduates of all backgrounds since loans were introduced, but they have increased the most for those from socio-economically disadvantaged groups. In 2013/14, just 6% of first-degree holders from working class backgrounds in England progressed to a taught higher degree (i.e. master’s), compared to 8.6% for those from managerial and professional backgrounds. By 2017/18, rates for both groups had risen considerably, and the gap in participation had reduced, with 12.9% for those from working class backgrounds and 14.2% from managerial and professional backgrounds going onto this type of study.
- But graduates from less privileged backgrounds still appear to be less likely to progress than their better-off counterparts. This is true whether looking at parental occupation (with 18.4% of graduates from professional and managerial backgrounds going onto a taught or research higher degree within 15 months of graduating, compared to 14.4% of graduates from routine or semi routine backgrounds), and education (13.9% for those with at least one parent with a higher education qualification vs 11.6% for those with none), neighbourhood (13.2% for those from high participation areas vs 12.6% for low participation areas) or type of school attended prior to higher education (14.6% for private schools vs 12.5% for state schools).
- Tuition fee levels at UK higher education institutions for taught postgraduate courses have increased in the past 14 years, well beyond inflation. For example, while average tuition fees for a classroom-based taught postgraduate programme in 2011 were £5,435 at a Golden Triangle university and £4,408 in the other Russell Group universities, by 2020 they had risen to £10,898 (an increase of 101 percent) and £8,744 (a 98 percent increase) respectively.
- The price differences between the UK’s most prestigious institutions and the rest of the sector have also widened within the same time period. In 2006/07 for classroom-based courses, the difference between the most expensive group of institutions (in the Golden Triangle) and the least costly (interestingly, these were other Russell Group universities) was just £1,404. But in 2020/21, the difference between the most and the least expensive group of institutions, this time between Golden Triangle universities and post-1992 institutions, was 2.5 times higher: £3,532.
- The funding system at postgraduate level in England should be reformed, to remove financial barriers to postgraduate study. …. Instead of being a contribution, the government’s postgraduate financial support system should cover full maintenance costs for students, and the full course fee cost for all but the most expensive courses. This should ideally be through a mix of loans as well as grants for students from lower income backgrounds.
- Universities should extend their widening access work to postgraduate level, especially at high-status institutions. This should include efforts to improve the attainment of disadvantaged undergraduate students to allow them to progress to postgraduate level. High status universities especially should look at recruiting students for postgraduate level from a range of different institutions, as well as exploring other ways to widen access, for example running postgraduate summer schools aimed at potential students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Universities should also make use of contextual admissions at postgraduate level, taking into account the potential as well as the prior attainment of applicants.
- Data on widening participation to postgraduate study should be regularly published by the Office for Students and/or the Department for Education (for England) and the devolved governments. As is the case at undergraduate level, universities should be required to provide data on access and outcomes, with data regularly published as an official statistical release. ….
- In England, The Office for Students should be given strengthened responsibility to ensure fair access to postgraduate study, as it does at undergraduate level. …..
- Universities should ensure course fees are fair and appropriate, and they should avoid charging application fees for postgraduate courses. If universities are charging course fees above the increased level of government support outlined above, they should provide adequate financial support themselves to ensure there are no financial barriers to participation. Ideally, universities should not be charging application fees at postgraduate level, but if application fees are charged, they should be as low as possible, with waivers easily accessible to any applicants who are unable to afford them. Oversight from the Office for Students should include looking at both course and application fees, with action taken where these costs are acting as barriers to lower-income students.
- The application process for postgraduate courses should be clear and easy to navigate, with information about courses easy to find and the application process simplified where possible. In the short term, all universities should consistently provide information on their postgraduate courses to UCAS, so that it is quick and easy to find for applicants. …..
Access to HE – insecure/unresolved immigration status: King’s College London, has published a new report on access to the higher education for young people with insecure or unresolved immigration status. Higher Education on Hold explores the barriers to HE for young people who:
- Have refugee status
- Are seeking asylum
- Have limited leave to remain or indefinite leave to remain
- Are undocumented
As well as legal barriers, they find that young people with insecure immigration status are more likely to face a combination of the following additional barriers which limit HE access:
- A lack of support in school.
