Category / Industry collaboration

HE Policy Update for the w/e 4th March 2021

After a string of very long and detailed policy updates, we have a slightly lighter one for you this week, as most government attention has been on the budget and therefore, for once, HE has not been much in the spotlight.  There have been a lot of very boring answers to Parliamentary questions but since they don’t move anything on we are letting you off.  Even the OfS has been quiet this week.

We are expecting a “big year” for HE policy, so this is a moment to catch our breath.  If you are wondering what we can look forward to, the first thing is likely to be the review of plans to allow students to return to campus “by the end of the Easter holidays”.  And at some point there will be a deluge of announcements and consultations linked to the mega list of upcoming changes announced in January and GW’s letter to the OfS about priorities.  If you haven’t already seen it, you can read more about what is coming in our latest Horizon Scan here.

Budget – big news but not for HE

As expected, not much in the budget for higher education. Press release: with links to the detailed documents here.  And other related documents via links here.

The Build Back Better plan is what it suggests, with some nods to R&D but really not a lot, and some things to look forward to.  A full response on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding within 12 months (we were told to expect it in the November Autumn Statement). Lifelong loans consultation within 6 months.  And the Research and Development Places Strategy and People and Culture Strategy within 6 months too.

In the press, John Morgan in the THE writes about visas and the fee cap (which was already announced):

  • The government’s interim response to the Augar review had previously said it would “freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control”, which would be “initially be for one year” with “further changes to the student finance system…considered ahead of the next comprehensive spending review”….
  • But the budget document contained mention of a freeze in the English tuition fee cap, currently at £9,250, for 2022-23.

Research news

After the announcements about the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, which we noted last week, the bill to establish it has now been published. As usual with a draft bill there is also a set of explanatory notes.

From the explanatory notes, the section entitled ARIA model explains what it will actually do:

ARIA is expected to emulate key features of the US ARPA model tailored to the UK R&D landscape. This may include: 

  1. Organising ambitious research goals around the long-term programmes of work which are led by so-called Programme Managers. Programme Managers facilitate cohesion between individual research projects in pursuit of transformational breakthroughs. Programmes may include basic research through to the creation of prototypes and commercialised technologies.
  2. Significant autonomy for Programme Managers who are able to take advantage of innovative and flexible approaches to programme funding.
  3. A tolerance to failure in pursuit of transformational breakthroughs embedded in its culture. Only a small fraction of ambitious goals will be achieved, however ARIA will provide value from its failures, including spill-over benefits gained from intermediary outputs. For example, a particular goal may not prove technologically viable but in pursuing it, scientists may happen across another promising technology.

There is a bit in the Bill is about purpose:

In exercising its functions, ARIA must have regard to the desirability of doing so for the benefit of the United Kingdom, through—

(a) contributing to economic growth, or an economic benefit, in the United Kingdom,

(b) promoting scientific innovation and invention in the United Kingdom, or

(c) improving the quality of life in the United Kingdom (or in the United Kingdom and elsewhere).

Section 3 of the Bill is supposed to be the big distinguishing feature of ARIA. To get round the natural small-c conservatism and caution that government agencies usually have, with the Public Accounts Committee and the National audit Office breathing down their neck.

  • Section 3 Ambitious research, development and exploitation: tolerance to failure In exercising any of its functions under this Act, ARIA may give particular weight to the potential for significant benefits to be achieved or facilitated through scientific research, or the development and exploitation of scientific knowledge, that carries a high risk of failure.

And there is a bit more in the explanatory notes on what tolerance for failure section is intended for:

  • ARIA may set highly ambitious research goals which, if achieved, would bring about transformative scientific and technological advances. These advances would yield significant economic and social benefit. These goals may be highly ambitious meaning that it is likely that only a small fraction will be fully realised. The Bill allows ARIA to have a high tolerance to project failure. 
  • The ambitious research goals may require multi-year programmes of work where pay-back may be highly uncertain and success may not be realised for some years. It is likely that at least a proportion of projects are ones that would not be undertaken by other bodies. ARIA may fund opportunities which are untested and untried, but best suit its ambitious research goals.     
  • In performing these functions, the forms of support undertaken by ARIA may themselves carry high risk, for example, taking equity stake in a start-up company
  • ….Furthermore, in pursuing highly ambitious research goals, ARIA will be able to bring together high-calibre individuals and bodies from across the public and private sector R&D communities which might not otherwise have been brought together. These connections may endure, spurring future innovation under the leadership of ARIA or others.

Schedule 1 has a bit more technical info.  There’s loads of stuff about hiring and firing and procedures and pay and committees

David Kernohan reviews it for Wonkhe, who compares it to UKRI’s powers.  David suggests that the implication of the reporting requirements are that ARIA may not be supporting doctorates, and also flags the important and interesting point that ARIA is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  So all that high risk investment will only be as transparent as the reporting obligations require – mainly an annual report to parliament.

 Widening participation

A new report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), funded by the Nuffield Foundation, finds that poorer students in sixth forms and colleges trail their more affluent peers by as many as three A level grades when taking qualifications at this level.  The report is light on recommendations as it is focussed on understanding, rather than solving the issue that it raises.

