Category / Industry collaboration

BU and University Hospitals Dorset celebration and networking event

An event to celebrate the partnership between BU and University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust (UHD) is being held at BU on 18 October 2022.

The event will showcase collaborative research that has taken place between both organisations, and provide networking opportunities for BU academics to meet counterparts at UHD who are interested in further collaborating on research and professional practice.

The partnership between BU and UHD will celebrate its second anniversary as a part of the event, though the organisations have had strong links for many years.

The event will provide an opportunity to hear from senior leaders at both organisations, to understand the collaborative work on current research projects and disciplines, and opportunities for future collaboration.

The event will take place in the Executive Business Centre on Tuesday 18 October 2022, starting at 5.15pm, places are limited. Booking is essential via Eventbrite.

HE policy update for the w/e 20th May 2022

We’ve tried to keep it short this week.  But the politics is still sticky on a number of issues and the culture wars are not over…

Research

REF results: you’ve probably read everything you want to, but here is a blog from Dave Radcliffe of the University if Birmingham on QR funding: QR allocations could be seen as the antithesis of levelling up. Funding is concentrated into a handful of established universities. It is even one of the last bastions of London weighting (£34m is allocated to London institutions in addition to their QR allocation). Research England will need to determine what it means to continue funding excellent research wherever it is found.

Researcher responsibility: The Lords Science and Technology Committee ran a sessions on delivering a UK science and technology strategy. Evidence was provided by:

  • Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive Officer, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Lord Browne of Madingley, Co-Chair, Council for Science and Technology (CST)
  • Dr Beth Mortimer, Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Oxford
  • Professor Sir Richard Friend, Cavendish Professor of Physics, University of Cambridge

The first session focused on the Government’s strategy for science and technology, its commitments and risks, and the capacity to deliver this. The second session discussed the role played by academia and researchers in achieving the UK’s goal of becoming a science and technology superpower by 2030. Summary of both sessions provided by Dods here.

China: George Freeman (Minister for Science, Research and Innovation) published a written ministerial statement announcing that BEIS will end its bilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding in China. BEIS will not be using ODA funding to support research and innovation partnerships with China as they’ve previously done through ODA vehicles, such as the Newton Fund and Global Challenges Research Fund. Existing ODA-funded activity with China through these will finish by the end of financial year 2022/23. The technical assistance provided through the UK Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions programme (UK PACT) will also end (same timescale). Instead technical assistance to China on climate change issues will be smaller in scale and use non-Official Development Assistance sources.

Visa fees limit talent: UUK press the Home Office for change; Universities UK (UUK) lodged a report with the Home Office highlighting that visa fees of more than £15,000 for a researcher and their family to come to the UK is a major problem that academics and researchers face when trying to progress their careers in the UK. UUK say the UK Government’s own research suggests the UK must attract an additional 150,000 researchers and technicians if it is to have the workforce needed to manage the government’s ambitious target to increase investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. The report highlights significant feedback from universities and international staff that the most expensive visa arrangements in the world could hamper UK universities from unlocking their significant potential to support the government’s targets. The analysis comes shortly after the recent Home Office announcement of further visa fee increases.

UUK raise the following issues:

  • The total cost for an individual applying for a five-year visa through the Skilled Worker Route, bringing a partner and two children, amounts to a staggering £15,880. This is particularly prohibitive for mid-career researchers who may choose to take their families, and expertise, elsewhere.
  • The immigration health surcharge (IHS) of £624 per year – and per person for dependents – is challenging for early-career researchers, with cases of researchers requesting shorter contracts to reduce the up-front cost of coming to the UK.
  • A lack of recognition of the diversity of families, with a ‘sole responsibility’ test that prevents a dependent child coming to the UK with a single parent other than in very limited circumstances.
  • A mismatch in requirements for Global Talent visas and other types of visa can leave some researchers able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after three years, while their dependents are not eligible to apply until after five years.
  • Researchers can also find it difficult to transfer between institutions, with requirements for reapplication for visas, incurring more fees and bureaucracy.

UUK calls on the Home Office to:

  • Undertake a benchmarking exercise to review visa application costs to ensure we are at least in line with our international competitors, if not more competitive.
  • Enable applicants to pay health surcharges staggered over the lifetime of their visa, rather than requiring the total upfront.
  • Review dependency visa costs to reduce the upfront financial burden for researchers with large families.
  • Review and reform of the ‘sole responsibility’ test to be more inclusive to diverse family structures.
  • Enable family members on dependent visas to apply for ILR after three years, in line with those on the Global Talent visa
  • Enable visa application costs to be transferred when updating an applicant’s visa to a new institution.

Vivienne Stern MBE, Director of Universities UK International, said: The government has taken some welcome steps recently to make the UK more attractive to international research talent. We think they can go even further, and that doing so will contribute to making the UK one of the most exciting places in the world to pursue a research career.  Simple steps to ease the financial and bureaucratic burden for applicants could make a massive difference to individual decision making, and help make the UK a magnet for talent.

UK AI R&D Commercialisation; The Office for Artificial Intelligence (AI) has published research on the UK’s AI R&D commercialisation process. The report was commissioned by DCMS to explores which channels are most effective at transforming AI R&D into marketable products.  Read the full report here.

Most prevalent routes for AI R&D commercialisation in the UK

  • University spinouts: businesses that grow out of a university research project, which attempt to transform research into a commercial product or service;
  • Startups: businesses in the early stages of operations, exploring a new business model, product or service;
  • Large firms that commercialise AI R&D:  such as ‘Big Tech firms’, and also other large technology companies such as ARM, Graphcore, IBM, Netflix and Twitter;
  • Direct hire and joint tenure arrangements: relationships between industry and academia that allow for a back and forth flow of AI talent between the two.

Grade Inflation

The Office for Students (OfS) warned universities and colleges to “steer clear of normalising post-pandemic grade inflation”.

  • In 2010-11, 15.7 per cent of students were awarded first class honours. The proportion of students awarded the top grade has more than doubled, reaching 37.9 per cent in 2020-21.
  • Nearly six in ten first class degrees are unexplained. Of the 37.9 per cent of students awarded first class degrees, 22.4 percentage points remained unexplained after the OfS had taken into account a variety of observable factors – including students’ prior entry qualifications and their background characteristics – which may affect attainment.
  • By 2020-21 all universities and colleges included in the analysis saw significant increases in unexplained first class degrees when compared to 2010-11.
  • Rates of first class awards have risen for all students, regardless of their entry qualifications. In 2020-21, 60.8 per cent of students with three As and above at A-level received a first class degree, compared to 33.5 per cent in 2010-11. The average rate of firsts for those entering with A-levels DDD and below has increased more than five-fold, from 5.3 per cent to 28.5 per cent.

Nick Holland, Head of Provider Standards at the OfS, has also written an accompanying blog post, in which he outlines what action the regulator is taking to tackle grade inflation.

Susan Lapworth, interim chief executive at the OfS, said:

  • This report starkly demonstrates the scale of increases in degree classifications in our universities and colleges. Unmerited grade inflation is bad for students, graduates and employers, and damages the reputation of English higher education.
  • ‘We know that universities and colleges used ‘no detriment’ policies to respond to the exceptional set of circumstances caused by the pandemic. But grade inflation has been a real credibility issue for the sector for some time and the pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to allow a decade of unexplained grade inflation to be baked into the system.
  • ‘Our report is clear that there are a variety of reasons – including improved teaching and learning – that could lead to an increase in the rate of firsts awarded. However the sustained increase in unexplained firsts awarded continues to pose regulatory concerns for the OfS.
  • ‘It is essential that students, employers and graduates can have confidence that degrees represent an accurate assessment of achievement, with credible and reliable qualifications which stand the test of time. Where this is not the case, the OfS has always said we are prepared to take action. We now have new conditions of registration in force and we will be publishing more details about our plans to investigate these issues shortly.’

We don’t have to point out that there has been a certain level of outrage at the “unmerited” word” – isn’t quality improvement supposed to be a good thing?

Queen’s Speech

Queen’s Speech – background briefing notes.  The most relevant bits for HE:

Higher Education Bill “Reforms to education will help every child fulfil their potential wherever they live, raising standards and improving the quality of schools and higher education.”  The purpose of the Bill is to: Ensure that our post-18 education system promotes real social mobility, helping students onto pathways in which they can excel, and is financially sustainable. This will help support people get the skills they need to meet their career aspirations and to help grow the economy.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Ensuring people are supported to get the skills they need throughout their life. The Bill will enable the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, a new and flexible way of providing loan support for post-18 study. This will provide individuals with a loan entitlement equivalent to four years of post-18 education (£37,000 in today’s fees) that they can use over their lifetime for a wider range of studies, including shorter and technical courses.
  • Fulfilling the manifesto commitment to tackle uncontrolled growth of low-quality courses.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Ensuring that appropriate fee limits can be applied more flexibly to higher education study within the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and that they can be effectively regulated.
  • Subject to the conclusion of the higher education reform consultation:
    • setting minimum qualification requirements for a person living in England to be eligible to get student finance support to enter higher education, helping to ensure students can pursue the best post-18 education and training options for them by taking pathways through which they can excel; and
    • fulfilling the manifesto commitment to tackle uncontrolled growth of low quality courses by taking specific powers to control numbers of students entering higher education at specific providers in England.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (page 131)

The purpose of the Bill is to: Fulfil the Government’s manifesto commitment to strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities in England.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Ensuring that universities in England are places where freedom of speech can thrive for all staff, students and visiting speakers, contributing to a culture of open and robust intellectual debate.
  • Ensuring that, for the first time, students’ unions will have to take steps to secure lawful freedom of speech for their members and others, including visiting speakers.
  • Ensuring that academic staff feel safe to question and test received wisdom and put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without risking their careers.
  • Creating routes for staff, students and visiting speakers to seek redress if they suffer a loss as a result of specified duties being breached.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Ensuring that freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education is supported to the fullest extent. This legislation builds on existing freedom of speech duties on higher education providers and addresses gaps in current provision. For the first time duties will be imposed directly on student unions, as well as constituent colleges.
  • Provisions include a new complaints scheme run by the regulator, the Office for Students, free to access for students, staff and visiting speakers who believe their speech has been unlawfully restricted, overseen by a dedicated Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom.
  • Introducing new freedom of speech and academic duties on higher education providers, their constituent colleges and students’ unions. The Office for Students, will have the power to impose penalties for breaches.
  • Creating a new role for the Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the Office for Students. The holder of this office will champion freedom of speech and academic freedom on campus,and have responsibility for investigations of infringements of freedom of speech duties in higher education which may result in sanctions and individual redress.

The government still don’t seem to appreciate the irony of this and their actions on other things: last week Donelan announced the Government would be temporarily suspending its engagement with the National Union of Students (NUS) over a series of allegations surrounding antisemitism.

The Government has published an update impact assessment (IA) for the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.  The revised IA shows they have increased their estimated net cost to business from £4.6m per year, to £4.7m.  It has also increased its overall estimate costs to universities and SUs over the next decade from £48.1m to £50.3m. The original impact assessment was reported on by PoliticsHome’s Nao Hoffman last September, as concerns were raised about the potential financial burdens by Shadow HE Minister Matt Western.

Here’s a Wonkhe blog:  As I’ve said before, in most of the on campus free speech cases you have an EDI complaint at one end of the see-saw, and a Free Speech justification at the other – which in turn implies an OIA complaint in the former, and a “Free Speech OfS Tsar” complaint at the other. 

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (page 25) “A bill will be brought forward to drive local growth, empowering local leaders to regenerate their areas, and ensuring everyone can share in the United Kingdom’s success. The planning system will be reformed to give residents more involvement in local development.”

The purpose of the Bill is to:

  • Level up the UK, grow the economy in the places that need it most and regenerate our towns and cities – giving people the opportunities they want, where they live.
  • Improve the planning system to give communities a louder voice, making sure developments are beautiful, green and accompanied by new infrastructure and affordable housing.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Laying the foundations for all of England to have the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal by 2030 – giving local leaders the powers they need to drive real improvement in their communities.
  • Improving outcomes for our natural environment by introducing a new approach to environmental assessment in our planning system. This benefit of Brexit will mean the environment is further prioritised in planning decisions.
  • Capturing more of the financial value created by development with a locally set, non-negotiable levy to deliver the infrastructure that communities need, such as housing, schools, GPs and new roads.
  • Simplifying and standardising the process for local plans so that they are produced more quickly and are easier for communities to influence.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Placing a duty on the Government to set Levelling Up missions and produce an annual report updating the country on delivery of these missions.
  • Creating a new model of combined authority: the ‘County Deal’ which will provide local leaders with powers to enhance local accountability, join up services and provide transparent decision making to rejuvenate their communities, increase their ability to reflect local preferences in arrangements including directly elected leaders’ titles.
  • Unlocking new powers for local authorities to bring empty premises back into use and instigate rental auctions of vacant commercial properties in town centres and on high streets.
  • Giving residents more of a say over changing street names and ensuring everyone can continue to benefit from al fresco dining.
  • Strengthening neighbourhood planning and digitalising the system to make local plans easier to find, understand and engage with; by making it easier for local authorities to get local plans in place, we will limit speculative development.

Complaints

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator on Higher Education (OIAHE) published its Annual Report for 2021 which shows a further increase in the number of complaints received – once again their highest ever figure.

  • 2,763 new complaints were received (6% increase since 2020).
  • 37% of complaints related to issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Decisions – in total, 27% of cases were Justified (3%), Partly Justified (9%), or settled in favour of the student (15%). This is slightly higher than in recent years, and their highest ever proportion of cases settled.
  • Both practical and financial remedies were recommended (financial remedies totalling £792,504). In addition, students received a total of £511,875 through settlement agreements. The overall total financial compensation in 2021 was £1,304,379, significantly higher than in previous years. This is partly because in some cases it was more difficult to find a practical remedy due to the impact of the pandemic. The highest single amount of financial compensation was just over £68,000, and 63 students received amounts of over £5,000.

Other categories of complaint:

  • 45% Service issues (teaching, course delivery, supervision and course-related facilities)
  • 29% academic appeals (assessments, progression and grades, including requests for additional consideration)
  • 6% Financial issues
  • 5% Equality law / human rights
  • 5% Welfare / non-course service issues
  • 5% Disciplinary matters (academic)
  • 4% Disciplinary matters (non-academic)
  • 2% Fitness to practise

Admissions

The latest update from the OfS on unconditional offers was published.  It seems to show that unconditional offers are not such a problem (any more).

Wonkhe have a blog: It’s the start of a very good recycling job – I expect future modified iterations of this work to focus on the continuations of students with less impressive entry qualifications instead. Almost as if having solved one problem at the behest of a moral panic it is time to move on to the next one.

Apparently the data seems to show that lower grades are the problem.  You will remember that the argument always went that “unconditional offers are bad because students aren’t motivated and then get lower grades”…and then they drop out, goes the story.  You will recall, the Queen’s Speech above includes plans to limit access based on grades.  How convenient.

  • For applicants who were yet to be awarded those qualifications when they applied, unconditional offers were previously unusual but became more common between 2013 and 2019. UCAS analysis shows that the proportion of English 18-year-olds who received an offer with an unconditional component increased from 1.1 per cent in 2013 to 39.1 per cent in 2019.
  • At the end of March 2020, the Universities Minister announced a moratorium on unconditional offers. Following this, the OfS consulted on and introduced a time-limited condition of registration, condition Z3, that prohibited the use of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers and other unconditional offers to UK students that could materially affect the stability and integrity of the English higher education sector.
  • The number of offers made with an unconditional component for 2020 admissions increased slightly overall, but a greater proportion were ‘direct unconditional’ offers. In 2021, the number of offers with an unconditional component decreased overall, and there were no conditional unconditional offers made.
  • For entrants with A levels, the continuation rate of those that entered through an unconditional offer was lower than those with a conditional offer. This difference is small, but statistically significant. However, the difference has decreased in the latest two years… For A-level entrants, ‘direct unconditional’ offers have the largest estimated negative difference in continuation rates of all the different types of unconditional offer in each year. They are the only unconditional offer route where this estimated difference was statistically significant in four of the five years, but not for entrants in 2019-20.

Mental Health

OfS announced the appointment of a consortium led by the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) to help universities and colleges identify and make use of effective practice in supporting student mental health. Partnering with TASO are What Works Wellbeing, Universities UK, SMaRteN, King’s College London, Student Minds and AMOSSHE. OfS state the work will lead to the creation of a central, online hub to share what works to support student mental health.

Future of Work

The Government announced that Matt Warman MP (former digital minister) will lead a review into how the government can best support a thriving future UK labour market. The ‘Future of Work’ review will inform the government’s plans to ensure the UK is equipped with the right workforce, skills and working environment to seize the new economic opportunities of Brexit, Levelling Up and Net Zero.

The review is also expected to explore the role of local labour markets in facilitating access to good jobs as part of levelling up across the country, as well as where skills development is most needed to drive future economic growth. The review will provide a detailed assessment on key issues facing the labour market and set out recommendations for Government to consider.

The Government has stated that the review will build on existing government commitments (including those made in response to the Matthew Taylor Review) to assess what the key questions to address on the future of work are as we look to support people to progress in work with the skills they need and grow the economy.

The terms of reference for the Future of Work review can be found here.

Other news

Graduate outcomes: The DfE published additional data as part of the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset showing what industry graduates were working in at one, three, five and 10 years after graduation.

Climate change: New UUK blog Most parents don’t recognise role of universities in tackling climate change finds that only 4 in 10 parents believe UK universities are equipping students with knowledge on climate change. While almost every UK university has a sustainability strategy, less than half of parents recognise that universities are researching solutions to climate change. And only 24% of parents of 16-18 year olds believe UK universities are communicating effectively to the public about their efforts.

Other key findings

  • 46 percent of adults would like to have the green skills necessary to be able to contribute to tackling climate change
  • 41 percent are or would consider upskilling themselves in how to build sustainability into their current careers
  • Over a third (37 percent) are or would consider enrolling on a higher education course to learn more about climate change.
  • 36 percent are or would consider taking on a professional qualification in sustainability
  • 58 percent of parents are worried that future generations will not be equipped to deal with climate change
  • 61 percent of parents would like to see more from universities on researching the solutions to climate change.
  • 59 percent would like to see them working with schools and local communities more
  • 78 percent of parents think universities have an impact on tackling climate change, but universities were ranked lowest for impact, below governments, businesses and brands, charities, NGOs, protest groups and individuals

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update w/e 3rd May 2022

Parliament was prorogued on Thursday 28 April. The State Opening of Parliament will take place on 10 May and the Queen’s Speech will set the agenda for the forthcoming Parliament.

