Category / humanities

HE policy update – w/e 10th September 2021

Hello everyone!  After a long (not always hot) summer, we are pleased to be back with a catch up of all the summer news to get you ready for the exciting policy things we have to look forward to.  Some of it was highlighted in the Secretary of State’s speech at the UUK conference this week (see more on this below). Back in May we did a horizon scan (here for BU readers) which covers most of it.  A quick reminder of the things we have to look forward to:

  • The two big bills: the Skills bill and the Freedom of Speech bill.
  • Outcome of the PQA consultation run by the Department for Education – GW was not specific about when we can expect it, but it could be relatively soon. Questions still remain about the mechanism for change, as it’s not within the current remit of the OfS, and the plans they were consulting on couldn’t be implemented without a sector wide big bang approach.  “Persuasion” would seem to be the most likely approach, with a threat of legislation if not.  It’s controversial because universities have autonomy (at the moment) on admissions.
  • On that point about autonomy, we can expect the response to Augar (finally) with the Comprehensive Spending Review, which is now planned for 27th And strong hints from GW that minimum entry requirements will be part of that.  Billed as a way of controlling the spiralling cost of the student loan book, they can actually implement that one despite the autonomy thing, by saying that it’s fine, they just won’t fund student loans for those who don’t meet the requirements.  Although headline grabbing, it is unlikely to make a huge difference to actual student numbers across the UK.  And of course it will be challenged as a retrograde step for social mobility and levelling up.
  • So while we’re talking about social mobility, GW had things to say about that too, using had some dodgy data on outcomes to remind us that he believes that the growth in student numbers is supported by recruitment onto low quality courses that just shouldn’t be allowed. The current OfS consultation on licence condition relating to quality is part 1 of two, the second consultation due in the Autumn will be about absolute minimum baseline standards.  Taken together, these changes to the regulatory framework are very significant, not just in the implications for potential future funding arrangements but also in terms of the internal quality assurance and governance implications.
  • And linked to all that, we are also expecting a consultation on a new TEF framework in the Autumn.

You must have missed all this?  No?

Freedom of Speech Bill

Evidence on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill was heard in Parliament as part of the Committee Stage consideration of the Bill. This is a controversial Bill partly because the sector claims there isn’t a significant problem and commonly-cited example are either misrepresentations or overstate the problem. Also, in practice, implementation of the legislation will be very difficult given the scope for conflicts with other bits of legislation.  One person’s legitimate protest might be seen as an attack on another person’s right to speak freely, just as one person’s expression of free speech can be experienced by another person as a hateful attack linked to identity.  Where the lines will fall and who will draw them will be extremely controversial.

If you are interested in some of the thorny difficulties do read Research Professional’s coverage of this week’s sessions here, and this article features an academic who is in favour of the Bill.

There was also a separate parliamentary exchange on freedom of speech – content followed the Government’s favoured lines.

One of the witnesses presenting evidence to Parliament was Smita Jamdar, Partner and Head of Education at a law firm. She has written a short and informative blog calmly highlighting the drawbacks and limitations of the Bill. It is worth a read. Snippets:

  • If there is a dispute whether speech is or isn’t ‘within the law’ how can a body like the OfS judge that? That is and should be a matter for the courts. Interestingly, in the US, when the Trump administration proposed withholding funding from institutions that did not protect the constitutional right to free speech, it ultimately concluded that there would need to be a court decision that the constitutional right had been infringed before a regulatory or funding body could impose a penalty. 
  • …the new Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom… [should] be able to demonstrate impartiality…At the moment it will be an appointment of the secretary of state. There should be more safeguards around the appointment process.  
  • The bill defines free speech as the freedom to express views without ‘adverse consequences’, and this is both practically and philosophically absurd to try to enforce by legislation. We cannot legislate human nature, so while universities can facilitate free speech, they cannot and should not police people’s reactions to it, except to the extent that those reactions breach expected standards of conduct.  
  • I think all they [universities] can do is ensure they facilitate the right to speak and to act where anything is done that constitutes a breach of its disciplinary codes. They cannot be responsible for as abstract a concept as ‘adverse consequences’.

Spending Review, Fees & Student Loan rates

On Tuesday the Chancellor launched the 2021 Spending Review (SR21), which will conclude on 27 October 2021 alongside an Autumn Budget. The three-year review will set UK government departments’ resource and capital budgets for 2022-23 to 2024-25 and the devolved administrations’ block grants. Here’s the letter.

The Spending Review is significant for the HE sector as we are awaiting the official Government response to the Augar Review, particularly on which elements might be adopted. Since the report Augar has distanced himself from the fee cuts which made all the headlines, however, the Government is looking to reduce the cost of funding HE and student loans in particular, as well as seeking to refocus its contribution towards its national priorities.

As this parliamentary question highlights changes may come in a number of forms including changing the terms of student loans retrospectively.  Wonkhe have a blog –  Will Westminster ministers dare to lower the student loan repayment threshold after a week of concern about the tax rates facing graduates? Jim Dickinson reads the runes.  As mentioned above, requiring a minimum level of prior achievement to qualify for a student loan has also been on the cards since GW dragged it out of the back of the Augar report in January. Having a GCSE in English may be part of that after stories of a scandalous approach to grammar and spelling in university assessments hit the headlines earlier this year – that has found its way into the OfS quality regime now as well.

If you enjoy the speculation around the Budget you may like to read this Resolution Foundation briefing note which explores the Chancellor’s choices ahead of the autumn spending review.

Returning to student loans, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, has issued a written ministerial statement announcing a temporary reduction in the (Plan 2 & postgraduate) maximum student loan interest rate due to the recent decline in the prevailing market rate for comparable unsecured personal loans. The maximum Post-2012 undergraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate and the postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate will be 4.1% between 1 October and 31 December. From 1 January 2022, the Post-2012 undergraduate and postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rates will revert to the standard rate +3%. Further caps may be put in place should the prevailing market rate continue to be below student loan interest rates. More details in the DfE press release.

Meanwhile the House of Commons Library have published one of their lovely briefings on undergraduate student finance.

If your work interests cover student loans you’ll probably want to take in the full paper. He’s a teaser on living costs:

How much do students spend on living costs?

The 2021 Student Money Survey from Save the Student found that:

  • On average, students across the UK spent £810 per month on living costs. Just over half of this figure was spent on rent.
  • Spending was below average in Scotland (£781 per month), Wales (£800), and Northern Ireland (£756). Within England costs varied from £751 per month in the North West to £896 in London.
  • 66% of students worked part-time to help fund their education. This is lower than in previous surveys due to the pandemic’s impact on businesses.
  • 65% of students received a maintenance loan, 38% received some form of grant scholarship or bursary.
  • 66% of students received some support from their parents. On average this was worth £121 per month.
  • 76% worried about making ends meet, 60% said their maintenance loan was not large enough, and 43% said they had not been made aware of the full range of funding options available to them such as scholarships, grants, and bursaries.

Research

Open Access.  UKRI published its long-awaited Open Access Policy, determining which route to publication the funder will support with its £8 billion annual budget. Under the new rules, any UKRI-funded articles submitted for publication after 1 April 2022 will need to be made openly available with immediate effect on publication. The policy is not without controversy. The announcement follows a two-year consultation period with institutions, researchers and publishers—some of whom have criticised the plan, citing worries about profits and freedom for researchers to publish in their venue of choice. It also includes a new requirement for monographs, book chapters and edited collections published from 1 January 2024 to be made open access within 12 months of publication. UKRI will provide increased funding of up to £46.7m per annum to support the implementation of the policy.

For peer-reviewed research articles, key requirements of the new policy include:

  • immediate open access for research articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022
  • either via the version of record in a journal or publishing platform, or by depositing the authors accepted manuscript (or if permitted by the publisher the version of record) in an institutional or subject repository
  • CC BY licence and CC BY ND by exception, including a requirement to notify publisher of licensing at the point of submission.

Key requirements of the new policy for monographs published on or after 1 January 2024 include:

  • the final version of a publications or accepted manuscript being made open access via a publisher’s website, platform or repository, within a maximum of 12 months of publication
  • CC BY licence preferred, but NC and ND licences are permitted.

To support successful implementation of the policy UKRI will work with the sector to put in place supporting interventions, including:

  • substantially increasing UKRI funding support for open access in recognition that this is required to meet the new policy intent and the extension of our policy to long-form outputs
  • dedicated funding to Jisc in support of sector open access negotiations, with guidance and infrastructure to aid the up-take of UKRI compliant open access options
  • continuing our work to support culture change around publication, in that research should be recognised for its intrinsic merit rather than where it has been published.

R&D Spend. The Office for National Statistics published the annual estimates of research and development performed and funded by business enterprise, higher education, government, UK Research & Innovation and private non-profit organisations:

  • Expenditure on research and development (R&D) that was performed in the UK rose by £1.3 billion (3.4%) to £38.5 billion in 2019; but this was the lowest percentage growth since 2013.
  • The largest components of R&D expenditure were the business sector at £25.9 billion (67% of the UK total), followed by the higher education sector at £9.1 billion (24%).
  • Total R&D expenditure represented 1.74% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019; the long-term trend has been for very small growth over time with the value up from 1.59% in 2008 and 1.72% in 2018.
  • Funding of UK R&D from overseas increased by 4.1% to £5.6 billion in 2019 compared with 2018; this was 0.8% higher than the peak in 2014 of £5.5 billion.
  • The UK spent £577 per head of population on R&D in 2019; this is up from £561 in 2018.

ODA.  Universities UK International (UUKi) published the findings from their ODA survey 2021 which set out to understand the impact of ODA R&D funding on UK universities and how the UK can continue to use ODA R&D with developing countries in support of the UN SDGs and UK strategic priorities.  Recommendations:

  1. There must continue to be significant public funding available for research on global challenges as defined by the UN SDG framework in partnership with LMIC partners, whether as part of the ODA budget or the R&D budget
  • ODA-funded R&D schemes such as GCRF and Newton have helped UK HEIs to engage with global challenges and create partnerships with researchers and institutions in LMICs.
  • Universities and their partners want to continue working to address global challenges. The source of funding is less important than the activity which it supports.
  1. Funding for research programmes, once confirmed by a UK funder, must be guaranteed for the life of the project to ensure that legal commitments are met.
  • Policy and funding stability are critical to developing long-term, sustainable and impactful research partnerships.
  • The impact of mid-project grant terminations or cuts on LMIC partners is acute. The UK’s reputation as a trusted partner is severely undermined by such actions.
  1. Future global challenges funding should include dedicated support for universities to build LMIC partnerships through mobility and other career development opportunities, laying the foundations for successful projects further down the line.
  • Universities have benefitted from a flexible funding mechanism (GCRF QR/institutional/block awards) which has allowed them to build fruitful partnerships through pump-priming and career development activity.
  • These types of activities are a key part of research and development but are now at risk. Funders should consider how these activities will be supported in future allocations.
  1. Equitable partnerships should remain a core principle of any future funding for global challenges.
  • LMIC partners should not be overburdened by administrative requirements.

Quick News

  • The Government announced in injection of £113 million for the UKRI  Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, in total the Future Leaders scheme is promised £900 million over a 3-year period. Science Minister Amanda Solloway: Supported by £113 million, the Future Leaders Fellowships will equip our most inventive scientists and researchers across the country with the tools to develop and bring their innovations to market quickly – all while helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.
  • Wonkhe blog: Alternative metrics that better reflect the attributes of good-quality research are needed.
  • The Regulatory Horizons Council has published a new report on the future of technological innovations and how regulation can act as an enabler. The paper evaluates the future socio-economic context in which technological innovations will be delivered from 2021-30. The results are based on a series of interviews with experts focused on engineering and energy, health and life sciences, and digital data and cyber technologies.
  • UKRI announced support for 200 doctoral students to work on pressing research challenges with UK businesses through a £24 million investment. The studentships are through ICASE –  Industrial Co-operative Awards in Science and Technology.
  • Researcher organisation Vitae, supported by UKRI, has published their latest survey results on the impact of the pandemic on researchers and research activities. Familiar themes emerge – poor mental health, increased bullying and Covid caring responsibilities and shielding had a big negative impact, but regaining the commute time and unexpected opportunities were positives. It also questioned the perception of researchers on their future careers:
    • 24% predicted a very negative impact of COVID-19 on their career prospects (this rises to 34% of postgraduate researchers and 28% of research staff)
    • 60% predicted a negative impact or a very negative impact on their career prospects. This rises to 65% for those with child-caring responsibilities and 62% for female researchers.

UKRI say: One of the key action points highlighted in this survey is for UKRI to drive ahead with our work to improve research culture. We will continue to work collaboratively to promote and support an inclusive, respectful and safe working culture, including through our ongoing implementation of the recently launched People and Culture Strategy.

Williamson speaks…

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, spoke at the UUK annual conference this week. Below are the key points, none of which are new news, although chilling in terms of tone.  The content was as per the Research Professional predictions.

There has been relentless parodying of GW on twitter and in the press after he spoke about the importance of face to face contact – through a video link.   Wonkhe have entertaining coverage of the speech. Post-event Research Professional’s short write up was cynically entertaining too.

Quality:

  • We need to recognise that just sending kids with low academic achievement into universities isn’t going to magically change them into highly mobile graduates – indeed, it’s more likely to lead them to failure and poor outcomes. And that there is no substitute for the hard grind of driving up standards.
  • Quality is what will deliver a meaningful qualification that offers the right skills and preparation for a working life. And quality is what will justify the huge investment that students are making to study. But quality covers more than teaching. Quality extends to the value of the degree. You represent the best of the best but to keep that reputation for excellence, you must be vigilant in showing that the degrees awarded to students are a reliable indicator of academic achievement.
  • Students and employers need to know that a degree means something. And not all degrees are created equal. There have been too many instances where pockets of low quality have undermined the teaching or value for money that students and taxpayers rightly expect.
  • …It is so disappointing to see some in the field of higher education cling to the myth that the quality of a course or degree makes no difference to a student’s outcomes. While it may be comforting for some institutions, what it is actually saying is that they don’t believe in education.

Back to campus: 

  • I think all of us would agree that every student is entitled to expect a high-quality, rich learning experience. As they plan their futures, they will be asking themselves how best they can get it… The [Student Academic Experience Survey] survey shows that in-person teaching is now one of the top three areas singled out for improvement by students. This is something we cannot ignore. While the switch to online teaching was a necessary and vital way of keeping young people learning in as safe a way as possible, we have now moved on and students quite rightly expect that they can study in person alongside other students
  • …What I do want to make clear is that I do not expect to see online learning used as a cost-cutting measure. If there’s a genuine benefit to using technology, then it should be done – and Sir Michael Barber’s Digital Teaching and Learning Review sets out some of the opportunities. But that is not an excuse to not also deliver high quality face-to-face teaching…And let’s face it, in this new era of choice students don’t have to settle for poor value.

Admissions: The last two years have emphasised the importance of delivering on our plans for PQA – not only to stabilise the system but to empower students to have the very best opportunities to succeed. That is why I am determined to accelerate our plans to bring forward this important reform

Access & Participation:

Working with schools is still in favour, higher level technical provision remains a goal – disappointing that Williamson links it with a statement on disadvantage (i.e. it’s for other peoples’ children), and are SpLD students to be further disadvantaged? Note alternatives such as assistive technology are not mentioned by Williamson.

  • …we will shortly be appointing a new Director of Fair Access and Participation…. I’d like to see our access regime re-centred on the principles of equality of opportunity and high standards, and to see higher education providers working in partnership with schools to drive up attainment.

A confusing bit on technical education:

  • I believe more universities should be more willing to carve out expertise in more technical fields, excelling on a different set of axes to those used by the traditional league tables. Too often, this can be interpreted as meaning ‘everyone must have prizes’, or that all universities and courses are equal. This is not what I mean: Professor David Phoenix’s Social Mobility Index demonstrates that some universities, such as my old university of Bradford, Aston and Imperial College and others, perform particularly strongly at transforming students from disadvantaged backgrounds into highly employable graduates. A real-world focus is not about lowering aspirations, but achieving excellence through a focus on STEM, applied research, close links with employers and a ruthless focus on employability.
  • Lowering the bar for certain groups of students serves no one. It is patronising to expect less from some students under the guise of supporting them. Effective academic writing requires good spelling, punctuation and grammar from every student.

Wonkhe on Access:

  • Millward is leaving, and will shortly be replaced by someone that DfE appoints who Williamson is confident will: [From the speech]“See our access regime re-centred on the principles of equality of opportunity and high standards, and to see higher education providers working in partnership with schools to drive up attainment.”
  • That’s code for ‘less equality of outcomes, please’ – handy if your access outcomes would be affected by OfS causing the shuttering of some provision based on the where the baseline is – and to drive home the point, he also said this about subjects with a proceed figure of under 50%: [From the speech]“Students recruited on to such courses should not be able to be counted against a university’s access targets for access.” That’s actually a pretty significant statement. We all know that some subjects ‘carry the weight’ on access in some universities – and it’s long been argued that it’s bizarre that OfS doesn’t publish APP data at subject level by provider, a problem if you’re trying to understand social mobility in medicine or law or whatever. Looks like that will shortly change.

Wonkhe correcting the line on apprenticeships –

  • Williamson’s speech was largely a collection of the government’s greatest hits…and repeats of dodgy lines like this one on apprenticeships: “Five years after completion, the average Higher Apprentice earns more than the average graduate.”
  • That that’s a stat skewed by a very small number of high level apprenticeships in “leadership” that are primarily taken by people already in well-paid jobs – something in other speeches he’s appeared keen to put a stop to – was not mentioned.
  • And confusingly we got both “we need to do something for the 50% that don’t go to university” and “we need to change the choices of many that do”. Young people deserve to have choices, but only ones approved by DfE. Who is it that the government’s reform agenda is designed to address again?

Research Professional weren’t impressed with Williamson: The rest of the speech bordered on incomprehension and mutual contradiction as the education secretary said that “sending kids with low educational attainment to university will not turn them into high-flying graduates” before going on to praise David Phoenix’s social mobility index, which demonstrates precisely the ways in which universities turn disadvantaged entrants with poor results on paper into [checks notes] “high-flying graduates”.

Culture wars:

  • Yet too often, some universities seem more interested in pursuing a divisive agenda involving cancelling national heroes, debating about statues, anonymous reporting schemes for so-called micro-aggressions and politicising their curricula. Vice-chancellors who allow these initiatives to take place in their name must understand that they do nothing but undermine public confidence, widen divisions, and damage the sector.
  • I call on you to help bring our nation together, instead of driving our nation apart. Rather than manufacturing offences from the past, let us instead come together to tackle injustice and promote equality for the students and staff on today.

University spending: The Augar review concluded that the amount spent on teaching seemed low, while around £1,000 was spent per student on corporate activities and around £500 per student on marketing…I remained concerned that the sector isn’t doing enough to shift more of its income towards direct activity that improves learning outcomes or vital services like mental health support, and less on its own administration…As recipients of tens of billions of pounds of public money, universities have a duty to be careful stewards of taxpayers’ money. Our world reputation is built on the confidence we have in our academics, in their passion, their drive and their commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. We need to free them to do what they do best.

Also covered in the full speech: Lifelong loans, short course funding, something confusing about “modules”, antisemitism.

Rethinking HE

Education think tank EDSK published Value-able lessons. Here’s a teaser-

  • The debate over ‘low value’ HE has reached a stalemate. Numerous government ministers both past and present and the independent review of post-18 education…have criticised universities for delivering degree courses that do not offer sufficient ‘value’ – primarily in the form of higher graduate salaries and better employment prospects.
  • … The level of outstanding student loan debt was an eye-watering £161 billion at the end of 2019/20 and is set to grow by £15-20 billion every year for the foreseeable future. It is no wonder, then, that the Government is keen to reduce the cost to taxpayers of the Higher Education (HE) system, which is why bearing down on supposedly ‘low value’ courses is a tempting proposition.
  • … it is difficult to see how an HE institution (HEI) can confidently identify, let alone reduce, the provision of ‘low value’ courses if they are not privy to how ‘value’ is being defined. This may explain why HEIs have largely dismissed the accusations of ‘low value’ degrees while also questioning the metrics and approaches being employed to justify such criticism. In doing so, the HE sector has inadvertently given the impression that they are keener to defend the status quo than they are to put forward any alternative solutions to the Government’s financial predicament.
  • the ‘value’ of an institution or course is ultimately a subjective judgement
  • Neither the HE sector nor the Government are blameless in the debate over ‘low value’. The sector has been quick to criticise the Government’s stance on ‘low value’ courses and institutions without offering alternative solutions. At the same time, the Government has focused too much on what it doesn’t want from HE without explaining what it does want instead. If the Government continues to rail against ‘low value’ HE without describing a clear vision for what a ‘high value’ sector looks like, there can be few complaints from ministers if universities continue down their present path. What’s more, the notion that politicians and civil servants can judge the ‘value’ of any course or institution across the country based on little more than graduate salaries, employment outcomes or drop-out rates is not a tenable proposition from either a policy or statistical perspective. The DfE and OfS should acknowledge that the subjectivity surrounding the concept of ‘value’ is precisely why they must allow the choices of students, employers and other stakeholders to drive out ‘low value’ HE rather than trying to intervene themselves.

If you’ve read this far you’ll probably feel this all seems quite reasonable. Click here and scroll down to a succinct version of Recommendations – they certainly suggest a shake up of the HE sector.

Admissions

Record high numbers of students were accepted for undergraduate full time programmes in 2021-22 – UCAS: This means 37.9% of the entire UK 18 year old population is due to start a full-time undergraduate course, also a new high and surpassing last year’s equivalent figure of 36.4%. The number of disadvantaged students accepted has increased from 22.6% in 2020 to 23.5% in 2021. EU students numbers continue to plummet while non-EU international student numbers are up 5%. Less students (34% less) were placed through Clearing likely because record high grades meant more students were confirmed for their first choice programme. Overall, across all ages and domiciles the volume of students accepted is slightly down (less than 2%) on 2020 – however, Clearing remains open and final figures will be announced before Christmas.