They offer this set of conclusions in the executive summary:

  • Whilst much of the focus should be on earlier phases, for the disadvantage attainment gap to close, a concomitant increase in efforts to limit the impact of disadvantage during the 16-19 phase is required. If disadvantaged young people are to avoid falling yet further behind, addressing this gap should be central to the government’s reform agenda for the 16-19 phase and for further education.
  • Our findings also strengthen the case for including student level disadvantage measures within the 16-19 funding formula, alongside the area-based measures currently used. Introducing such funding as a Student Premium, alongside the associated accountability and transparency requirements for providers, would help heighten the focus on disadvantaged students during this phase.
  • Critically, these results also predate the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lost learning and disruption to exams; factors which may have exacerbated the disadvantage attainment gap. To ensure that existing and emerging inequalities are identified and addressed we will continue to review and refine the provisional methodology presented in this report and monitor the 16-19 disadvantage attainment gap through 2020 and beyond.

Key findings:

The disadvantage gap in sixth forms and colleges Based on a new, exploratory analysis of the disadvantage gap at this phase, the research finds that:

  • There is a large gap in attainment, equivalent to almost three A level grades, when comparing (on average) the best three qualifications of disadvantaged students (those who had claimed free school meals in secondary school) and the best three qualifications of their non-advantaged peers.
  • For the very poorest sixth form and college students – those classed as “persistently disadvantaged” – who were on free school meals for over 80% of their time at school – the gap is even wider, equivalent to four A level grades.
  • There was no progress in closing the 16-19 gap between 2017 to 2019 and this is likely to now be worsened by the unequal impact of the pandemic on learning loss, along with the very different approaches to assessments seen in academic and vocational qualifications during 2020.

Which factors explain the disadvantage gap at sixth form and college level? When exploring the contribution of different factors to the large gap at this phase, the research finds that:

  • A large proportion of the gap (39%) at the 16-19 education phase can be explained by students’ prior attainment at school (GCSE). Poorer students enter sixth form and college at a significant disadvantage compared to their more affluent peers, having on average, achieved far lower grades previously at school.
  • The type of qualifications taken by poorer students also explains a large part of the gap in 16-19 education (33% of the gap): disadvantaged students are more likely to enter fewer, and lower-level qualifications.
  • However, while poorer students’ previous level of academic achievement and type of qualification play a strong role in the gap at 16-19, socio-economic disadvantage may be contributing to these students falling even further behind during this phase. 
  • When controlling for student’s prior attainment and qualification type, poorer students are still shown to achieve poorer grades compared to their more affluent peers – around the equivalent of half an A level grade. This is significant, as it shows poorer students face an extra attainment penalty during the 16-19 education phase.

How does the sixth form and college gap vary across the country? While on average, poorer students in sixth forms and colleges trail their more affluent peers by the equivalent of three A level grades, there are great disparities across England:

  • Poorer students are the equivalent of five whole A level grades behind their more affluent students nationally in Knowsley (5.4 A level grades behind) North Somerset (4.8 grades behind) and Stockton-on-Tees (4.7 grades behind).
  • In sharp contrast, in many London areas, poorer students are level with or even ahead of their more affluent peers nationally. The areas with the lowest disadvantage gaps in the country are Southwark (poorer students are 1.2 A level grades ahead), Redbridge (0.5 grades ahead) and Ealing (0.5 grades ahead).
  • Of the 20 local authorities in the country with the smallest 16-19 disadvantage gaps, almost all of them are situated in or around the London area, with the exception of Redcar and Cleveland (20thsmallest gap).

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HEIF – the final instalment

HEIF – the final instalment

(This is literally just the title to highlight the end of this blog series, not the end of HEIF)

When writing these blog posts, I wasn’t expecting them to turn into a trilogy from the planned double feature, but here we are.

 

In this third instalment of knowledge exchange and HEIF related stories, I’m going to share with you some potential project ideas and examples of HEIF projects from other institutions.

 

The small fund is for getting a KE project started or concluding a KE project.

  • Do you have an idea but need a business to collaborate with and are unsure how to do this?
  • Do you think you have a great project idea but don’t know what market opportunities there are (if any!)?
  • Do you have a business contact who is keen to work with you, but they do not have the available funding for consultancy?
  • Are you working with a charity and need a big of funding to get your project to the next stage?
  • Are you seeking public engagement ideas or projects?

If ANY of these apply to you directly or are similar situations that you have been in, get in touch.

 

To give some examples as to how different institutions use their HEIF funding, here are some ideas and links to searchable projects:

At the University of Southampton, their HEIF allocation as funded projects such as; Video Game Photography: An Examination of Reflective Gameplay, Participation and Responsible Innovation for Co-Design for Exchange and Digital Police Officer: Linguistic Analysis to Identify Cybercriminals.

 

The University of Winchester have funded projects such as; Stormbreak: inspiring movement for positive mental health in primary school and HELP (Health Enhancing Lifestyle Programme) Hampshire Stroke Clinic. Further information on these projects can be found here.