Research

Tech transfer: The Government has announced that Dr Alison Campbell OBE has been hired as CEO of the new Government Office for Tech Transfer which will support the Government to manages and commercialise its (estimated) £104bn worth of knowledgeable assets. Dr Campbell was previously the Director of Knowledge Transfer in Ireland’s national office helping businesses to benefit from access to public sector research expertise and technology. She started her career in the biotech industry and previous positions include interim CEO of the Medical Research Council’s technology transfer company (MRCT), and leading technology transfer and research support at King’s College London.

Technology transfer is the broad term applied to the transfer of assets, such as intellectual property rights, technology or new knowledge, from one organisation to another, with the aim of stimulating the development and adoption of new products, processes and services that benefit society.

The new government unit will sit within BEIS and is being developed to ensure that the public sector is maximising the value of its knowledge and innovation assets including intellectual property, software, processes and data. The unit will launch later in 2022 to provide specialist skills to support the way government manages its knowledge assets.

R&D Expenditure: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest figures on R&D and related expenditure by UK government departments, UKRI and HE funding bodies in 2020. Main points:

  • The UK government’s net expenditure R&D reached a new high of £15.3 billion in 2020. An increase since 2019 of £1.7 billion (in current prices), representing the largest percentage increase in current or constant prices since 2013.
  • Total net expenditure on R&D and knowledge transfer activities reached £15.5 billion in 2020 and represented 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP), which was in-line with the long-term trend of 0.6% to 0.7% since 2009.
  • UKRI contributed the most to net expenditure on R&D and knowledge transfer activities in 2020, at £6.1 billion, 40% of the total.
  • In constant prices (adjusted for inflation), civil net expenditure on R&D and knowledge transfer activities (excluding EU R&D budget contributions) increased by 28.9% over the long term, from £10.2 billion in 2009 to £13.2 billion in 2020.
  • Defence R&D expenditure was £1.1 billion in 2020 compared with £1.0 billion (in current prices) in 2019; a 4.8% increase.
  • UK contributions to EU R&D expenditure decreased to £1.3 billion in 2020, down from the peak of £1.4 billion (in current prices) in 2019.

Quick News

  • ECRs: The British Academy announced the third (and final) hub of the Early-Career Researcher (ECR) Network – a two-year pilot programme for UK-based postdoctoral researchers in the humanities and social sciences. It will be in Scotland and co-led by the universities of Stirling and Glasgow. The pilot ECR hubs will run until March 2023 and aim to establish an inclusive, UK-wide Network for ECRs in the humanities and social sciences, providing opportunities for skills development and networking across the whole country. The hubs previously launched are located in the Midlands and South West of England. Researchers join the ECR Network via the British Academy’s Registration Form . All humanities and social sciences researchers who identify as early career are eligible to join, regardless of their funding source or background. This includes those working outside of academia, in independent research organisations and other policy or third sector institutions, and those not in employment but with relevant links into Scotland, the Midlands and South West research communities.
  • Innovation Fellowships: The British Academy has unveiledthe projects that have received funding as part of the BEIS funded Innovation Fellowships (Route A: Researcher-led) scheme. The funding will facilitate projects which encourage collaboration between researchers, organisations, and business. (Wonkhe)
  • Horizon Europe deadline: Research Profession reports that UK researchers awarded some Horizon Europe grants have been given two months to move their projects to a European Union institution or risk having their funding cut. Full details are here. In response UKRI stated: We sympathise with researchers who receive this message from the European Research Council, but can reassure them that the Horizon Europe guarantee funding provided by BEIS via UKRI will allow them to receive the full value of their funding and continue their research in the UK. Awardees do not need to move abroad to an EU Member State or to an Associated Country to Horizon Europe to access this funding. There is detailed guidance on our website at ukri.org/HorizonEU. However, Caroline Rusterholz (Cambridge University) highlighted that even if UKRI steps in, the prestige of the ERC grant will be lost. The Guardian has coverage.
  • Student Engagement: Wonkhe – The Office for Students (OfS) and Research England have publishedinterim evaluation reports from projects funded by the Student Engagement in Knowledge Exchange challenge competition. The evaluation finds that student engagement improved students’ skills, strengthened students’ networks, increased students’ employability, and strengthened relationships between higher education providers and partner organisations and businesses. They also found that effective engagement required a mix of in-person and online attendance to enhance accessibility, pre-event briefings to minimise poor attendance, and regular and accessible communications to maintain momentum and student interest.

Parliamentary Questions:

Question: Ensuring UK educational institutions avoid relationships with non-UK organisations that (a) hold or (b) host items taken from Ukrainian territory.
Answer: Michelle Donelan – I…have recently written to the higher education sector to outline our expectation that universities review their partnerships with Russia and take appropriate action…This includes taking action on research partnerships as well as asking universities to review their broader investments arrangements… I am continuing to ask that all universities conduct due diligence when entering into all international partnerships and accepting foreign investment, in line with Universities UK guidance on ‘Managing risks in Internationalisation’.

Lifelong learning

UUK have published their response: University leaders support much-needed flexible learning revolution (universitiesuk.ac.uk)

Our response has five key messages:

  1. Universities are ready and willing to deliver on the LLE ambition
  2. The new system must appeal to potential learners of all ages and have wide course eligibility
  3. We need a greater understanding of the level of demand for modular study
  4. Information, advice and guidance will be at the heart of the LLE
  5. We should use existing regulatory and quality mechanisms to avoid new overly complex regulation

Full response is here: Our response to the Department for Education (DfE) consultation on the lifelong loan entitlement (LLE) (universitiesuk.ac.uk)

On the first point, which is a big deal:

  • The study of modules should allow progression to full qualifications, with exit points at levels 4, 5 and 6. Many higher education institutions will adapt how they deliver modular study to meet learner needs, such as changing study timetables. They will also give tailored wrap-around support and advice on progression routes. Higher education institutions can build on existing best practice and partnerships to collaborate to support transfer and credit recognition.
  • ….we recognise that the design and length of some courses may mean some are more appropriately funded per-academic year. We think that providers are best placed to decide this as they respond to learner and employer demand.
  • …The cost of modular delivery will exceed that of full-time provision for providers. This is partly due to the additional administration required. We also know individuals re-entering formal study may require additional academic and study skills support upon entry. This includes wrap around support such as careers guidance, counselling, and access to facilities
  • …High-cost courses and modules would need further support. For example those that use labs or specialist equipment. Therefore, deriving a fee from the qualification may not completely compensate where the take up of particular modules is more prevalent than others. A high level of unpredictability initially about learner demand for short courses could impact the cross-subsidy model that higher education providers operate. There is a risk that providers are disincentivised from offering expensive courses. We think these challenges could be mitigated through the strategic priorities grant, over developing models for differential fees
  • .. A learner’s previous assessment and module marks are not normally carried over at the point of transfer and institutions typically rely on marks received post-transfer. Some institutions require a certain percentage of a student’s learning to be completed in a single institution at level 6 to calculate the final classification. The regulation around the LLE will have to consider the implications of different practice across the sector when calculating classifications and assessing student outcomes and how these can be mitigated or managed.

And this:

  • The OfS should consult and review on the appropriateness of student outcome measures for learners studying under the LLE.
  • The non-completion measure would need revising and/or a clause added to accommodate modular learning. Leaving a provider without completing a full degree cannot in itself be regarded as an indicator of failure, either for the student or the institution, but particularly not in the case where a ‘step on step off’ approach is proactively encouraged. Employment and further study outcomes would also need to be reconsidered to account for non-linear work and flexible study patterns of learners, and/or the possibility that individuals already in ‘professional jobs’ are reskilling or up-skilling.

They raise an interesting concern about placement years: It is unclear from the proposals how the funding for sandwich programmes would work. This must be considered to avoid any unintended consequences for the learners. We believe that sandwich years should be funded and not draw from elements of the loan entitlement. Placement years attract a fee but at a lower rate reflecting that students are mostly with their employer but do receive support from academics and professional staff and can use facilities. Depending on the design of the LLE there is a risk that students who choose a 4 year degree may use up all their entitlement in one go, and that students who come to year 1 having studied a foundation year would be disincentivised from choosing a 4 year degree with placement to progress onto. We do not believe the DfE intends to restrict sandwiches years – after all these courses support graduates to be work ready and meet employer needs – but this needs clarifying.

The rest of this is worth reading too – but let’s not underestimate how huge a change this would be across the sector.

Student Loans

The Lords have expressed concerns over the lack of information on the impact of changes to student loans legislation. The Regulations have been laid by the Department for Education (DfE) and make changes which mean the current repayment thresholds for student loans that applied in the 2021-22 financial year will be maintained and continue to apply in the 2022-23 financial year. This avoids an automatic 4.6% increase of these thresholds on 6 April 2022. However, the Lords are concerned about the impact on those who have student loans. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (36th report) highlights that while DfE made it clear…that the changes made by this instrument will generate an expected £3.7 billion of savings in public sector net borrowing… [to] 2024-25, it is silent on any additional costs those with student loans might incur as a result of these changes.

Lord Hutton of Furness, Member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said:  In this instance, we are particularly concerned that while these changes will affect a large portion of the student population and possibly their families, the EM only emphasises the savings Government will make and is silent on the costs to those who have student loans.  This is unsatisfactory and the House may wish to raise this omission with the Minister. 

There are also several student loan related parliamentary questions:

  • The impact of the rise in inflation on the purchasing power of the average size maintenance loan
  • The impact on graduate disposable incomes of the increase in student loan interest rates. Michelle Donelan responded: The government has not yet made a decision on what interest rates will be applied to student loans from September 2022. We will be considering all options over the coming months and will confirm in due course the rates to apply from 1 September.
    Changes to student loan interest rates will not increase monthly student loan repayments…
    Over a lifetime, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has made clear that changes in interest rates have a limited long-term impact on repayments… We announced in February 2022 that we will be reducing interest rates for new borrowers and so from 2023/24, new graduates will not, in real terms, repay more than they borrow. Alongside our wider reforms, this will help to make sure that students from all walks of life can continue to receive the highest-quality education from our world-leading HE sector.
    Note that Donelan states limited long term effects – for the short term impact you may wish to read this short article from the IFS – High inflation set to cause interest rate rollercoaster for student loans which touches on the short term 12% contribution expected by the highest earners.
  • Student loan rates exceeding mortgage rates
  • Nurses repaying student loans & independent NHS pay review

Access & Participation

APPs: Wonkhe report on John Blake’s (OfS Director Fair Access and Participation) request that variations 2023/24 access and participation plans be submitted by 31 July. The variations need to address new key priorities – making APPs more understandable and accessible to students and key stakeholders, partnering with local schools, and creating more routes into higher education through expanding degree apprenticeships and flexible level 4 and 5 qualifications. But given where inflation is at and the wider cost of living crisis, Jim Dickinson argues on Wonk Corner that revisions may well also need to consider student financial support.

Parliamentary Question: National scholarship scheme – Government are currently considering the design of the scheme and to set a roll out date after this – As part of the higher education reform consultation, we welcome views on how the eligibility for a national scholarship scheme should be set to support students and address ongoing financial barriers that can restrict high achieving, disadvantaged students from achieving their full academic potential whilst studying in higher education.

Degree classification – what, where & grade impact on earnings

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), commissioned by the DfE, published Higher degree classes are associated with substantially higher earnings examining the financial benefits associated with different degree classifications. After controlling for student characteristics, higher degree classes are associated with substantially higher earnings. Degree class seems to matter most for those attending the most selective universities and studying subjects where future earnings are highest. Suggesting that access to ‘elite jobs’ is governed by what you study, where you study and how well you do at university.

  • The average premium for gaining a first class degree over an upper second (2.1) is 4% for women and 7% for men.
  • The penalty for getting a lower second (2.2) as opposed to a 2.1 is 7% lower earnings for women and 11% lower earnings for men.
  • Obtaining a lower class (below 2.2) degree is associated with 15% lower earnings for women and 18% lower earnings for men, again compared with a 2.1.

Main findings from the report:

  • The share of university students obtaining different degree classes varies substantially by subject studied and institution attended. Among the 2012–2015 cohorts of graduates, around 20% obtained first class degrees; just over half received upper second class degrees; around 20% received lower second degrees; and around 5% received lower class degrees. Subjects involving maths have a more even spread of awards across degree classes than other subjects. More selective universities tend to award higher class degrees.
  • There has been a long-term trend towards higher degree classes awarded in all subjects and at all levels of university selectivity, which accelerated around the 2010 graduation year. The share of people getting first class degrees more than trebled between the 1999 and 2015 graduating cohorts. Meanwhile, the share of 2.1s remained fairly flat; the biggest declines were in the share of people getting 2.2s.
  • Earnings differences between those graduating with different degree classes are large. Five years after graduation, median annual pre-tax earnings for both women and men who obtained a lower second class degree in 2013 were around £3,800 lower than for those who received an upper second class degree (or around 15% lower for women and around 13% for men). Women who obtained first class degrees earned around £2,200 (8%) more than women with upper second class degrees, and men with first class degrees earned £4,100 (14%) more than men who obtained upper second class degrees.
  • Payoffs for a higher degree class vary hugely by subject. For some subjects, degree class matters a lot for earnings, while for others it does not matter at all. For men and women studying law or economics, getting a lower second class degree rather than an upper second is associated with more than 15% lower earnings, whereas there is no significant difference for those studying education or English. Subjects with high labour market returns tend to have high degree class premiums and subjects with low labour market returns tend to have low degree class premiums. This suggests that even students of high-return subjects typically need to get at least a 2.1 in order to access highly paid jobs (except medicine, a high-return subject which does not usually award degree classifications).
  • Achieving at least a 2.1 has a much bigger payoff at more selective universities. Controlling for observable characteristics, both men and women who obtain a lower second class degree from the most selective universities earn 20% less on average at age 30 than those who achieve an upper second class degree, compared with around 6% for women and 8% for men who got lower second class degrees from the least selective universities.
  • There are stark gender differences in the payoff to achieving a first class degree at a very selective university. At the most selective universities (Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and the London School of Economics), the average payoff to a first class degree versus a 2.1 is near zero for women, but very large at around 14% for men.
  • Despite substantial increases in the average grades of graduates during the period there are no large changes in degree class premiums over time. Median graduate earnings five years after graduation fell by more than £5,000 between the 2002 and 2009 graduation cohorts in all degree classes for both women and men. Yet earnings gaps between degree classes have been constant throughout the period. This is consistent both with improvements in overall student attainment and with lower academic standards.

Ben Waltmann, Senior Research Economist at IFS and a co-author of the report, said: The findings imply that degree classification may matter as much as university attended for later life earnings. Other things equal, going to a more selective university is good for future earnings, and the fact that few students from disadvantaged backgrounds attend the most selective universities is a barrier to social mobility. But that being said, many graduates who get a 2.2 from a highly selective university might have got a higher-paying job had they attended a slightly less selective university and got a 2.1. Prospective students, parents and policymakers should take note.

More HE, more graduates, more jobs?

UUK have weighed in on the topic publishing Busting graduate job myths. They tackle four ‘myths’:

That everyone goes to university nowadays

This delves into technical data a little stating that using a more nuanced and accurate measure no cohort examined has reached a participation rate in higher education of 50%. Although 40% do and, over time, it looks likely that there will be a cohort of young people of which the majority will go through higher education or an equivalent of some kind. Which includes vocational and technical routes:

  • Even if half of the 18-year-olds from 2021 achieve a higher education qualification, many will do so later in life, or take unconventional and diverse routes.
  • Many critics of the current system suggest that it would be better for more people to achieve qualifications through routes other than the ‘conventional’ pathway of taking a traditional bachelor’s degree at university directly from school. The data shows that it would take only a small change in the way it is reported to show that this is already happening.

There aren’t enough graduate jobs

  • It’s hard to tell how many graduate jobs there are or how many graduates are in graduate jobs, in part because it depends on how you measure what a graduate job is.
  • There have been fewer graduate jobs during periods of high unemployment, such as during recessions. Institute of Student Employers (ISE) data shows that the number of graduate vacancies is now 20% higher than in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic. Job vacancies for graduates are expected to increase by more than a fifth (22%) in 2022 compared to 2021.
  • Data shows that most graduates are in jobs for which a degree is an appropriate qualification… There is little clear evidence that there existed a period in the past when the graduate labour market was considerably stronger.
  • The ONS Annual Population Survey estimates that there were 15,053,100 people with degree or equivalent qualifications working in the UK at the end of 2020. By looking at the data from the OfS’ graduate employment metrics in the same time period we see that in the UK in 2020 there were 15,978,200 employees in SOC categories 1 to 3.
    The gap is almost a million jobs. Graduate supply still does not meet demand.
  • The number of jobs for which graduates are suitable compared to the number of graduates seem reasonably well matched. There are both shortages of graduates in some fields, and obvious areas of graduate underemployment in others. The UK is not unusual in any of these respects.
  • It’s crucial to remember that longitudinal studies of graduates show that just because a certain proportion of graduates do not secure graduate-level work early in their career, does not mean that this proportion of graduates will never get a good job. In fact, most of those early underemployed graduates will not be underemployed for the rest of their careers.
  • How many graduates have a graduate job? The honest answer is that nobody knows. It looks to be a comfortable majority, but that depends on how you define what a graduate job is

Some degrees have little value to employers

  • If the data shows that the number of graduates and the number of graduate jobs available seem well-matched, why do we have underemployed graduates and skills shortages elsewhere?
  • Almost twice the percentage of the UK workforce are underqualified for their role than overqualified for their role. This might be due to low investment in adult skills training in the UK.
  • The labour market and jobs themselves are also constantly changing. At least a quarter of new graduates do jobs that did not exist 50 years ago. Many non-graduates may be in graduate jobs because the jobs themselves have changed over time.  The below chart – Figure 4 – shows the change in graduate market entry in the last 50 years.
  • In the UK, your degree subject matters less. Many employers are looking for well-rounded graduates with transferable skills, rather than specific degree subjects

All the best graduate jobs are in London

UUK suggest graduates are less mobile than actually believed with many choosing to work in places where they already have a connection. Only 20% work in an area where they do not already have a connection. Those than return home to their home area are the most likely to be in non-graduate jobs. Pages 23-24 (listed as pages 20-21 on the document) has a chart and further analysis explaining this. UUK conclude that the link to place (and therefore the levelling up agenda) is crucial: The levelling up agenda will need to take into account that graduates will tend to stay linked to places they know. A local university makes it much easier to attract and retain graduate talent.