UCAS have updated their interactive stats dashboards with the new data, and if you prefer words to hard numbers there is also a blog from UCAS’ Head of Data on Wonkhe.

Exam results – Education Select Committee (held 7 September)

Schools minister, Nick Gibb, was question by the Education Select Committee about the 2020-21 grade inflation. The Committee Chair asked if the Department was responsible for the widespread grade inflation and wanted to know what the driving factors were. Gibb responded that they were talking about a teacher assessed system, with very clear quality assurance processes in place. They had a lot of long conversations with stakeholders to get the best system that they could for their assessments. Gibb added that all exam results were backed up by the evidence that teachers had produced. He thought that teachers were the best people to estimate what grades their students should get.

On the gender based attainment gap in the exam results Gibb stated they were taking any attainment gap seriously and addressing it. The reasons for the differences were peculiar to this year and last year and were not an attainment trend. Gibb said that he did not think that it was right to draw wider conclusions about the education policies in place based on this attainment gap between boys and girls.

On private versus state education Gibb was questioned whether the grades actually represented the gap between the independent and state sector because of the differential learning loss that happened. Gibb responded that the independent sector was largely selective and was getting very high grades in general. The percentage increase actually showed trends that were existent even pre-pandemic. Gibb finished by saying that they had always tried, through reforms, to make the state sector competitive with the independent one and the gap between the two was narrowing each year before the pandemic.

On future exam results a Committee member asked what process was in place to balance fairness for future cohorts and maintain assessment standards.

Ian Bauckham (Interim Chair of Ofqual) stated that the decisions for 2022 would be slightly different than those taken for 2021. There were a range of risks and considerations that they would take into account, including the significant rise in high grades that they had seen in previous years, as well as fairness towards students. Bauckman ensured the Committee that they would reach a view that balanced all their interests and was cognisant of the risks involved while also being fair. It was stated that decisions on the 2022 exam system would be publicised in October. With a consultation to be launched imminently on what information would need to be gathered in the event that in-person exams cannot go ahead in 022. Gibb stated that his view was to assume exams would go ahead but to also prepare for the worst. Information on current appeals (relating 2021 results) will be published in December. The Chair asked if the grade inflation for 2021/22 would be compared to that in 2019 or that in 2020/2021. Gibb replied that this was a very technical and difficult decision that they would make public in October.

In Education Questions this week Nick Gibb stated the grading system would remain the same and that rumours of A** grades were just rumours.

Exam Results

Statistics from the DfE on A-level results day showed that:

  • Comparison of grades between this year and last year showed no notable changes in historic disparities between groups of students and types of school; 88.4% of grades are A* to C at A level, compared to 87.8% in 2020.
  • There was a 15.8% increase relative to last year in the proportion of grades at A and A* in academies, compared with 15.2% in independent schools. That represents a 5.7pp increase in the proportion of grades at A and A* from last year in academies, compared with a 9.3ppt increase in independent schools.
  • In real terms, this means there are 1.21 times more A and A* grades in academies, compared to 1.17 times more A and A* grades in independent schools, in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • Maths remains the most popular subject at A level with a 3.8% increase in entries this year;
  • 4% increase in STEM subjects, with 1.9% more girls taking A levels in Maths and 8.3% more in Physics, building on significant progress in this area since 2010.
  • Over 340,000 certificates awarded to a wide range of students who have undertaken Level 3 vocational and technical qualifications, with results broadly similar to previous years.

Access and Participation

Research Professional report on the IPPO review – details below.

  • The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to universities’ widening participation initiatives, according to a report commissioned by the Department for Education.
  • “rapid evidence review” carried out by the International Public Policy Observatory, a collaboration between think tanks and universities, found that Black, Asian and minority ethnic school leavers and those from lower socioeconomic groups had achieved lower grades in 2020, after changes to exams caused by the pandemic, than their benchmark cohort in 2016.
  • Working-class school leavers were also more likely, as a result of the pandemic, to be rethinking their plans to attend university, while the training of teachers and healthcare workers has been particularly badly hit by education closures.
  • The study, undertaken after a recommendation by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, is one of four evidence reviews relating to the pandemic’s impact on different levels of education.
  • It suggests that mentoring, plus financial incentives and support with university entrance applications, could help mitigate some of the negative effects on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

You will also be interested in the potential changes ahead for Access and Participation mentioned in Gavin Williamson’s speech above.

Parliamentary Question – what steps he is taking to ensure students from low socio-economic backgrounds can progress to university following the removal of BTEC courses.

International

Parliamentary Questions: International Student vaccinations; International students quarantine hardship: International students facing significant financial hardship as a result of the requirement to quarantine in a managed quarantine facility can apply for hardship arrangements, including deferred payment plans. In exceptional circumstances reductions and waivers may be granted. We will continue to keep our hardship policy under review.

International students were also mentioned several times in this short Q and A debate. Minister Williamson side stepped the questions on quarantine and hardship.

International student recruitment: Why aren’t we second? Part 2: UUK International (UUKi) published analysis stating that UK universities are losing ground in the race for international students because of high costs, visa difficulties and limited marketing in the face of rising competition from other countries. The report makes a series of recommendations for cementing the UK’s global popularity as a study destination and achieving the UK government’s ambitions for international student number growth. UUKi say the analysis draws on in-depth research and focus group interviews with prospective students, alumni, and recruitment agents in eight recruitment markets in three categories: where the UK should maintain its position (Nigeria, Saudi Arabia), regain its standing (India, Pakistan) and develop its recruitment (Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam).

The study reveals that students consider cost effectiveness, return on investment and career options when choosing a study destination abroad. The factors influencing their decision most include affordability (especially scholarship availability), post-study work opportunities, welcome and safety, and the quality of education.

The costs and benefits of International student to the UK economy: HEPI published a major international student report along with Universities UK International (UUKi) this week updating their previous in-depth analysis. Dods summarise the report:

Every part of the UK is financially better off – on average by £390 per person – because of international students.  The research finds that just one year’s intake of incoming international students is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy.  

 Economic benefits

  • The tuition fee income generated by international students studying in the UK, as well as the knock-on (or ‘indirect’ and ‘induced’) effects throughout the UK economy associated with UK universities’ spending of this international fee income on staff, goods, and services;
  • The income associated with the non-tuition fee (i.e. living cost) expenditure of international students, and the subsequent knock-on effects of this expenditure throughout the wider economy (i.e. the indirect and induced effects); and
  • The income associated with the spending of friends and family visiting international students whilst studying in the UK. Again, this expenditure leads to subsequent knock-on (indirect and induced) effects throughout the UK economy.

Public costs

  • The teaching grant costs incurred by the Office for Students, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council, and the Department for the Economy for Northern Ireland to fund higher education institutions’ provision of teaching and learning activities (for EU students only);
  • The costs associated with the tuition fee support (through loans and/or grants) provided to EU students studying across the home nations; and
  • The costs associated with the provision of other public services to international students or their dependants. This includes the costs associated with public healthcare (net of the NHS Immigration Health Surcharge); housing and community amenities; primary and secondary-level education received by dependent children; social security; public order and safety; defence; economic affairs; recreation and culture; environmental protection, and other general public services. We also include the costs associated with ‘non-identifiable’ public expenditure incurred by the UK Exchequer on behalf of the UK as a whole (e.g. expenditure relating to the servicing of the national debt), as well as expenditure on overseas activities (e.g. diplomatic activities etc.). This approach underestimates the economic benefits and overstates the economic costs associated with hosting international students in the UK. As such, the estimates of the net economic impact and the benefit to cost ratios should be considered at the lower end of the plausible range.

Soft Power: HEPI also published their annual Soft-Power Index for 2021 considering the impact of world leaders who were educated in countries other than their own.

Student Mobility: Turing

The Government has published which institutions will receive funds under the new Turing Scheme for 20212/22:

  • 363 projects funded (out of 412 applications)
  • At a total fund cost of £96,215,683
  • For 40,032 placements
  • 8% of the placements are for participants from disadvantaged backgrounds

Student Voices

Wonkhe have been listening to the incoming Student Union Officers across the country and have an interesting new blog highlighting 7 similarities in the Officers’ manifestos and concerns. They suggest it clues the sector in on key concerns for the current student body. The blog is worth a read and here are the 7 factors to watch out for in short form:

  1. Focus on diversity.
  2. Volume of complaints.
  3. Access to people and things on a “course”.
  4. Consistent standards/fairness – “how is it allowed or tolerated that one module leader can return your email in a week and another six – and nobody even says sorry”. Also there’s renewed interest in the courses that subsidise other courses.
  5. Done to/authoritarianism – the lack of a plan or any meaningful monitoring behind big policy issues at many universities. “I asked what the actual plan was to close the gap and I was told to discuss that ‘offline’” and “the target is two weeks but they never publish the data” are the sorts of comments that have come up with fascinating regularity. 
  6. Students as activist consumersIt is about people responding to emails, tackling pockets of manifestly poor teaching and reducing wait times to see mental health triage. This is the most interested in education – its regulation, its economics and the system that underpins its delivery – I can ever remember SU officers being. Increasingly, it feels more and more like they want students to be treated like humans in a mass higher education system – which will need more than pockets of goodwill and a policy review, and much faster feedback cycles than the NSS.
  7. Deep concern over learning loss, grade inflation and mental health – proactive clubs, reaching out, early identification and academic and mental health support

Meanwhile HEPI have a collection of essaysWhat is the student voice? Thirteen essays on how to listen to students and how to act on what they say. It includes:

  • Students as governors: walking the tightrope and shouting into the void
  • What do students think and how do universities find out?
  • Disabled students: the experts we forget we need
  • Using surveys to represent the student voice and demonstrate the quality of the experience
  • The virtuous loop: capturing the student voice through course and module evaluation
  • The student voice at the heart of the system (but only when they’re thinking what we’re thinking)
  • The Office for Students’ Student Panel in their own words
  • The importance of the NUS for representing the voices of students
  • Restoring the real student voice
  • Students’ voices in curriculum design
  • The student voice and accommodation
  • Mature students: a silent or a silenced voice?
  • International students in the UK – perspectives put in context

Parliamentary Questions

  • Ethnicity degree outcome gap
  • AntisemitismAdoption of the IHRA definition is only a first step, and while the government considers that adoption of the definition is crucial, it is not enough on its own. That is why I will continue to work with the sector to ensure it better understands antisemitism and does more to end it.
  • Students not benefiting from the 30 hours free childcare provision because not classified as working.

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 have been a myriad of new consultations and inquiries over the summer. The above document contains only those relevant to general HE matters. Academic colleagues will likely wish to peruse the wider list of specialist consultations and inquiries that may be relevant to their research interests. This is shared each week through the policy influence digest. Contact us if you are not a subscriber but wish to access this list.

Other news

Online learning: Wonkhe report – Two-thirds of students rated their experiences with online learning positively, but only a third felt that universities were listening to their concerns. That’s according to Jisc’s annual student digital experience insight survey, which found that just over half (51 per cent) of students received support in their transition to digital learning. With a majority of students reporting barriers such as poor wifi connection and a lack of specialist software, Jisc calls on universities to better support students through digital infrastructure and online-specific course design.

Inclusion & academic confidence: The UPP Foundation Student Futures Commission published their interim report – read the key points in this Wonkhe blog which set out priorities for supporting student success post-Covid.

Complaints: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) published their third set of case studies outlining complaints about changes to course delivery and assessments, accommodation, and disciplinary action arising from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It includes examples where the HE provider has agreed to settle the student’s complaint because of the OIA’s decision in a similar case.

Nursing: Nursing workforce (very short) debate in Parliament (Lords) on 8 September.

Cyber security: Wonkhe blog – Offering flexible working conditions to skilled IT professionals could mean the difference between flunking and surviving a cyber-attack, says John Chapman.

NSS: Wonkhe – The Office for Students has published data for its key performance measure 10, which tracks the proportion of students who responded positively to the National Student Survey question on overall satisfaction. This number dropped 7.4 percentage points compared to the 2019-20 academic year, reaching an all-time low of 74.9 per cent. OfS says it is “working on a target for this measure”.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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Care at home in the time of covid.

Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing have socially and spatially reorganised the reproductive labour entailed in supporting, maintaining and sustaining people in everyday life. The closure of schools, day centres, shops and non-essential services, alongside prohibitions on household mixing, have meant that caring work has been much more spatially concentrated and contained within households than in normal times. For reasons of health, age or physical frailty, a large number of adults have come to depend more than usual on others to support and care for them at home.

Over the past year, I’ve been carrying out a British Academy-funded study exploring the experiences of people who provide home-based care and support. I’ve examined three areas, or what I call infrastructures of provision; family carers, home (domiciliary) care services and voluntary and community sector initiatives which support people at home. Focusing on Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole (BCP) and Dorset local authority areas, I’ve been examining the challenges these infrastructures faced during the pandemic. I’ve carried out semi-structured interviews with carers, volunteers and volunteer coordinators, as well as home (domiciliary) care workers and their managers, to learn about their experiences.

Social care, the voluntary and community sector and the family are usually studied separately. Why does this study bring them together?

Firstly, despite differences between them, there are some basic similarities between what volunteers, care workers and carers do in looking after people in their own homes during the pandemic. All have been directly engaged in the vitally important work of sustaining people through the crisis, keeping them safe at home by ensuring some of their essential needs (for food, medicines) were met. Many were also providing company and comfort for people isolated at home. They did this in different ways depending on their role – in person, with PPE, over the phone, or at a safe two meters distance from the front door.

Another feature shared across the three infrastructures is the low levels of public investment each receives. The social care system has always been highly residual in the UK (Lewis 2001), but is becoming even more so. In recent years, the numbers of people entitled to public support with social care costs has been in overall decline, particularly amongst adults of retirement age (Bottery 2020). Home care workers in social care are also amongst the lowest paid workers in the UK, at a median hourly rate of £8.50 (Skills for care 2021).
Similarly, state financial support for carers is one of the lowest paid amongst all state benefits, at £67.25 per week, and many carers are in financial hardship (Carers UK 2021). The voluntary and community sector has been significantly impacted by government austerity measures over the last decade, albeit unevenly (Kay 2020). Many voluntary organisations rely on support from local authorities, which have absorbed massive cuts to public finances.

Thus, despite its high social value and the fact that it has been indispensible to the welfare and wellbeing of large numbers of people during the pandemic, the work carried out by carers, care workers and volunteers receives shockingly meagre levels of public funding. That this contradiction is both unsustainable and deeply unjust has long been recognised by policy makers, campaigning groups, academics, trade unions and some politicians (see further Bear et al 2020, Dowling 2021, Wood and Skeggs 2020).

Taking a broader historical perspective, some feminist scholars argue that this contradiction is a systemic feature of capitalism. Capitalist accumulation depends on activities that recreate and sustain people, thereby enabling workers, consumers, markets, production and productivity to exist at all. But it also relies on offloading the costs of these activities (eg., onto families) such that they do not overly impede the creation and expansion of wealth, but instead appear to be separate and external to it (Ferguson 2020). Nonetheless, political demands that a greater share of this wealth be redistributed to enable people to better sustain themselves and each other can be and have been made, in different historical contexts, and with mixed successes. The outcomes of this core tension are not given, but are constantly being worked out in social and political life.

In the present moment in the UK, the pandemic has made starker than ever the contradiction between the vital importance of home care on the one hand, and its underinvestment and public neglect on the other. As large parts of the productive economy were shut down, a new appreciation of essential workers crystallized, and our collective dependence on their contribution was publicly ritualised in the weekly ‘clap for our carers’ event. Public support for greater care justice appears to be growing (Wood and Skeggs, 2020). This makes now a key moment to capture and compare the experiences of people who sustained others during the pandemic, and consider how these could inform the creation of a new, fairer care settlement in the UK.

References

Bear, L., James, D., Simpson, N., Alexander, E., Bhogal, J., Bowers, R., Cannell, F., Lohiya, A., Koch, I., Laws, M., Lenhard, J., Long, N., Pearson, A., Samanani, F., Vicol, D., Vieira, J., Watt, C., Wuerth, M., Whittle, C., Bărbulescu, T., 2020. The right to care. The social foundations of recovery from Covid-19 [online]. Covid and care research group: London school of economics. Available from: https://www.lse.ac.uk/anthropology/assets/documents/research/Covid-and-Care/ARighttoCare-CovidandCare-Final-2310.pdf (Accessed 13.7.2021)

Bottery, S., 2020. Social care services. Funding cuts are biting hard. The Kings Fund [online]. 9th January. Available from: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2020/01/social-care-funding-cuts-are-biting-hard (Accessed 13.7.2021).

Carers UK, 2021. Fairer for carers – background information [online]. Carers UK. Available from: https://www.carersuk.org/news-and-campaigns/campaigns/fairer-for-carers-background (Accessed 13.7.2021).

Dowling, E., 2021. The care crisis. What caused it and how do we end it? London: Verso.

Ferguson, S., 2020. Women and work. Feminism, labour and social reproduction. London: Pluto Press

Kay, L., 2020. Ten years of cuts have ‘damaged health and widened regional inequality’ [online]. Third sector, 20th February 2020. Available from: https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/ten-years-cuts-have-damaged-health-widened-regional-inequality/policy-and-politics/article/1674970 (Accessed 13.7.2021).

Lewis, J., 2001. Older people and the health-social care boundary in the UK: Half a century of hidden policy conflict. Social policy & administration. 35 (4), 343-359.

Skills for Care, 2021. Pay in the adult social care sector [online]. Available from: https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/adult-social-care-workforce-data/Workforce-intelligence/documents/Pay-in-ASC-sector-2020.pdf (Accessed 13.7.2021)

Wood, H and Skeggs, B., 2021. Clap for carers? From care gratitude to care justice. European journal of cultural studies, 23 (4), 641-647.

HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th July 2021

The expected deluge of summer regulatory news is still a trickle, but one outstanding consultation has reported  – the one on monetary penalties, which no-one hopes to have to deal with. The Skills and Post-16 Bill began the Committee stage with interesting debate and the continued criticism of what is lacking; Lord Storey’s essay mills bill was warmly received in its second reading by a small group of attending Lords; UCAS data shows growth in applications and offer making for new entrants; Nicola Dandridge remains as Chief Executive of the OfS (for now); there is Life Sciences news; and the Government announcements unlocking the Covid restrictions permit face to face teaching, for now, anyway.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill entered the Committee stage. You can read the full debate or we bring you the most relevant HE discussion below. All amendments debated were either withdrawn or not moved, however, the content of the discussions is useful and interesting and Government advisers will have taken note of the points raised and general feeling within the Lords chamber.

  • Amendment 1 sought to ensure that the interests of students whose needs were not encompassed by local employers were included within the Bill…a strong link between local business and local skills provision were a good idea, but the interests of potential students were missing.
  • A request that providers of distance learning were taken into account when creating local skills improvement plans…the likes of the Open University had been “a life-changer for many who could not study residentially.”
  • Amendment 22 (Lord Addington) aimed to ensure special education needs provision was included in the initial planning of courses and training…a key benefit…would be in helping them to identify those in high-needs groups, and provide the relevant support. And Amendment 26 sought to ensure those with SEND would be supported to look further afield than their local area, to find appropriate careers that were more comfortable to them.
  • Baroness Fox of Buckley’s major concern with the Bill was that “it focuses too narrowly on the skills required by local employers,” which she said could narrow the options for students. She stated that agreed with the Chief Executive of the Workers’ Educational Association who has stated that Bill was “quiet on support for any qualifications below Level 3″, which “offer many adult learners key progression routes.” Also that the Bill did little to support subjects outside a narrow band of technical disciplines.
  • Defending the Bill on behalf of the Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (DfE and DTI), Baroness Berridge, said the Bill was much wider than just the technical education part that formed the “central plank” of the local skills improvement plan… the Bill did not exclude any particular level of qualification. The limiting was the technical education section of what the providers in a local area would have due regard to when they considered the local skills improvement plan.
  • Lord Aberdare (CB) cited a 2019 report by Future Founders that revealed that 51 percent of British young people aged 14 to 25 had thought about starting, or had already started, a business. He said that the Bill should address their needs, and not focus only on the skills need of existing employers.
  • Lord Young (Lab) said he was fascinated to learn that students applying to UCAS were not just given the opportunity of university places but directed towards apprenticeships.
  • Baroness Berridge (Government representative) added that the designated employer body would need to engage and work closely with providers, which included the Careers and Enterprise Company, local careers hubs, the National Careers Service, area-based contractors and Jobcentre Plus. She continued that they were currently contemplating two study programmes specifically designed to prepare young people for employment: traineeships and supported internships.
  • Baroness Hayman (CB) moved Amendment 3, which would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training was “material” to a specified area, consideration had to also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities or expertise align with the UK’s net zero She added that an estimated 3.2 million workers in the UK needed to increase their skill level or retrain in a new qualification if the UK was to meet its net zero target, and if they were to get the jobs that would be available.
  • Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) moved Amendment 4 (to Amendment 3), which would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training is “material” to a specified area, consideration must also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities and expertise aligned with biodiversity targets.