 

The University of Surrey have invested some of their HEIF funds into a Living Lab. This approach to user-centred research and open innovation already has a string of achievements since it’s conception in November 2019 and has funded a series of small collaborative projects in areas such as environmental behaviour and community regeneration.

 

The University of Sussex refocused some of their HEIF funding on Covid-19 relief to their local area where possible, as did the University of Liverpool.

 

Do get in touch to discuss your KE project and how HEIF might be able to help you.

 

As a further note, a specific Proof of Concept strand will be available shortly, please do look out for information on this.

 

HE policy update for the w/e 4th February 2021

Wonkhe and Pearson have collaborated to highlight what students value about remote and flexible learning aspects. The CMA have called out price fixing which may have increased the cost of good and services provided to disabled students. The Government have announced additional hardship funding to be distributed to students although we still don’t know about the methodology the OfS will use to distribute this. There’s a code for free speech proposed by Students’ Unions. And the appointment of the new Chair of the Office for Students, Lord Wharton, continues to be controversial.

New OfS Chair

The Commons Education Committee held a pre-appointment hearing with Lord James Wharton of Yarm who the Government intend to appoint to become the next chair of the Office for Students. Lord Wharton has stated he will not resign the Conservative Whip if he is appointed to the OfS (this means he will vote as directed by the Conservative party in divisions). While in practice as a Lord it is acceptable that Wharton will act according to his personal political stance, this is still unusual.  Similar concerns were raised when Baroness Harding was appointed as head of NHS Test and Trace and also retained the Tory whip..

Wharton was only appointed to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in 2020, the current Government has been recognised (and criticised) for its approach to several high level appointments (e.g. Harding and the new Chair of the BBC).

Wharton has little background or previously stated interest in education. Wonkhe have a great blog on the potential appointment, here’s a snide little snippet:  If being put forward for a government-backed role makes Private Eye, you have a problem. The process itself was notably light on educational expertise and heavy on being mates with Boris, and it clearly generated a nomination where educational expertise was not the primary criteria.  The same Wonkhe blog quickly gallops through the content of the Education Committee hearing – it is worth a read to understand Wharton’s priorities and areas where it seems he has some more background reading to do.

Research Professional also cover the story here:

  • However, responding to a question from Tory committee member David Simmonds about the potential difficulties of holding the whip while chairing an independent regulator, Wharton rejected the idea that such a clear conflict of interest was really a conflict of interest at all—and offered assurance that he had held discussions with the other party whips already.
  • “What I have made clear, and what they have agreed, is that on issues of conflict—if they arise—with my role in the OfS, if I’m appointed, they would give me more latitude and understand that I may need to vote against or speak against some of the things the party in government could bring forward.”
  • It sounds to Playbook rather like the independence of the OfS chair will be underpinned by what might best be described as a gentleman’s agreement. Perhaps England’s regulator will adopt this approach to its formal duties when Wharton takes up his role. It would certainly help with the OfS’s desire to be more ‘light touch’.
  • …Another theme Wharton returned to a number of times during the session was the need for more “risk-based regulation”: reducing the regulatory burden for some, but increasing it when required.
  • “In some ways, some of our top universities will not need and should not need to be monitored as closely on quality of output in terms of academic output, for example,” he said. “But there are other areas in which some of those universities are not doing as well as they should.” This was in response to a question about Black, Asian and minority ethnic student access at “top” universities.

You can read the letter from the Commissioner for Public Appointments to the Education Select Committee here (it briefly touches upon some of the controversial aspects mentioned above such as panel membership). The letter was sent in advance of the Education Committee hearing. The letter states: I note that Lord Wharton was assessed as appointable by the Panel, along with three other candidates. The choice between these appointable candidates is entirely a matter for ministers. Williamson’s (pre-hearing) letter stating Wharton as the strongest candidate is here.

Here is Dods’ summary of the Education Committee pre-appointment hearing for the OfS Chair position.

The Government’s announcement confirming who will hold the OfS Chair position can be expected imminently.

Research

Amanda Solloway, the Science Minister, has done an interview with Research Professional in which she describes her personal experience of sexual harassment and discrimination and sets out her mission to stamp it out.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser has a blog on debunking the Einstein myth and increasing diversity of the workforce.

  • …despite the diverse opportunities, many people do not see themselves working in research and innovation. They don’t see it as a place for them…This is perhaps not surprising since a popular image of researchers and innovators is one of Einstein-like geniuses: superhumanly clever, obsessed with their work and driven by pure logic. They work alone in dusty libraries or in labs full of bubbling liquids doing arcane things that will either save the world or destroy it…But researchers and innovators know very well that they are not geniuses marching toward the truth using pure logic. Rather than helping them deal with the inherent insecurities of their work, the myth ultimately amplifies insecurity, leaving the sector riddled with imposter syndrome…So the lone genius perception segregates research and innovation into a remote and alien corner of society that looks unattractive and unwelcoming to the diverse people that the system needs, and it inhibits the collaborative supportive research culture we need to catalyse creative discovery and innovation…Ultimately, we will relegate research and innovation to the margins of our society, making it much harder to reap the benefits and much harder to identify and prioritise the challenges people really care about. We need to build a truly inclusive system that values and nurtures a much wider range of careers and career paths. A good place to start is to change ideas about who is part of the research and innovation system.
  • To get the ball rolling, I am delighted to be collaborating with the Minister for Science Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, to find 101 people, doing 101 different jobs that make major contributions to research and innovation, but who are not researchers and innovators. If you are one such person, or work with one and would like to participate in this project please email your suggestion to stories@ukri.org. I am also keen to hear about other ideas and initiatives that could support a more inclusive definition of the research and innovation system.