  • Looking to the future UUK predict that Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to increase graduate demand further with healthcare, IT and marketing expected to see particularly steep rises.

More HE: The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change published We Don’t Need No Education? The Case for Expanding Higher Education arguing that the UK needs more graduates to counter a slowdown in growth and productivity over the past decade. Prior to publication Tony Blair pushed one of the report’s main recommendations – that the UK should aim to raise HE participation to 60% by 2030, and to 70% by 2040.

The research outlined in the report demonstrates how the expansion of HE over the past generation has become a progressively more important source of prosperity and the mainstay of economic growth since the global financial crisis. The analysis also suggests that if seven in ten young people completed HE, this would significantly raise the rate of productivity growth and boost the size of the economy by almost 5% over the next generation compared to allowing educational attainment to stagnate.

Former (Conservative) universities minister Lord (Jo) Johnson argues in the report’s foreword that the country needs more skills and that the skills we need are defined by future flexibility, rather than current employment needs. Jo Johnson:

  • the popular notion that “too many go to university” is rooted in the view that we churn out more graduates than befits our economy, and that public money is wasted on low-value courses.
  • As this paper acknowledges, we do need to tidy up some of the rough edges that lead to poor outcomes in some instances, and there are lower-level skills gaps in our economy that do not require higher education. But neither of these mean that we have reached “peak grad”.
  • The first reason is that we still don’t have enough highly skilled individuals to fill many vacancies today, for instance in professional occupations.
  • The second reason – and this is arguably the report’s most important message – is that we cannot just think about skills demand in a static way; we must also plan for a future economy that will look very different to the one we currently occupy
  • High-innovation economies, like South Korea, Japan and Canada, understand this and have boosted higher education; participation rates in these countries are already between 60 per cent and 70 per cent. We cannot afford for policy to remain steeped solely in today’s challenges, and our ambition should be to join them.

The report recommends:

  1. Aim to raise participation in HE at levels 4 and aboveto 60% by the end of this decade and 70% by 2040
  2. The goal would need to be paired with the policies and resources to improve school and pupil attainment
  3. Non-traditional routes into HEwould also need to be improved
  4. The government would also need to monitor the effect of recent moves to recalibrate student-loan repaymentsto ensure more debt-averse candidates have not been inadvertently discouraged from pursuing HE
  5. There is more to be done to make entry into HE an attractive decision to students from lower-income backgrounds, including reintroducing maintenance grants

Batting for the Government, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, responded in the Times criticising New Labour’s previous 50% target, and the new 70% figure proposed by Blair last week, as a “one-size-fits-all” approach and “condescending”. Adding that we should hear “a little less from Tony Blair, and a little more from Euan Blair” (Tony’s son who set up an apprenticeship-focused tech firm). The Blair Vs Donelan stance is perhaps not as polarised as it might seem. Higher level technical skills are a key part of the Government’s agenda. It remains to be seen whether HEIs delivery quality higher technical learning will be welcomed and whether the HE numbers reduction is really about the cost to the Treasury.

Wonkhe have a blog – The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change makes a case for (even) more graduates, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies argues there may be a graduate oversupply. David Kernohan tries to pull it all together

Freedom of Speech

There was notable criticism of the lack of progress on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill from Shadow Education Minister Matt Western:

  • What a palaver! This is less a carry-over motion and more of a carry on, if I may say so—”Carry On Regardless” being probably the most apt title…it is 358 days since the Bill was introduced to the House. Announced in the last Queen’s Speech, the Second Reading was debated nine months ago and the Public Bill Committee concluded its work over seven months ago. Since then, nothing—so is there a problem? The lack of urgency suggests it is really not that important after all. Certainly, the Secretary of State has not mentioned it once in the Chamber since his appointment five months ago, and the legislation would certainly have no effect on cancel culture, according to lawyers, media commentators and the sector itself. The Government now want another year to resolve their own problem—a problem of their making—which is more time that could be better used to address the immediate and pressing issues faced by the great British public…

FE & HE Minister Michelle Donelan responded:

  • Let me be crystal clear: the Government remain committed to delivering on our manifesto pledge by strengthening freedom of speech in higher education. We have not changed, and never will change, our position, because we recognise that free speech is the absolute cornerstone of democracy and a liberal society. Our universities should be centres of inquiry and intellectual debate, and places of new and independent thinking from which will grow the knowledge, learning and science that we need to tackle future global challenges. The reintroduction of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill reaffirms our manifesto commitment…

Research Professional also discuss the continuation of the HE Freedom of Speech Bill. Questioning why the Government is continuing with it given the isolated incidents and limited evidence there is actually a free speech problem within HE. They also highlight that a

  • Ministry of Justice consultation on a Modern Bill of Rights for the UK—which features its own specific reference to protecting free speech and academic freedom—concluded last week. Potentially, the legislation it trails could subsume the higher education-specific proposals.

Research Professional also state:

  • For Donelan, passing the bill is probably as much about advancement within Johnson’s Conservative Party as it is about reform of university culture. Frankly, we doubt that Donelan really believes very strongly in this nonsense.
  • …The bill as written survives and may yet make it to legislation. There is, however, a journey to be undertaken—and it seems unlikely that the House of Lords will take kindly to proposed legislation that is specific in its targets but vague in its actions.

Michelle Donelan  spoke on free speech at a Policy Exchange event. On the free speech ‘problem’ within HE Donelan said:

  • sadly, where once we found critical debate and arguments were won on their merits, today we see an upsurge in physical threats and complete intolerance of opposing ideas.
  • We witness examples of professors being harangued and hounded out of their jobs. We see prominent, well-respected, guests no platformed. We find academics self-censoring themselves out of fear.
  • Progress is no longer considered progress unless it conforms to an increasingly narrow ideology. And let’s be honest for a moment, successive governments have not put up enough of a fight. There has been a lot of talk and warm words, but not nearly enough solid action.
  • I am here today to tell you that this government is different. We are putting pen to paper in legislative action to once and for all challenge the forces that shut debate down… I will make sure each of our universities remains a fortress of ideas, putting an end to the nonsense of cancel culture by wielding the crucial majority that the British people gave us [i.e. Donelan suspects the Lords will oppose the Bill but intends to push it through using a 3 line whip in the House of Commons].

On the Bill Donelan said:

  • The Bill will put a duty on universities to promote free speech and academic freedom, not just protect it. It will put a duty directly on Students’ Unions to protect free speech.
  • And it will establish a new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom on the Office for Students Board – with the power to fine universities, colleges and students’ unions and recommend real redress for those who have had their speech unlawfully restricted. And it will provide a new legal tort as a critical backstop, offering a direct route to redress for individuals who have suffered loss due to a breach of the freedom of speech duties.
  • We need to effect a culture change that will reverberate through the sector, from the SU bar right up to the Vice Chancellor’s office. And let me be clear, this is not an issue for Vice Chancellors to shy away from. Frankly, this is not an issue that they will be allowed to shy away from.

Skills – attracting international investment

Following on from Dr Campbell’s appointment to head up Tech Transfer a new report from World Skills UK Wanted: skills for inward investors warns that the UK needs an investment strategy with skills at its heart to not miss out on foreign investment. It finds that if the UK fails to recognise the importance of technical and vocational skills it will be left behind as other countries reap the rewards of lucrative foreign direct investment (FDI). Key points:

  • The UK has been overtaken by France as Europe’s top destination for foreign investment. It argues that the UK needs a better integrated strategy on skills and inward investment to attract international firms to more parts of the UK.
  • The UK currently does not have an investment strategy and the Department for International Trade needs to develop one with skills and regional opportunities at its heart.
  • Almost half (46 percent) of foreign firms said they would move their operations abroad if they couldn’t get the skills they needed, compared to just over a fifth (22 percent) of domestic firms.
  • When asked about expanding their operations 61 percent of foreign firms said they would expand overseas if they couldn’t get the skills they needed in the UK, compared to just a third (32 percent) of domestic firms.
  • The UK’s FDI is too concentrated in the already economically dominant areas of London and the South East. It argues that delivering FDI to more parts of the UK is vital in creating the higher-skilled and better-paid jobs needed to drive the government’s levelling up agenda.
  • A post-Brexit vision of Global Britain needs to showcase the UK’s excellence in skills. It says WorldSkills UK should use its unique knowledge of world-class skills to work with more parts of the UK’s technical education sector to improve skills levels right across the UK.

Skills Taskforce for Global Britain Chair John Cridland CBE says: The countries successfully bringing in foreign investment have a sophisticated skills offer to attract investors. Put bluntly, if you want to attract investment you need high-quality skills, and if you want high-quality skills you need inward investment. We need the Department for International Trade to develop a coherent investment strategy that will deliver FDI throughout the UK and not just in London and the South East. Competition is becoming fiercer and the UK simply cannot afford to miss the opportunity to add skills to its international calling card. If the Government’s levelling up agenda is to be realised, the UK has to develop and promote the skills that will deliver a high-skill, high-wage economy and attract foreign investors.

Also on skills Wonkhe report that the DfE published new strategic guidance for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education for the 2022-23 financial year. One of the central aims of the strategy is to involve the institute in forecasting what skills will be needed in the future and working with the government as part of the new Unit of Future Skills. The strategy also calls on the institute to have oversight over the quality of T levels, contribute to economic recovery, and to improve the quality of apprenticeship assessments.

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

Spiking: The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has published a report on spiking. 81% of spiking victims were noted as students. We have a short summary of the report – contact us if you wish to read it. Wonkhe also have two blogs:

Prevent: Policy Exchange has published a report on the prevent counter terrorism strategy. Dods summarise: The report argues that Prevent has been undermined by anti-Prevent narratives and misinformation that has been spread by “Islamist groups” and allies. The groups named include the Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Engagement and Development and CAGE. Policy Exchange accuses these groups of running disinformation campaigns to undermine Prevent, with university campuses being a key arena in which anti-Prevent activism has been particularly vocal.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund: The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities  announced the allocations of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) amounting to £2.6bn of funding in total between 2022 and 2025. The government says the UKSPF matches the average spend from the European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund, replacing the pots after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. It will be increased from £400m in 2022/23 to £1.5bn in 2024/25, at which point the government says it will match the EU funds it has replaced. England has been allocated £1.58bn. Each English Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area will receive the same in real terms as it used to under EU funding, and within each LEP area an index of need will be used to allocated funding to each local authority. In addition to the funds allocated to nations, £129m of the UKSPF funding will be used for Multiply – the new UK-wide digital platform for adult numeracy. The DfE has also provided links to trailblazers’ Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) here.

And there is a Parliamentary Question on the topic: How will the Shared Prosperity Fund maintain Research and Innovation funding at a level matching funding available through the European Regional Development Fund? Answer – the UKSPF is not intended as a direct replacement for ESIF funds. The Fund’s policy and delivery structure significantly differs, with a focus to deliver more tangible Pride in Place benefits across the UK. Read more here.

Universities UK have announced that Vivienne Stern will succeed Alistair Jarvis as its chief executive

Careers: Wonkhe blog – Students often have an amazing story to tell, but low confidence can prevent students from accessing the careers support they need. Jon Down thinks through what can be done.

Online learning: Research Professional note that:

  • According to a report in The Mail on Sunday, Donelan wants to send Office for Students inspectors into 15 universities to take a look at what is going on. The inspectors—whoever they are—had better hurry up, since teaching has already finished on many campuses and will be all over bar the shouting everywhere else within a couple of weeks.
  • If The Mail is to be believed, university bosses “risk huge financial penalties” as the minister has thrown “down the gauntlet to the ‘stubborn minority’ of vice-chancellors and lecturers who are still working remotely”. Donelan has signalled “her intention to ‘put boots on the ground’ by sending teams of inspectors to investigate staff attendance rates on campuses across Britain”.
  • The reality of online teaching is also that we all know no-one is going to be fined for it, let alone incur “huge financial penalties” or be denied access to the student loan book. The Mail on Sunday interview is just the latest in a long line of ministerial grandstanding against the sector Donelan is supposed to have under her care.
  • Why might that be the case? Is the minister motivated by ensuring quality public institutions and looking after the interests of young people, or is she thinking about how her reputation stands within the Conservative Party at a time when a cabinet reshuffle might be on the cards?
  • If it is the latter rather than the former, Donelan will not be the first and probably not the last minister to think universities are easy game on the way to political advancement. Recent history shows, however, that universities ministers do not necessarily prosper politically once they have left their avowed ‘dream job’.

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HE policy update for the w/e 7th February 2022

Parliamentary news

Michelle Donelan responded to oral questions within the chamber this week. They covered low-quality university courses (including in relation to disadvantaged access) and non-disclosure agreements. Research Professional (RP) has an interesting write up on low quality courses in the playbook. They note how few (41) courses don’t meet the quality threshold and that Russell Group institutions are among those courses. With so few courses of concern the Government’s campaign to prevent this low quality seems more bark than bite. In fact, RP note:

  • Given how many degree courses are on offer across the country —50,000…only 41 in England dip below both a 75% completion rate and a 60% progression rate. More would be captured with a progression metric of 80%, but not so many as to make you think there was a problem that required the full regulatory machinery of the OfS and the political muscle of ministers at the Department for Education.
  • It is hard to imagine that the near 50% non-repayment rate of the student loan book is the result of poor student outcomes on those 41 degree courses. It is also hard to imagine that the OfS will ever have to make a regulatory intervention at the universities where they are taught.
  • …the most likely fate for degree courses that fail to live up to OfS-mandated thresholds is that they will simply be pulled. No university management team worth its salt would allow one or two courses to threaten institutional reputation or access to the student loan book…The most likely result of outcome thresholds will therefore be departmental closures and staff redundancies.

Parliamentary question: Student outcomes approach

Next Donelan tacked HE freedom of speech including a mention on the balance between respect for religious values and freedom of speech. Free speech was also touched upon during the Topical Questions when Jonathan Gullis (Conservative) lamented that the ‘wokerati’ complained and tried to silence a professor’s comments. There is also a freedom of speech parliamentary question.

During the topical questions John Penrose (Conservative) called on Alex Burghart (Education Under-Secretary) to: discuss the universal accreditation scheme proposed in my recently published “Poverty Trapped” paper…It would mean that universities and colleges could give credit for knowledge and skills gained not just in formal education but in work or informal settings, to make it easier, cheaper and faster to switch careers and to level up opportunities so that everyone has a better chance to succeed Burghart responded that FE providers can use discretion, there was no mention of HE.

On Wonkhe: Nadhim Zahawi wants school leavers to get detailed data on in-person teaching, rather than “vague intentions”. Jim Dickinson interprets the signals.

Growth Business Council: Wonkhe – The Prime Minister has launched a new business council to support the government’s Plan for Growth. The Secretary of State for Education will have a standing position on the council to focus on the skills element of the plan, alongside the business and trade secretaries.

Levelling Up

Last week’s big, and long anticipated policy announcement, the levelling up white paper, got a bit lost in the politics of the moment and the big geopolitocal stories.  Has the extra time taken the reason it is so big?  Or, as less kind commentators have said, is it so big to disguise the thinness of the policy initiative?. More than a third of the 300 pages is data analysis, and even in the policy sections there’s a lot of waffle and reviewing of previous initiatives to justify the new approach – 12 big “missions for 2030”.  A lot of the policy stuff is in the “things we are already doing or have announced before” box.  We appreciated the jaunty red, white and blue colour scheme, too.

We are promised more detail on implementation.

I’m using page numbers from the web version below not the printed page numbers.  There’s really very little in here for Dorset – apart from being an Educational Investment Area.  There’s a summary of what they are already doing in the South West from page 314, including the investment from the Towns Fund in regenerating Boscombe.

What is it all about – you have to look at page 120 for the logic.

You can read the “12 missions” at the end of the web page.  They include on reading, writing and maths at primary school and this on skills:

  • By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

And this on R&D funding:

  • By 2030, domestic public investment in Research & Development outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth
  • The White Paper also announces 3 new Innovation Accelerators, major place-based centres of innovation, centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and Glasgow-City Region. These clusters of innovation will see local businesses and researchers in these areas backed by £100 million of new government funding 

And on devolution:

We will invite the first 9 areas to agree new county deals and seek to agree further MCA deals, extending devolution across England. 

  • The first 9 areas invited to begin negotiations will be Cornwall, Derbyshire & Derby, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, Durham, Hull & East Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire & Nottingham, and Suffolk.
  • The White Paper announces negotiations for a new Mayoral Combined Authority deal for York and North Yorkshire and expanded Mayoral Combined Authority deal for the North East, as well as negotiations for ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers – with these deals acting as blueprints for other Mayoral Combined Authorities to follow.
  • By 2030, every part of England that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one.

Looking at the main report, there’s an interesting productivity chart on page 38, the earnings one is on page 40 and the skills distribution is on page 42 and some health charts follow.

The paper uses all this data to conclude where is most left behind. On page 72 it identifies “20 locations in the UK identified as potential priorities for investment and for harnessing existing economic assets for levelling up.”  The Solent area is one of these, along with the area around Exeter, what they call “Cyber Valley”, which is around Cheltenham (GCHQ) and what they call “Western Gateway” – Bristol-Swansea. There are more areas identified for employment and skills linked to net zero on page 86 – again Solent for “Green Finance” and Exeter for onshore wind.

Dorset is highlighted on page 89 as an area with a high proportion of jobs at risk from automation.  There’s a skills map on p93.  Our area is in the middle.

The “so what” starts on page 137, but there are pages and pages of the history of previous policy initiatives and explaining why “missions” are the way to go. It highlights the complexity of funding arrangements (you don’t say – see the chart on page 159).

The proposed devolution deals are on page 166 (not our area or close to it).