The above two points illustrate the frequent criticism that the Bill did not offer more content linked to the climate and ecological emergency. Moreover:

  • The Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change, Lord Oates, stated that the local dimension was often missing from thinking on net zero. Baroness Wilcox of Newport, there was currently not a single reference to climate considerations in the Bill. Baroness Berridge offered assurance that the Government took net zero skills seriously, and there would not be a green gap in the guidance. She stressed that net zero, green technology and decarbonisation were common themes in the proposals that Government had received from the employer representative bodies seeking to lead the local skills improvement panel trailblazers. She added that the expectation was that the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under Clause 1 would reflect zero-carbon goals as businesses and employers responded to climate change and the biodiversity agenda.
  • Opposition Spokesperson for Education Lord Watson of Invergowrie warned – Although we fully support the principle of employers playing a more active role in driving certain aspects of the skills system, as well as a more specialised role for FE colleges in delivering higher-level technical skills, that must take place within the context of a holistic and objective overview of the whole education, skills and employment support system, to guard against introducing further complexity.
  • Baroness Berridge (Government representative) told the chamber that the local skills improvement plans would set out the key changes needed for post-16 technical education training, and make it more responsive to employers’ needs. Addressing some of the amendments, she said that “the relevant providers will play an important role, working with the employer representative bodies to develop these plans. We have not taken them out of the picture; the duty is there to co-operate.”

Wonkhe explain about the Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs): Though the committee was not divided, speaking on behalf of the government, Baroness Berridge confirmed providers (including distance learning providers like the Open University) will be able to participate in multiple LSIPs. We also learned that the six-to-eight “trailblazer” LSIPs, from 40 bids, would be announced later this month and will run until 2022.

The Bill will be debated at Committee Stage again on 15 and 19 July.

Contract Cheating

Lord Storey’s Private Member’s Bill (PMB), the Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill, completed the second reading stage on 25 June with support and warm words from a small group of peers and the Minister.

Lord Storey currently has an amendment lodged to the Skills Bill, it wasn’t chosen for debate this week. We’ll wait to see if it comes up in the two remaining days of the Bills’ Committee stage. If it is it’ll give us an indication of the wider parliamentary mood for the abolition of essay mills. If his amendment succeeds (in some form) he’ll likely withdraw his PMB. Or it may go the other way, and the amendment be dropped in favour of another measure.  PMBs rarely make it onto the statue book because of shortage of time, but this time government support may help it go further.

The second reading discussion also clarified that while contract cheating may also be taking place during A levels the Minister favours confining the Bill to HE. Whilst the tone of the second reading was favourable there is still a long road the Bill needs to traverse.  You’ll also note in the Minister’s response below that emphasis is placed on HE institutions to addressing contract cheating.

Excerpts from Minister’s response:

  • It is clear that there is a strong case for supporting institutions to address this matter robustly. We have much sympathy with the noble Lord’s aims through his Bill and would welcome further discussion with him about it.
  • Some of the Bill’s provisions need careful attention…he has brought forward the Bill in the spirit of seeking to find a solution to the problem…It has the potential, particularly as part of a wider approach, to reduce the number of essay mills in operation. It would also send a clear sign to students and the companies themselves that this activity is illegal.
  • Some noble Lords mentioned the international action that has been taken…Emerging evidence in both those jurisdictions suggests that those laws are deterring essay mills from providing services to students, and regulators there have reported that having the legislation has provided them with more tools to engage students, higher education providers and cheating services, and that it has given them additional routes to tackle the problem.
  • It is an important and timely Bill that needs to be considered carefully to maximise its effectiveness but, alongside a continued and collaborative effort with the sector to deter, detect and address contract cheating, it is one that could enable us to face the problem head-on.

Meanwhile Research Professional states that universities have been warned that essay mills are targeting institutions’ websites in a bid to reach students, which could put the “reputation and integrity” of universities at risk.

Research

UKRI Chair: The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee supported the appointment of Sir Andrew Mackenzie for the role of Chair of UKRI (report). The Committee concludes that, on the basis of the discussions during the pre-appointment hearing, its consideration of his CV, and the answers he provided to the Committee’s questionnaire, Sir Andrew’s career provides him with the professional competence and many of the skills required for the role of Chair of UK Research and Innovation. The Committee raises concerns that a robust process should be put in place to manage any actual or perceived future conflicts of interest between the role of Chair of UKRI and Sir Andrew’s part-time role as Chair of Shell.

Life Sciences: The Government published a new UK Life Science Vision setting out a 10-year strategy for the sector to build on successes achieved during the pandemic. The Vision outlines 7 critical healthcare missions for Government, industry, the NHS, academic and medical research charities:

  1. Accelerating the pace of studies into novel dementia treatment
  2. Enabling early diagnosis and treatments, including immune therapies such as cancer vaccines
  3. Sustaining the UK’s position in vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing
  4. Treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases and its major risk factors, including obesity
  5. Reducing mortality and morbidity from respiratory disease in the UK and globally
  6. Addressing the underlying biology of ageing
  7. Increasing the understanding of mental health conditions, including work to redefine diseases and develop tools to address them

A central component of the vision is that it contains a focus on cultivating a business environment which will allow UK life science firms to access finance to innovate and grow; and are incentivised to onshore manufacture and commercialise their products.

To support the vision, the Government has launched a £200m Life Sciences Investment Programme and expects the programme to leverage further private sector investment. Dods tell us that new funding will also come from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company, which has committed to invest £800m to the life sciences industry, working with British Patient Capital.

The Minister may have changed but the content of the speeches hasn’t – new Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: We have made immense strides in health research over the past year – the discovery of the use of dexamethasone and our vaccine rollout have been crucial to saving hundreds of thousands of lives and tackling COVID-19. It’s crucial we continue to harness this enthusiasm and innovation, and map out a new route as we build back better. Today’s bold vision commits to putting the lessons we’ve learnt into action to transform the UK into a life sciences superpower.

Life Sciences Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: We want to bottle up this scientific brilliance, and the Life Sciences Vision provides a roadmap for how we apply this innovation at the heart of our NHS helping to solve major health challenges such as dementia and obesity – all while ensuring the UK remains a global leader in life sciences.

Research Professional blog: Focusing life sciences policy on medicine would miss huge opportunities in other fields, says Neil Hall.

ARIA: Recruitment for the first Chair of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) has begun with a focus on management over research experience. In their scrutiny of the full Bill text, MPs were keen to ensure clear measures of transparency were in place for the head of the new agency, and that there could be no room for conflicts of interest. The chair will act as a “custodian for Aria’s mission and objectives,” and be responsible for supporting overall direction and management, ensuring that the board takes an effective governance role. It adds that it is vital that any applicant is an “experienced board member”, among a list of other management-focused essential criteria. But “experience in public or private sector R&D” is only listed as desirable. It is a 4-5 year appointment (2 days a week, £60k). The ARIA Bill itself is still awaiting a Second Reading date for its procession through the House of Lords, so far a one month delay.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said whoever is appointed “will have the opportunity to make history” as the holder of one of ARIA’s pivotal roles: “We are looking for someone who commands the confidence of academic, business, higher education and policy communities, promote[s] effective stakeholder engagement, guide[s], and challenge[s] the development of Aria’s organisational approach.”

Ethics Appointment: Felicity Burch has been appointed executive director of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

Admissions – applicant data

UCAS released interactive data for applications made to the 30 June 2021 deadline highlighting increased offer making and application levels. Searches for apprenticeships also continue to rise. There were 456,190 18 year old applicants to English institutions. Overall, a total of 682,010 applicants (+4% on 2020) made 2,955,990 applications (+6%), resulting in 1,998,690 offers (+3%).

Also reported is that UCAS’s CareerFinder, which helps students find jobs and degree/higher apprenticeships, saw a record 1.35 million searches in the last 12 months, up 37% from 986,000 in 2020. These searches have resulted in 225,000 job applications, an increase from 181,000 last year (+24%).  You’ll want to play with the data as it offers all these additional granular options.

Research Professional’s Admission Control interprets the data excellently. The piece quickly reminds us of the history of how students bear the financial burden for funding HE institutions and the associated decline in the teaching grant over the year; it touches on grade inflation in school results, explains the jump in applicant numbers, and that applications to the higher tariff and more selective institutions increased – reminding that some institutions will likely be losers despite the greater numbers intending to enter HE. Also:

  • The bigger problem may be shifts within institutions, with healthcare, for example, a growing part of the post-1992 portfolio; while the arts and social sciences are retreating into high-tariff institutions, with corresponding departmental closures elsewhere.

Confirmation and clearing are expected to be different this year:

  • With more cautious offer-making this cycle, higher-tariff universities may well be filling their places with applicants who have made them their firm first choice, and have less room for recruitment of school leavers in clearingIf awarded grades are much closer to predicted grades than in a year when in-person examinations were held, we might anticipate more school leavers’ places being settled in confirmation than in clearing.

Data HE also make an interesting point: because the main Ucas deadline in January was disrupted and moved to a later date, the figures this year give “a fuller picture of demand” than in previous years…while total offers were up, the offer rate to 18-year-olds appeared to be down—which…would be “the first fall of the post-2012 era”…This was “driven by a five-point collapse in the offer rate from higher-tariff providers, probably back to levels we last saw seven or eight years ago”. “These universities are responding the best they can to the twin pressures of surging applications and unprecedented uncertainty in the [A-level or equivalent] awarded grades…Even with their trimming back of offers, and probably harsher offer conditions too, many will be on full alert for results in August, where another strong increase in grades could be hard to honour in full. With no reason at the moment to expect demand to recede in the 2020s, this downward turn in the offer rate might well be the first chill wind of a harsher world for university applicants. Where the balance of supply and demand is no longer in their favour, and greater flexibility on universities and subjects might be needed to get in.”

On this Wonkhe conclude similarly: Last year saw a sizable increase in applications to higher tariff providers, and this trend continues into 2021. However, even though the number of offers made has also grown, the effect is that the offer rate (the proportion of applications that result in an offer) has dropped – from around 73 per cent in 2019 and 2020 to 68 per cent in 2021. My proposed explanation for this would be capacity – many high tariff providers are already above capacity for 2020, taking too much from the fertile pool that is 2021 starts to put serious pressure on estates and available accommodation.

What the coverage doesn’t raise is the Government’s agenda to divert a proportion of students away from HE into a higher technical route which they believe will be more controlled and meet local and national business and skills needs. The government are also very concerned about the rising cost of the student loan book. If record numbers enrol for September the sector will likely need to brace itself for a fresh wave of criticism from Government as they seek to assert more control and value for money.

Wonkhe offer blogs by UCAS – Rich O’Kelly breaks down the data and says the rise in applications is not all down to Covid-19; and everyone’s favourite HE data guru David Kernohan: More eighteen year olds from China have applied to start a UK undergraduate course in 2021 than eighteen year olds from Wales. And just what is happening with Nigerian mature students.

Excerpts from David’s blog: With youth unemployment at a historic high, you’d be wise to expect an uptick in applications to undergraduate higher education in 2021. And you’d be right. It’s testament to the continuing attractions of university study after a sustained period of barely-disguised ministerial attacks – the application rate in England has hit 43.9 per cent. It also notes the continued decline of EU domiciled applications.

And on the best approach to teaching and the student experience the blog says:

  • Playing into a captive market – there’s not many jobs about, placement-related learning and apprenticeships are tricky, travelling is unlikely – we should be wary of complacency regarding the experience of students in a likely Covid-filled autumn. There’ll certainly be no help from government. We should by now have learned what works online and what doesn’t – the planning of contact hours should be the key thing course teams are looking at right now.
  • I would argue that the instinct to shift large lectures online is the right one. A combination of the increasing demand for recorded lectures from students, and the still-a-thing pedagogic trend of the split classroom both play in to shifting the mass transmission of information online to prevent the mass transmission of Covid-19.
  • The trouble will come in… A sensible pedagogic and public health decision can also look like a decrease in value for money. This effect has already played a part in the “contact hours” debate, and it has certainly been the main colour to the arguments about the lack of face to face this year. In person teaching in small groups is what we should be looking for – ditching the big lecture hall events will have a reputational but not a pedagogic impact.

Access & Participation

Importance of Place: Research Professional report – Chris Millward returned yesterday in a blogpost looking at the impact of “place” on university access. Using an analysis of the OfS’s “associations between characteristics of students” measure, he found that “more than 90 per cent of the lowest-participation group are white students who have been eligible for free school meals or come from the lowest-participation neighbourhoods”. “So income is important, but so is place,” he concluded. You can read the blogpost here. It’s an OfS blog.

Wonkhe: The Office for Students blog has a transcript of Director of Fair Access Chris Millward’s contribution to a Sutton Trust webinar on the factors that affect access to higher education.

And you can read the latest about Chris Millward below in Other news.

Parliamentary Questions:

How to be an ally

Our own Toluwa Atilade (SUBU Vice-President Welfare and Community) and Roshana Wickremasinghe (SUBU Policy Adviser) have written a blog for Wonkhe “Where are the black squares now?” on allyship.  They note:

  • With the press coverage of the recent Freedom of Speech Bill, it was clear that students’ unions still have a reputation for upholding “cancel culture” through no-platforming, or the use of safe spaces.
  • Our commitment to creating a culture of allyship hopefully shows that this is not the case, and that we understand that students and staff are willing to learn more and work on their own biases. 

You can find the SUBU allyship hub here.

Post Graduate survey

Wonkhe: The Office for Students has finally published some details about the 2019 trial of a PGT student questionnaire. The regulator learned “valuable lessons” about how the survey operated and how to obtain a robust sample, and has indicated that it will refine the questionnaire to make it more relevant to distance learning and part-time students via some workshops with provider and student representatives. A news story adds that students are keen to share views about course experiences, and that further information will be available by the end of Summer 2021.

More detail is available on the OfS blog: Developing a survey of taught postgraduate students.

International

A parliamentary question: Q – Munira Wilson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will make it her policy to grant cost exemptions to students who need to extend their visas to complete their course in the UK as a result of the duration of their courses being extended due to the covid-19 outbreak.

A – Kevin Foster: We have no plans to exempt students from paying an application fee where they require further time to complete a course of study.

Wonkhe tell us that The Independent has a piece from Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran on support for Hong Kongers arriving in the UK on the British Nationals Overseas scheme – including helping them access higher education.

Covid unlocking

The Government announcements on progression with the Covid roadmap was followed by a House of Commons parliamentary debate on Covid-19 in Education Settings lead by Education SoS, Gavin Williamson. Operational guidance for HE providers was also published. As you’ll likely be aware of the announcement we’ll cover them as quickly as possible. If you’d like more detail do read the transcript of the debate or this Commons’ Library research briefing.

  • From September no restrictions on in-person teaching at universities, unless students were told to isolate or were impacted by local outbreaks.
  • Williamson said a “more proportionate set of controls” would apply to early years, schools, colleges and HE institutions, and that these would maintain their baseline of protective measures, while minimising disruption. Settings will continue to have a role in working with health protection teams in the case of a local outbreak. Where necessary, some measures may need to be reintroduced.
  • Williamson: looking towards 2022 and assessment and the awarding of grades. It is our intention to move back to an exam system, but we recognise that we must ensure that mitigations are in place for pupils taking that assessment in the next academic year. We will look at sharing more information about what those mitigations are before the summer, and we will update his Education Committee and the House accordingly.
  • Emma Hardy (Labour) asked What are the Government doing to prevent the chaos of last year by ensuring that all higher education students can receive both vaccinations before moving around the country to their university? How will the Secretary of State ensure that those turning 18 late in this academic year are offered both vaccinations before they move to university? Williamson stated they were working closely with the university sector to “get the message through about how important it is for youngsters—students—to be out there getting their vaccine: it protects not only them, but their friends, their family and their community.”
  • Williamson: I want to encourage all teachers, educational staff and eligible students to get their vaccines
  • Christian Matheson raised that exam changes were made at the last minute, with very little time for schools and pupils to prepare. If the Secretary of State is considering changes to the exam system, will he have an open consultation with school leaders and teachers, and will he get the plans in place as early as possible, so that there is not the sense of teachers being dumped on at the last minute? Williamson responded: we talk continually to school leaders, teachers and many in the education sector on these issues. I can assure him that…we will be sharing further information on assessment in the next academic year.

A related parliamentary question asks about the resumption of face-to-face lectures in September 2021, Donelan responds, excerpt:

  • There will be no requirement for social distancing or other measures. Providers are, therefore, able to shape their courses without restrictions to face-to-face provision.
  • During the COVID-19 outbreak, many providers have developed their digital offering and, as autonomous institutions, some might choose to retain elements of this approach. However, they will not have to do this because of COVID-19 restrictions, and our expectations are very clear: universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition and ensure it is accessible to all students.
  • We expect providers to have contingency plans to deal with any identified positive cases of COVID-19 or outbreaks. HE providers should communicate clearly to their students what they can expect from planned teaching and learning under different circumstances and scenarios, so that they are able to make informed choices.
  • We will continue to keep these measures under review, informed by the latest scientific evidence and advice.

And another parliamentary question this time on Vaccinating young HE starters: If the Government will consider prioritising 17-year-old students [who are classed currently as children and not eligible for the vaccine] planning to start university in September 2021 to receive their first covid-19 vaccine so that those students will be able to be in receipt of two covid-19 vaccinations prior to the start of the 2021-22 academic year. Answer – we’ll be told in due course.

Wonkhe describe the media coverage:

  • The BBC, the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Independent cover Williamson’s statement, focusing on schools, and the Telegraph has an opinion piece wondering how Gavin Williamson still has a place in the cabinet.
  • The Times also has a comment by the columnist Sarah Ditum that argues students are right to ask for face-to-face teaching in September, while the Mail covers OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge’s comment to universities that lectures should only remain online where “standards are not being compromised”.

Wonkhe also have blogs: Jim Dickinson runs down how the guidance will change after 19 July and David Kernohan looks at the group of students most affected by vaccine age disparities ahead of the new academic year.

Research Professional have a good write up picking out and analysing key points in No limits, for now. Including:

  • In effect, responsibility for infection control is being passed from the Westminster government to higher education institutions in England. The devolved assemblies have yet to announce plans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • After 16 August, under-18s and fully vaccinated people who come into contact with a positive case of Covid will not be required to self-isolate. What could possibly go wrong? No chance of a general flouting of the rules. It all feels a bit like the prime minister has for now run out of road with his backbenchers—but that we will all be back in lockdown come the autumn.
  • We hope we are wrong. It would be heartbreaking to see another cohort of students recruited on a promise of open campuses only to spend the winter locked down in their rental accommodation.
  • Perhaps the reason a plan for the next academic term is not forthcoming from the Department for Education is because there is no plan for the country.

In addition last Friday Research Professional reported that

  • Johnson released a social media video to students graduating this year. He said that while “most of you faced, in fact, a very low personal risk from the coronavirus…the impact on your studies and on your lives, and in many cases the toll on your mental health, has been immense. I know in many cases it’s not what you signed up for.”
  • In his Twitter commencement speech, Johnson thanked graduating students for the “resilience” they had shown, before urging them to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He concluded by saying: “Thanks to your amazing spirit and dedication over the last 18 months, I know I can count on a whole generation of fantastic people with all the grit and determination and moxie and mojo and general oomph to make [‘building back better’] happen.”
  • Johnson failed to mention the modelling underway in the Treasury and the Department for Education with the aim for graduates to make larger student loan repayments to help cover the post-Covid national debt. Something else that they didn’t sign up for when they started their degrees.

Research Professional say:

  • What it means for universities is that come September, when students are returning to campus to form new households in shared housing and halls of residence—frequently identified as vectors of transmission—there will be little in the way of national planning for infection control. Despite the extension of the rollout to 18-year-olds, it is clear that vaccines on their own are not enough.
  • We still do not have a track-and-trace system up to the job, or financial support for isolation, or adequate border controls, or a strategy for effective local lockdowns. The prime minister and his new health secretary seem to be solely relying on vaccines as an emblem of the UK’s apparent status as a science superpower and are neglecting all the other elements necessary in a comprehensive and coherent strategy for public health.
  • The irreversible roadmap to freedom could yet unravel for the UK. It will certainly test universities this autumn.

Wales – university issues

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee held a one-off session on issues facing the Welsh University sector. It turns out that lots of the issues facing Welsh universities are similar to those facing English universities. Content included Erasmus, Horizon Europe, casualisation of staff, attractiveness of universities and the implications of the immigration system.

Graduate careers

Parliamentary question: Graduate work support and working with local employers to support new graduates into employment

Graduate training: Wonkhe highlight – report published today by the Learning and Work Institute and NOCN found that graduates are four times more likely to have received job-related training than those with lower level qualifications.

Blogs

Wonkhe: In the absence of a steady career ladder and predictable monetary returns for graduates, Zahir Irani says the HE sector will need to rethink how it delivers value for money.

HEPI: Careers Education for the ‘no-collar’ worker.

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.

As the first part of the regulatory deluge we have been expecting this summer (so far more of a trickle), the OfS have published the outcome of their consultation on monetary penalties.  Hopefully of minority interest, and with no surprises:

Following a thorough consideration of the consultation responses, the OfS has decided:

  • as a general principle, to calculate a monetary penalty by reference to a provider’s ‘qualifying income’ (which broadly includes all relevant fees for relevant higher education courses and OfS grants received by a provider for the relevant year)
  • to apply a five-step approach to the calculation, which takes into account a range of factors, including any mitigating and aggravating circumstances, before deciding on an appropriate penalty
  • to allow a provider to request a ‘settlement discount’ (leading to a discounted monetary penalty) in certain circumstances, where the provider agrees that it has breached a condition and accepts a monetary penalty
  • to recover the OfS’s costs in relation to the imposition of sanctions where appropriate.

Other news

Languages: Research Professional – The University Council of Modern Languages and the British Academy published (kind of) a report on granular trends in recruitment to higher education courses. To read more on Research Professional’s analysis and the limitations of the report scroll to part way down through this article.

OfS leaders: Nicola Dandridge’s contact as Chief Executive of the OfS has been extended for 1 more year until December 2022. Research Professional has the story here. Dandridge was originally appointed on a four-year term in 2017…  Education secretary Gavin Williamson has the option to extend Dandridge’s contract for 10 years, but the OfS said her contract could be extended again at the end of June next year.