REF flexibility: At the end of last week the REF team provided more details on the extra support to help universities struggling to complete during lockdown:

  • Universities are no longer required to submit corroborating evidence for impact case studies, however, any evidence should be held by the institution in the event of audit. Uploaded evidence should be submitted by 1 June.
  • Errors can be corrected up to six weeks after the 31 March submission deadline.
  • More information was published on the labelling and delivery of physical outputs and redacting impact case studies for publication.

ARPA

  • UK ARPA ‘should run like a venture capital’ says former Head of Innovate UK. Ruth McKernan, now Chair of the BioIndustry Association, spoke out on 27 January at a Foundation for Science and Technology meeting exploring the UK ARPA which is expected to launch this year with £50 million in seed funding. Ruth advised that the UK ARPA should be designed in the spirit of a venture capital fund in order to reduce red tape and enable the speed and flexibility required to deliver high-risk, high-returns research.
  • Meanwhile on Monday Dods/The Financial Times reported that: new Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is pushing forward with plans to form the anticipated scientific research agency, and that legislation could be drawn up within weeks. As the agency is a standalone organisation, separate from UKRI, it requires its own legislation. The Treasury has authorised £800m of spending on the agency, which will fund “cutting-edge, high-risk, high-reward science here in the UK,” particularly in areas such as AI and data.

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

Towards the end of last week Jisc published their research and innovation sector strategy 2021-23, setting out their seven key theme priorities identified through their engagement with the sector. Dods summarise:

  1. Supporting a new national data infrastructure for research
  • Never before have research and innovation been so dependent on infrastructure, on the capacity of network, security, connectivity and access management. This dependency will continue to grow.
  • Jisc commit to supporting a new national data infrastructure for research, underpinned by their existing Janet Network, cyber security, cloud and data infrastructures and will coordinate the implementation of a flexible set of solutions for institutions and research collaborations.
  1. UK research analytics: understanding systems, cultures, resources and decision-making
  • The data produced through the processes of research management could be used on a greater scale to transform research systems, cultures and decision-making. Exponentially upgraded analytical capacity is needed to build the strategic capabilities of UK research.
  • Jisc will examine the potential for a new UK research analytics platform and service, enhancing their existing analytics capabilities
  1. Recording the UK’s ‘research estate’ in support of a UK-wide research capability
  • The ability to identify, deploy, share and re-use physical and intangible assets that comprise the research estate are central to delivering efficiencies, the civic agenda, levelling up, open research and achieving net-zero. These assets also include the significant infrastructure which gives access to research, including content, library and archival collections.
  • Jisc will explore expanding the well-established digital approaches to the management and use of these assets
  1. Accelerating the achievement, delivery and monitoring of the journey to open research
  • Open research extends beyond the boundaries of open access articles to all research outputs, including metadata, data, code, algorithms and software, as well as the processes of research itself. It will continue to be a high priority for the UK research base, for funders and for Jisc.
  • Jisc commit to helping the UK embrace the full potential of open research by removing barriers, embedding open practices and developing infrastructure to support this potential.
  1. Applied research and knowledge exchange: supporting its commercialisation and deployment
  • The interconnected systems producing world-class research and innovation are increasingly reliant on shared and secure infrastructure to enable their growth. The breadth of academic-industry collaborations and commercial spinouts from academic research is set to grow.
  • Jisc commit to further supporting the acceleration of the impact of and knowledge exchange from research commercialisation through the enhanced use of shared research infrastructure.
  1. Rapid innovation in research management and active research
  • Research integrity, reproducibility and reuse, evaluation and assessment, new and inclusive forms of excellence and the responsible use of metrics are all areas that offer significant potential for greater efficiency and interoperability.
  • Jisc commit to exploring and building on innovative approaches in research management, including enhanced system interoperability, common data repository standards and metrics aggregator models
  1. ‘Research 4.0’: realising the art of the possible
  • Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G, quantum computing and biotechnologies are set to impact the UK’s world-leading research and innovation sector in the years ahead in ways yet to be imagined.
  • Jisc propose a technical enablers programme focusing on exemplifying leading-edge specialisms and a ‘research reimagined’ programme to better understand this future potential with and on behalf of our members.