You get to the “policy programme” on page 191.  On R&D:

  • “... the UK Government will need to support the growth of R&D hotspots across the UK, including through fostering greater collaboration between national funders, local leadership, the private sector and high-quality research institutions. It also requires a greater focus on innovation alongside research, which will be supported by the 36% real-terms increase for Innovate UK annual core funding between 2021-22 and 2024-25, amounting to a cash total of at least £2.5bn over the SR21 period. While some information is already collected and published, there are currently significant evidence gaps that prevent policy makers from tracking and measuring where public R&D funding is spent. The UK Government will ask the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the UK Government Ofce for Science to work with all departments to collect and publish subnational data on their R&D spending

On education, it is nearly all about schools.  This bit on page 222: “The UK Government will drive further school improvement in England through new Education Investment Areas (EIAs). These will cover the third of local authorities in England where educational attainment is currently weakest, plus any additional local authorities that contain either an existing Opportunity Area (OA) or were previously identified as having the highest potential for rapid improvement.” Dorset is one of these Education Investment Areas.

  • To ensure access to high-quality academic education, including post-16, DfE is opening eleven new specialist 16-19 maths schools, with a commitment to one in each region of England. DfE has opened three so far – King’s College London, Exeter and Liverpool. It will open a further eight in Cambridge, Durham, Imperial College London, Lancaster, Leeds and Surrey, as well as a further two in the East of England and West Midlands. Going further, the UK Government will ensure that talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a college, school sixth form or 16-19 academy, with a track record of progress on to leading universities, such as Harris Westminster Sixth Form and Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form Free School in Norwich. To drive this commitment, DfE will open new 16-19 free schools targeted at areas where they are most needed. The selection process for these schools will prioritise bids located in EIAs, in particular those areas that will benefit from additional support.

Skills come from page 225.  Local Skills Improvement Plans are highlighted (the DfE is piloting these).  Not much new in this area, existing work on apprenticeships and higher technical education.

  • The UK Government has also announced nine new Institutes of Technology (IoT) across England, building on the 12 already established since 2019 and taking the total to 21 – exceeding the UK Government’s manifesto commitment to 20. IoTs are collaborations between colleges, universities and employers, specialising in delivering higher technical education in areas across England. As IoTs are employer-led, they can react quickly to the current and evolving technical skills needs of an area. The lead organisations for the nine new IoTs and the wider areas they will cover are: a. Blackpool and The Fylde College (Lancashire LEP area); b. Cheshire College South and West (Cheshire and Warrington LEP area); c. Chichester College Group (Coast to Capital LEP area); d. DN Colleges Group (Sheffield City Region LEP area); e. Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group (Stoke on Trent & Staffordshire LEP area); f. Solent University (Solent LEP area); g. South Essex College (South East LEP area); h. University of Derby (D2N2 and Leicestershire LEP areas); and i. University of Salford (Greater Manchester LEP area)

Universities finally get a mention on page 229

  • The UK Government will continue to work with the OfS to reform barriers for entry to the English HE sector, so that new high quality HE providers can open across England, joining the 400+ providers already on the register, to increase access to HE particularly in towns and cities without access to this provision.
  • The HE sector has a key role to play in levelling up areas by improving access to opportunity, in addition to supporting regional economies, so that every young person and adult, regardless of their background or geographic location, can get the high level professional qualifications needed to secure rewarding, well-paid jobs benefiting their families and communities. Changes are being made to the role the HE sector plays in levelling up opportunities for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The UK Government has committed to ensuring that HE providers work closely with schools and colleges to raise educational standards and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds in their communities, through refocusing universities’ Access and Participation Plans. The OfS will require all English universities to refocus their Access and Participation Plans on true social mobility, making getting on at university as important as getting in, and emphasising activities which have a direct impact on student attainment. Activities could include tutoring, running summer schools or helping schools and colleges with curriculum development. These changes will help to raise the quality of local education and training providers.
  • From 2025, DfE will transform the student finance system, which helps fund study in level 4 to 6 courses. This will help deliver greater parity between FE and HE, and bring colleges and universities closer together. As part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, a flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement will provide individuals in England with a loan entitlement equivalent to four years’ worth of fees for post-18 education. It will be available for both individual modules and full years of study at higher technical and degree levels, regardless of whether they are provided in colleges or universities.
  • The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is laying the groundwork to put loans for approved modular courses on a solid statutory footing. 

David Kernohan summarises the relevant bits for universities on Wonkhe.

Wonkhe have an article from James Coe on intergenerational levelling up.

Dods summarise the education parts nicely for us:

 The following are new announcements and plans featured in today’s Levelling Up White Paper:

  • A new online UK National Academy: the new digital education service will support pupils from all backgrounds and provide free, online support for schools’ work, allowing students to acquire additional advanced knowledge and skills.
  • 55 new Education Investment Areas (EIAs) in places where educational attainment is currently weakest:
  • These will cover the third of local authorities in England where educational attainment is currently weakest, plus any additional local authorities that contain either an existing Opportunity Area (OA) or were previously identified as having the highest potential for rapid improvement
  • DfE will launch a consultation on moving schools in these areas with successive “Requires Improvement” Ofsted judgements into strong multi-academy trusts, so that they can better access the support they need to improve
  • DfE will support strong trusts to expand into these areas and offer retention payments to help schools with supply challenges to retain the best teachers in high-priority subjects
  • DfE is opening eleven new specialist 16-19 maths schools, with a commitment to one in each region of England
  • DfE will open new 16-19 free schools targeted at areas where they are most needed (which have been termed ‘elite sixth forms’) to “ensure that talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a post-16 provider with a track record of progress on to leading universities” – the selection process for these schools will prioritise bids located in EIAs
  • From April 2022, the Free Courses for Jobs programme(where all adults in England who do not have a level 3 qualification are able to take one for free) will be expanded on a trial basis to enable any adult with a level 3 qualification or higher who earns below the National Living Wage or who is unemployed to access a further high-value level 3 qualification for free, regardless of their prior qualifications – MCAs and the GLA will have the flexibility to determine the low wage thresholds in their local areas
  • DfE will set up a new Unit for Future Skills which will work with BEIS and DWP to bring together the skills data and information held across government:
  • The Unit will produce information on local skills demand, future skills needs of business, the skills available in an area and the pathways between training and good jobs
  • This will be a multi-year project, but the Unit will aim to improve the quality of data available within and outside UK Government in the short-term to strengthen the quality of local plans and provision, and their alignment with labour market need, as well as enable the updating of apprenticeship standards, qualifications and accountability measures
  • Its work will also feed into DfE’s commitment to provide a single-source of labour market information to learners to improve their choice of training courses and careers
  • Successful Institutes of Technology will be able to receive Royal Charter status in order to secure their “long-term position as anchor institutions within their region and placing them on the same level as our world-leading historic universities” – DfE will set out the criteria and application process for Royal Charter status this spring.
  • Government will target £100m of investment in three new Innovation Accelerators, private-public-academic partnerships which will aim to replicate the Stanford-Silicon Valley and MIT-Greater Boston models of clustering research excellence
  • These pilots will be centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Glasgow City-Region
  • new devolution framework, providing different powers and functions depending on the level, which could include:
  • Devolution of Adult Education functions and the core Adult Education Budget
  • Providing input into Local Skills Improvement Plans
  • Role in designing and delivering future contracted employment programmes

And also from Dods a list of the things featured, but already previously been announced in either Budget, SR21 or other policy documents/press releases:

  • Nine new Institutes of Technology with strong employer links will be established in England, helping to boost higher technical skills in STEM subjects (this was announced in the 2021 Spending Review)
  • Local Skills Improvement Plans, together with supporting funding, will be set up across England to set out the key changes needed in a place to make technical skills training more responsive to skills needs. (already announced, centrepiece of the Skills Bill)
  • The £1.5bn Further Education Capital Transformation Programme will upgrade and transforming college estates across England (this was announced in the 2021 Spending Review)
  • Nine new Institutes of Technology across England, building on the 12 already established and taking the total up to 21. (already announced in Spending Review 2021)
  • The forthcoming Schools White Paper will focus on improving literacy and numeracy for those furthest behind. It will set out a clear vision for a system in which schools are in strong MATs that are able to drive improvement for all their pupils. DfE will take a place-focused approach, working with local partners to build strong trusts and investing in diocesan trusts to ensure every type of school can benefit (previously announced)
  • Government will invest £300m to build the network of Family Hubs and transform Start for Life services for parents and babies, carers and children in half of local authorities in England, and a further £200m to expand the Supporting Families programme in England (already announced in 2021 Spending Review)
  • Government intends to reform funding and accountability for further education(already announced in Skills for Jobs White Paper)
  • Aim to quadruple the number of places in England on Skills Bootcamps(previously announced in 2021 Spending Review)
  • Encouraging work-based training through apprenticeships in England, increasing funding to £2.7bn by 24/25 (announced in Spending Review):
  • Includes an enhanced recruitment service for SMEs, which are more likely to employ younger apprentices and those living in disadvantaged areas
  • Making it easier for large employers to transfer their Apprenticeship Levy to SMEs to further support apprenticeships in disadvantaged areas
  • Also rolling out higher technical qualifications (HTQs), which are new and existing level 4 and 5 qualifications that have been assessed against employer-led standards
  • Government will bring greater alignment to the delivery of employment and skills interventions in new Pathfinder areas(already announced):
  • Brings together local delivery partners from DWP and DfE, including Jobcentre Plus, careers services, local employers, education and training providers, and local government to respond to intelligence about local employers’ skills needs, supporting people into work and identifying progression opportunities for people in part-time work
  • These employment and skills Pathfinders will help individuals and employers take advantage of the extensive range of skills provision on offer
  • Part of the launch of the £2.6bn UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), adults across the whole of the UK will benefit from the Multiply numeracy programme, offering national and local support for people to gain or improve their numeracy skills, worth £559m over the SR21 period (previously announced in 2021 Spending Review)
  • From 2025, DfE will introduce a flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement, providing individuals in England with a loan entitlement equivalent to four years’ worth of fees for post-18 education, available for both individual modules and full years of study at higher technical and degree levels (already announced)
  • The Government’s forthcoming Food Strategy White Paper will take forward recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s independent review towards a National Food Strategy to help ensure that everyone can access, understand, and enjoy the benefits of a healthy and sustainable diet
  • In line with Dimbleby’s recommendations, a joint project will be launched between DfE and the Food Standards Agency to design and test a new approach for local authorities in assuring and supporting compliance with school food standards
  • The project will engage with multiple local authorities in March, with pilots expected to go live in September
  • Adopting Dimbleby’s recommendations around eating and learning, the UK Government will invest up to £5m to launch a school cooking revolution, including the development of brand new content for the curriculum and providing bursaries for teacher training and leadership
  • To support this, the UK Government will invest up to £200,000 to pilot new training for school governors and academy trusts on a whole school approach to food
  • Through these interventions, the Government will aim for every child leaving secondary school to know at least six basic recipes that will support healthy living into adulthood.

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

  • “It’s positive that the Levelling Up White Paper recognises that research and innovation is central to the UK’s long term economic, social and environmental wellbeing. Together, universities and businesses across the country are delivering world class innovations and contributing to their local communities and regional economies. We applaud the Government for recognising the central role and important role that research and innovation plays in our future growth, right across the UK.
  • “Today’s White Paper recognises that our research base will be a key building block to drive real change across the UK. NCUB has long called on the Government to establish a network of ‘Innovation Collaboration Zones’ across the UK to help the country level up. The announcement of these three new Innovation Accelerators is therefore particularly welcome. However, the devil will however be in the detail especially around their selection, the expected impact and benefit but also where future ones will be located. What is clear is that the research and innovation that our universities and businesses deliver, is vital to building stronger places and is central to driving growth and opportunity.”

Research

ARIA – Advanced Research and Invention Agency

The ARIA Bill continues within the ‘ping pong’ stage whilst the Commons and Lords agree the final amendments (tweaking) of the Bill. Here’s a summary of the latest changes and those that have been rejected.

Dr Peter Highnam has been appointed as the first CEO of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA). He will lead the formation of the agency and direct its initial funding of high-risk research programmes taking up the post on 3 May 2022 for a 5-year period. Peter will move across from his role as the Deputy Director of America’s DARPA research agency. Previously he has held positions as the Director of Research at National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, as Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, and he worked at the US Department for Health and Human Services from 2003 to 2009, serving as senior advisor in the National Institute of Health. Peter was born in the UK and studied at Manchester, Bristol and Carnegie Mellon Universities.

The written ministerial statement presented by Kwasi Kwarteng announcing Peter’s appointment is here.

Wonkhe blog: Canadian HE expert Alex Usher shows that when it comes to student loan repayments and moonshot research, other political choices are available.

Horizon Europe: Wonkhe – The House of Lords European Affairs Committee heard evidence on the UK’s association with Horizon Europe. Peter Mason, head of international engagement at Universities UK International, and Robin Grimes, foreign secretary at the Royal Society, advocated for the economic and cultural benefits of the Horizon programme, and its importance to the UK research community. The committee also heard evidence from the Secretary General of the League of European Research Universities Kurt Deketelaere, who noted the positives of collaboration between EU and UK institutions. You can watch the full session on Parliament TV.

REF: Blog – Ahead of the deadline for feedback on the REF2021 process, Phil Ashworth makes the case for radical simplicity in research assessment.

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

EIAs: Wonkhe – The Department for Education has released its methodology for selecting education investment areas, which will be based on pupil outcomes at key stages two and four at local authority level.

Blogs:

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

UK Digital Economy: The Office for National Statistics have published statistics on research into frameworks for defining the digital economy (composition, size, and characteristics).

Student Finance: Provision has been made through a parliamentary statutory instrument to include a new eligibility category for persons who have been granted leave under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and to clarify existing provisions on the Secretary of State’s right to recover overpayments of fee loans from academic authorities. Details here.

HE staff: HESA released their HE staff statistics for 2020/21. Research Professional highlight key points. Wonkhe state: New HESA data shows little movement in the numbers and diversity of academic staff in universities…The number of staff on teaching contracts has not increased in line with student numbers, going from around 100,000 full-time staff with some teaching responsibility in 2019-20 to a little over 106,000 in 2020-21. Overall, women make up 47 per cent of academic staff but just 42 per cent of those on full-time contracts – but 56 per cent of those on part-time ones, and 54 per cent of staff on zero hours contracts. We don’t yet have the full breakdown of staff ethnicity but the number of black professors of the nearly 18,000 professors in the UK remains at just 160.And they have a blog: David Kernohan takes a look at the HESA staff data and comes to the conclusion that workforce expansion is inevitable in the near future.

Technical: Wonkhe – The final report of the Research England funded TALENT Commission on the higher education technical workforce argues that there is a lack of national strategic insight into technical capability and future technical skills needs in UK higher education. Drawing on data analysis, stakeholder insight and research with technical staff, the commission sets out a vision for greater recognition and support for technical staff, roles, skills, and career development. Recommendations include investment in a pipeline of technical talent, facilitation of movement between technical and academic roles, targeted action on specific diversity challenges, expansion of entry routes to technical careers, inclusion of technical experts in recruitment, and new partnerships between employers and training to identify future skills needed to deploy emerging technologies.

Young employment: Wonkhe – A new report from the Resolution Foundation, Leaving lockdownhighlights the experience of young people seeking employment – including full time and part time higher education students – during the pandemic.

Community contributions: Wonkhe – NCUB has published ten case studies from across the UK of examples of universities contributing to their local economies.

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InterAct network – funding call for economic and social science insights for businesses

The recently established InterAct Network aims to bring together social and economic scientists from across the country with the digital technology and UK manufacturing sectors.

The ESRC-funded network will be supporting and funding collaborative research into issues faced by these industries resulting from the diffusion of new technologies.

The network will be launching its first funding call, a pair of systematic literature reviews, at an upcoming virtual event from 11am – 1pm on 26th January.

Attendees will hear from InterAct co-directors Professor Jan Godsell and Professor Jillian MacBryde as they explain more about the opportunity, the key deadlines, funding availability, application procedure, and other upcoming funding calls in 2022.

Proposals will be accepted for funding up to a maximum of £50,000, with each review to take place over a four-month period. Reviews should address one of the following topics:

  • What can we learn from historical and/or international perspectives on industrial development and evolution?
  • What impact will the changing nature of business plans have in enabling the adoption of industrial digital technologies?

You can find out more and sign up to the briefing via Eventbrite

More extensive guidance documentation and application forms will be made available on the InterAct Network website and via email following the event.

End of year HE policy update December 2021

2021 drew to a fairly quiet close from an HE policy point of view – with all the excitement saved for the new year, as the government focuses on other things (which might well also be very present concerns in the new year too).  This is our last (planned) policy update for 2021, so we look forward to seeing you after the break.

The festive period is usually a time for much speculation and opinion as various people set out their “what I would like to be different in the New Year” thoughts in the press, a bit like new year’s resolutions for other people, and the rumour mill can get a bit carried away if there isn’t enough real news and people have time on their hands.  So don’t believe everything you read over the holiday.  We predict a slow start in the new year for HE policy changes although it may be a big year when it gets going.  Although here’s what we said this time last year:

  • …it is already clear that 2021 is going to be an important year in terms of tougher rules and interventions from the OfS driven by the government agenda.
  • Meanwhile, the government have announced that the budget will be on 3rd March.  Is that the date we will hear about the response to Augar and plans for the TEF?
  • And of course Brexit.  Who knows what is going to happen there.  MPs are starting their Christmas recess on Thursday – but they are likely to be recalled if a deal is achieved …

Well, Brexit happened.  But we are still waiting for most of the rest.

Big changes…on hold

Apparently the levelling up white paper is delayed because it has not been agreed by government, which is not really surprising given the tight deadline that was given for it.  We have not had the second part of the OfS consultation on quality and standards that we were promised, or the TEF consultation that would build on those minimum baselines.  Is it a coincidence, or is that related to the fact that we have not had the white paper, or policy paper or whatever it was going to be that gave us the definitive answer to the outstanding HE-related questions in the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding?

So whether these are all connected and part of a grand plan that will be unveiled at some point, or whether they will dribble out as people get used to working in the new normal 3.0 after the holidays, we end another year with a lot of water having passed under various bridges, but very little clarity about the potentially big changes that are coming.  And given how tired everyone is, and how disappointed we are to be approaching the end of the year festivities with a strong sense of pandemic-related déjà vu, that’s probably just as well.

Levelling up: Labour stated the Government is in “disarray” over its levelling-up plans, arguing that it has failed to devise a “single idea” for effectively reducing regional inequality. However, government sources dismissed this, and Boris insisted that reforms will ensure a “win-win” situation for the whole UK, rather than wealthier areas losing out to others. Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, has suggested the aim of the paper will be to help young people “stay local and go far,” creating opportunities outside London and the south-east. The paper is expected to set out new proposals for devolution including county mayors and a shake-up of boundaries of existing mayoralties.