Meanwhile Chris Millward Director for Fair Access and Participation will leave his role in December (when his contract ends) however Research Professional report he’ll be taking on a different role in the OfS. Research Professional: Millward has been busy in recent weeks, telling universities to stop using their Teaching Excellence Framework awards to promote themselves, heralding the number of women taking artificial intelligence postgraduate conversion courses and responding to a call from MPs for universities to be targeted on the number of white working-class students accessing higher education.

Open Access: Wonkhe tell us that Jisc has announced a two-year open access pilot agreement with the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Under the agreement, Jisc member institutions will be able to access and publish in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences without incurring any charges.

Decentralisation: Research Professional talk about the artificial divide between FE and HE in England and what more devolution (decentralisation) might offer.

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He policy update for the w/e 25th June 2021

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.

Research news

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.

Quick News

  • 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.

Two PQs:

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.

Graduate outcomes

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:

  1. Persistent and multigenerational disadvantage
  2. Placed-based factors, including regional economics and underinvestment
  3. Family experience of education
  4. A lack of social capital (for example the absence of community organisations and youth groups)
  5. Disengagement from the curriculum
  6. A failure to address low participation in higher education

They set out the following solutions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”

Wonkhe:

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.

Wonkhe blogs:

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.

Recommendations:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. ….
  4. In England, The Office for Students should be given strengthened responsibility to ensure fair access to postgraduate study, as it does at undergraduate level. …..
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

PQs

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

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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HE Policy Update for the w/e 3rd June 2021

A short update this week in a short week – but we know you’d miss it if we didn’t do an update.  And it’s an interesting one, with gossip and rebellion, and some hard(ish) data too.

Staff changes

It was announced after we published last week that Chris Millward would not be staying on at the OfS as Director for Fair Access and Participation when his contract ends in December.  No reasons are given, but it prompted Research Professional to speculate about Nicola Dandridge’s future as her contract also ends then.  These are political appointments – as RP point out, Chris was appointed in 2017 by then education secretary Justine Greening, then universities minister Jo Johnson and then OfS chair Michael Barber.  Times (and ministers) have changed a lot since then.

Of course there have also been rumours about changes at ministerial level too.  Only recently there was a story about a possible imminent reshuffle (which didn’t happen) in which more women would be promoted, and we have seen stories that Michelle Donelan is tipped for promotion. Meanwhile the Mail reported in April that Gavin Williamson was “desperately pleading” to be reshuffled into the chief whip position.  And that was before this week’s news on catch up funding for schools.

Given that new appointees to all these posts are likely to be very much “party line” people, and the new Chair of the OfS is already in place and setting the tone for the regulator, it would be surprising if changes made a big difference to HE policy.  But we might hope for a change in tone and better communications strategies.  Fewer emails late at night on a Friday, for example.

Development budget rebellion

We haven’t had a good parliamentary bust-up for a while.  Not that we are missing evenings in front of Parliament TV trying to work out how many rebels it would take to pass the various motions on Brexit.  Honestly, we don’t miss it.

The news today was full of a rebellion among conservative MPs over the cuts in the aid budget.  The MPs are using an amendment to the ARIA bill, which starts its report stage on Monday, to reinstate the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid.  These sorts of hijacks are rarely successful, partly because to be successful the speaker would first have to select the amendment, which they often don’t in these circumstances because it is deemed to be “outside the scope” of the bill or because it reopens an issue that has been discussed before in another more appropriate context.  But these sorts of parliamentary shenanigans do sometimes encourage the government to promise a rethink rather than risk a very embarrassing defeat in the House of Commons.  Note local MP Tobias Ellwood, who has been vocal on this issue, is among the rebels with his name on the amendment.

If you are interested, the amendment papers are here (they are likely to be updated before Monday) and as well as the aid one, include amendments about ARIA being carbon neutral, one about Ministerial conflicts of interest in financial matters and one reversing the proposal in the Bill that ARIA should be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and public procurement rules.

Fees, funding and rebates

Augar implementation: Following our coverage over the last couple of weeks on rumours about changes to the fees and funding architecture in England and in particular, the focus on the link between outcomes and funding (see more below on outcomes). HEPI has a blog on “mapping the policy influence of Augar”.  There are some lovely clear graphics which highlight, through their traffic light colour scheme, where government has been focussing.  Not on HE.  Yet.

  • The analysis highlights that the Government has responded in full to 21% (11) of the recommendations with partial responses to a further 30% (16) of them. This leaves 49% (26) that have yet to responded to in public at this current time. When you combine the yes and positive responses you see that we have a slim majority of recommendations that have received some form of response in a policy or practical manner.   

Rebates: The Students’ Unions at LSE and Sheffield University have been leading a campaign for students to receive a rebate for tuition fees for this year.  You can read their letter to Gavin Williamson here.   They commissioned London Economics to review the options.  You can see the analysis here.  It’s complicated, and there are lots of scenarios.  Note that if the rumours are true (see last week’s policy update) and the government are already looking at changing repayment terms to improve their bottom line, adopting these solutions to “pay” for a rebate would reduce their wiggle room to use it to pay for other things.  And one option is increasing the interest rate, when as we reported, there are lots of people arguing to reduce it.

The costs:

  • A notional 30% rebate represents approximately £1.39 billion. Of this total, approximately £0.88 billion is associated with students commencing their studies while £0.51 billion is associated with continuing students.
  • Illustrating the per student estimates, the rebate for a full-time undergraduate and postgraduate international students were estimated to be between £5,200 and £5,300 each.
  • The corresponding estimates for full-time postgraduate English domiciled and EU-domiciled students attending English higher education providers were estimated to be £2,100 and £2,300 respectively.
  • Although eligible for student support (and hence considered in detail in the remainder of the presentation), a 30% rebate for full time English-domiciled and EU-domiciled undergraduate students studying in England corresponds to £2,700 per student (and would total approximately £1.1 billion for all full-time and part-time 1st year students and £1.9 billion for full-time and part-time continuing students).

Some interesting facts:

  • Under the current funding system in 2020-21 (i.e. the Baseline), the Exchequer contributes approximately £10.656bn per cohort to the funding of higher education. In terms of constituent components, given that the RAB charge (i.e. the proportion of the total loan balance written off) stands at approximately 53.9%, maintenance loan write-offs cost the Exchequer £4.019bn per cohort, while tuition fee loan write-offs cost £5.395bn per cohort. The provision of Teaching Grants to higher education institutions (for high-cost subjects) results in additional costs of £1.242bn per cohort.
  • Higher education institutions receive approximately £11.147bn per cohort in net income, made up of approximately £10.093bn in tuition fee income (from undergraduate students), as well as £1.242bn in Teaching Grant income. Against this, institutions contribute approximately £189 million per cohort in fee and maintenance bursaries (predominantly the latter) in exchange for the right to charge tuition fees in excess of the ‘Basic Fee’ (£6,165 per annum for full-time students).
  • From the perspective of students/graduates, the average debt on graduation (including accumulated interest) was estimated to be £47,000 (for full-time undergraduate degree students), while the average lifetime repayments made stood at £34,800 for male graduates and £13,100 for female graduates.
  • We estimate that approximately 88.2% of all graduates never repay their full loan by the end of the repayment period, while 33.0% never make any loan repayment.

Their conclusions:

  • The core cost to the Exchequer of offering a non-means tested tuition fee grant of £2,700 to all undergraduate starting students stands at approximately £1.009 bn (Scenario 2).
  • This can be partially offset (by £782 million) by equivalently reducing tuition fee loans (Scenario 1), or totally offset by extending the repayment period to 36 years (Scenario 3); reducing the repayment threshold to £24,500 (Scenario 4); or increasing the maximum real interest rate to 6.2% (Scenario 5).
  • Depending on the option selected, there are very considerable differences on which graduates are impacted.

Wonkhe covers the proposal, with Jim Dickinson looking at how progressive the proposals are.

  • The important thing that these students’ unions have done for us, via some robust modelling, is to first remind us that maintenance really matters. Putting a cash payment in for students that would hit their actual pocket now would make lots of sense, relieve many of them of some commercial debt, and stimulate economies. And as a gesture of goodwill, it would be inherently fair.
  • But crucially, it also cleverly reminds us that in the debate about making England’s higher education system cheaper that will now follow in the run-up to the Autumn’s Augar response, there are important choices to make about the “balance” between the three options of reducing student numbers, reducing spend per head and making the scheme more efficient – and there are further important choices within “making the scheme more efficient” that would impact different graduates in different ways.
  • Above all, in this Gordian knot shapeshifter of a hybrid system that we have – which presents as a loan one minute and a graduate tax the next – it reminds us that the more we move the system “back” towards a traditional loan scheme, the more regressive such a move would be.

Graduate outcomes

The Ofs have issued new experimental data on local variations in graduate opportunities.  For those of us who have been pointing out for a while that one of the risks of using non-contextualised outcomes data is that it ignores regional differences in employment opportunity and reward, it will come as no surprise that:

  • in England, areas with highest concentration of well-paid graduates (those earning over £23,000) are London, Reading, Slough and Heathrow – where 70 per cent of graduates earn over £23,000 or are in further study three years after graduation
  • areas with the lowest earnings – where 52 per cent of graduates earn over £23,000 or are in high-level study – are mainly in the Midlands, and North and South-West England, with coastal towns facing particular challenges

So, given all this, why is the OfS proposal, energetically supported by the government, to measure quality at university by absolute measures of employment and salary?  It seems bizarre to undermine the messages about levelling up, place-based strategy and local educational needs by encouraging universities through quality measures to send as many graduates as possible away to London or other metropolitan hot spots where they will earn more?  You can explore the data using interactive maps, although they aren’t very interactive (you can zoom, in a clunky way), and hover to check your geographical knowledge.

The full report is here.  It is light on analysis, it is just a presentation of the methodology, but there is one illustration of how the data could be used:

To illustrate how the groupings could be applied, we used the LEO earnings-based grouping to dig deeper into differences in employment outcomes between black and white graduates. We found that:

  • Overall, 60 per cent of white graduates earned above the threshold (around £23,000) or were in higher-level study, compared to 57.5 per cent of black graduates.
  • However, this masks some of the difference between the groups, because black graduates were almost four times more likely to live in the areas with the highest graduate opportunity rates.
  • When only graduates living in top quintile areas were considered, 73.5 per cent of white graduates earned above the threshold or were in higher-level study, compared to 59.9 per cent of black graduates. This gap is significantly larger than the overall gap.
  • Conversely, for black and white graduates in the bottom quintile similar proportions earned above the threshold or were in higher-level study (52.1 per cent compared to 51.9 per cent).

Wonkhe have an article by David Kernohan with graphs, of course.  He starts out with a critique of the data itself and then does what you were probably already doing in your head, and visualising what happens if you overlay the locations of universities on the map.  Overall he concludes that it’s a start for a conversation.

And just because maps are fun to compare, we remind you about this HEPI report on regional policy and R&D from May.  Sadly it doesn’t have any actual maps, but it does have charts of UK R&D and regional business R&D spend (figures 8 and 9).  Not surprisingly the regions in the bottom two thirds on both these tables coincide with the big areas of red on the two previous charts.

Equality of access and outcomes in HE

So while we are on the topic of outcomes, the House of Commons Library has a new research paper on equality of access and outcomes in HE in England. These library reports are written to be politically neutral for the benefit of MPs across the House.  They contain a useful summary of the data, the policy context and a lot of useful links so are a useful reference point.  Here are some of the highlights from the executive summary:

Gender: Women are much more likely to go to university than men and have been for many years. They are also more likely to complete their studies and gain a first or upper second-class degree. However, after graduation, men are more likely to be in ‘highly skilled’ employment or further study just after graduation. Male graduate average earnings are around 8% higher than female earnings one year after graduation. This earnings gap grows substantially over their early careers and reaches 32% ten years after graduation.

Ethnicity:

  • White pupils are less likely than any other broad ethnic group to go to higher education. Pupils from Chinese, Indian and Black African backgrounds have the highest entry rates. Black Caribbean pupils have particularly low entry rates to more prestigious universities.
  • Black students are more likely to drop out from higher education than other ethnic groups and least likely to achieve a first or upper second-class degree. In contrast, White students are least likely to drop out and most likely to achieve a first or upper second-class degree.
  • White graduates have the highest employment rates of any ethnic group. Chinese, Black and graduates from ‘Other’ ethnic groups have the lowest. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean graduates earn the least, whereas Chinese, Indian and Mixed White and Asian graduates earn the most. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said subject choice is important when looking at differences in graduate earnings by ethnic group. It said Asian students tend to choose “higher-return subjects than their Black and White peers.”

Disability: Students with reported disabilities are more likely to drop out from higher education and less likely to achieve a first or upper second-class degree. Those who reported a mental health disability have the highest drop-out rates. Disabled students are also less likely to be in highly skilled employment or higher study soon after completing their first degree. Students who reported a ’social and communication’ disability (such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder) have particularly low rates.

Socio-economic status

  • Pupils eligible for free school meals are much less likely than other pupils to go into higher education, particularly to more prestigious universities. They are also almost twice as likely to drop out before the start of their second year in higher education. Graduates who were eligible for free school meals are slightly less likely to be in employment or further study and they earn around 10% less than other graduates.
  • There is a very clear pattern showing that students from areas with higher levels of deprivation are more likely to drop out of university. There are also clear links between deprivation and achievement of first or upper second-class degrees and progression to highly skilled employment or higher study. Students from areas with higher deprivation levels have poorer outcomes than those from areas with low deprivation.
  • Analysis of entry rates shows a clear link between current and past levels of higher education in the area the pupil comes from. The entry rate in the top (POLAR –‘Participation of Local Areas’) group – the areas with the highest levels of participation in the past – is more than twice that in the lowest one. There are also higher levels of drop out and poorer attainment among those from the lower POLAR areas. These students, however, have slightly higher levels of employment and/or further study, than those from higher POLAR areas. However, this does not continue to average salaries which are 16-18% higher in the top POLAR group than in the lowest one at both one year and ten years after graduation.
  • Intersectional analysis White boys eligible for free school meals are less likely to go to higher education than any other groups when analysed by gender, free school meal eligibility and broad ethnic groups. White boys who were not eligible for free meals (and hence from less disadvantaged backgrounds) are also less likely than average to go to higher education.
  • Drop-out rates are higher among minority ethnic groups (combined) than for White students and this does not change based on the level of deprivation in the local areas they come from. The gap in drop-out rates between male and female students was greater for those from more deprived areas, with male students from more deprived areas more likely to drop out.
  • White students from the lowest POLAR groups have a higher level of attainment at university than students from minority ethnic groups. This is true even for those from the top three POLAR groups (combined). The gap between male and female students was greater for those from less deprived areas.
  • The gaps in progression rates (graduates entering highly skilled employment or higher study) between White and minority ethnic students from similarly deprived areas have fallen over the past five years. Progression rates for minority ethnic students are the same for those from both higher and lower POLAR groups at around 70%. Similarly, around 70% of White students from lower POLAR groups have entered highly skilled employment or higher study. Progression rates for White students from higher POLAR groups were higher at around 74%.

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Research seminar is on the Way! 😇Digital archiving by museums and libraries: Japan, the EU, and the UK – 18th June 2021 From 10:00 –11:30 (ZOOM)

Digital archiving by museums and libraries: Japan, the EU, and the UK
18th June 2021 10:00 –11:30

This is a friendly webinar with three experts in digital archiving in Japan, the EU, and the UK. Three keynote speakers will make their talks on the most recent trends and policy agenda for future development.

MC: Dr Hiroko Oe(The Business School, Bournemouth University, Open remarks and a brief introduction of the session with a Japan Model of Education for Sustainable Development)
Keynote speakers:
Dr Ema Tanaka (Meiji University, Japan, Launching ‘Japan Search’ and agenda for further development)
Mr Benjamin White (Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management, BU, Chair of Legal Working Group of Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherché (LIBER), the UK Intellectual Property Office, Unregistered Intellectual Properties Research Expert Advisory Group, Libraries Archives Copyright Alliance)
Mr Neil Fitzgerald (Head of Digital Research, British Library. Digital scholarship, digital infrastructures, digitisation, product development, digital strategy and advocacy)

Mr Takashi Kubota (Project Research Associate, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo) will join us as a discussant as well.

The seminar is open to all who are interetsed in the theme. BU ECRs, PhD researchers, and MSc students are also welcome to attend.
*For more details, please email to Hiroko Oe :hoe@bournemouth.ac.uk

HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th May 2021

The expected flurry of activity post Queen’s Speech didn’t disappoint this week. Speculation about fees and funding, the Skills Bill, an OfS quality measure (which is not going to be used for regulation, so what is it for), as the new OfS chair sets out a new list of priorities, hot on the heels of the REF submissions, a new review has been announced to consider what the next REF might look like, in parallel to the existing review of research bureaucracy, and there is more on last week’s Free Speech Bill…. and now we are allowed to sit inside with a coffee to digest it all (and given the weather, there isn’t much temptation to sit outside).  Other beverages are available, of course.

Government support for universities in the pandemic

The IFS have a report out: COVID-related spending on education in England

Research Professional report on the report:

  • It may not surprise folks in universities that higher education seems to have been the poor relation when it comes to government largesse. This is, arguably, a reversal of universities’ past relationship with the Treasury and an ominous sign of things to come.
  • ….The IFS identifies £4.3bn of the £160bn as having been spent on education in England. Of that, only £365 million has been earmarked for higher education—this does not include loans for research allocated by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
  • … Of the £365m directed towards universities, £70m has been new cash for student hardship.
  • ….Of the total earmarked for universities, £300m is for restructuring insolvent institutions, for which, as the IFS points out, the government has received no applications. As the IFS dryly puts it, this suggests that “actual spending might turn out to be quite low”. It is hard to go lower than zero, unless universities were to start paying the Department for Education for the privilege of being ignored by the government.
  • That leaves around £70m of late-in-the-day student hardship money as the only additional cash directed towards universities in England during the pandemic. As has been pointed out, that amounts to around £45 per student, which is £14.20 less than one week’s Jobseeker’s Allowance for someone under the age of 24.
  • In addition, the business department has made £280m available for research funding, £80m of which comes from elsewhere in the department’s budget due to Covid-related underspending. That £280m Sustaining University Research Expertise package went towards extensions to grants covering researcher salary costs and laboratory equipment.
  • Not included here is the amount for government loans covering non-publicly funded research, which readers will recall are tied to structural reforms in universities, such as pay cuts for senior managers. As the IFS puts it, once again, “take-up is likely to be very low”. At present, £32m is set aside for the scheme, of which £22m is for capital expenditure.
  • We also know that some universities have taken out loans from the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, jointly run with the Treasury. …These figures do not appear in the IFS analysis.
  • Then there is the furlough scheme, widely used by universities, through which £77m was spent mothballing 25,000 jobs across higher education employers. Again, these numbers are not part of the IFS calculations.

Fees and funding

After the Queen’s Speech it is not surprising that attention turned to fees and funding over the weekend.  Research Professional have good coverage of what happened: It all started on Friday, when the Conservative Home website published a lengthy blogpost by education secretary Gavin Williamson…“The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt,” Williamson writes in his piece.   For BU readers we’ve done a little summary of how we got here and what might come next.

David Kernohan from Wonkhe has a critique of the Secretary of State’s argument in this blog and looks at just one arts cohort as an example:

  • Sources close to Gavin Williamson suggest in The Sunday Times that some arts graduates earn “as little as £12,000 a year”. …. I’ve gone one better and found 20 female printmaking graduates earning a median salary of £6,200 a year after graduation. Seeing a small group median like that makes the principal flaw of LEO clear – these graduates are almost certainly working part-time. ….. And LEO does not discriminate between full and part time work.
  • Secondly, these are median values. ….The upper quartile is so much higher than the median that earnings may be substantially higher in a couple of cases – suggesting two of our talented young female printmakers had sadly given up on their dreams and gone for a “graduate job”.
  • So which of our female printmakers have hit a dead-end, a year after graduation? The four who aren’t working at all, who may be undertaking further study or making and selling art full time? The eight or so working part-time to support their art? Or the ones that have put their practice on hold (or given up entirely) to work in media sales because our society doesn’t seem to think it needs artists who can work, eat, and pay rent?
  • Should any of them not have done a degree?.  … If the post-18 review started as a way to win the hearts and minds of students and those who have students (or potential students) in their lives, it has ended in a clumsy and misguided attempt to make subjects that people want to study in their thousands economically unviable to teach. Quite what, or who, this is “levelling up” is unclear.

Research Professional continue:

  • The “nothing but debt” phrase also showed up in a Sunday Times article over the weekend. That piece claimed that in line with the recommendations of the Augar review of post-18 education funding, university tuition fees “could be cut from £9,250 to a maximum of £7,500, according to a government consultation which begins next month”. 
  • It seems that even though Augar himself appeared to disown this particular recommendation; it is far from dead in the water—as was previously thought. 
  • The Sunday Times reports: “The cost of science degrees would be topped up by extra government funding, but critics fear arts and humanities subjects, such as languages, philosophy, theology, history and creative arts, would disappear at many universities.” 
  • There is no date yet for the launch of the consultation in question, but the paper says that this follows “growing concern in the Treasury” about the affordability of the student loan scheme given that a large proportion of loans are never paid back. 

Meanwhile ex-Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, who takes a more pro-HE view in some arguments, wrote for Conservative Home on Monday morning: Student finance? It’s the interest rate, stupid. Skidmore gets to the nub of the issue quickly – that changes are coming and have to be paid for somewhere – so HEIs should get on board and place themselves well for the change. And he reminds the Government that the reason fees aren’t repaid is because the interest levels are so high. Tuition fees are a hot spot for the Government because (1) they believe(d) Labour’s no fees policies are attractive and draw voters away from the Conservatives:

  • But if we are to reduce university fees, then there is also an important policy lever which the Government should also be looking to change, which I believe would have far greater impact on individual lives— and in turn far greater support… We need to look again at the interest rate charged on student loans, which any student or parent will tell you is out of all proportion to the reality of current interest rates.