Quick News update

  • The British Academy has submitted its pre-budget report to the Treasury calling for Horizon Europe funding to be ring fenced separately from BEIS research funding:
    • The funds required for Horizon Europe association should be additional to the existing budget for research and innovation, in order that we support and build the UK’s reputation as a global research and innovation leader in this period of uncertainty and upheaval.
    • And on ODA: We also wish to emphasise the importance and value of funding for global research and innovation activities through the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. Any reduction in the levels of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget for research and innovation activity will directly harm the UK’s ability to maintain its global position in terms of science and research. We are extremely concerned that even a temporary reduction in funding for scientific research will compromise the ability of the UK to act as a leader in addressing global challenges and building capacity in research talent, particularly at a time when COVID-19 has demonstrated the critical need for global collaboration. Both the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the £735m Newton Fund come under the aid budget.
    • Press release here.
  • Professor Matt Lambon Ralph has been appointed Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Non-Clinical Training and Career Development Panel. Matt was previously Associate Vice-President for Research at the University of Manchester including a focus on early career researchers. The panel is responsible for assessing applications for non-clinical fellowships across the MRC research portfolio. He is expected to sit on the panel for the standard length of four years.
  • UKRI and the Met Office have appointed Dr Gary Fuller (Imperial College London) as the new Clean Air Champion for the Strategic Priorities Fund Clean Air Programme (£42.5 million R&I investment programme). He joins the existing champions Professor Sir Stephen Holgate and Dr Jenny Baverstock. They will bring together outstanding researchers across atmospheric, medical and social sciences to develop practical solutions for air quality issues… equipping the UK to proactively tackle future air quality challenges related to changing emissions, exposure patterns and impacts on vulnerable groups of people.
  • UKRI has a news story on the Innovate UK £134 million in continuity loans to support small businesses drive on with innovative and exciting new products and services. Loans of between £250,000 and £1.6 million have been made to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and third sector organisations that would otherwise have struggled to continue with research and development activity.
  • The Public Accounts Committee has launched an inquiry into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Fund awards support for research and development projects under the Industrial Strategy four themes – clean growth, the ageing society, the future of mobility and artificial intelligence & the data economy. It constitutes a significant part of the Government’s commitment to spend £4.7 billion on R&D. The Committee will question senior officials at BEIS and UKRI on the management of the Fund, focussing on the design of the Fund and oversight of its implementation, and the approach taken to considering performance and progress in making the awards. The timing and announcement of the inquiry is interesting – we’ll be keeping an eye on this one.
  • Chris Skidmore writes in Conservative Home highlighting how Brexit has enabled the UK to respond faster on issues such as Covid vaccinations. He continues to argue about a focus on research.
    • With a new American President that believes in the power of science and research, the Prime Minister has found an ally and common ground upon which he can transform into a special science relationship. Focus on ‘shared values’ is intended to be a key part of the G7— what better value could there be to focus upon than investment in research and innovation?
    • A new international research fund, a new alliance of research universities, the chance to forge new international science programmes dedicated to transforming and de-carbonising energy supply… the potential is enormous. Yes, we can build back better, but we can do so much more effectively if we research back better too.
  • The Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has set out plans for a new UK subsidy control system: which will be the long-term replacement for the EU’s prescriptive state aid regime, will allow the UK to be more dynamic in providing support to businesses, including in innovative, R&D-focused industries, to encourage job creation and growth across all parts of the UK. [You’ll remember that state aid was a big issue in the Brexit negotiations at the end of the year].
  • The PM has established a new Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) which will identify and develop proposals across a range of areas that will drive innovation and competitiveness, reduce barriers to start-ups and scale-ups, create opportunities for innovation to make the most of cutting-edge technologies, and support growth and dynamism right across the UK economy. In particular:
    • Opportunities which could drive innovation and accelerate the commercialisation and safe adoption of new technologies, cementing the UK’s position as a global science and technology superpower.
    • Opportunities to reduce barriers to entry in specific markets and make markets more dynamic and contestable across the economy.
    • Opportunities to reduce administrative barriers to scaling up productive businesses; and to tailor any necessary processes to the needs of UK start-ups and SMEs while maintaining the Government’s commitment to high environmental standards and worker protections.
    • Opportunities to improve small business’ experience of necessary regulatory requirements.
    • Sectors of the economy or regulatory frameworks which should be prioritised for further regulatory deep dives.

The Taskforce is expected to report back to the PM in April. Their findings will be considered alongside the Government’s broader economic growth and regulatory agenda.  Cynics will remember the “bonfire of the quangos” under the Cameron government (this FT article reports the National Audit Office report that 285 public bodies were abolished but 184 new organsiations were created at the same time).

Parliamentary Questions

  • PhD extensions – I [Amanda Solloway] regularly meet with … the CEO of UKRI…to monitor how the pandemic is affecting UKRI-funded PhD students and the wider research system. We will continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and UKRI continues to listen and respond carefully as the situation evolves.
  • What effect the 30% reduction in the Official Development Assistance allocation will have on the Government’s ringfenced climate change and R&D funding commitments.