Dods report that insiders say it will offer a “framework” for more devolution, with details to be agreed in consultation with local leaders. Other themes are likely to include skills, transport and investment – but not planning, with reforms to the planning system still on “pause” as they are reconsidered. Revised proposals are not expected to be published until the new year. More information here.

There was also a levelling up Tweet that garnered much interest this weekend.  Esther Webber summarises things for Politico.

YouGov’s recent polling highlights public opinion on levelling up priorities:

  • Further education should be prioritised by the Government to ‘achieve levelling up’, according to a new YouGov survey of 1,712 UK adults, commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation.
  • Overall, four in 10 UK adults (40%) said further education should be prioritised for achieving levelling up, when asked to select their top three. This was followed by investment in transport (33%), and work-based training and continual professional development (32%).
  • In contrast, just 15% of the public said that higher education was a top three priority, with the same number indicating that early years education was important for levelling up.

Augar: Oral Education Questions took place in the House of Commons. Wonkhe provide a succinct summary: Michelle Donelan once again promised a response to the Augar Report “shortly” and “in due course”. Sustained questioning from Andrew Bowie, Carol Monaghan, and Matt Western did not yield any insight into thinking about changes to the student loan repayment threshold level. Donelan also fielded questions on visas for international students and researchers. SEND, technical qualifications and studying abroad were also discussed. You can read the detail of what was said in Hansard. And for a more entertaining take on the personalities involved take a quick skim through this Times article.

TEF, Wonkhe blogs:

Skills Bill: Wonkhe: The Commons Skills and Post-16 Education committee met for its fifth and sixth sitting during which they discussed several amendments including a change which would alter the definition of higher education courses to allow for the recognition of individual modules as well as full courses. The Lords also discussed universal credit entitlement while studying and sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans.

Free Speech: The Lords debated Freedom of Speech last week. There were numerous mentions of universities including: the dangers of playing it too safe and not discussing controversial topics, of avoiding group-think and building resilience, condemning recent events were staff members lost or stepped away from their job after outcry for their expression of opinion, of the line between sensitivity and hurtful, of the silencing of the gender-critical voice, and voices challenging the currently fashionable, progressive consensus.

Lord Sandhurst placed a foot in both camps: In December 2019, the Policy Institute at King’s College London published an important report after a survey of some 2,150 students. It observed that universities increasingly face criticism over freedom of expression and for a perceived increase in safe-space policies and no-platforming. Yet this perception, it found, was often disproportionate to the number of instances where freedom of expression had actually been violated…None the less, it is important to note that the same report found signs of a “chilling effect” whereby some students were reluctant to express their views for fear of repercussions.

And there’s a parliamentary question: Free speech on university campuses

Labour Reshuffle

Labour reshuffled the shadow Cabinet replacing the Kate Green with Bridget Phillipson as Shadow Education Secretary and Stephen Morgan takes up the post of Shadow Minister for Schools (replaces Peter Kyle). Matt Western remains as Shadow Minister for Further Education and Universities, and Toby Perkins remains in post as Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Lifelong Learning. TES have a good short piece –The key battlegrounds for Labour’s new education team. It gives brief insight into the new shadow education and school ministers and the challenges they face.

Research

Horizon Europe: BEIS published a written ministerial statement guaranteeing to provide a financial safety net for successful UK applicants to Horizon Europe. Delays to association are laid at the feet of Europe and the Government insists it continues to be a priority to associate to Horizon Europe.

  • UK researchers, businesses and innovators have been able to apply to calls as ‘Associated Candidates’ since early 2021. So to provide reassurance to UK-based applicants, the Government has decided to guarantee funding for the first wave of eligible, successful applicants to Horizon Europe who have been unable to sign grant agreements with the EU. The guarantee is a short-term measure intended to address the continued delays from the EU to formalise the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. The funding will be delivered through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) who will publish details on how the guarantee will work including eligibility, scope and how to apply in the coming weeks.
  • The Government has always been clear that our priority is to support the UK’s research and development sector and we will continue to do this in all future scenarios. As announced in the 2021 Spending Review, in the event that the UK is unable to associate to Horizon Europe, the funding allocated to Horizon association will go to UK government R&D programmes, including those to support international partnerships.

PhDs: The Economic and Social Research Council has formally responded to October’s review of the PhD in social sciences. The council pledges to raise funding from three to three-and-a-half years, it will ensure that support on “research in practice” is included in all doctoral training, and a Master’s will no longer be a prerequisite for an ESRC-funded PhD. These and other changes – including the requirement for an equality, diversity, and inclusion strategy – will form a part of the doctoral training centre recommissioning process, due to start in early summer 2022. (Wonkhe)

UKRI review: The Westminster government has published terms of reference for the independent review of UKRI. Led by David Grant, the report will examine questions of efficacy, efficiency, accountability, and governance, and is projected to publish a final report by summer 2022. (Wonkhe)

Research Integrity: GuildHE has announced it will be partnering with UK Research and Innovation and Cancer Research UK to explore indicators of research integrity. The partnership hopes to open a national and international discussion on the topic and its direction, noting that no agreed framework currently exists to define integrity indicators in research. (Wonkhe)

University/Business Collaboration: The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) published analysis on the number of interactions between universities and businesses, which finds that collaborations and partnerships fell by nearly a third (31%) between 2018/19 and 2019/20 as the impact of the pandemic started to be felt. In one year, there was a 39% fall in the number of SME interactions and a 2% fall in the number of interactions with large businesses. Despite falls in the number of interactions, universities’ contribution to research commercialisation grew in 2019/20, with the number of licenses granted increasing by nearly a third (30%) compared with 2018/19. Full report here.

ARIA: Wonkhe – The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill was discussed in the House of Lords [on Wednesday 14 December]. Amendments around intellectual property were debated, with Lord Lansly stating that the Bill does not explicitly enough define ARIA’s relationship to intellectual property or whether the agency will be able to benefit from revenue from its investments.

Blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

Access & Participation

Disabled Students: The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced a new Access to Work Adjustment Passport scheme to help ease the transition for disabled students from university into employment by reducing the need for repeated health assessments when starting a new job.

A passport will be offered to students who already receive extra support while studying at university, capturing information about their condition and the adjustments they already benefit from, avoiding repetitive disclosures when it comes to applying for the grant once they start work. The passport will also support potential employers by documenting the in-work support the student requires and raising awareness of Access to Work and the possibility of support the student could receive.

The scheme is being piloted, as part of the National Disability Strategy, at University of Wolverhampton and Manchester Metropolitan University with 2022 graduates the first to use the Adjustment Passports. The pilot will be completed by March 2023, but if it’s successful the Government intends to consider rolling the scheme out before it ends. DWP will also be piloting Adjustments Passports with disabled young people on a supported internship, apprenticeship or a traineeship, in March 2022.

Meanwhile Wonkhe report that a series of questions discussing the Disabled Student Allowance have been raised in the House of Lords. Several peers stated that they believed the scheme needed overhauling, with Lord Holmes of Richmond calling for changes to “the 150-day wait between application and potential award” to better serve the scheme’s applicants. The discussion is here.

And Wonkhe report on a policy briefing from the Child Poverty Action Group which raises concerns that the length of time it takes to receive an assessment for universal credit may stop disabled learners from entering higher education. The Independent has the story.

Care Leavers/Student Finance:

  • DfE: Colleagues at Student Loans Company England (SLC) have resolved a funding issue for care leavers who are the responsibility of the Local Authority but live with their parents. These students previously had been turned down for student finance as a care leaver, but it has now been agreed that these students will be treated as care leavers for funding purposes. It is estimated that this will help around 400 young people per year. Interim process – The student application portal will take these students down a non-Care leaver route due to the fact they live with parents. The portal is being updated to provide an alternative route as soon as it is developed. NNECL explain and provide a template here.
  • HEPI have a blog about care leavers: Creating an inclusive and sustainable future for estranged and care experienced university students (HEPI)

Hardship: The BBC have also reported on the rise in students seeking hardship funds.

Blogs:

Disability/WP: NEON: New regulations will come into force on 15 December 2021 that further restrict access to universal credit (UC) for disabled young people in education. This contradicts government policy to support disabled people ‘to live independently and achieve their potential’ by making it harder for them to advance their skills or in some cases complete basic education. Evidence from the Child Poverty Action Group shows that this change will severely affect disabled young people who reach the age of 19 before finishing non-advanced education, and those continuing to higher education. The forthcoming regulations will force disabled young people to make an impossible choice between continuing education and not accessing the means-tested benefits they need, or dropping out of education to access these benefits and damaging their future employment opportunities. You can read Child Poverty Action Group’s briefing here

Why University? An article in Conservative Home by Dean Machin aims to challenge the ‘productivity’ view of university attendance – it is worth the short read. It also highlights 3 reasons why student choose to attend university.

  • It’s a pervasive aspiration – parents want their children to go.
  • The UCAS system is universal and ‘easy’ – Dean argues that FE and apprenticeships need such a system.
  • With reference to disadvantaged students: school leavers have few good alternatives to university but – and this is the central point – for disadvantaged young people, university is by a long way their best bet. The state pays upfront for their education and offers (means-tested) living-costs – weighted to enable them to move to another town or city. There is no comparable level of support for any other option. if you do not live in a place that offers many economic opportunities, and if you have few financial resources and little social capital (so no friendly aunt in Islington to provide lodging while you find your way in the media), university is your best bet to reduce the degree to which your background determines your future.

Interestingly Dean’s point that the Government’s well-intentioned reforms might have perverse consequences, for which he gives the example of the Apprenticeship Levy which unintentionally resulted in decline in intermediate and advanced apprenticeships at the same time as a significan[t] increase in higher apprenticeships, is familiar to some.

In fact Matt Hancock and Nadhim Zahawi state similar views in their book Masters of Nothing:

  • For too long, policymaking made assumptions about how people ought to behave, without stopping to observe how we actually do…It is astonishing…that even as events tested prevailing assumptions and found them wanting, no-one listened.

Hancock and Zahawi were writing about the financial crisis of 2008, and Research Professional who highlighted the book draw a parallel with the current pandemic and the tussle between scientific advice and Government policy. The irony is that, as Dean highlights, it also applies to the current speculation about changes in HE. It seems likely that the Government’s hopes for changes within HE may be sent off course by what people actually do in response.

Access Cap: Part of the end of year speculation is continued talk of minimum grade entry requirements to access the student loans to attend HE provision. Over the weekend the Guardian highlighted data analysis conducted by MillionPlus on DfE data which finds that 48% of disadvantaged pupils in England would be ineligible for a student loan if the Government decides on a minimum level 4 (old system ‘C’) GCSE entry level for higher education. This is because only 52% of disadvantaged young people achieve a grade 4 in English and Maths compare to the 71% national average. Particularly controversial is that the analysis highlights that northern England would be disproportionately hit harder by the policy than the south. Research Professional explain it all nicely in Entry Barriers and particularly emphasise what it means for specialist provision such as music degrees or for refugees with limited English.

Mental Health

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, has called on all universities to sign up to the Student Minds Universities Health Charter within five years. Donelan noted the good work taking place in this field already but pushed for more progress particularly given the increased concern for student welfare during the disruption caused by the pandemic. Institutions will have the opportunity to sign up from summer 2022. And Wonkhe report that the DfE will also commission a new survey of university policies on mental health, wellbeing and suicide prevention. University Business has the story.

HE Staff

Wonkhe tell us about a new report on HE staff in higher education (written by Alison Wolf and Richard Jenkins, published by King’s College London, and funded by the Nuffield Trust). It finds

  • that there has been a sharp increase in the numbers of senior managerial, administrative and teaching-only staff in a little over a decade. Numbers of managers and non-academic professionals increased by 60 per cent to almost 51,000 between 2005-06 and 2017-18, with a decline in support staff for academics in the same period. Of the increasing number of non-academic professionals, many are in marketing positions to attract new students, or are focused on the student experience, including welfare workers and careers advisors.
  • The authors found an 80 per cent increase in teaching-only staff in the 13 years to 2017-18, compared to an increase of 16 per cent in traditional roles combining teaching and research.

OfS priorities

The OfS published its annual review stating all students should expect a good quality experience of higher education. The review looks at the state of the English HE landscape, as well as the work the OfS has carried out in the last year, and what it expects to prioritise in the next. It makes clear that most HE courses in England are high quality, with the majority of universities and colleges expected to comfortably meet the OfS’s requirements in this area. It argues that a minority of providers are letting students down with poor quality and uninspiring courses. And that poor quality courses – even in otherwise highly performing universities – are not acceptable.

They also outline research conducted around graduates moving into the labour market with their degrees. They find that almost a third of employers are only sometimes able to recruit the quality of graduates they want. A similar survey in 2019 by the CBI found a quarter of respondents dissatisfied with the literacy and numeracy skills of young people leaving education. Other research has found that weak literacy skills are relatively common among graduates in England, and that poor literacy may keep graduates in jobs that school leavers could do.

On equality of opportunity, the regulator says that, despite progress, stubborn gaps in terms of both access and success mean that talented people still miss out on the life-changing opportunities higher education can bring.

OfS Priorities for 2022:

  • Quality
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Harassment and sexual misconduct

The Times has also reported that new (incoming) OfS Director for Fair Access, John Blake, is planning a “crusade” against campuses. They say an associate of Blake said that he had been fired-up by the poor university experiences of pupils he had taught. He said: “For 12 years as a school teacher, [Blake] told his students to strive to go to university because it was the best way to improve their lives, but it turned out that simply wasn’t true for many of the young people he taught. Now he wants to right this wrong. This isn’t a political project: it’s a moral cause.”

Alongside John Blake in the Fair Access role (starts January), there will be a new OfS Chief Executive (April) and a free speech champion role is also being created. It all dovetails nicely with the newer ministerial team who have already clearly stated the Governmental priorities for the OfS to address on the Government’s behalf.

HEPI have a blog on the new reportable events framework: Rebooting the regulatory framework

Student Accommodation

While concerns start to mount about the impact of the Omicron variant of coronavirus and what it might mean for students starting or returning to university in January (with red list requirements in place for many already, and bad memories of last year’s “stay where you are” requirements for home students), there is a House of Commons Library set of FAQs on student accommodation in the pandemic.

Unipol and the NSS have done a survey about student accommodation costs.

  • The average annual cost for student accommodation in the UK now stands at £7,374 but in London it is £9,488
  • …even if students received the full student maintenance loan, rent would consume 88% of it in London, leaving students just £38 per week to spend on anything else.
  • Outside of London accommodation costs account for 72% of the maximum loan, leaving students with £69.52 to spend on other living costs
  • …Student rents have risen by 16% since the last survey in 2018/19 and 61% since 2011/12. Last year, rents increased by 4.4%.
  • Private providers dominate the market, with 70% of the bed spaces surveyed, as universities move away from their own accommodation provision

There are lots of recommendations including about universities and the sector working together (Bournemouth gets a mention as an example of good practice but the report doesn’t say more about that), increasing bursary support as well as providing better information about costs, and a specific redress system for private student accommodation.

In the meantime, Wonkhe report:

  • …the way that private renting is regulated in England is “not effective” in ensuring the sector is consistently fair for renters or that housing is safe and secure, according to a new reportfrom the National Audit Office (NAO). Noting that tenants face several barriers to enforcing their rights, and arguing that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) does not yet have a detailed plan to address the problems that renters face, the report notes that the department does not have any formal joint working arrangements with the Department for Education.

Wonkhe blogs on the topic:

PQs:

Admissions

UCAS provides insight from the 2021 end of cycle analysis data highlighting a record number (103,010) UK 18 year olds were accepted onto courses at the most competitive (higher tariff) universities and colleges in 2021 (up 11% from 2020, up 28% from before the pandemic in 2019). The 11% rise contrasts with the 3% increase in the UK’s overall 18 year old population during the 2021 cycle.

The number of applicants achieving A level grades equivalent to three A*s nearly quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels to 19,595 (5,655 in 2019), and close to doubled compared to 2020 (12,735). UCAS are careful to note the impact of Teacher Assessed Grades whilst emphasising that these grades were deserved alongside the flexibility shown by universities and colleges.

Other key headlines include:

  • The proportion of all UK 18 year olds with a confirmed place increased to 38.3% (275,235 students), up from 37.0% (257,895) in 2020 and 34.1% (241,515) in 2019.
  • 223,315 UK 18 year olds secured their first choice of course (81% of all those placed), up from 194,035 (75%) in 2020 and 177,680 (74%) in 2019.
  • The number of UK 18 year olds choosing to defer starting their course for a year rose by 3,185 to 24,855, a 15% increase.
  • 606,645 people of all ages across the UK applied (+5% on 2020), with 492,005 accepted (+1%).
  • Internationally, a total of 142,925 people of all ages applied (-5% on 2020), of which 70,055 were accepted (-18%). This is split between 111,255 people from outside the EU applying (+12%), with 54,030 accepted (+2%); while 31,670 people from the EU applied (-40%) and 16,025 were accepted (-50%).
  • A total of 749,570 applicants of all ages and domiciles applied in the 2021 cycle (+ 3% on 2020), of which 562,060 were accepted (-1%).

However, what we don’t know is where students were placed (data to be released in January 2022). This will highlight whether the expansion at the most selective universities will have widened access and admitted proportionally more disadvantaged students or changed their traditional recruitment patterns in other ways.

The Commons Library has also published a briefing on HE student numbers. The paper considers  trends in the size of the student population, changes in the number of entrants overall and for different types of students/courses and entry rates for different groups and areas. It notes concerns where there has been a downturn in student numbers such as part-time undergraduates, some postgraduates students, EU students, mature students and some disadvantaged groups and considers the impact of the pandemic. For a quick read there is a shorter summary.

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

One Nation Universities: a new HEPI paper The One Nation University: Spreading opportunity, reducing division and building community.

International: Wonkhe describe a new report from former universities minister Jo Johnson, Shashank Vira, Janet Ilieva, Jonathan Adams and Jonathan Grant for the Policy Institute at King’s College London on UK-India collaboration highlights India’s contribution to several areas of knowledge and suggests a comprehensive India-UK knowledge partnership including making it easier for students to move between the UK and India through mutually recognised qualifications, tackling visa fraud, promoting international student exchange, and increased funding for collaborative science project.