- Increased likelihood of living in poverty.
- Poor language proficiency and difficulties attaining qualifications.
- High incidence of mental health issues
- A lack of high-quality support from HE institutions
As well as campaigning for policy change, the report says universities should review and improve their admissions practices, widening participation programmes and scholarship provision in order to better support young people with insecure immigration status. Specifically, they say institutions should:
- Provide specialist admissions support.
- Adopt a flexible approach to language qualifications and provide pre-sessional English language courses.
- Include young people with insecure immigration status in Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) activities and widening participation programmes.
- Provide targeted advice and support for young people with insecure status in relation to immigration status and student finance eligibility.
- Broaden scholarships to include all young people who are not currently eligible for student finance due to their immigration status.
- Ensure that scholarship application processes do not create additional barriers for young people.
- Provide ongoing support once young people with insecure status progress to HE, including mental health support and support with debt if a student’s loan application is rejected.
HEPI – Student Academic Experience Survey
The annual Student Academic Experience Survey was published. The data and conclusions from in this report are always worth a detailed read. The last report showed “no material impact” from the start of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. That has not carried through to this year, where there is a dramatic change in some of the results compared to the trends over previous years. The data is therefore not really comparable in terms of longer term analysis of progress in the sector, but of course it will inform the discussion about how the sector can adapt and change for next year. We will have to wait for next year, and probably also the year after, to see whether for this survey 2021 is a “blip” or a reset.
The main lesson that the authors draw, in the executive summary is that students want in-person, and not online learning. As many institutions look at blended learning, and the benefits of that for students (accessibility, flexibility), it is important to consider that, while many students may appreciate those benefits in the longer term, for now they just want to be with people, not in their rooms. As one student described it to me “I want to have a reason to get up and out, to have somewhere to go and somewhere to be, and to see people”.
- With all that in mind, it is not surprising that the recent more positive trend of the (in)famous value for money chart has reversed sharply. Perceptions of value for money for students from Scotland (where students don’t pay fees) have been higher than all the others since 2012, and are still higher, but they are still the lowest (at 50%) than they have ever been. So it’s not just the fees.
- There are many reasons given for poor perceptions of value for money, but unsurprisingly, the highest scoring are tuition fees, the volume of in person contact hours, access to in person teaching, and teaching quality. After that the volume of online contact hours, and cost of living, as well as one to one tuition time are all 30% or over.
- There has also been an impact on experience compared to expectations, the proportion saying “better in some ways and worse in others” is stable at 48%, but those saying “better” has flipped (to 13%) with those saying it was “worse” (27%). These were almost exactly the other way around last year.
- There are some interesting differences in the questions about making choices. 11% said they would, with hindsight, have deferred. As we know, deferrals were very low last year. One in three had considered leaving, with 34% of them citing mental/emotional health as the reason.
Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.
Inquiries and Consultations
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A new report from Accenture and Cibyl, University: The Best Time of Our Lives? Is considered on Wonkhe: Jim Dickinson reviews the new report on student mental health which includes some clear and actionable recommendations.
Prevent: The DfE published new guidance on implementing the Prevent Duty in HE. It consists of training materials on the Prevent duty of care and the wellbeing of staff and students. Also training materials on assessing risk when implementing the Prevent Duty.
Awards: Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2021: the winners.
Virtual: Times Higher talks about how institutions can work towards effective new teaching models, such as hybrid flexible classes, and how to support and train staff to deliver an increasingly tech-enhanced education. Also Christopher Brighton of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University presents a model of a global virtual exchange that could be easily replicated by any institution wishing to improve students’ intercultural knowledge.
AI & Healthcare: The Health Foundation published Switched on How do we get the best out of automation and AI in health care?
Turning the oil tanker: Successive UK Governments have been pushing at the edges of the UK HE sector for changes in quality/value for money, freedom of speech, and demonstrating value for money. In this vein it is interesting to note Research Professional’s article with the European Commission stating how the European HEIs are slow to change and adapt.
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