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

Dods summarise the UCAS application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle:

There were 2,788,715 applications in this cycle – an increase on the 2019 cycle

  • Across all providers, there were 570,475 accepted applicants
  • There were 156,280 unconditional offers made
  • Providers across the UK had a 71.4% offer rate (72.8% in England, 56.6% in Scotland, 79% in Wales, 77.2% in NI)
  • Among lower tariff providers, this figure was 7%
  • Among medium tariff providers, this figure was 2%
  • Among higher tariff providers, this figure was 9%
  • Offer rates for UK 18 year olds by POLAR4 quintile were:
  • Q1: 78.6%
  • Q2: 78.9%
  • Q3: 79.4%
  • Q4: 79.7%
  • Q5: 80.5%

Key findings and trends:

  • Acceptances to computer science courses have risen by almost 50% (from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020)
  • Acceptances to engineering courses are up 21% from 25,995 in 2011 to 31,545 in 2020 – driven by an increase in demand from UK 18 year olds
  • Acceptances to the newer artificial intelligence (AI) courses have seen a 400% rise in the past decade (from just 65 in 2011 to 355 in 2020)
  • Despite the removal of NHS bursaries in 2017, demand for nursing places is now almost at the same level seen in 2011 (62,920 applicants made a nursing choice in 2020 compared to 63,275 in 2011) and acceptances have grown by 57% – representing an additional 13,635 students
  • With the expansion of medical places in the last few years, acceptances to medicine courses are at the highest level on record, growing 37% since 2017
  • Law increased from 22,720 acceptances in 2011 to 29,105 acceptances in 2020, with substantial increases to both higher and medium tariff providers across this period
  • Business increased from 61,100 acceptances in 2011 to 75,515 in 2020. Growth in acceptances across all provider tariff bands – with by far the largest increase to higher tariff providers
  • Psychology acceptances increase from 16,685 in 2011 to 26,200 in 2020. Again, there were increases across all tariff bands, with medium and higher tariff providers experiencing the largest increases
  • Humanities subjects have decreased in popularity over the last decade. English studies have seen a decrease from 10,020 acceptances in 2011 to 6,980 this year in 2020, and history and philosophical studies from 15,060 in 2011 to 12,870, though the data shows this decline seems to be confined to lower and medium tariff providers
  • Acceptances to modern language degree courses have decreased by 36% – from 6,005 in 2011 to 3,830 in 2020 across all tariff groups. This drop in demand is seen alongside a decrease in language A level entrants over the same timeframe.

Given the reverses in policy (student number controls and centre-assessed grades), the controversy about unconditional offers, last this year was a pretty interesting one for admissions teams.  Some of these things have implications this year too – we still have a ban on unconditional offers, and this year the impact of whatever Ofqual end up with will almost certainly ensure that there are once again more students with higher grades entering university.  The Russell Group are already asking for money to help them take more students in September (again).  And all this is just in time for another huge reversal of approach as the government consult on minimum entry requirements and post-qualification admissions.  Catch up on our policy update from 21st January on minimum entry requirements, and you can read the PQA consultation here (it runs until May, so no rush).

  • A data rich piece by David Kernohan using UCAS data on unconditional offer This was the big story just under a year ago, as despite strong Ministerial and OfS criticism of unconditional offers up to that point, and particularly strong pressure on “conditional unconditional offers”.    When the pandemic hit and exams were cancelled, some universities allegedly made many more unconditional offers, on the basis that it would remove stress for school and college leavers.  Of course, in March, as we went into the first lockdown, Michelle Donelan ordered universities to stop making unconditional offers, in a “moratorium” that later turned into a “time-limited” condition of registration with the OfS that remains in place today.  In their consultation the OfS proposed making the condition retrospective, with a view to penalising those universities who had made offers in the crucial early weeks of March – but this idea was dropped.  We might expect a response to the UCAS data from the OfS, which might not be super positive about it.
  • A piece on subject trends from UCAS data – including what they call the “Chris Whitty effect” as applications increased for health and social care programmes in 2020. This is of course good news for us all, especially given concerns about the impact of the controversial removal of NHS bursaries for these course and the incredible contribution made by many students during the pandemic on placement or starting paid work before the end of their courses.  In the piece, Sander Kristel, Chief Operations Officer at UCAS also looks at numbers for STEM, and the gender divide, and the decline in language students, and in English and humanities subjects too. David Kernohan of Wonkhe contributes some rich data on applications over time, by subject and by provider.
  • And an overview on the overall cycle, again by David Kernohan, with some startling data about winners and losers in terms of student numbers in 2020 and some analysis of student movements. In case you’ve forgotten, as well as a

HEPI has a piece from former universities minister (and former VC) Bill Rammell and education consultant Abhishek Nakhate on the ways that universities can turn knowledge of their applicants into successful recruitment.

Wonkhe also tell us that TES has an opinion piece on the opportunity in the Department for Education’s PQA consultation to uncouple university admissions from A levels completely.

Free Speech

On Monday Wonkhe announced the publication of a collaboration with a group of students leading students’ unions on free speech: Taking the debate forward: A new code to secure and champion freedom of speech and political diversity on campus. Wonkhe also gather together a series of information and recent content on free speech here.