Careers Guidance: Wonkhe: The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing on careers guidance for schools, colleges and universities in England. The briefing outlines how careers advice enhancements promised in the Skills for Jobs white paper have been incorporated into the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.

UUK changes: Chief Executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, tweeted to confirm he will leave UUK in June 2022 to take up the post of Pro Vice-Chancellor (Partnerships and Governance) at the University of London. Jarvis has served more than 8 years in UUK’s senior leadership team, 5 of which have been as chief exec.

International students: UUK have published an 8 page briefing – The UK immigration system must keep attracting exchange students ­– calling on the Government to reform the visitor immigration route so that short-term exchange students can stay in the UK up to one year without need for a student visa (c. £700). Wonkhe have a blog. Research Professional discuss UUK’s briefing here.

Gender Based Violence: EmilyTest – a Scottish charity that tackles gender based violence in education – has released a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Charter for Colleges and Universities. The charter lays out minimum requirements that the charity states need to be in place at institutions to tackle GBV and pass the “Emily Test”. The Herald has the story. (Source: Wonkhe.)

Turing Exchange Scheme: The Guardian covers criticisms of the announcement that the administration of the Turing exchange scheme has been awarded to Capita over the British Council.

Essay Mills: Wonkhe blog – The essay mills debate in Parliament may not be perfect, but Gareth Crossman and Michael Draper argue that they may be good enough to make a difference.

Student Loans: The DfE announced a change to maximum Plan 2 and Plan 3 student loan interest rates. From 1 January 2022 until 28 February 2022, the maximum interest rate applied to Plan 2 Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) student loans and the interest rate applied to Postgraduate loans will be capped in line with the prevailing market rate for comparable unsecured personal loans, which have recently reduced. From 1 March 2022, the maximum Plan 2 and the Postgraduate loan interest rates are expected to revert to RPI +3%.

Student Midwives: Health Education England has celebrated that record numbers of students were accepted to study nursing and midwifery. Over 30,000 students were accepted places which represents a 35% increase in comparison to 2018. (Wonkhe)

Placements: Student placement agencies or migration agents that have faced disciplinary action and had legal troubles are recruiting international students for universities and colleges around the world, PIE News reports. (Wonkhe)

Civic London Mapped: An interesting short blog on HEPI where Diane Beech of London Higher introduces the map illustrating the combined civic engagement of the London universities. Map here.

Value for Money: Wonkhe report on the latest OfS key performance indicator which asks students if they are getting value for money through their HE education – Of the 614 undergraduates surveyed, 32.9% said they thought they were receiving value for money, down from 37.5% the previous year.

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HE policy update for the w/e 12th November 2021

Here’s our round up of the news from the last couple of weeks.

Parliamentary News

David Thomas, a co-founder of the Oak National Academy, has been appointed as a part time policy adviser to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi. His policy brief will focus on recovery, academies and remote education. Former free school founder Mark Lehain has been appointed as Zahawi’s policy special adviser.

All change at the OfS

The OfS have announced that chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, will leave the regulator at the end of April 2022. This was anticipated as Dandridge’s original term was extended for one year to cover the period to April 2022. The recruitment of her successor will be closely watched with many a keen eye judging the impartiality of the process.

But in the meantime, they are not wasting any time, as they have launched a consultation on their next year strategic plan.  The contents are not very surprising given what we have been hearing from them and from Ministers.  There is a Wonkhe article here which is a little bit critical….

  • What’s missing? An opportunity to say something on sector cohesion and co-regulation has been missed. There should really have been something about external pressures – the recovery and change as a result of Covid-19, the wellbeing of staff, the incoming demographic pressure on the system.
  • If you were writing a new strategy for anybody involved in English higher education, your environmental analysis would include the potential government response to the Augar report and the incoming Lifelong Loan Entitlement … You will search the strategy consultation in vain for more than a single line noting the LLE might be a thing. So maybe a goal around delivering and supporting systemic changes. And another about working in partnership with other agencies.
  • There’s a school of thought that would suggest waiting until you have all your senior roles filled before you wrote a strategy – the whole point of recruiting good board members and directors is to let them have an input into things like this, surely?
  • .. Now if you were an organisation whose principal beneficiaries were named in your title, you might reasonably set about involving those beneficiaries in determining those priorities, right?… Nothing. Nada. Even the paternalism doesn’t sound especially benevolent this time around. There’s a couple of pages reminding us that 25 different directions in ministerial guidance letters have helped shape the strategy, both not a single word on how students have.

Anyway, extracts from the consultation proposal are here.  As well is what is missing, we invite you to form your own views on how chilling it is.  Spoiler: it’s chilling.

Regulatory approach

Our approach is based on a set of minimum expectations that we refer to as the ‘regulatory baseline’.

  • The regulatory baseline is a set of regulatory expectations that represent the minimum performance to which students and taxpayers are entitled. The baseline is predominantly expressed through our conditions of registration and all providers are required to satisfy these. We also use statements of expectation and other tools to express this minimum level of performance from providers to which students and taxpayers are entitled.

…During the next strategic period, our work will be strongly focused on ensuring that providers are meeting these expectations. Performance that falls below our regulatory baseline fails students, who contribute through their time, effort and fees. It fails taxpayers, who support a significant investment of public funds through grants and subsidised loans. It also fails to deliver the objectives set out in our regulatory framework.

We use a range of regulatory approaches to secure compliance with the baseline: setting clear expectations for compliance with our conditions of registration; taking proportionate action to secure compliance with this baseline, escalating enforcement action where it is breached; and intervening where a provider is at risk of dropping below it. We also communicate information and use influence to incentivise compliance with the baseline.

Where it is proportionate to do so, we regulate to ensure that providers cannot continue to access student loan funding, grant funding, and degree awarding powers, if their performance falls below this baseline.

In regulating providers against this baseline, we use a risk-based and proportionate approach. This means that we prioritise and act according to the risk posed to students and taxpayers, and that our interventions are proportionate to that regulatory risk. This approach enables us to minimise burden on providers where possible: providers that represent low risk to students and taxpayers will experience lower regulatory burden.

Above the baseline, we believe that autonomous providers making their own decisions is the best way to ensure the sector can flourish and innovate. We do not prescribe how universities and colleges should operate beyond our minimum requirements, and most of our activity will be designed to ensure that providers meet these expectations.

We will, however, influence and incentivise providers to perform beyond our minimum requirements over the next strategic period. Student choice has a significant role in shaping the sector to respond to students’ needs and goals: effective information, advice and guidance plays a major role in driving high quality outcomes. We will therefore take steps to ensure that students and their advisers have access to relevant and targeted information to inform their choices about whether, what and where to study.

 We will also use other methods. For instance, in using our funding powers to incentivise certain outcomes or through such mechanisms as the TEF.

Areas of focus

The two areas that we will focus on from 2022 to 2025 are quality and standards, and equality of opportunity. … These areas of focus are important in their own right, and they have only become more so in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. In response to the pandemic, we paused some of our reporting requirements as higher education providers adapted to the novel and fast-moving environment. As we transition out of the early stages of the pandemic over the next strategic period, we know that quality and standards will be of utmost importance to students. Many have faced significant disruption to their education during the pandemic, while new opportunities have emerged from the significant change that came with it. Meanwhile, gaps in opportunity have for the most part stagnated or widened during the last two years, and longer-term effects are still unclear, adding further imperative to focus on this area.

Goals

Quality and standards

  • Students receive a high quality academic experience that improves their knowledge and skills, with increasing numbers receiving excellent provision.
  • Students are rigorously assessed, and the qualifications they are awarded are credible and comparable to those granted previously.
  • Providers secure free speech within the law for students, staff and visiting speakers.
  • Graduates contribute to local and national prosperity, and the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Equality of opportunity

  • Students’ access, success and progression are not limited by their background, location or characteristics.
  • Prospective students can choose from a diverse range of courses and providers at any stage of their life, with a wide range of flexible and innovative opportunities.
  • Providers act to prevent harassment and sexual misconduct and respond effectively if incidents do occur.
  • Providers encourage and support an environment conducive to the good mental health and wellbeing that students need to succeed in their higher education.

Enabling regulation

  • Providers are financially viable and sustainable and have effective governance arrangements.
  • Students receive the academic experience they were promised by their provider and their interests as consumers are protected before, during and after their studies.
  • The OfS minimises the regulatory burden it places on providers, while ensuring action is effective in meeting our goals and regulatory objectives.

Is University worth it?

The University All Party Parliamentary Group (supported by Universities UK) published Is university worth it? Young people’s motivations, aspirations and views on student finance. The Group commissioned this research to gather better evidence of prospective students’ views on the student finance system as it stands, potential reforms to the system and the post-18 education options available to them. They found that less affluent students could be worst hit by a reduction in the number of universities or the number of courses on offer. Read more – there is a good short summary of the report available on the APPG website.

Research

The Spending Review reconfirmed the Government’s intentions for research but lengthened the timescale, speech:

So we will also invest more in innovation. The UK is already a world-leader. With less than 1% of the world’s population, we have 4 of the world’s top 20 universities; 14% of the world’s most impactful research; And the second most Nobel Laureates. We want to go further.

I can confirm we will maintain our target to increase R&D investment to £22bn. But in order to get there, and deliver on our other priorities, we’ll reach the target in 2026-27. Spending, by the end of this Parliament, £20bn a year on R&D. That’s a cash increase of 50%. The fastest increase ever. And I can confirm for the House that this £20bn is in addition to the cost of our R&D tax reliefs. Combined with those tax reliefs, total public investment in R&D is increasing from 0.7% of GDP in 2018 to 1.1% of GDP by the end of the Parliament.

How does 1.1% compare internationally? Well, the latest available data shows an OECD average of just 0.7%. Germany, investing 0.9%. France, 1%. And the United States, just 0.7%. This unprecedented funding will:

  • Increase core science funding to £5.9bn per year by 2024-25, a cash increase of 37%.
  • Meet the full costs of associating with Horizon Europe;
  • Establish the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency with £800m by 2025-26.
  • And strengthen our focus on late-stage innovation, increasing Innovate UK’s annual core budget to £1bn……double what it was at the start of the Parliament.

More detail:

BEIS will receive £14.2 billion for R&D funding by 2024/25, an increase of £3 billion from 2021/22. As a result, core science funding to National Academies, universities and research institutions will rise to £5.9 billion by 2024/25. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will receive £5 billion by 2024/25 to fund health research via the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), with £2 billion spent in 2024/25.

Other key announcements include:

  • £2.1 billion will be allocated for association to the Horizon Europe funding programme;
  • The Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) budget, which contains funding for research, will return to 0.7% of GDP by 2024/25;
  • The new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) will receive £800 million by 2025/26, with £50 million in 2021/22.
  • In addition, £95 million will be invested in increasing the uptake of innovation in the NHS and £30 million invested in in research skills and training, which will focus on improving diversity by increasing the number of life science researchers from under-represented groups. NHS England will receive £5.9 billion to help clear the backlog of patients waiting for tests and treatments. Genomics England will launch a pilot scheme to detect rare diseases, Generation Genome, which aims to sequence 100,000 new-borns; and a Diverse Data project will aim to tackle healthcare inequalities by increasing the proportion of under-represented groups in genomics research.

ARIA: The Committee stage of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill in the House of Lords is scheduled to begin from 17 November.

Clean Tech: The Prime Minister has launched an international plan to accelerate the delivery of affordable clean technologies worldwide by 2030. Modelled on the UK’s Net Zero Strategy, the Agenda will see countries and businesses coordinate and strengthen their climate action each year to dramatically scale and speed up the development and deployment of clean technologies and drive down costs this decade. The aim is to make clean technologies the most affordable, accessible and attractive choice in each of the most polluting sectors by 2030, especially supporting the developing world to access the innovation and tools needed to transition to net zero.

Innovation: The Council for Science and Technology have written to the Prime Minister giving advice on encouraging scale up investment in innovative science and technology companies.

Parliamentary Question: Shared prosperity fund

Admissions

It was confirmed that 2022 exams will go ahead with results to be released on the usual days. Meanwhile Ofqual published details of the contingency arrangements for awarding Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) for use in the event that exams are not able to go ahead in summer 2022 due to the pandemic. Ofqual’s document follows the Sept-Oct 2021 consultation on the arrangements – responses highlighted the following themes:

  • The importance of clear and timely communication around the decision to implement contingency plans, including establishing the level of disruption required before implementing TAGs nationally and providing sufficient notice ahead of this.
  • Exam boards should take a greater role in any TAG process in 2022, compared to 2021 arrangements. Exam fees should be proportional to the level of services provided and regular exam fees would not be justifiable. A greater level of refunds should be offered if exams are unable to go ahead, and awarding organisations should provide additional support through exam papers or question banks, moderation and/or marking, among other services.
  • Any TAG process for 2022 should follow the process from 2021 as closely as possible to minimise confusion among teachers, students and parents.
  • Some respondents called for exams to go ahead regardless of underlying circumstances. These respondents felt exams were the best way to assess student knowledge and it would be difficult to ensure the fairness and consistency of TAGs across the country.

Following the consultation, if the pandemic disrupts the exam diet again in 2022, students will be given extra help to prepare for GCSEs, AS and A Levels as follows:

  • students taking GCSEs in English literature, history, ancient history and geography will not need to cover the usual range of content in the exams
  • students taking GCSEs in all other subjects will be given advance information about the focus of the content of the exams to help them focus their revision
  • students taking AS and A levels will be given advance information about the focus of the content of the exams to help them focus their revision
  • students taking GCSEs in mathematics will be given in their exams copies of formulae they would in other years have to memorise
  • students taking GCSE physics and combined science will be given in their exams a sheet covering all the equations they might need to apply in the exams
  • If exams had to be cancelled in summer 2022, students’ grades would instead be determined by their teachers, using a Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) approach similar to that used in summer 2021.
  • The advance information for GCSE and AS and A levels will be published no later than 7 February 2022. The government retains the flexibility for advance information to be deployed at other points ahead of 7 February if circumstances require.
  • Some changes have also been made to the way non-exam assessments that are used in some GCSE, AS and A level subjects are taken, to address difficulties that might otherwise be caused by the pandemic.
  • Ofqual has decided that grade boundaries for summer 2022 will be set so that more students than was the case before the pandemic receive higher grades, providing a safety net for students in this transitionary year.
  • Centres should plan assessment opportunities to a timetable that secures evidence which could be used to inform TAGs if necessary.

Ofqual has produced guidance for schools, colleges and other exam centres and written to centres, students and private candidates.

Access & Participation

Several weeks ago we brought you news that Katharine Birbalsingh was the Government’s intended choice for the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC). High level appointments such as hers undergo a pre-appointment hearing at the appropriate parliamentary committee. The Women and Equalities Committee has published its report following Katharine’s pre-appointment hearing finding her a suitable candidate for Chair of the SMC, and recommending she be appointed for an initial term of three years.

In their conclusion to the report, the Committee notes Birbalsingh has several major strengths, including a track record of enhancing the life chances of disadvantaged young people through education, excellent communications skills, and a forceful character with the ability to challenge institutions and received wisdom. They note her forthright views on education which they say she defends robustly but also note that she will need to demonstrate her ability to listen to, and work collegiately with, colleagues and stakeholders with whom she will not always agree.

The Committee also comment on her relatively narrow field of experience in secondary education and that her vision for social mobility beyond the sphere of education was much less clear. Because of this they say they believe she will need further support from a wide range of fellow Commissioners with diverse backgrounds, knowledge and experience across all relevant areas of social policy and sectors of the economy.

In part due to the above the Committee urges the Minister to recruitment the new Commissioners immediately and recommends their terms be staggered so that they do not all expire at the same time.

Student Finance

The Spending Review did not set out the Government’s intentions towards implementing remaining aspects of the Augar review – despite all the hype. More information is promised later – although as this tweet highlights we’ve heard that one before!

You may have missed our recent updates giving loads of background and context to the ongoing speculation about possible changes to HE funding.  In case you did, we have created a briefing which puts it all nicely in one place along with the latest speculation on what next.  BU readers can find it here.

The Department for Education has published a written ministerial statement on higher education student finance arrangements for the 2022/23 academic year.

  • Tuition fees will be frozen for 2022/23 at the same levels as 2021/22, meaning the maximum fee level for a standard full-time course will remain £9250.
  • Maintenance loans will see an increase by forecast inflation of 2.3 percent, including for DSA.
  • The same increase will be applied to postgraduate loans.
  • Individuals relocated under the Afghanistan Relation and Assistance Scheme will qualify for student support and home fee status.
  • Home fee status will also be extended to the family members of all persons settled in the UK, subject to three years residence in the UK and Islands immediately before the start of the course.
  • Those who have settled status on arrival in the UK, who come to the UK from specified British Overseas Territories and who are starting full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in 2022/23 will be eligible for tuition fee loans.
  • Government will lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2022/23 in November.

Michelle Donelan, Minister for Higher and Further Education said in a written ministerial statement:

  • The changes set out above demonstrate our commitment to supporting economic development in the British Overseas Territories and enabling those who wish to study at one of our world class education providers to be able to do so.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2022/23 in November. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Government continues to consider the recommendations made by the Augar Panel carefully. We plan to set out a full response to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in due course.

Michelle Donelan has also reportedly agreed to improve official information on maintenance loans for students in England after the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, Martin Lewis, wrote a formal letter requesting this in June. The letter explained that there is what he calls the implicit “parental contribution” built into the student finance system and argued it needs to be made explicit.

Donelan tweeted yesterday saying:

  • “I’m working with [MoneySavingExpert.com] to make our loan system simpler & more transparent for students/parents – inc. highlighting what family income means-testing means for parents’ contribution to their children’s study.
  • “This ensures that Govt support prioritises disadvantaged students from low income households, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend university. This in turn increases access, opportunity and opens up higher education to talented people from all walks of life.”

Not being overt about this information leaves many parents unprepared and unable to find the cash to help.  It all adds to the confusion and concern about student finances.  These changes don’t affect the amount provided – but do set expectations more clearly.  Our fees, funding and finance brief gives a lot more information on how this all works.

NSS

The OfS have announced the NSS will run as usual in 2022. The questions will be the same as 2021 (without the specific Covid questions) plus a pilot of a new set of questions. A consultation on the future of the NSS will run in summer 2022.  More information here.