Bear in mind the cost to the public purse for tuition fees became much more of an issue when the Office for National Statistics reclassified the student debt to count it in with the Government’s debt. Prior to this Jo Johnson (ex-Universities Minister) often defended the removal of student grants by explaining that if the student didn’t benefit from their graduate education and couldn’t afford to repay their loan it was written off.  It was a deliberate, progressive subsidy, we were told.  And Jo Johnson didn’t want to restrict choice of subject either.  How things have changed.

Skidmore points out the problems with the new approach:

  • Science degrees cost more than the current £9,250 a year to provide, with most being subsidised by arts, humanities and social science degrees. Unless careful thought is given to the impact of the unit of resource, what seems an attractive headline offer might in fact backfire – especially if it results in a loss of opportunity for future students in regions of the country who find that their local university is no longer able to provide the course provision they wish, not only in the arts and humanities, but in science degrees, too.
  • In addition, out of the current fee level, universities themselves invest around over £800 million a year in improving access and participation from some of the lowest socio-economic groups to attend university. With a reduction in fees, there is also a risk that the ability to reach out to the most disadvantaged in society is also reduced.

And he tells us his ResPublica Lifelong Education Commission is looking into alternatives:

  • … we should be investigating new methods of funding reskilling and upskilling. The success of research and development tax credits in generating this activity points to an opportunity for how companies could be rewarded for investing in the human capital of their employers, especially given the opportunity to close the productivity gap that lifelong learning might offer.

Meanwhile don’t miss the comments to Skidmore’s article even if you don’t read the actual piece. Although perhaps not if you are concerned about your blood pressure.

The Skidmore article triggered some discussion within HE policy circles as it highlighted the oft ignored distinction between tuition and living cost (maintenance) loans: it is one thing to say the loan system is unaffordable, another to say it is unaffordable because too many poor students have to eat while they study. Quite timely given the NUS hardship research published this week, more on this below.

Research Professional speculate about what a fees cut would do to research prospects and the university recruitment portfolio:

  • While a tuition fee cut would mean less income for all universities, it would affect the research effort in post-1992s much less. ….Post-1992s will be badly hit by any cuts and there will be job losses, with remaining staff asked to take on more teaching. However, the islands of research excellence within them—which rely heavily on the quality-related funding they generate—will be less badly affected than in other types of university.
  • ….Russell Group universities may review their own subject mix. With little profit to be derived from classroom teaching, we could see a swing away from the heavy recruitment that has been taking place in these disciplines.
  • …The squeezed middle will be those universities that attract less quality-related and less external funding but that rely on a cross-subsidy for research from teaching. Under these circumstances, there will be pressure to both lose staff and increase teaching loads in the arts because of the fee cut, and to reduce research activity across the board because of the loss of cross-subsidy.
  • The tectonic realignment that would take place as a result of a tuition fee cut might then see greater research concentration in the big civics, with a transfer of students in the opposite direction as those universities loosen their grip on undergraduate recruitment, once more looking to manage reputation and league table position through quality rather than quantity of applicants.
  • ….The big implication here is that the wider research effort in English universities would take a significant knock. Surely this is the opposite of what the government intends through an innovation-led form of levelling up and post-Covid recovery—so much for being a scientific superpower.

The article then goes on to highlight how the student experience wouldn’t necessarily be better nor would students repay their loans more frequently nor quicker. It is worth a read.

Research

Future Research Assessment: UKRI have launched the Future Research Assessment Programme:

  • This significant piece of work will… explore possible approaches to the assessment of UK higher education research performance.
  • Through dialogue with the higher education sector, the programme seeks to understand what a healthy, thriving research system looks like and how an assessment model can best form its foundation. The work strands include evaluation of the REF 2021, understanding international research assessment practice, as well as investigating possible evaluation models and approaches, looking to identify those that can encourage and strengthen the emphasis on delivering excellent research and impact, and support a positive research culture, while simplifying and reducing the administrative burden on the HE sector.
  • This programme of work is expected to conclude by late 2022.

Details – the international advisory group and their terms of reference; the programme board and their terms of reference. Research Professional cover the announcement. While there aren’t any additional details, their content explores the panel and talks about the review.

Horizon Europe: The European Scrutiny Select Committee have requested the Government explain how Horizon Europe will be funded. Press release, report document, committee information.

  • It is estimated that UK association with Horizon Europe would require a financial contribution of £12.7 bn. for the seven years from 2021 to 2027 inclusive. This is a gross figure, before deducting items such as any subsequent inflow of funds back from Horizon into UK scientific projects.
  • UK scientific researchers have expressed concerns that the government might expect much of this funding to come from existing domestic research budgets.
  • The government has made proposals to pay towards some of the costs of Horizon Europe, but not all of them. The European Scrutiny Committee has therefore written to the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP, seeking clarity on the government’s proposals. The Committee asked if the Minister could please tell them how the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe would be funded [within 10 days].
  • So no new news but pressure to reveal plans builds within parliament.

Quick News

  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) launched a landmark special report, setting out the world’s first comprehensive roadmap for the global energy system to rapidly boost clean energy deployment and reduce fossil fuel usage. Contact us if you’d like a summary.
  • The BEIS Committee held a session on levelling up and the post-pandemic recovery. The first session covered the industrial strategy, the definition of levelling and key metrics and related policies. The second session focussed on the Government’s industrial decarbonisation strategy and wider decarbonisation issues. Contact us if you would like to read a summary of the session.
  • Record numbers of trademark and registered design applications have been made post-Brexit. There was a dip in numbers at the outset of Covid in spring 2020 but numbers grew substantially by summer 2020.
  • Parliamentary Question: Encouraging international students to complete their PhD in the UK.
  • Research Professional have a blog Know your Audience explaining how to tailor research grant applications to achieve success.
  • COP26 President Alok Sharma speech: The vital role of the academic community in delivering COP26 aims.
  • The Royal Society have set out twelve critical technologies and research areasthat should be prioritised in national roadmaps for achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions. The new briefing reports aim to rapidly accelerate research, investment and deployment in areas that will become increasingly important across the next 30 years.
  • Kit Malthouse, Home Office Minister of State for Crime and Policing, has published a written ministerial statement announcing the Appointment of the Forensic Science Regulator, Gary Pugh OBE.
  • The National Centre for Universities and Business has published a report on the impact of COVID on business R&D. It specifically investigates the impact on businesses’ R&D and innovation activities and their collaborations with universities.
  • Societal impact: A longitudinal research studywill follow babies born in the 2020s over many decades aiming to understand how societal circumstances and events affect them. A £3 million investment, made by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, will allow UCL and other researchers to develop a two-year-long birth cohort feasibility study.  This study will develop and test the design, methodology and viability of a full-scale Early Life Cohort Study that is likely to follow participants for more than 70 years, starting from 2024.
  • Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has appointedVikas Shah and Stephen Hill as non-executive board members at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. They will help to steer the board “as BEIS navigates key issues including the economic recovery from coronavirus [and] efforts to combat climate change and promote science, research and innovation”. There will be another competition in the summer to appoint a board member to lead on energy and climate change policy.
  • Turing Fellowships – the Government has published guidanceon the Turing AI Fellowships, (£46 million initiative aimed at attracting and maintaining the best talent in artificial intelligence).  The full document, including the Turing AI Fellows supported by funding from the UK government, can be accessed here.

Parliamentary News

You can read the full text of the Queen’s speech debate relating to education: A Brighter Future for the Next Generation.

Labour confirmed their shadow line up for Education:

  • Shadow Education Secretary: Kate Green
  • Peter Kyle (Schools)
  • Matt Western (Universities)
  • Toby Perkins (Apprenticeships & life-long learning)
  • Tulip Siddiq (Children & Early Years)
  • Child Poverty Strategy – Wes Streeting

Here is the new Scottish Government Cabinet:

  • Nicola Sturgeon – First Minister
  • John Swinney – Deputy First Minister
  • Kate Forbes – Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy
  • Humza Yousaf – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
  • Shirley-Anne Somerville – Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
  • Michael Matheson – Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport
  • Keith Brown – Cabinet Secretary for Justice
  • Shona Robison – Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
  • Angus Robertson – Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
  • Mairi Gougeon – Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has been introduced  – it will be starting its journey in the House of Lords. We are waiting for a date for the second reading (this is when the actual debate and discussion of the Bill begins); it probably won’t be discussed until June. The Bill will cover:

  • local skills improvement plans;
  • further education;
  • the functions of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and relating to technical education qualifications;
  • to make provision about student finance and fees;
  • to make provision about assessments by the Office for Students;
  • to make provision about the funding of certain post-16 education or training providers.

Here is the Government’s press release:  New legislation to help transform opportunities for all – The Skills and post-16 Education Bill will support vital reforms to post-16 education so more people can gain the skills needed to secure great jobs.

You can read the full text of the Bill, the accompanying explanatory notes and the impact assessment. Or the shorter version is that the Bill provisions currently:

  • Provide for a statutory underpinning for local skills improvement plans, introducing a power for the Secretary of State for Education to designate employer representative bodies to lead the development of the plans with duties on providers to co-operate in the development of and then have regard to the plans

The key policy objectives of local skills improvement plans, as part of the Skills Accelerator, are to:

  • Enable employers to clearly articulate the priority strategic changes they think are required to technical skills provision in a local area to make it more responsive to the skills needs.
  • Enable a process whereby FE providers respond better collectively to the labour market skills needs in their area.

To frame this policy intent in legislation, the Bill measure focuses on:

  • giving the Secretary of State the ability to designate employer-representative bodies (ERBs) to develop local skills improvement plans, ensuring ERBs have regard to written guidance and providing them with the necessary influence to develop local skills improvement plans; and
  • requiring providers to co-operate with the ERB in developing the local skills improvement plan and have due regard to this when considering their technical education and training offer
  • Introduce a duty for all further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions to review how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs, and assess what action the institution might take to ensure it is best placed to meet local needs. This places a duty for all governing bodies to keep their provision under review to ensure that they are best placed to meet the needs of the local area. This duty will form part of college planning from academic year 2022/23…
  • Introduce additional functions to enable the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (“the Institute”) to define and approve new categories of technical qualifications that relate to employer-led standards and occupations in different ways, and to have an oversight role for the technical education offer in each occupational route, including mechanisms to manage proliferation.
  • Ensure that the Institute and the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (“Ofqual”) maintain a streamlined collaborative system for approval and regulation of technical qualifications.
  • Giving the Institute powers to determine new qualification categories and approve qualifications against associated criteria in the future….Putting the mechanisms in place to ensure the qualifications market delivers high quality technical qualifications based on employer-led standards and employer demand.
  • Giving the Institute powers that could allow it to charge for approval and to manage proliferation.
  • Introduce specific provision reflecting lifelong learning entitlement policy which aims to make it easier for adults and young people to study more flexibly – allowing them to space out their studies, transfer credits between institutions, and take up more part-time study. The proposed legislation modifies the existing regulation-making powers in the Teaching and Higher Education Act (THEA) 1998 so as to:
  • make specific provision for funding of modules of higher education and further education courses, and the setting of an overall limit to funding that learners can access over their lifetime,
  • make clear that maximum amounts for funding can be set other than in relation to an academic year.
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations for the purpose of securing or improving the quality of Further Education (“FE”) initial teacher training;
  • Reinforce the Office for Students’ ability to assess the quality of higher education providers in England, and make decisions on compliance and registration by reference to minimum requirements for quality. [we’ll talk more about this in the section on OfS priorities below]
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations to provide for a list of post-16 education or training providers, in particular Independent Training Providers (“ITPs”), to indicate which providers have met conditions that are designed to prevent or mitigate risks associated with the disorderly exit of a provider from the provision of education and training.
  • Extend statutory intervention powers applicable to further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. This measure will enable the Secretary of State for Education to intervene where there has been a failure to meet local needs, and to direct structural change where that is required to secure improvement (such as mergers); and
  • Make amendments to clarify and improve the operation of the FE insolvency regime for further education bodies, relating to the use of company voluntary arrangements, transfer schemes and the designation of institutions.

Wonkhe have a blog picking out matters to note within the Bill – it dismisses the Bill as poorly thought out and without substance. The first comment to the blog (Phil Berry) makes a really important point on the lifelong learning funding– For this to truly work there needs to be a complete rethink of how student funding works with the removal of the distinctions between full-time and part-time and a move to a credit based system. It seems to be a bolt-on at the moment.

More OfS priorities

The new chair of the OfS spoke at a UUK meeting.  You can read the press release here and the full speech here. He set out four key principles:

  • nobody with the talent to benefit from higher education should find that their background is a barrier to their success
  • higher education students from all backgrounds and on all courses should expect a high quality experience, and that high academic standards must be maintained
  • universities must continue to take urgent steps to tackle harassment on campus
  • we should, as an efficient and effective regulator, take steps to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden wherever we can

On widening participation, he said this is key to the levelling up agenda.  You’ll recognise a theme here from a few years ago when there were thoughts of making school sponsorship mandatory…where is this going now?

  • Universities, working with schools, …. need to continue to reach out – especially to those towns and coastal communities where people feel forgotten – and to show people there that university is for them too. By casting their nets wide, searching for talent where opportunity may be in short supply, universities have the power to transform lives. And universities have a critical role in developing that talent also, doing the hard graft with schools and pupils to drive up attainment and achievement from an early age.

On quality, he promised the outcome of the quality consultation shortly.  As expected, quality is defined by outcomes (specifically, employment outcomes) and continuation, and they are “sharpening their regulatory tools”.  That may be a reference to the Skills Bill, which apparently is going to give them new powers to enforce their quality framework.  [In the meantime, the OfS have launched their new metric which uses, guess what, continuation and employment outcomes to provide a single combined score (called, creatively, “Proceed”) – see more in the separate section below.]

  • Let me be clear though. Broadening access to university cannot be done by lowering standards. I do not accept the argument that levelling up can involve any reduction in the academic excellence and rigour of which our higher education sector is rightly proud. It is incumbent on our universities to play their part in raising standards and attainment both at the point of access and throughout the higher education experience.
  • ….When students do begin their degrees, they are right to expect that they will receive high quality teaching and a springboard to a good career. Education for its own sake is to be commended and protected, but in doing so we should recognise that – for most students – securing a rewarding career is one of the most important factors in deciding what, where and how to study.
  • While most higher education teaching in England is good or excellent, good quality is not universal. Nobody embarks on a degree expecting to drop out, or to find themselves no better off months – or even years – after they graduate. Courses with high drop out rates and low progression to professional employment let students down, and we shouldn’t be reticent in saying so, or taking action.
  • …Most universities and other higher education providers offer good quality provision. Many will comfortably out-perform any numerical baselines we set – and will see regulatory burden fall as a result. But, where standards slip we stand ready to intervene. We will set out our next steps on quality shortly, sharpening our regulatory tools as necessary to address these issues and help ensure that students can count on good quality higher education.

[Just to finish the point on the Skills Bill, the relevant bit is section 17:

In section 23 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (assessing the quality of, and the standards applied to, higher education), at the end insert—

“(4) The factors that may be taken into account for the purposes of an assessment…. of the quality of higher education provided by an institution include the student outcomes of the institution.

(5) The student outcomes of an institution may be measured by any means (whether qualitative or quantitative) that the OfS considers appropriate, including by reference to the extent to which—

(a) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution continue to undertake that course, or another course at the same or a similar level, after a period of time,

(b) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution are granted an award of a particular description by that institution,

(c) persons who are granted an award by the institution undertake further study of a particular description, or

(d) persons who are granted an award by the institution find employment of a particular description by virtue of that award.

(6) The OfS may, from time to time, determine and publish a minimum level in relation to a measure of student outcomes which all institutions to whom the measure is applicable are expected to meet.

(7) The OfS is not required to determine and publish different minimum levels in relation to a measure of student outcomes in order to reflect differences in—

(a) particular student characteristics; (b) the particular institution or type of institution which is  providing higher education;

(c) the particular higher education course or subject being studied;

(d) any other such factor. …

So we get to harassment. He talked about the new statement of expectations and promised, to look at options for making compliance a regulatory condition.  He did not mention freedom of speech (strange, for such a topical issue and with the OfS being promised sweeping new powers in the new Bill).  He did, however, reconfirm the position on anti-Semitism:

  • One straightforward action to take is for all universities to sign up to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The definition is important in helping us all to interpret and understand antisemitism and I strongly urge any university that hasn’t signed up to do so without delay. Those universities that have signed up must – of course – continue to be alert to antisemitic incidents and have clear measures in place to ensure that Jewish students are free to study and enjoy university life without fear of harassment.

And so to bureaucracy.

  • Reducing unnecessary burden will be a priority for me. [This one is a stretch when the new quality regime proposed onerous new data and reporting requirements, the Freedom of Speech Bill sets up another layer of reporting and monitoring and we are about to be consulted on the next iteration of the TEF.  While the TEF is going to be better than it might have been (no subject level) it will be mandatory and demanding to complete.]
  • We need to get the balance right between ensuring students and taxpayers enjoy the benefits of regulation without universities experiencing an overly bureaucratic process that detracts from their core purpose – delivering excellent teaching and research. [I guess it’s all about perspective – if it’s necessary and beneficial, then it doesn’t matter if, in fact, it increases the overall burden].
  • … as a first step, we will publish next week the details of a new key performance measure that will set out transparently whether our work is reducing or increasing reducing regulatory burden. [Well, that’s ok then].

So with this in mind, Nicola Dandridge (CEO of the OfS) has blogged about their approach to managing the regulatory burden.  She says that they are committed to getting the balance right between the benefits and burden of regulatory and that [be prepared to find some of these underwhelming…]:

  • producing plans for each of the last two years has imposed significant administrative burden. Data released today shows no reduction in burden at this stage. However, this will change in future as we have increased the length of access and participation plans to five years
  • we have reduced our data requirements. We now no longer require data about estates or non-academic staff, and providers were required to submit at most 15 data returns last year, down from 18 the year before
  • We have also successfully reduced – where appropriate – enhanced monitoring requirements. There were a total of 468 conditions subject to enhanced monitoring across all providers in March 2020, and we reduced this to 406 in November 2020, despite increasing the number of registered providers overall.
  • we have suspended random sampling
  • ….and committed to reducing providers’ fees by 10 per cent in real terms over the next two years. Today’s measures show that the combined fees of OfS, HESA and QAA cost providers an average of less than £20 per student last year.

And – tada – the new KPI is revealed.  With only one or two years of data, the graphs are not very exciting, but you might like the ones under (4) “understanding our regulatory approach”.

  1. Submitting data and information.
  2. Complying with enhanced monitoring requirements.
  3. Developing and agreeing access and participation plans.
  4. Understanding our regulatory approach.
    • The OfS published around 420,000 words in regulatory documents in in each of the past two years. Around 60 per cent of these documents met our readability target
  5. Paying regulatory fees.
    • Providers paid an average of under £20 per student to be registered with the OfS in 2019-20 (providers registered in 2019-20 paid an average of £19.91 per student in regulatory fees) [there is a commitment to reduce fees by 10% by 2022-23]

Research Professional ran an article on the regulatory burden. Wonkhe have a blog too: The OfS measures its own regulatory burden.

Proceed: Graduate Prospects Measure

In the context of all this talk about closing down courses and capping fees, if drop out rates and employment statistics aren’t up to scratch, the OfS have published an experimental new measure through which they intend to show students’ likelihood of securing professional level employment or embarked on further study in the year after they graduate. The measure is based on projected data for full-time first degree students who complete their studies (completion rates) and the progression of recent graduates to employment, further study and other activities (graduate outcomes); for short it is called Proceed. This is the second release of the measure as the OfS has tweaked it since its first outing in December in response to cross-sector feedback.

The OfS press release states new measure shows substantial differences in likely job and study outcomes for students stating it reveals substantial differences between individual universities and other higher education providers, in different subjects, and in different subjects at individual universities. The OfS anticipates prospective students will consult the measure to make informed choices about what and where to study and they say they have no intention to use it in regulation.

We know that latter part is probably true – because this data is benchmarked, and the quality consultation and the new provisions in the Skill Bill confirm their intention to use non-benchmarked data to regulate.  So this new metric is a much softer, friendlier approach than the one we are expecting.  It also looks remarkably like something that might crop up in the new TEF – using the government’s favourite metrics and benchmarks that look a lot like TEF3.  Although this new data goes further – it is given at subject level, which the TEF apparently won’t do.

Do we get any idea about what the harder edged version might look like?  Well maybe.  50% seems to be a magic number.  Or 55%.  Or perhaps those were just picked because they illustrated the point nicely.

The accompanying press release notes:

  • significant differences in performance between different universities and colleges. The measure projects that over 75% of entrants at 22 universities and other higher education providers will go on to find professional employment or further study shortly after graduation. At 25 universities and other education providers, less than half of students who begin a degree can expect to finish that degree and find professional employment or further study within 15 months of graduation [this latter comment is a bit confusing. There aren’t 25 institutions which had below 50% scores on both metrics (because there are only 3 that don’t meet 50% on the completion one and only 5 on the progression one) but there are 25 that are under 50% for the combined Proceed metric – and nearly all of them are well over 50% the two separate metrics.  The detail matters.]
  • significant differences at a subject level. For example, 95.5% of medicine and dentistry entrants are projected to find professional employment or further study. Conversely the rates are below 55% in six subjects [again, not really accurate. If you look at the progression rates by subject there are NO subjects where the sector number is below 60%.  There are 6 subjects below 55% on the combined Proceed measure.  Those unimpressed by the SoS’s focus on “slashing” funding for media studies will note this list and also that he studied Social Sciences at Bradford (no progression data on the chart so no combined score). Also, using Medicine and Dentistry as the comparator is a misleading; it is clearly an outlier.  The next one on the list is Veterinary sciences (86.4%) and then Nursing and Midwifery at 78.6% – and again, you would expect employment rates to be high for these courses. The first subject on the list that doesn’t involved almost guaranteed progression to employment in a directly related job is Economics at 75.2%.]. The 6 subjects are: Sociology, social policy and anthropology, Agriculture, food and related studies, Business and management, Psychology, Media, journalism and communications and Sport and exercise sciences.
  • instances where there is varied performance between subjects at individual universities [Well, yes. Shall we look at the University of Oxford? Excluding Medicine and Dentistry for the reasons given above, their top overall Proceed score is 96.5% in Mathematical Sciences and their lowest is 78.8% in History and Archaeology.  The lowest score for Cambridge is for Languages (79.7%).  Proof then that the SoS is right, these subjects lead to dead end jobs, even from Oxbridge?]