Support for the new code has been given by Adam Clarke, Policy Manager, for the Russell Group. He states:

  • Universities, students and government all want to protect free speech and ensure robust academic debate. Engaging with challenging ideas is a vital element of the academic experience in UK universities.
  • As Wonkhe’s analysis shows, the overwhelming majority of planned students’ union events go ahead, giving speakers the opportunity to present controversial ideas on campus, which students can interrogate.
  • The proposals in this report are intended to help students’ unions broaden the range of views students are exposed to and continue to champion free speech on campus effectively. It sets out sensible additional steps students’ unions can take as independent bodies to protect free speech and how universities can support them in this critical work.
  • The creation of a new free speech code with an explicit goal of increasing the volume and diversity of debates on campuses would help students’ unions go further in their efforts to defend and maintain freedom of expression.

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, announced £50 million of new hardship funding for HE providers (to be distributed by the OfS). The Government press release states: The increased financial support comes as the majority of students have been asked to continue their studies remotely, as part of measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus…The new funding means that universities will be able to help students impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs for alternative accommodation, loss of employment, or extra costs to access their teaching online. Universities will distribute the funding and will be able to prioritise the funding to those most in need of help. The Government also stated it wanted universities to offer partial refunds for unused accommodation. No doubt the Government are hoping this will head off calls for tuition and rent refunds, at least for a few weeks. The written ministerial statement is here.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

  • This continues to be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for our students, and I am hugely grateful to all the university staff working hard to prioritise their health, wellbeing and learning during this pandemic. The additional £50 million that we are announcing today will mean we have distributed £70m for hardship in this financial year alone – on top of the £256m of government-funded student premium which universities can use for student support this academic year. This additional support will provide real, tangible help for those students struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. We will continue to prioritise a full return to education as soon possible, in line with public health advice. I am also working with universities and professional bodies to ensure students can graduate as planned.
  • On distributing the funds Wonkhe have stated that the DfE tells us the mechanism for doing so is yet to be determined, and we understand that OfS will shortly be writing to provider accountable officers with a proposed distribution methodology.

On Wednesday Donelan made a statement to the House explaining that HE providers will have flexibility in how they distribute funding to students including to masters and international students. There was also an urgent question from Paul Blomfield in the House of Commons on Wednesday and Jim Dickinson (of Wonkhe) has live tweeted the whole debate – very funny but also rather sad.

If you can face it, you can re-read MD’s original set of late on a Friday night tweets (STUDENT MESSAGES 1- 6) that so enraged so many.

Donelan spoke on Radio 4 stating she wanted to ensure students and HE providers understood that hardship support from this funding shouldn’t be just a one-time offer, that students could return to their providers for additional help later on, where appropriate and if required.

Many organisations published their reactions to the announcement. We’ve picked out the key stakeholders who continue to call for the Government to do more:

  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: While the additional funding is welcome, the government must also acknowledge that student hardship is just one of many increasingly difficult issues facing students, universities and staff at this time. As the serious mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, universities need further funding to alleviate the substantial increases in demand that university wellbeing and support services are experiencing. Although university staff are making huge efforts to offer high quality online learning, the government should provide support that recognises that students are missing out on the wider student experience that they would benefit from in a normal year.
  • Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: It is good to see…measures further boosted by the Government with additional funds specifically for students facing difficulties with day-to-day living costs. This group is likely to be far wider than those who would normally be eligible for support through OfS student premium funding.
  • NUS National President Larissa Kennedy said: …this will not be enough to tackle the scale of the issue. If Westminster did the right thing and matched the hardship funding being made available in Wales for students the amount needed would be more than £700m…The pandemic has exposed the flaws at the core of our education system – it functions at the expense of students’ mental health and wellbeing, and through our financial exploitation…We also need a long term solution to ensure that no student suffers in this way again. The Government must adopt a new vision for education, starting with a return to maintenance grant funding and a boost in how much students can access, redressing extortionate housing costs, and moving towards fully funded education so students are never pushed into these kinds of dire financial situations

On Thursday the Minister published yet another open letter to students (sent to universities late on Tuesday).  It repeats much of the content of previous letters, including about how to complain.  You can read the full text of the letter it in the Minister’s tweet here.

In an expansion of the now well established DfE practice of sending open letters to students to be shared by providers (usually arriving late at night, often on a Friday), this time in a burst of creative energy the Minister also wrote to staff at providers.  BU readers can find the message here.

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

We learn the reasoning behind the move of the Commission to the Cabinet office here:

  • This move aligns with a recent recommendation by the Chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the Social Mobility Commission’s (SMC) own recommendation about where it would best fit within government, and with a recommendation by the Education Select Committee in 2018.
  • Moving the sponsorship of the SMC to become a key part of the new Equality Hub makes good sense and puts equality and fairness of all kinds at the heart of government. The move shows how serious this government is about acting on these issues, as part of our levelling up agenda.

There’s a parliamentary question on the Social Mobility Commission’s report Changing gears: understanding downward social mobility setting out the Government’s approach to social mobility and it also mentions the move to the Cabinet Office.

The Social Mobility Commission published its annual review and business plan 2020 this week. They state: In this extraordinarily challenging year, we have made significant strides in influencing government policy, while making meaningful connections with employers and embarking upon an ambitious programme of activities. On the move to the Cabinet Office they state: As we prepare to move to the Cabinet Office from 1 April 2021, we look forward to taking a more influential role in addressing social and regional inequality.