Higher Technical Qualifications

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has published information and guidance on higher technical qualifications (HTQs). It explains how the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has launched a national opt-in approval scheme for new and existing qualifications, which will recognise prestigious HTQs that provide the skills that employers want. Awarding bodies can submit qualifications to be approved against the Institute’s occupational standards at levels 4-5.

The first approvals cycle for Digital qualifications concluded in Summer 2021, with the first approved qualifications available to be taught from September 2022. Cycle 2 will launch on 5 July 2021 for submissions of qualifications for Health & Science and Construction, with a further opportunity for Digital qualifications. This will be followed in 2022 by submissions for:

  • Business and Administration
  • Education and Childcare
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Legal, Finance and Accounting

These will be followed in 2023 by:

  • Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care
  • Catering and Hospitality
  • Creative and Design
  • Hair and Beauty

Sexual Violence

Dods summarise a new study examining sexual violence by male HE students. You can read the one-page summary and recommendations for universities here.

Guidance – undertaking education abroad (Turing)

The DfE published new guidance for students undertaking education or placements abroad, including the Turing Scheme, Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

Subjects: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has launched a new consultation on 13 Subject Benchmark Statements, which have been reviewed by QAA in collaboration with expert Subject Advisory Groups.

Covid: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the latest statistics (to 1 Nov 2021) from the Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) in England, which includes information on the behaviours, plans, opinions and well-being of higher education students in the context of guidance on the pandemic. Main points:

  • The majority (91%) of students have said they had already been vaccinated against coronavirus (COVID-19) at least once.
  • A significantly higher proportion of students reported having had two vaccine doses in late October (85%) than reported in late September (78%).
  • A minority (8%) of students said they had not been vaccinated against COVID-19; of those, half (51%) said they were fairly or very unlikely to take a vaccine if offered, and a third (32%) said they were fairly or very likely to accept the vaccine if offered.
  • Around half (49%) of students had taken a COVID-19 test in the previous seven days.
  • If they developed symptoms, 92% of students reported they would request a test.
  • Students who had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine were significantly more likely to request a test if they developed symptoms (95%), than students who had not been vaccinated (73%).
  • When asked what they would do if they developed symptoms, 57% of students reported they would stay at home for 10 days; this is similar to late September (58%).
  • The average life satisfaction score for students was 6.6, which was significantly lower than those aged 16 to 29 years in general (7.0) and the adult population in Great Britain (7.1).
  • Students were significantly more likely to report their mental health and well-being had worsened (32%) compared with late September (26%); however, this is still significantly lower than in late May (50%).

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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Ingenuity launches at BU: sign up today to help drive the UK’s recovery and rebuild a better society after Covid-19

The Ingenuity 2022 Programme is now live and open to Bournemouth University staff, students and alumni

Ingenuity exists to tackle the UK’s major social and environmental challenges through the creation of innovative start-ups. Registration is open to everyone, no matter your background or experience. If you have an idea or are motivated to see change, Ingenuity is ready to help. Find out more at ingenuityimpact.org.

Register today: forms.office.com/r/m39e80f2Rw. Deadline: 2 December 2021.

What is Ingenuity?

The Ingenuity Programme helps you turn your ideas for change into a business that creates impact. If you want to build stronger, more inclusive communities, improve the physical or mental health of those around you, or are interested in tackling climate change, then register for the Ingenuity Programme today.

Participants will hear from industry experts and gain support from specialist mentors to develop their idea into a business plan. They can submit the idea to a competition and be in with a chance of winning significant investment and support.

Ingenuity Summit

Ingenuity’s ‘state of the nation’ summit will explore the following three areas of focus from local, national, and lived experience perspectives:

  • Building Stronger Communities
  • Improving Health
  • Tackling Climate Change

The summit takes place 6 – 8 December 2021 and brings together industry experts, regional panellists, and the local community to share their insights on how to build stronger communities, improve health, and tackle climate change.

HE policy update for the w/e 8th October 2021

Parliament was still in recess whilst the Conservative Party Conference takes place. We have the news from the Conference, some movement on Essay Mills and several new reports.  And we have a big primer on student finance, ahead of the budget.

Conservative Party Conference

After the first day of the Conservative Party conference Wonkhe speculate what the personalities and lack of fiscal room for manoeuvre mean for HE in the forthcoming spending review (looming on the later October horizon):

  • At last night’s Policy Exchange fringe meeting, new Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi represented a breath of fresh air insofar as he was keen to stress that decisions would be “evidence-led”, that he understood that universities delivered vocational skills and that a consultation is still coming over aspects of Augar. But the spending envelope isn’t his call – and the big question for this spending review remains “What does Rishi Sunak want?” If he wants to balance the books and demonstrate fiscal prudence – and all the signs point to a reining in after the immense scale of public spending during Covid-19 – then universities could be in for a rough ride when stacked up against other pressing priorities. The potential for a fee cut, in particular, will be keeping university finance directors up at night. Without a complete rethink of the funding system, there are few good available options to reduce the overall cost of the system. Thanks to inflation, even maintaining the status quo of the frozen fee level means diminishing funding to higher education over time.
  • It now seems likely that a new financial settlement, aimed at reducing the Treasury’s exposure to higher education, will see changes to graduate repayment terms, perhaps even retrospectively for existing students. Last week, former universities minister David Willetts, in a pamphlet for the Higher Education Policy Institute, suggested that this option is more politically defensible at a time of constrained public spending than reducing funding to universities via tuition fee cuts. Minimum entry standards could also do its bit to cap the supply of students over time, thus saving Her Majesty’s Government a little more money, though with few outside the fringes of the Conservative Party genuinely believing that fewer people benefiting from a higher education is a desirable outcome, and ever-growing numbers of school and college leavers hoping to go – it’s a policy that if implemented could end up coming back to bite the Conservatives in the future.
  • So with so many moving fiscal and political parts around the spending review and Budget, there’s every chance that late deals could lead to unexpected outcomes and changes to what was previously thought to be a direction of travel. As ever in politics, decisions are not made until they are announced in public, and with this prime minister in particular, huge changes of direction can be made on a whim

New Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi gave a keynote address at the Conservative Party Conference. It focussed heavily on schools (including emphasis on English and maths). Nadhim also gave HE a nod in crediting Oxford University for the vaccine development. The Government’s intention towards T levels remains.

  • DfE is investing in maths hubs, while at post-16 there is funding for a further 2m courses. One day soon I want T levels to be as famous as A levels.
  • Zahawi promised a schools White Paper in the new year to focus on illiteracy and innumeracy. I will work tirelessly…to unleash the brilliance of young people in this country.
  • Nadhim added that as Vaccine minister he used evidence to deliver a world-leading vaccines programme and that DfE will deliver the same for education.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised new scholarships in artificial intelligence:

2,000 elite AI scholarships for disadvantaged young people within the Government’s focus on innovative technology which he stated was a sign of the party’s ambition for the future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a particularly colourful rambling speech to entertain the Conference attendees. It was light on HE content. Within the context of levelling up he questioned why York (2 universities) had so many graduates yet Doncaster (a FE/HE college) didn’t. Perhaps not the best example his aides could have chosen.

  • There was also familiar messaging about the alternative routes than university: our universities are world beating, I owe everything to my tutors and they are one of the great glories of our economy but we all know that some of the most brilliant and imaginative and creative people in Britain and some of the best paid people in Britain did not go to university and to level up you need to give people the options the skills that are right for them and to make the most of those skills and knowledge and to level up you need urgently to plug all the other the gaps in our infrastructure that are still holding people and communities back
  • On foreign investment: It was not the government that made the wonder drug it wasn’t brewed in the alembics of the department of health. It was, of course it was Oxford University, but it was the private sector that made it possible behind those vaccines are companies and shareholders and, yes, bankers.

Lots of focussed discussion took place during the Conservative Party Conference fringe events. Here are some summaries of the content prepared by Dods with bold emphasis added so you can pick out the most relevant HE points.

Contract Cheating

On Tuesday the DfE stated it will introduce a ban on ‘essay mills’ via the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament. The Government intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise cheating services for financial gain to students taking a qualification at any institution in England providing post-16 education including universities.

You’ll recall from our regular coverage on contract cheating that Lord Storey has campaigned to this end for a long period, including introducing two Private Member’s Bills (PMB) which the Government was not opposed to but neither succeeded. In contrast to Lord Storey’s PMB the DfE’s intention is to apply the legislation to all post-16 providers including colleges and sixth forms.

Previously the Government urged the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education), UUK and the NUS to collaborate and produce institutional guidance on combatting the threat from essay mills and compiled guidance for students to make them better aware of the consequences to send the clear message that these services are not legitimate.

Minister for Skills Alex Burghart said: Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do. We are taking steps to ban these cheating services. We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them. [Perhaps meaning to pursue T levels and an alternative route than university.]

Gender Differences in subject choice

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) paper Gender differences in subject choice leads to gender pay gap immediately after graduation highlights how course choice exacerbates the gender pay gap.  IFS notes:

  • In 2019 – before the pandemic disrupted data collection – women were paid 16% less per hour than men on average. The gap in average annual earnings was even larger, at 37%, since women are much more likely to work part-time.
  • The financial return to getting a degree – how much more a graduate earns compared to an otherwise similar non-graduate – varies enormously across subjects. Previous IFS research estimates that studying economics at university boosts women’s pay by 75% by age 30; this is more than ten times the return to studying creative arts (7.2%). However, women make up nearly two-thirds of creative arts graduates but less than a third of economics graduates.
  • In general, women are overrepresented in degree subjects with low financial returns. There are some exceptions – for example, medicine and law both have average or slightly above average shares of female students and very high returns.
  • Differences in degree subject choices explain most of the gender pay gap soon after graduation.
  • Of the 5% gap in annual earnings at age 25, 2.9 percentage points (55%) can be accounted for by university subjects, with A-Level subject choices making up a further 0.2 percentage points (5%).
  • Subject choice continues to contribute between 3 and 5 percentage points to the gender pay gap over graduates’ early careers.
  • But over this period, other factors lead to a widening of the gender pay gap, so that by age 30, subject choice explains only a fifth of the total gender pay gap.
  • Other factors that come into play could include motherhood, gender differences in attitudes towards risk, recognition for group work, hours worked, the propensity to bargain over wages and ask for promotions, and discrimination.
  • We should be concerned if information on the returns to different subjects isn’t easily available to young people, and if the large differences in subject choice (arts for girls, economics for boys) are driven as much by gender stereotypes as by true preferences.
  • When it comes to a subject like economics, which delivers the very highest financial return for female (and male) graduates, there is an additional concern that many students cannot access the subject at all because it is not offered in their school.
  • More needs to be done to educate and inform young people about subject choices at A level and university, particularly in a system like the UK where subject choices narrow at an early stage and where decisions taken early can have long-lasting effects.

Research

Research and innovation review: BEIS published the terms of reference for the Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape. The independent review (announced on 22 July) will be led by Sir Paul Nurse with the final report expected during Spring 2022.  The goals of the Review are to:

  • explore the features and characteristics in the existing ecosystem of RDI-performing organisations across the UK, learning from the best in the world and drawing on transformative examples
  • identify whether improvements to the organisational research landscape are required to deliver the government’s objective for the UK to be a science superpower at the forefront of critical and emerging fields of science and technology, and drive economic growth and societal benefit
  • futureproof the UK landscape of organisations undertaking all forms of RDI, from pioneering, visionary blue-skies research to practical support for innovators to commercialise or implement their ideas, and ensure an agile and sustainable system that can respond to future priorities and developments

The Review will consider the full and varied policy and funding context within which RDI-performing organisations are set up and operate. The Review is focused on the landscape of organisations that deliver research rather than on mechanisms for funding research and will:

  • analyse how the various organisations that contribute to the ecosystem of RDI-performing organisations across different parts of the UK – including universities, institutes and laboratories, across UK government and the devolved administrations, public, private and non-profit sectors – compare to each other and that of other countries with strengths in RDI
  • learning from international examples, consider the role that different mixes of organisations can play in delivering economic and societal impact from RDI, and the mechanisms and business models that will best enable the UK to capitalise on emerging and new fields of science and invention
  • consider how best to secure an organisational landscape now and in the future that delivers high-quality RDI outputs, and which is sustainable and cost-effective
  • consider options to support the UK’s strengths and what targeted interventions in the public sector might enhance the quality and diverse mix of RDI-performing organisations through our policy framework and the policies of the devolved administrations

Research Budget distribution: MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, published a policy briefing calling for the pledged increase of the R&D budget to £22bn to be shared more equitably around the country in the name of the Government’s levelling up goal.  The briefing emphasises the importance of re-balancing the way research in the UK is funded so that modern universities, many of which sit in marginalised areas of the country, and those hit hardest by the pandemic, can do more to support a world-class system of research and innovation, for the benefit of their regions and the country. Recommendations:

  1. Scale up the Higher Education Innovation Fund, so that knowledge exchange makes up a greater proportion of overall grant funding from Research England.
  2. Increase the number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships funded across the UK.
  3. Expand the Strength in Places Fund.
  4. Ensure that the Shared Prosperity Fund is devolved, based on long-term funding cycles, and accessible to universities and local businesses.

MillionPlus also published Innovate and generate: modern universities supporting local businesses aiming to highlight the partnerships that modern universities with local roots and an industry-facing outlook  have with businesses in their regions. The document emphasises their calls for Government to prioritise and dedicate specific R&D funding streams for such relationships and the positive impact it can have on levelling up the UK.

Quick news

  • Incentivising business innovation through taxation – CBI Economics consider the arguments for R&D tax credits
  • Imperial College London announced their new Institute for Infection. The aim of the Institute is to address some of the biggest unanswered questions in the field of infectious disease, such as how is climate change impacting the spread of diseases transmitted by flies and mosquitoes, how can gene-editing technologies help to reduce the spread of disease (such as Dengue and Zika), and how can animal vaccination programmes help to curb diseases which also affect humans.

Access & Participation

Student Hardship funding: Hitting the news last week (from the July OfS Board papers) was that £1.66 million of the additional £70 million hardship funding provided by the Government was unspent and recovered by the OfS.

Wonkhe say: Despite overwhelming evidence that the hardships caused by Covid-19 were near universal, the government was wedded to the idea of individual student problems rather than the systemic issues felt across the whole cohort. There were conditions attached to allocation: providers had to distribute funds to students that expressed a specific need, and all of the money needed to be handed out by 31 July…The complexity of existing hardship fund arrangements at providers (many had to recruit extra staff to administer the process) and the tight deadline (three months for the final tranche) made it difficult to get the money to where it was needed.

Mental Health

The Mental Health Foundation released new research combining evidence with expert opinion and public views. You can read about it here but in short it recommends (in order of popularity):

  1. Be aware of using drugs to cope with difficult feelings
  2. Build money skills and seek financial support if you need it
  3. Get more from your sleep
  4. Develop awareness of your feelings and emotions
  5. Have something to look forward to
  6. Get closer to nature
  7. Speak to someone you trust for support
  8. Stay curious and open to new experiences

Almost as popular (chosen by at least 45% of the public panel) were:

  • Have a healthy diet
  • Help others, contribute to something bigger
  • Engage in physical activity
  • Practice gratitude and cultivate hope
  • Strengthen social connections

Our research shows that it’s the fundamentals of life that protect our mental health: our finances, our relationships and our experiences

Student Finance

The DfE updated the information on who is eligible for undergraduate, postgraduate and further education financial support from Student Finance England. The update includes new policy notes on the rights to home fee status and student support for people covered by the Withdrawal Agreements who make a valid late application to the EU Settlement Scheme, and rights for joining family members under the EU Settlement Scheme:

Possible changes to fees and funding have been in the news a lot over the autumn in the build up to the Comprehensive Spending Review on 27th October when, yet again, we are promised the final response from the government to the Augar report and an outcome for the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, which Augar was meant to inform.

Some changes have already happened:

  • Some OfS funding for “non-strategic” subjects was cut this year – but it was a small cut to a tiny amount of funding. Anxiety was heightened because the former Education Secretary kept saying in the HoC and to newspapers that he was “slashing” funding, but he was exaggerating.  A lot.  The OfS got very defensive about it.  You can read what they did here.  Anyway, it set the tone for what may be more to come.  The OfS were told to stop calling the main funding a “teaching” grant and call it a “strategic priorities” grant.  You get the point.  Let’s hope the updated Ministerial team choose their language more carefully, to avoid future misunderstanding.    Words matter.
  • The OfS decided to distribute a chunk of their capital funding via a competitive bidding arrangement, in a big departure from previous allocation methods. You can read what they did here.  This may well also set the tone for the future, and is consistent with what is expected to happen with some streams of research funding going forwards.

The main pre-announcement that we are expecting to see followed through with a consultation at the end of the month is on minimum entry requirements.  This is a technique to reduce or at least limit the growing cost of the student loan portfolio by applying a floor to the academic entry requirements that applicants must meet in order to qualify for a student loan.  Students could still go to university, if they pay their own way, of course, or are able to borrow the funding another way.  Widely criticised as a cap on aspiration and a retrograde step for social mobility, because of the risk that many of the potential students who will be excluded from university will be those whose prior attainment does not reflect their true potential, and because many of those will be in that position as a result of some form of disadvantage.   We have commented on this extensively before and note that Augar suggested that it be deployed as a last resort if universities did not clean up their act on quality.  We note that we are not convinced that there is necessarily a direct link between “quality” and low entry tariffs and that it feels a bit early in the cycle for last resorts.  But there you are.  The definition of quality debate is a much bigger one that is ongoing now as the OfS looks at its licence conditions.

And there could be many other things announced.  Most of the press coverage recently has been about a potential cut to the repayment threshold (increased by Theresa May in a shock move after the 2017 election that cost the government a lot of money).  This idea has not been well received by students or recent graduates.  We note that retrospective changes to the terms of loans (other than interest rates) are not usually allowed (for banks, for example), and that there is a general feeling that students and recent graduates, who have not had a great couple of years, will be asked to fill a government financial hole “because they don’t vote conservative anyway”.  Given that Theresa May put the floor up precisely because she was worried about the so-called youthquake in the 2017 election, the link seems to be a fair one.  The Tories in 2017 didn’t have the majority that they have now.  And the financial hole is very big.

BU staff can read our May 2021 summary of what else we might have to look forward to here.

Given that there is likely to be a flurry of press stories, better or less-well informed opinion, social media excitement etc, around any changes, we wanted to give you a bit of context.  Apologies to regular readers or those with students in the family who know all this, all too well, but here we go.  And apologies to readers in the devolved nations, we are focussing on England here.  Also we are focussing on undergraduates.