As we all know, there are so many other factors that influence employment than the quality of the programme.  Who you recruit and where they come from, what they did before and where they lived before and move to afterwards.  And while on average students studying humanities may do less well in employment (on this measure) than hard science subjects, there are and will be so many individual exceptions to this – including the SoS and Minister for Universities, who are clearly not pursuing a straight line career linked to their degree subjects.  It’s so odd that the Secretary of Stage says that HE is not vocational, while championing measures that would only make sense if it was.

Commenting on the data Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • It is important that prospective students have access to good independent information about courses they may be interested in. The report we are publishing today provides a wealth of data which can help students decide which university, and which subject, might be right for them. In publishing this information we recognise that – for many students – finding professional employment after graduation is one of the most important reasons for going to university. But it is not the only reason, and it is important to value all the wider benefits of higher education, including the personal development, the cultural richness and exposure to different people and different perspectives that higher education offers. Nonetheless many universities make significant use of data about the employment outcomes for their graduates when marketing their courses. The publication of this independent data will provide further assistance to students in their decision-making.
  • The data reflects the fact that higher education offers good outcomes, and that graduates can expect to earn, on average, far more than non-graduates over the course of their careers. Indeed, many of the financial benefits of higher education are not realised immediately after graduation.
  • This work demonstrates the continuing priority that the OfS places on the quality of courses. The quality of higher education in England is generally high. But this data brings into sharp focus the fact that there are profound differences in outcomes for students, depending on where they study and the subject they choose. While we have no plans to use this indicator for regulatory purposes, we are determined to tackle poor quality provision which offers a raw deal for students. We are currently consulting on our approach to regulating student outcomes with a view to raising the numerical baselines we have used previously and – subject to the outcomes of the consultation – will set out next steps shortly. But good outcomes are only part of the story and we are also planning further interventions to ensure that all students have a high quality academic experience and are assessed in a rigorous way.

Hardship

NUS published research into student hardship as part of a call for an improved student support package for England. A survey conducted by NUS found that:

  • One in three students have cut back on food for lack of money
  • One in ten students have relied on food banks during the pandemic.
  • Only one in three students find that student loans cover their living costs
  • Only 15% of students have accessed hardship funding
  • 70% of students are worried about their ability to manage financially.
  • One fifth of students stated they had been unable to pay their rent since January
  • Half of the students surveyed stated the income of someone who supports them financially has been impact by Covid-19.
  • One in 10 have taken out bank loans to stay afloat.

NUS say that those most likely to report the greatest suffering are already marginalised groups such as disabled students, students of colour, international students and those with caring responsibilities.

Summer jobs: Three out of four students surveyed have a job for the summer or are looking for one. Of those looking 42% have no confidence at all they will find one.

The NUS is calling on the UK government to increase its student support offer to £700m to match the spending seen in other parts of the UK. However, even in the devolved nations where students have been offered more generous packages the picture is troubled.

Free Speech

Since the publication of the new Bill (see our update from last week) there has been a lot of discussion about it and the issues that it is intended to address.  In one of the more balanced blogs on the topic, Nick Hillman writes for Research Professional about problems both with free speech on campus and with legislation designed to protect it. There is also a HEPI blog covering the same ground: People want free speech to thrive at universities … just not for racists, Holocaust deniers or advocates of religious violence.

The content comes from HEPI polling due to be released over the next month, however, given the Bill and reinvigorated national debate HEPI (and partners UPP) have released this element of the content early. If explores public attitudes towards free speech within the HE context.

  • In principle, the public is in favour of free speech
  • When asked, a majority of people say that people should be allowed to speak to students at university so long as their views are not illegal (55%).
  • A more libertarian perspective, where nobody is prevented from speaking to students because of their opinions is less popular, with only around a quarter (24%) of the public supportive of this position.
  • When asked, based purely on that one piece of information whether in principle such a person ‘should be allowed to speak at a university’, ‘should not’, or ‘don’t know’, people’s opinions range from a net 56% in favour through to a net -49%.
  • It is worth emphasising that between 13% and 22% of respondents answered ‘don’t know’ to the scenarios, showing either the complexity of the issue or an unwillingness to give an opinion.
  • From the scenarios in the polling, the principle of allowing a Holocaust denier the right to speak at university is one of the least supported, with a net percentage of -26% thinking they should be allowed to speak (29% ‘should’, 55% ‘should not’, 16% ‘don’t know’)
  • Conservative voters are more likely to be supportive of free speech for six of the issues, with Labour voters being more supportive of four of them.
  • There are large differences between major party voters on the questions of promoting the Empire, campaigning for reduced immigration levels (although both of these record substantial positive NET scores from Labour and Conservative voters), trans issues and gay marriage.
  • Younger people are more in favour of letting some people speak than older ones (particularly around crime, and communism and Trump supporters). But they are less supportive than older people of someone’s right to speak if they promote a positive role of the empire, are against gay marriage or don’t believe trans women are women (although in each of those cases, there are net positives within all age groups).
  • When split by gender, we can see that men are consistently more pro free speech than women. Across all ten of the examples, men are more likely to want the speaker to speak (though, net, they are also against allowing Holocaust deniers, jihadi advocates and racists to speak).
  • There are limited patterns by socio economic status.
  • When looking at the responses of graduates versus non-graduates, we find that graduates are more pro free speech than non-graduates on 8 of our 10 examples – with non-graduates being more supportive of speakers defending the Empire and (more narrowly) calling for restrictions on immigration.
  • Overall, there are major lessons for both sides of the debate. It is clear that a blanket call in favour of free speech is likely to find popular support. But the real finding is that people will respond very differently depending on the circumstances of the speaker in question.

The blog has the full range of charts subdivided by other factors such as socio economic status and gender.

The OfS also published a free speech blog: Robust but civil debate: how the OfS protects free speech on campus.

  • The Office for Students (OfS) stands for the widest possible definition of free speech – anything within the law…Our starting point is that free speech and academic freedom should be part of the culture of every university and college and be proactively promoted. Free speech and academic freedom are essential elements of higher education teaching and research; they are too precious and too fragile to be taken for granted. Academic staff must be able to undertake teaching and research with confidence and speak out in controversial areas without fear that this will affect their working environment or their careers. That is not always the case now.
  • Students should encounter, and be able to debate, new and discomforting ideas if they are to get the most out of higher education. Universities, colleges and other higher education providers, and their students’ unions and associations, should actively encourage robust, but civil, debate which takes different viewpoints seriously.

Donelan’s pickle

The ripples continue to spread from Michelle Donelan’s comments last week as politicians try to define a non-existent line between free speech and something nasty which isn’t illegal. Unfortunately for the government, if it isn’t illegal, then the Bill makes it very clear it has to be protected.  And gives people the right to compensation if they are prevented (once invited) from saying the nasty thing.  Research Professional have a blog.

Smita Jamdar wrote about the legal issues on Wonkhe.

Prevent/Free Speech parliamentary question: Michelle Donelan bungles her way through another explanation – the Prevent Duty should not be used to suppress free speech. The same response was used to these questions (Q1, Q2) to confirm the Government intend to proactively engage stakeholders with a wide range of interests and backgrounds during and after passage of the [Free Speech] Bill, including Muslim, East Asian and South East Asian students.

It’s all a bit of a muddle, as illustrated by the examples discussed in this Wonkhe article by Jim Dickinson.  What is clear is that there will be a lot of time spent worrying about how to find a way through the maze of conflicting requirements and trying to avoid a complaint through the many different channels available.

Access & Participation

The OfS have a blog by Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, who contemplates the last 20 years of widening participation actions. It’s a snooze fest so you might want to skip it unless you need a short potted history from the Government’s perspective. Chris manages to give the 20 year history without mentioning OFFA or his predecessor Les Ebdon.

Identifying disadvantage for Contextual Admissions: The Sutton Trust has published a report on disadvantaged students.  It finds that commonly-used markers of disadvantage are not effective at identifying low-income students as they enter HE and call for better data to target access work and contextual admissions. The report uses the data from 7,000 young people in the Millennium Cohort Study and explores how different measures of disadvantage relate to long-term family income. It aims identify the most effective measures of disadvantage – particularly to support universities in their outreach work and in using contextual admissions to widen access.

Dods present the key findings:

  • The number of years a child has been eligible for free school meals is the best available marker for childhood poverty (Pearson correlation = 0.69) and is therefore likely to be the best indicator for use in contextual admissions. FSM eligibility also has fewer biases then other measures, particularly for single parent families and renters who are more often missed by other measures. However, verified data on FSM eligibility is not currently available to universities.
  • POLAR, an indicator of university participation by local area, is currently a key measure used in contextual admissions in the UK. However, it was not designed to measure socio-economic disadvantage, and is very poorly correlated with low family-income (correlation = 0.22). It is also biased against key demographic groups, including BAME students.
  • TUNDRA, an experimental alternative to POLAR, is also a poor measure of income deprivation (correlation = 0.17), and suffers from similar biases. Both POLAR and TUNDRA are unsuitable for use in contextual admissions.
  • ACORN is the best area-level measure available, as it measures households at a very localised level (around 15 households), is designed to be comparable across the UK, and has a reasonably good relationship to low household income (correlation = 0.56). It is also slightly less biased than other area-based markers. However, as a commercial indicator, it is not free to use, and the methodology behind is it not openly published.
  • The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is another good option for an area level marker with a moderate relationship with low household income (correlation = 0.47), and the benefit of being publicly available. However, the measure is biased against those who are BAME, live in a single parent household and who rent. IMD is also not comparable across the four constituent countries that form the UK.

Recommendations:

  1. To improve targeting to contextual admissions and widening access schemes, universities and employers need further individual data about the socio-economic background of applicants, in particular Free School Meal eligibility. The creation of a “household-income” database, as suggested by the Russell Group, would be beneficial, but is likely to be difficult to implement. As it is already collected in official datasets, we suggest that information on the proportion of time young people have been FSM-eligible throughout their time at school would be a valuable alternative.
  2. There should be greater transparency and consistency from universities and employers when communicating how contextual data is used. …. The current situation – where different organisations use different indicators in different ways while not being transparent in their use – can lead to confusion.
  3. Universities and employers should prioritise use of the most robust measures for contextualised admissions and recruitment. Where free school meals eligibility is not available, priority should be given to ACORN, the best area-level measure, followed by the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). If a basket of measures is used, these most robust measures should be weighted most strongly.
  4. The POLAR and TUNDRA measures should not be used in contextual admissions for individual students. … its use by universities in their widening access schemes, or as part of contextual admissions should be avoided.
  5. The Office for Students should review the role of POLAR and the inclusion of specific measures of socio-economic disadvantage in advance of the next round of Access and Participation Plans. …. Free School Meal eligibility, as the basis for the official government definition of disadvantage in schools, would be the natural candidate and would enable a more joined-up national policy approach across schools and HE.

International

Dods tell us: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has launched registration for Quality Evaluation and Enhancement of UK Transnational Higher Education (QE-TNE). This is a new, innovative scheme to help UK degree-awarding bodies improve and enhance the quality of their international provision. Follow this link if you want to know more.

Parliamentary Questions

  • The cost for international students to quarantine: international students due to their visa status, that are facing significant financial hardship will have the opportunity to apply for a deferred repayment plan when booking their managed quarantine hotel room. Travellers who access hardship will be referred to a government debt collection agency (“Qualco”), who will perform an independent financial assessment and determine an appropriate payment plan. Several other PQs also specifically asked about international students from India.
  • Whether people on a spousal dependent visa can be given access to student finance.

Parliamentary Questions

  • Graduation: Providers may hold events, as long as they are compatible with COVID-19 regulations… We expect graduation ceremonies to go ahead, either physically in person but delayed in line with the roadmap, or to be held virtually.
  • Further Education Law course/Graduate Diploma funding
  • Labour’s Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has asked several questions on safeguarding mental health and suicide of placement students, and one on general student mental health provision.

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

Essay Mills Lord Storey has done it again – he’s come up in the Lords private members’ bills ballot again and intends to introduce his Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill on 24 May. We’ve lost count of which attempt this is to ban essay mills but he certainly is persistent.

AI & data graduates: Research into the UK AI labour market commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has been published. The research aims to create a set of recommendations on policy areas that the government and industry should focus on, to bridge skills gaps in the sector. Contact us if you would like a small summary.  In short, the research found skills shortages within the AI and data science sector with a range of employers reporting difficulties in recruiting the volume of workforce needed, also a lack of female and ethnic minority employees.

National Data Strategy: The Government have published their response following the National Data Strategy consultation. You can read the written ministerial statement and the consultation outcome.

  • Consultation feedback has confirmed that our framework is fit for purpose. Many respondents also recognised the need to rebalance the narrative, moving away from thinking about data use primarily as a threat to be managed, and instead recognising data as an asset that, used responsibly, can deliver economic and public benefits across the UK.  
  • The government response to the consultation builds on the insights we received, and details how we will deliver across our priority areas of action in such a way that builds public trust and ensures that the opportunities from better data use work for everyone, everywhere. This includes setting out our plans to create a National Data Strategy Forumwhich will ensure that a diverse range of perspectives continue to inform the strategy’s implementation. 

Civic Universities: Read the latest including content on the £50k UPP grant for the civic university network.

Cyber: The Government has published a press release on new plans to boost cyber resilience of the UK’s critical supply chains. There’s a policy paper they’re calling for views on too. The Government want input on:

  • How organisations across the market manage supply chain cyber risk and what additional government intervention would enable organisations to do this more effectively.
  • The suitability of a proposed framework for Managed Service Provider security and how this framework could most appropriately be implemented to ensure adequate baseline security to manage the risks associated with Managed Service Providers.

Light relief: Royal Appointment – last week’s Ivory Tower (a spoof column by Research Professional) piece provided a brilliant parody of the Queen’s Speech with many of the HE hot spots touched upon. Read for a little light relief. If you have trouble logging into Research Professional you can contact BU’s eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

And if you’ve ever gnashed your teeth whilst trying to respond to a Freedom of Information request this on is for you. Paul Greatrix highlights on Wonkhe the 30 silliest FOI requests ever to hit his desk. I challenge you to read it without finding one you think you’d like to know the answer to!

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 11th Feb 2021

Lots to talk about this week as we look in some detail at the Education’s Secretary’s latest guidance to the OfS and what it means and doesn’t mean.

We’re taking a break next week but will be back with a round-up of the essential news the following week.

HE Strategic Priorities – Williamson’s letter to OfS

The Secretary of State wrote to the OfS on 8th Feb 2021 with a new set of strategic priorities.

Interestingly, he also said “apart from my guidance letters on 14 September 2020, 14 December 2020, 19 January 2021 and 2 February 2021 which related to delivery of particular time critical issues, this letter replaces all previous guidance.”  So what are the priorities now, and the context for them? and what is no longer a priority?  We quote chunks of the text from Williamson’s letter for colleagues to scan through because the tone of the wording is quite insightful.  We cover those other 4 letters below as well as what is now “off the table”.

Williamson states: my strong view that the OfS should focus on driving up quality, being risk based, minimising bureaucracy, and ensuring that it delivers on equality of opportunity in higher education…this letter replaces all previous guidance [apart from the 4 other letters he mentions which he states relate to delivery of time critical issues of course]..…The OfS will, of course, still need to deliver its functions under HERA and its operational responsibilities, but the replacement of the majority of previous guidance will, I hope, provide clarity on my priorities and allow the OfS to focus its energy and resources on these.  Bottom line – this is an instruction to the OfS to crack on (and crack down on) the sector to ensure progress is made on his top issues.

But before we get to what they are, this made us try and guess what the biggest “problems” are for the SoS:

  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who takes a degree in a creative subject at a “lower quality” university and goes on to pursue a career in creative arts which is relatively low paid compared to the average earnings of students studying that subject.
  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who studies anything and then struggles to find a “graduate level” job, but particularly if it is a humanities, or media course at a “lower quality” university.
  • A student who doesn’t complete their degree.

Why might these be a problem? In each case the answer is the same: they should never have gone to university at all, and specifically the one they chose.  They should never have incurred loans they probably won’t repay; they should have studied, say, plumbing, on an FE course, because:

  • there is no social mobility – these students have not improved their relative financial position;
  • there is no benefit to the taxpayer – as they have not increased their earnings, they will not make higher tax contributions and are unlikely to repay their student loans – so the subsidy was not value for money;
  • there is no alignment in terms of the UK’s productivity or strategic priorities – given their choice of courses these students are not contributing to the “build back better” vision for the future which is all about STEM, and they are not contributing either to public service and the nation as nurses, teachers or social workers or working in social care (although they might be, but it doesn’t count for this purpose because their first degree wasn’t in those things);
  • the students who fail to complete must have done so because the course was poor quality or there was insufficient support.

Of course this all ignores the fact that many students can’t or don’t leave their local region for employment, that there may be challenging local economic circumstances, and that the jobs and average salaries of their contemporaries at other “better quality” universities may also be influenced by the social capital, school experience, and non-WP background of the majority of their students which makes it easier for them to become lawyers, bankers, captains of industry, politicians (although a minute ago we were only counting careers directly linked to the first degree subject).  Of course the SoS wants these issues to be considered (he mentions socio-economic status and geographical inequality) but only to the extent that more students affected by those issues should go to high tariff institutions.  Because then they will presumably get the same outcomes as every one else who goes there.  Won’t they?

And it ignores the fact that those who dropped out may have done so because of financial pressures, or caring responsibilities, or mental health issues or a whole range of other reasons.

So if those are the problems, and the reasons for them, here are some possible answers.  Then we’ll look at the SoS’s priorities.  You’ll be amazed how aligned they are.

  • outcomes are what count, so define quality by looking at outcomes metrics, and cut funding or close down those that don’t meet your baseline (already in hand but worth reinforcing);
  • link funding to strategically important subjects (that’s only hinted at here, but there has been more before and is more to come);
  • students should really only study arts or creative subjects at prestigious specialist institutions and only study humanities at high tariff institutions (linked to outcomes, see above), and so it might make sense to stop some universities from offering those courses or find another way to reduce the government subsidy for them (there are several ways of doing that and some feature below);
  • ration places at university so that the system costs less but try and level the playing field for applicants including finding a way to ensure that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds get into high tariff universities (where they will surely get better outcomes….yes, that is here too).

Of course there is more, on pet political issues like free speech, and reducing bureaucracy.  There is more on mental health and helping students to complain.  And there is a lot on getting the OfS to support the big skills agenda (i.e. technical education, lifelong learning etc.).

You can read the Wonkhe take on it here.  And Wonkhe also have a blog by Susanna Kalitowski of the University Alliance which sets out another view, considering the conflict between quality = outcomes and flexible learning.

So here we go.

Quality and Standards: The biggie.

  • One of my highest priorities and an important manifesto commitment is to drive up quality and standards in higher education, which is a fundamental part of our levelling up agenda. This is in addition to the work outlined above on the quality of online learning…. would like the OfS to progress rapidly to ensure that a robust enhanced regulatory regime can be operational as soon as possible.
  • I fully support the OfS desire to ensure that decisions on regulatory intervention and registration can be made in relation to minimum absolute standards of quality which apply across the whole of higher education provision. I firmly believe that every student, regardless of their background, has a right to expect a minimum standard of education that is likely to improve their prospects in life…I note that these standards are likely to take account of, though not be confined to, quantitative measures, including measures relating to student outcomes.

And he means business:

  • The OfS should not hesitate to use the full range of its powers and sanctions where quality of provision is not high enough: the OfS should not limit itself to putting in place conditions of registration requiring improvement plans for providers who do not demonstrate high quality and robust outcomes, but should move immediately to more robust measures, including monetary penalties, the revocation of degree awarding powers in subjects of concem, suspending aspects of a provider’s registration or, ultimately, deregistration. It is also my view that the OfS should not be registering providers without rigorous quality and a commitment to robust graduate outcomes, which should be closely monitored once registered.

And related to quality:

  • TEF: He asks the OfS to interpret the Government response to the Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework. Sub text: sort it out and make it do/measure what the Government want it to do.
  • Student complaints: the phrasing suggest that OfS may be expected to play more of a role in students’ complaints. Using the OIA as the complaint ombudsman has been both a blessing and curse for the Government during the pandemic. Blessing because they can offload it to a different body, and curse because it left them without an arrow to shoot the sector with. Williamson asks the OfS to continue to monitor this closely, and to take swift action where it is clear that quality and academic standards have dropped. I would like the OfS to communicate the findings from their monitoring work and ensure students are aware of the notification process that they can follow to raise any issues.
  • Death knell for NSS: Minister Donelan also asked the OfS in her 14 September letter to carry out a radical review of the National Student Survey (NSS). I can confirm that this remains a high priority, in order to address the downwards pressure that student surveys of this sort may exert on standards. I would like the OfS to take the time it needs to ensure this review is genuinely radical, consider carefully whether there could be a replacement that does not depend on a universal annual sample, and ensure that a replacement does not contribute to the reduction in rigour and standards. It is my strong view that the NSS should play at most a minimal role in baseline quality regulation. It’s interesting to juxtapose this with the paragraph above – don’t ask students about their experience or use that feedback in a quality framework or the TEF – but do encourage them to complain and take action on their complaints.