Undergraduate tuition fees

These are capped.  The cap hasn’t moved for a long time.  There is very little prospect of it moving for a long time to come.

They are not tuition fees.  The OfS in their most recent publication on the subject (well worth a read) calls them “course fees”.  They aren’t really that either.

When they were introduced they replaced a big chunk of government funding for universities and, apart from those universities with huge numbers of international or post-graduate students, or huge proportions of research or donor income, these fees are the main source of income for most universities.  They therefore pay for staff, services, loan interest, depreciation, building maintenance, IT, OfS registration fees, and so on – the lot.  They famously cross subsidise research which is generally funded at less than cost.

If a student has a tuition fee loan (most do as otherwise they need to pay up front), the fee is paid by the Student Loan Company directly to the university in three chunks across the year.  The biggest chunk (50%) is paid in the summer AFTER the student has completed most of the year.  This helps avoid a situation where the university gets money for students who don’t stick around.  But it also explains why cash flow across the year is a talking point in universities, and why a temporary change took place last year when the second instalment was paid early because of concerns about financial sustainability of universities in the pandemic.

Maintenance loans

These loans are made available to UK students to help with their living and other costs while at university.  They replaced the grant system.  Before loans were introduced, if students didn’t qualify for a grant they needed parental support or another source of income.  That is still the case.  There is a minimum amount for a maintenance loan, but above that loan eligibility is means tested according to the income of the student’s family.  So the vast majority of students in the UK still need parental support for their maintenance costs, and if that isn’t available, they will need to work or borrow money instead.

You can see more in the SLC document for 2021/22 students.

Maintenance costs are a huge issue for many students.  Unlike the tuition fee, which is paid by the SLC to the university, this is cash the students need to find and spend.  There has been a lot of coverage of the high cost of accommodation in many places (often more than the maximum loan) and of the particular unfairness of the situation over the last two years when students were told by the government not to return to accommodation they had paid for, with money neither they nor their families could afford.  That’s a long and separate story.

Student loans

Although they are called loans, student finance arrangements are very different from the usual loan arrangements we are all used to, and this is where it gets complicated and political.  So apologies again.  This very useful paper from the House of Commons library (September 2021) has lots of context on this.

As noted above, student loans are made up of two items, tuition fees and maintenance loans (you can also use a student loan for postgraduate support but that’s a different story).

Interest starts to accrue on the loan balance straight away, while the student is at university.  Interest rates are very high – compared to some other rates available in the market.  But the interest rate charged varies over time and according to the income of the graduate (not their family, this time).

From an SLC document describing 2021/11 arrangements:

  • While studying and until 6th April after you finish: RPI pls 3%
  • After that:
    • Income £27,295 or less – RPI only
    • Income above £27,295 to £49,130 – Interest applied on a scale from RPI to RPI + 3%
    • Income above £49,130 – RPI + 3%

Martin Lewis explained the latest rate for Money Saving Expert in October 2021:

  • On 1 October 2021, for students from England and Wales who started university in or after 2012, the headline student loan interest rate decreased from 5.6% to 4.1% in line with the current RPI, and the temporary ‘Prevailing Market Rate’
  • Despite the decrease, this rate is still higher than most mortgages, and far higher than for students from prior cohorts. And, the headline rate is expected to increase again, to 4.5%, on the 1 January 2022. 

Repayment arrangements

This is where student loans really start to look different from “normal” loans. The student finance arrangements we have are not really loans at all.  Really what we have here is a graduate tax.  But shhh – it isn’t called that.  Because people don’t like taxes, so it could never be called a tax.

The notional amount of the student finance grows throughout out the time that a student is studying, and interest is added during that time and afterwards.  So far so like a loan.

But – graduates only start to repay it from the April after their course ends, and only when their income reaches a threshold.  Most students are on what is called “plan 2” and we are going to use their data:

  • You’ll only repay when your income is over £524 a week, £2,274 a month or £27,295 a year (before tax and other deductions).
  • G. Your annual income is £28,800 and you are paid a regular monthly wage. This means that each month your income is £2,400 (£28,800 divided by 12). This is over the Plan 2 monthly threshold of £2,274. Your income is £126 over the threshold (£2,400 minus £2,274). You will pay back £11 (9% of £126) each month.

In other words, repayments are means tested, and only the income over the threshold is used to calculate the repayments.  Clearly in a lot of cases that means that the amount you are repaying is not enough to cover the interest that is also still accruing.  So the overall amount just keeps on going up, just as it would with a “normal” loan if you didn’t pay enough off each month.

The other big difference with a “normal” loan, though, is what happens at the end.  The whole thing, interest and all, is written off after 30 years from the April after your course finished.  That is a big and growing cost to the government.  This very useful paper from the House of Commons library (September 2021) gives some context on what this means.

  • The RAB charge is the difference between the amount lent to a cohort of students, and the value of their repayments as graduates. For 2020/21 it is predicted by the Government to be 53%.
  • … repayments for the 2020/21 cohort will range from just over £1,000 on average in decile 1 to almost £63,000 for decile 10. The average lifetime repayment across all borrowers is just over £19,000.
  • “Overall, 22% of borrowers are forecast to repay their loans in full, this rate varies from 0‑2% in the bottom four deciles to 87% in decile 10”

So when students say that they are “paying” tuition fees – they aren’t paying it yet, and in fact most will never pay it all back.  Only the highest earners, mostly men, will pay it all back.  The paper has charts showing the difference for women and men.

We should also note that the loan is not treated like a normal loan when you are taking out a normal loan, either.  Your potential repayments are taken into account when considering your ability to pay, but it is not treated the same way for your credit score as a typical loan would be.  So it is treated more like a mobile phone contract than a car loan.

So it’s really a graduate tax which stops after 30 years.  Or an income dependent contingent loan (which is written off after 30 years).

Potential changes

The government would clearly like to recover more of this money.  It must be noted that it was never intended that it would all be repaid, however.  When the system was set up it was deliberately intended that only the students with higher income would pay it all back.  This was meant to be progressive.

That’s why there has been little sympathy for arguments to reduce the interest rate.  On the face of it, students seem to be “paying” a high interest rate.  But they aren’t in fact paying it at all, and most of them will never pay it.  It accrues at a high rate, and then most of it is written off.  So increasing the interest rate may be an option instead:

  • The impact of a 1 ppt increase in the interest rate would mean that the average repayment per borrower would increase by £1,500 or 5.2%.
  • However, this increase is not spread evenly across borrowers. Only those with higher earnings pay back more. The number of borrowers who repay their loan in full would drop from 22% under the current system to 18%.

For a long time the government was able to keep this cost “off the balance sheet” until the auditing rules were changed and the whole cost was added to the national debt.  That started to change perceptions about it.

And of course, since the scheme was introduced, the number of students going to university has increased, we are just emerging from a demographic dip.  So the potential cost just keeps on going up.

We have already mentioned changes to the repayment threshold may be under discussion.  That has all sorts of consequences – but they are not very progressive (another HoC library paper):

  • Middle earners would see the largest absolute increase of around £4,000 on average, while the highest earners would see their repayments fall slightly.
  • While the increase for lower earners is below average in absolute terms, it represents the largest percentage increase at around 30%. The number of borrowers who repay their loan in full would increase from 22% under the current system to 25%.

There has also been talk of extending the payment term from 30 to 35 years (Augar said 40) and increasing the rate of repayment (different from the interest rate).  Another helpful briefing paper here.

  • both measures result in increased lifetime repayments especially from middle to higher earners.

What next

We’ll see.  But we think there will be some tinkering with repayment arrangements – despite the fact that these would be retrospective changes to the agreed terms.  And there may be other changes that will reduce the number of people eligible to take these loans out in the future – as well as the minimum qualifications requirement.

Or there may a cut in the tuition fee.  The latter would reduce the loan book and the notional interest  – and give the government more direct control of university funding though the use of “strategic priorities” to top up (some of) the difference  – consistent with the current direction as noted at the start of this section.

There could be caps on the numbers of students studying particular subjects, or at particular institutions (if they don’t meet quality thresholds, for example). Note in this context that the government is increasingly linking definitions of quality to “outcomes”, by which they mean highly skilled employment and relative earnings.  And that is a whole different subject which we have discussed before, and will again.

Mature students

The Lifelong Education Commission, supported by ResPublica and chaired by former universities minister Chris Skidmore MP, published The Pathway to Lifelong Education: Reforming the UK’s Skills System. It is the first of 8 reports the Commission has planned on on lifelong learning and the UK’s skills system. The Commission recommends how the barriers to adult learning can be removed; what future investment is needed to support this; and what change is needed to ensure the maximum flexibility that will benefit learners and deliver on the promise of a whole system change for lifelong education.

Recommendations:

  1. All citizens will be able to access the loan entitlement regardless of prior qualifications, or how they choose to study, including: modular or full qualifications; part-time or full-time; via face-to-face or distance learning.
  2. The Lifetime Loan Entitlement should allow funding to be applied to different modules of learning to enable (i) existing qualifications to be unbundled into smaller units (e.g. 30 to 60 credits) and (ii) microcredentials to be stacked as part of larger units.
  3. A more ambitious reform would be to create a unified credit-based funding system that does not distinguish between different modes of study and provides equal access and support for learners regardless of how they learn or where learning takes place.
  4. Alongside the loan entitlement, Government should consider means-tested maintenance grants to provide support with living costs and encourage adult learners to access higher technical qualifications, particularly those for whom debt will be viewed as a disincentive and a barrier to reskill.
  5. Government should: (i) Build on the existing credit framework and regional consortia approach to design a networked system that can guarantee the autonomy of higher education providers while enabling the transfer and accumulation of credit. (ii) Consider reform of the wider regulatory framework to simplify the jurisdiction between various bodies (HEIs, the Institute, QAA, Ofsted, OfS, etc.) regarding higher technical qualifications, which has the scope for duplication and inconsistency. (iii) Consider Scotland’s ‘articulation agreements’, which provide a good model for clearer routes between FE and HE.
  6. There is, especially in England, a need to bring together and better integrate the various parts of the careers system: (i) A single integrated careers service is required for all citizens at all stages of their working life. This will need to provide high level, specialist advice, available in every locality. (ii) A system should be established to regulate and support the continued professional development of careers advisers. As a minimum, all careers advisers should be registered with the Careers Development Institute and have relevant qualifications at Level 4 or above.
  7. Retain part-time student premium funding and make part-time learning an explicit priority for the teaching grant to incentivise lifelong education and training.
  8. Remove the remaining restrictions on ELQs so that available funding (including loans for fees and maintenance) can support those who want to study for a second higher education qualification in a different discipline.
  9. Government should explore options, including a ‘Flexible Skills Levy’ and ‘Tax Credits’ to incentivise employer investment in skills training.
  10. In addition to employers and educational institutions, Mayoral Combined Authorities in England with devolved responsibilities for adult skills should play a central role in the coproduction of local skills plan. Moreover, MCAs should be given genuine power over issues of essentially regional concern. Almost all of the functions currently exercised by the Department for Education could be devolved.

Former universities minister Chris Skidmore said: If there is one policy to deliver ‘levelling up’, it is adult learning and skills. Acquiring new skills is something we all do throughout our lives. Yet the formal process for acquiring them is incredibly constrained. There are too few opportunities to return to learning for those who have left it. And those willing to retrain or re-skill can barely see the wood for the trees; the pathways are so complex.

The government is embracing adult learning at just the right time. The Lifelong Learning Entitlement, combined with the prospect of modular and course-based learning and the expansion of Level 4 and 5 provision, has the potential to create new journeys into learning for those for whom a graduate route was not the way. But if these reforms are to succeed, it is essential that new partnerships are forged between HE and FE providers.

Grammar and spelling – the next stage of the culture war?

The OfS have published an ominous paper on this.

  • This review examines the policies on spelling, punctuation and grammar in written assessment at a small number of higher education providers. It features anonymised examples of approaches that maintain rigour in student assessment, and examples of approaches that do not.
  • The purpose of the review is to highlight to higher education providers which assessment policies are likely to be a cause for regulatory concern, and encourages providers to adjust their policies accordingly.

This supports the position in the recently closed consultation on quality conditions.

New condition B4.2: 

…the provider must ensure that:  …c. academic regulations are designed to ensure that relevant awards are credible;   ….

“credible” means that, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, relevant awards reflect students’ knowledge and skills, and for this purpose the OfS may take into account factors which include, but are not limited to:  …ii. whether students are assessed effectively and whether assessments are valid and reliable;  ….

Guidance re “Credible”: …identifying circumstances in which it is likely to be concerned about the credibility of a provider’s qualifications:…c. Students are not penalised for poor technical proficiency in written English. For example, for assessments that would reasonably be expected to take the form of written work in English and for which the OfS, employers and taxpayers, would reasonably expect such proficiency, the provider’s assessment policy and practices do not penalise poor spelling, punctuation or grammar, such that students are awarded marks that do not reflect a reasonable view of their performance of these skills. ….

Key bits from the report itself:

  • Because of the importance of these issues, we undertook a short review during summer 2021 to gather evidence and examples of practice from a small number of providers about the extent to which technical proficiency in written English is being assessed. This report summarises our findings and sets out their implications for our ongoing regulation of higher education providers.
  • We sought voluntary cooperation from a small number of providers, selected to allow us to explore a range of assessment practices. The inclusion of a particular provider in the review was not driven by whether or not it had featured in press reporting about its assessment practices, and this report does not identify the providers that were involved in the review
  • The common features we have seen in the small number of cases we have considered in this review suggest that the practices and approaches we have set out in the case studies may be widespread across the sector. We are therefore drawing the attention of all registered providers to our findings, because they highlight matters that are likely to raise compliance concerns, now and in the future.
  • The findings in this report are shared as case studies; we have not conducted a formal regulatory investigation. Any regulatory judgements we make in future would depend on the circumstances of an individual case, and would involve detailed consideration of the impact of a provider’s policies on the marks awarded to students.

If we were to consider compliance with our current regulatory requirements for the practices described in the case studies, we would be likely to have regulatory concerns about the following: 

  • Case studies 1 and 2: In these examples, it seems plausible if not likely that some students are not being assessed on their proficiency in written English. This is because learning outcomes do not include this requirement. In these circumstances we would have concerns about whether the provider’s courses are well designed and provide a high-quality academic experience. We would also have concerns about whether the qualifications awarded to students are valued by employers or enable further study. We would consider whether such qualifications represent value for money for students and taxpayers. 
  • For Case study 2, we would take a particular interest in the effect of the policies on groups of students whose first language is not English
  • Case study 3: In this example, we would have similar concerns as for case studies 1 and 2. We would also consider the adequacy and effectiveness of the provider’s academic governance arrangements, which have the potential to create inconsistencies in the requirements for students in different subject areas.

We are currently consulting on proposals to clarify and strengthen our regulatory requirements for quality and standards. We will consider all consultation responses carefully before reaching a decision about whether or not we should take forward our proposals, in full or in part. For illustrative purposes, if we were to implement the proposals as set out in the consultation document, the practices we have seen would be likely to raise concerns in relation to proposed conditions B1, B2, B4 and B5

If the policies and approaches identified in this report are leading to students getting higher marks than they otherwise would, for instance because poor proficiency in written English is not being routinely assessed, then this not only undermines the rigour of assessment processes, but also contributes to unexplained grade inflation. 55. We will test this hypothesis for individual providers through our investigatory work.

Local Digital Skills Partnerships

DCMS published the findings of an independent Evaluation of the Local Digital Skills Partnerships  which assessed the impact made by six regions operating Local Digital Skills Partnerships (LDSP). LDSPs are designed to build regional capacity to improve digital skills capability at all levels. They bring together and connect partners from the public, private and third sectors to upskill the current workforce, advance digital inclusion, and raise awareness of the importance of digital skills regionally. The evaluation found the LSDP model to be agile and worked effectively. Therefore, DCMS have confirmed they’ll consider the key findings, and look to build on this early success and expand the model to other parts of the country.

Other news

Academic lockdown time recovery: A Wonkhe blog on the impact of lockdown on academic parents with suggestions on how to help them catch up on missed research and professional time:

  • Potential solutions here are: using a different form of annual evaluation, reducing the teaching load in future semesters on academic parents who’ve seen their research completely stalled, providing more teaching assistants or other types of support to reduce the teaching load, temporarily reduce service and administrative burdens, and/or have better parental leave arrangements. One respondent indicated that their university developed a working parent task force, to get input from the working parents and think about solutions together.
  • Taking a step back, we recommend developing a culture of care, and making our universities places where compassion and solidarity are important values.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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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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Experience of work in the UK’s TV industry – full report

This week sees the publication of the Faculty of Media & Communication’s report State of Play 2021: Management Practices in UK Unscripted Television. Described by Marcus Ryder MBE as one of the most comprehensive industry assessments in years, the report is the culmination of eight months of qualitative data analysis from a survey of people working in the unscripted sector of the UK’s TV industry. A preliminary report, based on only the quantitative findings, was published in January. This week’s full report – a document of some 100-pages – gives context, colour and detail to the worrying statistics. The picture it paints is one of a troubled industry urgently in need of reform.

Welcoming the report, Philippa Childs, Head of the union Bectu said:

“The State of Play report details the underlying problems facing freelancers in the TV industry, which give rise to shocking rates of bullying and harassment and a continuing lack of diversity in the industry.”

Whilst in many ways, UK television has been a great national success story, this success has been at the expense of those who work in the industry. The report describes experiences that would not be tolerated in any other business. The casualisation of the workforce has devolved employer risk, ultimately, to individual freelancers who have little or no protection for their own livelihoods or wellbeing. Work is characterised by last minute job bookings and last-minute cancellations; extended hours without breaks or compensation; discrimination; nepotism; sexual harassment; and workplace bullying beside the prevailing precarity that makes it almost impossible for them to challenge any of these conditions. The report, which makes six major recommendations with implications for both government policy and structural change within the industry, will feature in a panel discussion at next week’s Edinburgh Television Festival.

The UK television industry’s Broadcast magazine covered the story on Monday 16 August 2021.


The full report can be downloaded from here:

van Raalte, C., Wallis, R. and Pekalski, D., 2021. State of Play 2021: Management Practices in UK Unscripted Television. Technical Report. Poole, UK: Bournemouth University.