Fairness and admissions (lumped together, which is telling – concerns about admissions are all in this document about fairness, except minimum entry standards, which are about quality.)

  • 2021: to ensure that admissions this year run as smoothly as possible and students’ interests are fully taken into account.
  • PQA: Central to my plans to improve equality of opportunity is…post qualification admissions…we believe it has the potential to contribute towards improved student outcomes in the longer-term. He asks the OfS to support the Department’s work to develop the evidence base and implementation. And makes the main intent behind the change clear: We want to ensure that any move to post qualification admissions genuinely improves the prospects of disadvantaged students and, in particular, facilitates greater numbers of them accessing the most selective universities.
  • Supporting WP while controlling numbers: It is very important that the OfS’ work on access and participation focuses on delivering real social mobility: ensuring students are able to make the right choices, accessing and succeeding on high quality courses which are valued by employers and lead to good graduate employment. Encouraging more and more students onto courses which do not provide good graduate outcomes does not provide real social mobility and serves only to entrench inequality
  • I would like the OfS to continue to consider broader factors, including socio-economic status and geographical inequality, which are likely to impact on access and participation in higher education. This should include a focus on white boys on free school meals who are currently the least likely group to progress to higher education
  • I would like the OfS to encourage universities to do much more to work with schools in a way which meaningfully raises the attainment of disadvantaged children. Theresa May’s agenda still hasn’t gone away, policy recycling at its best. What does this mean? It’s interesting though, when funding for UniConnect has just been cut (see GW’s letter of 19 January 2021)
  • I would like to remind the OfS that it has a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. The OfS must be a champion for the importance of academic and technical excellence in all aspects of the student lifecycle, from selection to graduation. [Again a reminder that there are other routes than HE and Ministers want to see technical education rise in prominence.]

Funding:

  • I would therefore like you to make arrangements to change the name of the Teaching Grant to the Strategic Priorities Grant[this of course builds on the earlier letter in which he “slashed” the teaching grant allocation for media courses and archaeology (see our 21st Jan 21 policy update here)].
    • Remember the interim response to Augar also said that the upcoming consultation on further reforms will include consideration of minimum entry requirements, which it is expected would restrict the availability of government funding for students who do not meet the requirements. This proposal was mentioned in Augar as a possible step to take to address concerns about low value courses.  It was widely condemned as a cap on ambition and a regressive step against social mobility when it was first discussed in December 2018.  But it also is a way of rationing the government subsidy.

Skills agenda, lifelong learning: The OfS also has to work on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and reforms to occupationally focused higher technical qualifications.

  • I would like the OfS to work with DfE and other stakeholders to consider how to support the accumulation and transfer of credit and to develop a regulatory system that is fully equipped to support radically different, flexible arrangements, measuring quality using metrics that are meaningful in the new system and interact positively with our admissions regime. Delivering our vision will require action from providers to adapt to this new model and providers will need to work towards delivering greater flexibility in the courses they offer. Alongside that work by providers, the OfS should ensure that it, too, is considering how all aspects of its regulatory approach will need to adapt to and support this new model. e. adopt it or else.
  • [Note there is an interesting HEPI blog from 5th February on this: “ Although flexibility is important in the support of learning, a shift in approach will need real care to manage step off to ensure it becomes step off with purpose, at an appropriate time for the learner and as an integral part of the lifelong learning journey”.]
  • [Also note an interesting blog on BTECs by Graeme Atherton of NEON on Wonkhe]

Mental Health: OfS to continue to support initiatives in relation to mental health in the short and long term. This should be through distributing funding to providers in line with my January guidance, and developing and funding challenge competitions to enable providers to develop innovative practice in mental health support. This funding should target mental health support for students transitioning from school/college to university and prioritising the most disadvantaged learners.

Sector stability: OfS to continue to monitor the financial sustainability of the sector – It is important that the OfS maintains a close understanding and oversight of financial issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and shares information where appropriate so that the OfS and Government can work together to provide timely support for providers through the Restructuring Regime and ensure effective protection of students..

All this whilst reducing the regulatory burden:

  • …providers delivering high quality provision and strong outcomes for students should not be adversely affected by additional unnecessary bureaucracy or reporting in relation to quality: I would like the OfS to take a risk-based approach to quality assessment and regulation, focusing its efforts on lower quality providers. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]
  • In Minister Donelan’s guidance letter to the OfS on 14 September 2020, she set out a number of areas where she expected the OfS to reduce the bureaucratic burden on providers. Those areas included enhanced monitoring, termly data collections under data futures, random sampling, student transfer arrangements, estates and non-academic staff data and a review of TRAC and the OfS’ transparency condition… In addition to reducing bureaucracy in the areas outlined in Minister Donelan’s letter, I would like the OfS look across everything that it does to identify further opportunities to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and reporting requirements for providers.
  • Tut tut: In my view, to date, the OfS has not been sufficiently risk-based. A risk-based approach to regulation should consider the overall regulatory burden faced by providers, including data gathering, reporting and monitoring, not just the application of conditions of registration. It is my view that there are further opportunities for the OfS to ensure that providers with consistently strong performance face minimal regulatory burden. I would like the OfS to implement a markedly more risk-based model of regulation, with significant, meaningful and observable reductions in the regulatory burden upon high quality providers within the next 12 months. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]

Free speech & Academic Freedom:

  • We knew free speech would get a mention however its tone is critical of the OfS. While I welcome your powerful speech, Sir Michael, on 20 January on this subject, to date there has been little regulatory action taken by the OfS in relation to potential breaches of the registration conditions relating to freedom of speech and academic freedom, despite a significant number of concerning incidents reported since the full suite of its regulatory powers came into force. This is interesting because sector press states that there are few real incidents where free speech has been curtailed and previous universities ministers have been unable to evidence their claims that there is a problem. Yet the Education Secretary states that OfS is aware of a significant number of incidents.
  • Furthermore, Williamson states: I intend to publish a policy paper on free speech and academic freedom in the near future and I would like the OfS to continue to work closely with the Department to deliver this shared agenda and ensure our work is closely aligned. I would also like it to take more active and visible action to challenge concerning incidents that are reported to it or which it becomes aware of, as well as to share information with providers about best practice for protecting free speech beyond the minimum legal requirements. So Williamson wants the OfS, already known for its bark, poor comms and reputation within the HE sector, to develop far more bite. So far there has been no mention of caning wayward VC’s.
  • …university administrators and heads of faculty should not, whether for ideological reasons or to conform to the perceived desires of students, pressure or force teaching staff to drop authors or texts that add rigour and stretch to a course. The OfS should robustly challenge providers that have implemented such policies and clearly support individual academics whose academic freedom is being diminished.

Antisemitism: Williamson is determined to champion a specific definition of anti-Semitism. In 2020 he gave universities until Christmas to conform and adopt the definition with the threat of action taken against those that didn’t. This stops short of that, but assumes a match between non-adopters with higher levels of incidents and suggests financial penalties.

  • Following my letter to the sector on 9 October 2020 on anti-Semitism and adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism across the HE sector, we have seen positive progress, with at least 31 additional institutions adopting the definition.
    I would like the OfS to undertake a scoping exercise to identify providers which are reluctant to adopt the definition and consider introducing mandatory reporting of anti-Semitic incident numbers by providers. This would ensure a robust evidence base, which the OfS could then use to effectively regulate in this area. If anti-Semitic incidents do occur at a provider, the OfS should consider if it is relevant in a particular case whether the provider has adopted the definition when considering what sanctions, including monetary penalties, would be appropriate to apply.
  • Of course, there are several ways to adopt the definition, including subsuming it within a wider, more comprehensive, policy. It could result in protracted semantic debates as the OfS and a university argue whether decisions were made within the spirit of the definition.

International recruitment:

  • When the sector starts to move past the difficult circumstances created by COVID-19, a key focus of UK higher education providers will understandably be how to sustainably and responsibly recover international student recruitment, given the importance of this group to the financial health of the sector. The Government has updated its International Education Strategy to support that objective, restating its commitment to the IES’ original ambition to increase international higher education student numbers to at least 600,000 by 2030. [see more on this later]
  • In addition, we are doing our utmost to raise awareness within the sector that, where there are international opportunities, there are also risks, including overdependence on income from a single source and security-related issues. At the request of the Minister for Universities, Universities UK produced important guidelines and recommendations to help providers manage risks in internationalisation. I would like the OfS to monitor the adoption of these recommendations by providers and continue to support the sector to manage these risks to the reputation, integrity and sustainability of individual institutions, as well as to the sector as a whole.

Those other letters:

  • 14 September 2020 – this was a long one
    • set out £10m of additional teaching grant funding for high cost subjects to accommodate additional students as a result of the admissions issues in 2020
    • asked the OfS to reduce its enhanced monitoring because of the burden on providers and suggested using specific licence conditions instead – and asked for a report within 3 months
    • supported reduced requirements for data futures and ending random sampling, stopping the collection of non academic and estates data in HESES, reviewing TRAC and ending TRAC (T), and reviewing the transparency data
    • requested the “radical, root and branch review” of the NSS by the end of 2020 and “It is my strong view that the NSS should not be carried out in again in the same format as it was last year.” [oops, it has been]
    • instructed that no further action be taken on student transfer arrangements. That is fine, but of course the relevant issues all come back up again in the context of credit transfer and lifelong learning.   This was originally in an earlier letter in September 2019.
    • Asking the OfS to review its own efficiency and save registration fees by 10% in 2 years.
  • 14 December 2020 – this one was about £20m in hardship funding
  • 19 January 2021 – this was about the teaching grant – including reducing it for some subjects, removing the London weighting, cutting UniConnect etc.
  • Parliamentary question in which Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, defends the decision to remove the London weighting in the HE teaching grant: …it is right for government to re-allocate public money where it is most needed. Universities should not receive additional investment for teaching simply because of where they are located: excellent provision can be delivered across the country. London already has, on average, the highest percentage of good or outstanding schools, the highest progression to HE, and more HE providers than in any other region in England. This government is firmly committed to the levelling up agenda and this reform will invest more money directly into high quality institutions in the Midlands and the North.
  • 2 February 2021 – this one was bout the £50m hardship funding

What he didn’t mention in any of these letters and so is off the table?

  • Accelerated degrees- from an earlier letter in September 2019
  • Student protection plans – this was in the letter in February 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) “I would like the OfS to continue to focus on student protection and consumer rights. In particular, to evaluate and report publicly on the strength of student protection plans and advice available on students’ consumer rights.
  • Student contracts – from an earlier letter in September 2019. You will recall the proposal was for template student contracts with initial recommendations to the government by Feb 2020.
  • Contract cheating and essay mills – this featured in the letter of 7th June 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) which asked the OfS to work with the sector and take firm and robust action
  • Grade inflation –
  • VC pay
  • The September 2019 letter also asked the OfS to make “public transparent data on the outcomes achieved by international students, including those studying wholly outside the UK, such as it does for domestic students”

Research

Place Strategy: In September 2020 the Council for Science and Technology wrote to the Prime Minister to explore how science and technology can contribute to addressing regional disparities and promote equality of opportunity. The Government have published both the letter and the PM’s response here.

The letter proposes 6 recommendations focused on 4 areas:

  1. Leveraging research and development funding for regional growth by scaling up collaborative funding opportunities to foster and enhance partnerships, within and between regions, where there are research and innovation synergies with the potential to contribute to local growth.
  2. Further incentivising the contribution of research, innovation and technology centres to regional growth in funding agreements and in organisational strategies.
  3. Enhancing the availability of information on local innovation strengths and needs, for local and national decision makers to inform effective investment strategies and to evaluate outcomes.
  4. Supporting wider measures needed for research and development investment to act as a driver for local growth, including measures to support skills and to support local leadership and decision-making.

The PM’s response welcomes the Council’s recommendations (which sit well with current Government policy) and mentions BEIS development of the UK Research and Development Place Strategy:

  • The Place Strategy will set out how the Government can build on existing initiatives (such as the Strength in Places Fund) to support research and innovation excellence, and build new centres of high-value economic activity outside of the South East… We also need to get the local governance and delivery structures right so that responsibility and accountability sit at the right level for delivering local growth priorities.
  • And: BEIS and UKRI will continue to engage widely with industry, the scientific community, and civic organisations from across the country to help develop a strategy that supports the priorities of areas and communities across the UK. The new Ministerial R&D Place Advisory Group, which had its inaugural meeting last month, will propose, challenge and test potential policy options.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund: The National Audit Office has published a report on UK Research and Innovation’s management of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund examining the Fund has been set up in a way likely to optimise value for money. By January 2021 the Fund was supporting 1,613 projects, contributing to one of the 24 approved challenges. To date, UKRI has spent around £1.2 billion of the Fund’s eight-year budget of £3 billion.

The report examines:

  • the establishment of the Fund, in particular whether it has attracted sufficient good-quality bids, whether the selection processes have been efficient and whether the budget is managed effectively (Parts One and Two); and
  • the approach to monitoring and evaluating the Fund’s performance, as well as its performance to date (Part Three).

The report finds that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have worked well to generate interest from industry and academia in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (the Fund). However, more needs to be done to reduce the time taken to consider requests for support, so applicants are not deterred from bidding for funding and projects are not delayed.

  • Over the period, government has enhanced its engagement with industry to seek out challenges which might benefit most from taxpayer support.
  • UKRI’s own assessment shows that the Fund’s key components – challenges and projects – are broadly performing well. To sustain this position, the Department and HM Treasury, working with UKRI, need to place more emphasis on the outcomes and impact its funding secures at the Fund level. The increasing number of challenges supported by the Fund, each with their own objectives, and range of different objectives at Fund level risk obscuring priorities and will make the assessment of value for money in the longer term more difficult

R&D Roadmap: Catapults: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report asserting that the Government’s ambitions for research and development are not supported by a detailed plan or sufficient investment in innovation. It details how the Government needs to provide more detail about how it will deliver its R&D Roadmap, including how it will attract substantial private sector investment to meet its target of 2.4% of GDP by 2027. It states the UK’s research and innovation system has the necessary components to be successful, but there is insufficient collaboration between organisations and insufficient scale to deliver the required levels innovation and commercial success.

  • Commenting on the Catapult Network it states it is an integral part of the UK’s innovation system. And that the Government should expand the Catapult Network to support technologies in which the UK excels and that can bring substantial economic benefits – including to assist in the levelling up agenda.
  • Changes are needed to remove barriers that limit the Catapults’ effectiveness: universities, Catapults and industry need to be encouraged (and permitted) to interact more deeply; and rules governing innovation funding should be reformed, to allow greater flexibility for Catapults and their partners.

The Committee set out a range of recommendations for the Government, UKRI and Innovate UK to help deliver the UK’s R&D ambitions, including the changes to enable the Catapults to more effectively achieve their objectives:

  • A clear plan for how public sector resources and private investment can be made to match the scale of ambition in the R&D Roadmap.
  • Prioritisation of scaling up the Catapult Network.
  • Assurance of long-term continuity for the Catapults—including longer-term certainty over funding and a commitment that reviews will be limited to once every five years, to match the five-year funding cycle.
  • Enabling Catapults and universities to work together more easily on innovation projects, and fostering closer links between industry and universities to assist researchers to work at the interface between the two.
  • Allowing Catapults to bid for Research Council funds where there are clear advantages in terms of both research and innovation; more flexibility in permitting public sector bodies to have a larger share of collaborative R&D funding; and supporting translational research and transformative innovation more effectively, including by reducing risks to industry.
  • Supporting the levelling up agenda by developing a more strategic approach across policies for innovation and regional development—such as broadening access to the Strength in Places Fund.

Quick News

  • UKRI has advertised for a new Chair of UKRI. Given the recent spate of appointments where the Government has been criticised for lack of impartiality this, by Research Professional, raised a chuckle this week: The way public appointments have gone under this government, you may be forgiven for wondering if the post might go to the spouse of a Conservative MP who once owned a chemistry set. It will be up to the assessment panel to come up with a shortlist from the applications.
  • The Times dug up an article on research degrees from the depths of their archives. It’s a short and light read. The similarity to a current theme is surprising – that of other nations squeezing out ‘natives’ by taking up their university places: British universities since the war have had much ado to find room for native-born students, but it is to be hoped that they will make all efforts to attract the graduate research students for whom the new degree was instituted.
  • Healthcare knowledge provider the BMJ, and technology provider Jisc, have agreed a publish and read pilot as part of their commitment to help promote knowledge and speed up discoveries to improve healthcare across the UK. It grants Jisc members full read access to the BMJ’s standard collection (28 specialist journals) and offers researchers at the member institutions the opportunity to publish funded articles on an open access basis in the standard collection journals. Under the agreement, research funded by UKRI, Wellcome, and key medical charities in the UK can be published open access, to help to make the research more accessible and sustainable.
  • The Government has set up a new independent body, the UK Cyber Security Council to boost career opportunities and professional standards for the UK’s cyber security sector. Funded by DCMS the organisation will provide a single governing voice for the industry to establish the knowledge, skills and experience required for a range of cyber security jobs, bringing it in line with other professions such as law, medicine and engineering. The council was developed following a 2018 consultation on Developing the UK cyber security profession which showed strong support for the government’s proposals to define objectives for the profession to achieve and to create a new, independent UK Cyber Security Council to coordinate delivery. Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: The fact we are launching an independent professional body for cyber security shows just how vital this area has become – it makes a huge contribution to our thriving digital economy by safeguarding our critical national infrastructure, commerce and other online spaces. The UK Cyber Security Council will ensure anyone interested in an exciting career tackling online threats has access to world-class training and guidance. It will also champion diversity and inclusion, driving up standards while helping the nation to build back better and safer.

Admissions

2021 Admissions juggle: Research Professional has a good romp through the exam related admissions issues for 2021. Here are some excerpts but there is more content in the blog (e.g. on over recruitment).

  • Setting aside for a moment the challenges involved in running an appeals process based on evaluating a teacher assessment without recourse to an externally validated examination, this raises an issue: If students achieve their results directly and the university hasn’t had confirmation through the awarding bodies and Ucas of what those results are, how long will it be before those students are on the phone, email or turning up on campus to request confirmation of a place? And what does the university do? Take each student’s word for it? Ask for validation from their school? Wait for the results to eventually arrive through Ucas?
  • As things stand, we risk receiving Welsh, English, Northern Irish and international A-levels on different days (and several weeks apart), with BTEC and other vocational awards also somewhere in the mix. While we typically get international qualifications over a span of several weeks (from late June through to mid-August), the relatively small numbers are manageable. But to receive the main bulk of the results in a haphazard fashion raises important questions about the fairness and transparency of admissions decisions.
  • The danger is an outcome in which the fastest nation to get its results out will gain a significant advantage in securing places. It is notable that in the many discussions about a post-qualification admissions process, one of the prerequisites for an effective system will be an alignment of UK results; without having a common date for receipt of results this year, we run the risk of having a fragmented and unfair admissions process.
  • No-one underestimates the challenges we face in this admissions cycle to run a system that is fair to applicants and also ensures that students avoid considerable uncertainty and stress in a situation over which they have no agency. 

Student Numbers Cap: Towards the end of last week Research Professional also asked if the student numbers cap should have remained in place for the 2020/21 intake.

  • The data show a 13 per cent rise overall in numbers of students recruited by high-tariff universities—way more than the 5 per cent (plus forecasts) rise that would have been allowed under the proposed number controls, even allowing for generous forecasting. Some research-intensive institutions accepted a third more UK and EU students than they had the previous year, while other institutions saw recruitment slump by more than 15 per cent.
  • Several non-Russell Group institutions also grew their recruitment significantly: at Leeds Trinity University, Buckinghamshire New University, Liverpool Hope University, the University of Buckingham and Soas, University of London, increases in UK and EU student numbers topped 20 per cent. More than 50 universities increased their UK and EU intake by more than the magic 5 per cent.
  • There were no high-tariff institutions among those that saw major falls. And while overall recruitment was up nearly 30,000, for more than 30 institutions it was down—for some substantially.
  • …The original idea for introducing student number controls last year was to protect post-1992 institutions from exactly this kind of trouble. The controls were dropped not because the danger had entirely gone away—as the Ucas figures show, it hadn’t—but because the government had made such a mess over A-levels that it had little choice.
  • …needs are likely to be substantial in September as students arrive at university without normal levels of learning and social interaction and, in some cases, traumatised by an exceptionally tough year.
  • That will put pressure on some high-tariff institutions whose welfare systems are likely to creak under the strain of larger-than-planned-for numbers of students with multiple issues.
  • But there will also be different kinds of pressures on those institutions that would normally be dealing with a proportion of these students but have missed out because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic. It will be ironic if both groups end up struggling to cope because of government-sanctioned grade inflation.

You can read the full blog here.

Harassment

You may recall that about this time last year the OfS launched a consultation on preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct. This was paused during the pandemic and won’t be reopened. Instead the OfS are considering this matter alongside their wider work to review and reset our regulatory requirements. They intend to

  • Publish a statement of expectations relating to providers’ systems, policies and processes to prevent and respond to harassment and sexual misconduct by Spring 2021. The statement will set out the OfS’ expectations and give universities and colleges the opportunity to review and renew their systems, policies and processes before the beginning of the next academic year.
  • Right now the OfS are engaging with student and sector representative bodies and other stakeholders…to understand specifically how the events of this past year may affect the proposed statement of expectations. e. the additional challenges faced by some students because of the pandemic, including online harassment and domestic abuse.

Turing – Student Mobility

The Turing website is live. Research Professional cover the basics:

  • Applications for bids to Turing will open in “the spring”, which in Whitehall speak can run as late as the end of June, although the website promises a March announcement with a window of six weeks for submissions and results known in July. The call will include “higher education projects”, with funding available for “placements during the period from September 2021 to August 2022”.
  • Any student at “an officially recognised higher education provider registered in the UK”—which we assume means registered with the Office for Students—can participate in the scheme, regardless of nationality. The students will be able to attend a non-UK university as well as “any public or private organisation active in the labour market or in the fields of education and training”.
  • This includes businesses, public bodies, research institutes, foundations, non-governmental organisations and “a social partner or other representative of working life, including chambers of commerce, craft and professional associations and trade unions”. Beyond that, details of the scheme are relatively scant, with visitors to the website encouraged to sign up for email alerts
  • We do know that “successful applications will receive funding towards delivering placements and exchanges” and “the rates provided will be broadly in line with what has been on offer under Erasmus+”. Placements can be of any length between 4 weeks and 12 months. Further guidance on specific elements of funding and a list of destination country groupings for cost of living will be published shortly, the website says.
  • Destinations with a high cost of living will attract a £136-a-week or £380-a-month maintenance grant. Countries with a medium or lower cost of living will be funded at the rate of £120 a week or £335 a month.
  • Students who can demonstrate a disadvantaged background will be funded at a higher rate of £490 a month for expensive destinations and £445 a month for less expensive ones. There will also be tariffs for travel based on distance, ranging from £20 a head for projects less than 100 kilometres away to £1,360 for those taking place over 12,000km away.
  • …Some £315 a head for the first 100 participants will be made available for the administration of projects, with that declining sharply to £180 for the 101st student. It would seem that each individual exchange project should be applied for annually, in contrast to Erasmus+ in which partnerships are rolled over from year to year.
  • Turing is being described as an “outward student mobility scheme”…What Turing does not seem to do is fund exchange students to come in the opposite direction, which makes it a hard sell to prospective international partners while also reducing diversity in UK classrooms.

More details are expected in March.

Wonkhe have a Turing blog: For Janet Beer, it is time to accept the opportunities and flexibility that the new Turing scheme can offer.

International

International Education Strategy

The DfE published the 2021 update to the International Education Strategy including measures to boost international study and global opportunities. Press release here. It includes attracting more overseas students, boosting access to global student exchanges for thousands of people, and supporting international education partnerships. reaffirms the Government’s commitment to increase the amount generated from education exports, such as fees and income from overseas students and English language teaching abroad, to £35bn a year, and sustainably recruit at least 600,000 international students to the UK by 2030. For research and development, the strategy confirmed that the UK will participate in Horizon Europe, as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, subject to finalisation of the programme regulations. The Turing social mobility scheme is also mentioned (more on Turing here). Lastly the Secretary of State’s recent guidance letter also warns institutions to balance recruitment with thought for national security and not to develop an overreliance on recruiting from particular groups or countries.

The Strategy update proposes several areas to help increase the value of education exports and international student numbers:

  • The International Education Champion: this update sets out the priority countries and regions in which the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, will focus his activity. Sir Steve’s immediate priorities are India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria. His role will focus on growing export opportunities in these countries. Other important regional markets for the International Education Champion will include: Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China and Hong Kong. The government will also work with Sir Steve and the British Council to identify and resolve barriers which prevent the recognition of online and blended (a combination of offline and online) learning internationally
  • Building lasting global partnerships: there is an important role for the government to facilitate partnerships across the world, including in the Champion’s priority countries, but also beyond these. This includes Europe, the Indo-Pacific region, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Our new Turing scheme will also help ensure we improve mobility between UK students and all regions of the world
  • Enhancing the international student experience from application to employment: the government will work with sector bodies such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Confederation of British Industry on areas such as:
    • the student application process for international students
    • graduate outcomes and employability
    • the academic experience of international students
    • alternative student finance
  • A new international teaching qualification, ‘International Qualified Teacher Status’ (iQTS): the UK government propose to work with teacher training providers to establish a new teaching qualification that will provide an opportunity for teachers around the world to train to world respected domestic standards. There’s a consultation on it here.
  • Increase export opportunities for UK chartered professional bodies and UK special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) providers: DIT will support UK chartered professional bodies and SEND providers to find opportunities to increase their education exports

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan stated: In these unprecedented times, having a proactive global education agenda is more important than ever so we can build back better from the pandemic. Our world-class education is a vital part of our economy and society, and we want to support universities, schools, colleges and all aspects of the education sector to thrive across the globe…I am also pleased to launch initiatives to enhance the experience of international students at our universities, from the moment they apply, to the first steps of their careers.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, said: I am very supportive of the International Education Strategy, which represents the next step in a joint effort by Government and the education sector to build on the international success of our education system and our attractiveness to international students. This approach has delivered real benefits already, including the introduction of the graduate route, and improvements to the visa system. Despite a very difficult year, interest in UK study has grown as a result…We look forward to continuing to be partners, working with our members, Government and others across the sector, to deliver the strategy.

HESA data: Colleagues with an interest in international matters will be interested in the HESA 2019/20 HE Student Data release mentioned above. There is a sub section exploring recruitment areas for incoming HE students here with useful charts. The transnational data is here.

Access & Participation

Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Education Committee continued to take evidence for its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ministers Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford were questioned. While much of the content focussed on schools it was interested as it touched on several aspects of disadvantage. I was interested to learn that academic resilience (the ability of a child to excel academically regardless of their socio-economic background) has fallen for students from a disadvantaged background. You can read a summary of the session by Dods here.

Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee have launched a new inquiry into Covid-19: Education. They intend to question DfE Officials on how well the DfE managed its overall response in the first lockdown, including whether it effectively supported schools and pupils in England during this period, whether it managed the move to mainly home-learning effectively and whether it effectively supported vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Questioning revolve around the current National Audit Office assessment.

Care leavers: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) published an evidence review: Supporting access and student success for learners with experience of children’s social care.

The literature review finds that activities and interventions aimed to support care leavers are not robustly evaluated: From the 57 studies under review, about half focused on the evaluation of actual support activities while the other half explored potential barriers and facilitators affecting the target group’s trajectory into post-secondary education. However, the small numbers and gaps in data involved with this target group mean establishing causal impact is trickier than evaluating other inventions. Classification of who to include and exclude were also a problem (such as interlinking because care leavers likely to enter HE as mature students). Many studies relied heavily on self-reported evidence through focus groups and interviews (which leads to a self-selecting sample), however, the review concludes that these approaches to support care leavers into and whilst at HE seemed promising:

  • Mentoring activities which also provide positive role models and build a sense of belonging with peers
  • A social network to support, guide and advise care leavers considering HE: A key part of this network is often a trusted adult or mentor who can provide encouragement towards academic and personal goals and emotional support on the journey into and through HE. Several interviewees emphasised the importance of building relationships with a trusted figure, especially in the context of a group of learners who have often built an innate distrust in large bureaucratic institutions.
  • A single point of contact within a provider who can help learners navigate the institution and access the support they need pre-application to post-graduation. The review mentions that HEIs with higher progression and success rates for care students had this role as their sole focus.
  • Links between local authorities, carers, schools and HE providers. In studies where this collaboration was felt to be successful, staff and carers reported better managed transition support, relevant sharing of information between inter-organisational staff and learners who reported of feeling less alone and isolated.

Equality Remit: The Government’s new Equality Hub is explained following a parliamentary question asking about the relationship between the new Equality Hub and the Equalities Office:

  • The new Equality Hub, in the Cabinet Office, brings together the Disability Unit, Government Equalities Office, Race Disparity Unit and, from 1 April, the sponsorship of, and secretariat to, the Social Mobility Commission. The Government Equalities Office’s remit related to gender equality, LGBT rights and the overall framework of equality legislation for Great Britain. The Equality Hub reports to Ministers who have other portfolios outside of the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss.
  • The Equality Hub has a key role in driving Government priorities on equality and opportunity. The Hub has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers different people face, ensuring that fairness is at the heart of everything we do.
  • Key to this is looking beyond a focus solely on statutory protected characteristics to ensure we understand how different issues interact, including in socio-economic and geographic inequality. In this way, the Equality Hub is key to driving progress on the Government’s commitment to levelling up opportunity and ensuring fairness for all.

Other recent care leaver relevant resources

OIA – Complaints

In related news the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published revised draft Rules for Large Group Complaints. Undoubtedly driven by Covid, the proposed Large Group Complaints process builds on their existing approach to group complaints by developing a bespoke approach to handling complaints from large groups of students. The proposed process is intended for complaints from large groups of students at a single provider where there is a high degree of commonality between the complaints and where the complaints could be considered collectively.

However, while the process the OIA proposes would be more streamlined than the current process for group complaints, they say their approach to decision making would be the same. I.e. they would still consider what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The changes require an amendment to their existing Rules and additional Rules for Large Group Complaints so final comments are invited before the change takes place (deadline 12 March).

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

HESA

HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) published the 2019/20 HE Student Data (which includes the first five months of the coronavirus pandemic). Here are HESA’s headline findings:

  • UK students from ethnic minorities made up 27%of all students studying for a first degree in 2019/20 – among students studying for a postgraduate taught qualification (such as a Masters) this proportion was 24% and for postgraduate research qualifications (such as a PhD) the figure was 19%
  • 6% of all students were from a Black African background, but this group represented only 3% of postgraduate research students
  • Students from an Asian Pakistani background were also less representedamong postgraduate research students (2%) compared to representing 4% of all students
  • 17% of UK domicile students reported having a disability, including 5% who reported a mental health condition – within these statistics there was also a difference at different levels of study, with 18% of first degree students reporting a disability compared to 15% of postgraduate taught students
  • 41% of UK domicile students studying medicine and dentistry subjects were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds compared to only 6% in the veterinary science and agriculture, food and related studies groups
  • 5% of all students were studying psychology, and that 81% of psychology students were female
  • The subject groups with the most students in 2019/20 were business and management with 412,815 students (52% male) and subjects allied to medicine with 295,520 students (79% female)

Colleagues may be interested to delve further into the HESA data which includes some great charts and visualisation to break down the student data in these areas:

David Kernohan of Wonkhe doesn’t think the data answers the big question about continuation this year.

Parliamentary News

Students – urgent questions: Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister answered 39 questions relating to HE students as part of an urgent question session on Support for University Students: Covid-19. It covered familiar topics such as rent rebates and tuition quality. The Minister stuck to the party line and there was no new news.

Poor ratings for SoS: Secretary of State Gavin Williamson continues to be perceived negatively by Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home. His net satisfaction rating is -48. We think he’ll be hanging in there though.  Changing now would be unlikely to change much substantively in policy terms anyway, although you have to think that it might improve the ways of doing things and if nothing else, communication (although that’s a problem for the Universities Minister as well as the Education Secretary).

OfS Chair

As expected and following the Education Committee green light, the DfE officially confirmed Lord Wharton’s appointment as Chair of the OfS replacing Michael Barber. He starts on 1 April for a four year period (approximately 2 days per week). Wharton has declared his Conservative interests and party membership within his role as a Peer but not resigned the whip.

  • The Education Committee endorsed the appointment just before it was confirmed. You can read the report here. Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said: The Chair of the OfS has a vital role to play in standing up for the rights of students and ensuring opportunities for all. I congratulate Lord Wharton on his appointment. I look forward to seeing the new Chair use his position to genuinely open doors for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensure that the access and participation funding delivers real change, use his independent voice to rocket boost degree apprenticeships and guarantee everyone has access to high quality skills that benefit both themselves and employers. Halfon’s statement highlights several of his own passions for education, such as the expansion of degree apprenticeships. He seems to be giving Wharton a public steer – interesting as the appointment process wasn’t without controversy.
  • Responding to the appointment, Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, said: This latest appointment adds to the Conservative Government’s growing catalogue of cronyism. Students have been forgotten by this Government which is more concerned about securing jobs for their friends. It’s ridiculous to think James Wharton could make independent decisions while continuing to sit as a Conservative Peer. He must resign the whip without delay. It’s vital for public confidence that concerns surrounding senior appointments are urgently looked at.
  • While Wharton doesn’t commence until April Williamson has written to both Wharton and outgoing Chair, Sir Michael Barber, vehemently stating his strategic priorities for HE.

Research Professional interview Paul Blomfield MP, (Labour, Sheffield Central, Chair of the APPG for Students) who doesn’t mince his words.

Students

The Guardian report that the Government plan to allow some additional university students back to campus when the schools reopen, so potentially from 8 March onwards.

  • The education secretary is expected to announce on 22 February that final-year students in practical subjects will be able to return to face-to-face teaching, with students taking other subjects to follow soon afterwards…Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said universities would follow the same roadmap as schools for reopening
  • Priority is expected to be given to final-year students on undergraduate courses or taught postgraduate degrees in practical subjects including performing arts and lab-based science courses. But many students may struggle to be allowed back before the Easter holidays at the end of March, when teaching in effect ends for many courses before exams.

It is likely this is part of a move to damp down on fee and rent complaints with the Government shifting the onus onto HE providers.

  • While the new higher education timetable was welcomed by senior leaders, they also fear that the education secretary’s waning influence with Downing Street means the Department for Education’s plan may be ignored in favour of other concerns.
  • Some institutions, such as the London School of Economics, have already said students will be taught remotely for the rest of the academic year, but Donelan said the government “will be giving them the option to alter those plans”.

The University and College Union stated: The priority right now must be to keep as much teaching as possible online for the rest of the academic year, and putting staff and student safety first.

And the article suggests that some students are returning anyway:

  • In defiance of the government’s orders to stay at home, several universities report that students are “returning to campus in droves”, even without the prospect of face-to-face teaching or the use of university facilities.
  • One university is said to have about 70% of its usual student numbers on or around campus, in part due to high numbers of students on exempt courses such as nursing. Most others estimate that 30% to 40% of students are back, and some have more than half.
  • “Some students have voted with their feet, it’s been reported by just about all the universities I’ve heard from, Russell Group and elsewhere. It’s interesting, it reflects the fact students start to identify university as their new home,” he said.

TEF

Wonkhe ran a feature on TEF this week with a blog written by Dame Shirley Pearce (who led the TEF review). Wonkhe say:

  • … the government, while claiming to have accepted the majority of the Pearce review’s recommendations, has failed entirely to engage with the spirit of that review, which posits enhancement of the quality of teaching as a delicate balance and interplay of accountability between regulators, providers, and students, and between nationally comparable data and locally produced evidence of quality. Today on the site, Shirley Pearce urges the higher education sector and the Office for Students (OfS) to engage with the recommendations the review makes, and to take seriously the review’s finding that far from being merely burdensome, the subject TEF pilots have sparked useful conversations inside universities, and offered levers to drive enhancement.
  • The Pearce review is grounded in a theory of change that says that if there is to be public confidence in quality, providers must evidence it, but that providers and their students must be empowered to do the enhancement work on the ground according to their distinctive mission and, importantly, at subject level. The elegant proposal that institutions be provided with subject-level data, split by demographic, and be asked to account for differences in outcomes, but that the subject data would not be published as rankings, is characteristic of the balancing act the review executes.
  • The government does not evidence its grasp of this balance in its response, instructing OfS to ground TEF ratings in nationally comparable data, while at the same time taking account of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) critique of the limitations of said data in drawing accurate conclusions about the quality of learning and teaching in higher education providers – and good luck to the English regulator in squaring that circle.
  • In the relatively few years of its existence, the TEF has won few friends, and many enemies. There may be satisfaction to some in seeing the TEF reduced and downgraded. But the version of the exercise that appears to be currently on the table, as Paul Ashwin argues, risks rendering the TEF entirely irrelevant. Better, then, to have a larger exercise that directly engages with the processes of enhancing learning and teaching quality, than a light-touch exercise that does not – and redirects institutions’ energies to gaming the metrics.

Three Wonkhe blogs tackle TEF:

As you’ll have read in the section covering the Secretary of State strategic priorities letter to the OfS Williamson has tasked the OfS to resolve how the TEF will move forward.

Brexit

Dods have summarised the DfE’s research on the effect of Brexit on HEIs in the UK. EU exit: estimating the impact on UK higher education looks at:

  • the effect of changes in the level of tuition fees on international student enrolments at undergraduate and postgraduate level
  • the potential impact on EU student enrolments and associated tuition fee income resulting from:
  • the removal of tuition fee loan and grant support for EU students
  • harmonisation of tuition fees charged to EU and non-EU students
  • changes to post-study work rights for EU students
  • changes to the rights to bring dependants

Across all HEIs, the analysis suggests that:

  • Removing the tuition fee support for EU-domiciled undergraduate students would reduce demand for UK higher education by approximately 13,090 (21%34 of all EU student enrolments) first-year students per year, equating to a loss of £80.7 million in tuition fee income.
  • Removing the Home fee status for EU-domiciled (undergraduate and postgraduate) students would generate additional fee revenue of approximately £114.6 million. That is, the increase in fees charged to EU-domiciled students would more than offset the loss in fee income due to falling demand amongst EU students (15,220 students, 24% of EU-domiciled student enrolments in 2016/17).
  • Restricting the right to work in the UK post-graduation for EU-domiciled students would potentially result in 6,640 (11% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer EU student enrolments, corresponding to a reduction in fee revenue generated by UK HEIs of £88.0 million.
  • Restricting the right to bring dependants for EU-domiciled students would further reduce tuition fee income by approximately £8.4 million, with 590 (1% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer enrolments.
  • Taken together, the estimated combined impact of all of these policy changes would be to reduce tuition fee income from EU sources by approximately £62.5 million, with 35,540 (57%) fewer first-year EU enrolments. However, the aggregate impact on fee income masks significant variation by university cluster (and level of study). In particular, HEIs in Clusters 1 would benefit in aggregate; whereas institutions in Clusters 2, 3 and 4 would be worse-off.
  • The results on student enrolments are insensitive to changes in classification of HEIs by clusters, with the reduction in demand varying from 34,555 (55%) to 35,750 (57%). The total financial loss ranges from £42.5 million to £66.5 million.

There is also the impact assessment here, which Dods summarises below:

The DfE have published an assessment of the effect that changes made to higher education student finance regulations will have on groups with relevant protected characteristics.

  • Expect the proposed amendments will most likely have a negative impact on EU nationals on the basis of their nationality, if they are domiciled in the EEA and Switzerland
  • They will also have a negative impact on older EU national students who are not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements, with those studying at postgraduate level proportionately more affected
  • Do not expect EU students who are female (who are slightly overrepresented as a result of these changes) or who have declared a disability to be significantly impacted by these changes
  • There is a lack of data to predict the impact on other EEA (Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein) and Swiss students
  • Other EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who do not fall into this category (or one of the other eligibility categories), and who do not have settled status, are not eligible for home fee status and student finance
  • While those not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements will therefore be impacted on the basis of their, or their family members’ nationality, the number of those currently benefiting from student support is very small and as such, the equalities impacts are assessed to be insignificant
  • With regard to EU nationals resident in the overseas territories, their assessment is that although protected groups of EU nationals who will be affected by our proposed position are slightly over represented, namely gender/sex (females), the impact of the amendments will not differ on the basis of these protected characteristics
  • Given the limited numbers of students involved, the equality impacts are likely to be insignificant

Concluding, they say that since these amendments will remove access to student finance for EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals not covered by citizens’ rights, there are number of routes such individuals may choose to adopt:

  1. Proceed: Undertake HE study in England without receiving home fee status or any student support from Student Finance England, but potentially in receipt of funding from other sources such as their own Governments.
  2. Go elsewhere: Take up HE study outside the UK where access to education can be obtained on the same basis as domestic nationals e.g. their own, or another state within the EEA or Switzerland, or the EU overseas territories, or other international countries.
  3. No go: Choose not to participate in 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

  • Intergenerational Fairness: Dods published an interesting briefing on intergenerational fairness.
  • Games degrees: The number of UK graduates in computer games subjects has risen for a seventh consecutive year.
  • Fee Variability: You may remember that last year Australia changed the Government support and fee regime to prioritise support for certain programmes (such as STEMM) and charge more for lower priority courses. The change attracted much interest in the UK because the current Government has long been flirting with the idea of differential programme funding stemming all the way back to Jo Johnson’s tenure as Universities Minister and the introduction of the Higher Education and Research Act legislation (including TEF). Interestingly this week the Guardian have reported that demand for arts and humanities courses is still high in Australia despite fee increases,
  • LGBT+: UUK have a blog: Going the extra mile to embrace LGBT+ equality in higher education.
  • Pensions: HEPI have a trio of blogs on university pensions and in particular on the USS.
  • Dementia Research Funding: The latest news on dementia funding from a parliamentary question response: The Government’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 contained the commitment to spend £300 million on dementia research over the five years to March 2020. This commitment was delivered a year early with £344 million spent on dementia research over the four years to 31 March 2019. We are currently working on ways to significantly boost further research on dementia at all stages on the translation pathway including medical and care interventions.
  • Paramedics ELQ rules: The debate on whether to waive the ELQ rules for paramedical science continues. The Government response states: A decision will be dependent on business planning for the 2021/22 financial year following the outcome of Spending Review 2020.
  • Mental health animation: UKRI report that academics have partnered up with Aardman to tackle the current mental health crisis with the campaign: What’s Up With Everyone? funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The press release states: Although around half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the mid-teens, intervention typically starts much later. Issues include rising suicide rates among young people and unprecedented challenges for young people at school, university, college or the workplace. This points to an urgent need to rethink mental health education to reach and engage young people.
  • What’s Up With Everyone? is a series of five new animated films created with and for young people about dealing with life’s challenges before they impact mental healththe films link to vital information and signposting for how young people can help themselves or seek help for the issues raised through the project’s website. One wonders if it will link to the OfS’ mental health platform.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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