The report has a timeline to highlight the key milestones in 2020 (see further below). And they summarise their achievements as:

  • launching an employers’ programme and microsite for businesses to help recruit more people from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • publishing 13 ground-breaking research reports on aspects of social mobility which got widespread media pick-up
  • reaching out to a younger audience
  • In addition we built up our network of Ambassador organisations to help spread our message, held dozens of seminars, webinars, training sessions and masterclasses, and launched a campaign for increased resources on further education

There’s lots more detail in the report including short summaries and links to the key publications.

Disability – price fixing

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has issued advisory letters to some firms supplying goods and services to disabled university students, following concerns that there may have been price-fixing. The Government press release with more detail is here. Excerpts from the press release:

  • Price-fixing is a serious breach of competition law and can cheat people out of a lower price, which could have been available if competition was working properly.
  • The CMA is concerned that SLC [Student Loans Company] – and so ultimately the taxpayer – may have paid over the odds for certain goods and services because some suppliers agreed prices before providing quotations. This alleged activity could also have reduced the overall amount which disabled students have available for purchasing equipment through the scheme.
  • While the CMA has been considering these allegations, SLC has told the CMA that it is making a number of changes to the way it procures goods and services for disabled students. The changes will increase price transparency and competition amongst companies, and should therefore limit the potential for anti-competitive behaviour to take place.
  • The CMA has not made a legal finding as to whether competition law has been broken at this stage, but it will keep this sector under review, 

Wonkhe have a blog – Is a market the best way of supporting disabled students?

And the Student Loans Company have issued a statement following the CMA’s action stating they welcome the advisory action and that they take these allegations of anti-competitive behaviour within the DSA supplier base extremely seriously… Also they have already embarked on a programme of significant reforms, designed to transform the customer experience, improve the provision of DSA and to make the overall processes more efficient. These reforms will also increase transparency of pricing and increase competition thus limiting the potential for any anti-competitive behaviour. SLC has already procured an e-quotation system, which will allow more suppliers to quote for work and will increase transparency of pricing and competition.

Lost learning

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published research on the crisis in lost school learning. Dods have summarised the report. The report sets out the potential long-run costs of lost schooling and finds that, as a result of the pandemic, children across the UK are likely to lose at least half a year of normal, in-person schooling. They conclude that, absent a substantial policy response, the long-run effects of this learning loss are likely to be slow-moving and substantial – arguing that, in the end, we will all be less productive, poorer, have less money to spend on public services, and we may be less happy and healthy as a result. They also say that we will probably also be more unequal, with all the social ills that come with it. Key findings:

  • By February half-term, children across the UK will have lost at least half a year of normal, in person schooling. This would increase to two thirds of a year if schools weren’t to reopen as normal until Easter
  • Early evidence already suggests this loss of schooling is contributing to lower educational progress and skills, particularly for disadvantaged pupils
  • Existing evidence on returns to schooling would imply a long-run loss in earnings of £350bn
  • If, the efforts by schools, teachers, children, parents and charities allowed us to mitigate 75% of this effect, the total loss would still be £90bn
  • A large amount of these negative effects are likely to be borne by children from lower-income families, resulting in a likely rise in inequality over the long-run
  • A massive injection of resources is likely to be required to help pupils properly catch up
  • A useful benchmark to judge these plans is the normal cost of half a year of schooling, about £30 billion across the UK
  • So far, governments across the UK have allocated about £1.5bn towards the cost of catch-up – this is highly unlikely to be sufficient to help pupils catch-up or prevent inequalities from widening.

HEPI has a blog by Gwen Morris on “Closing the attainment gap: how disadvantaged pupils have been impacted by COVID-19

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

Aside from the hardship funding described above, there is more heat than light on this subject.

The APPG for Students released a report from their inquiry into tuition and accommodation costs during Covid-19 making the case for compensation. (Note – an APPG inquiry does not have the same power within Parliament as an official select committee inquiry and the Government is not compelled to respond to it.)

The APPG state the priority is to provide students with the financial assistance they need now – through an emergency hardship fund and full compensation for rents for unused accommodation due to lockdown measures. Recommendations:

  1. The Government should substantially increase hardship funding to address rental costs for student properties they cannot access, lost income, digital poverty and other unexpected cost.
  2. The Government should consider the introduction of means-tested maintenance grants to assist the ‘Covid cohort’ with the costs they face.
  3. The Government should work with landlords to introduce measures to temporarily increase flexibility for student accommodation to allow students to leave contracts they aren’t using more easily, and to reduce pressure on landlords.
  4. Government should establish a ‘Covid Student Learning Remediation Fund’, to allow lost learning to be addressed through provision of educational opportunities not available through the pandemic.
  5. UKRI studentships for PGR students should be extended to allow research to be finished to usual high standards, in circumstances where lockdown has affected access to facilities and resources. Consideration should also be given to support for self-funded students.

Dods have an impartial and clear article on the call for refunds in The House (parliamentary) magazine. It highlights a difficult factor that the sector is fully aware of:  it is unclear what shape a refund of a loan that most would never fully repay anyway would take.  And other tricky elements:

  • So who should pay when customers (i.e. students) feel they are no longer getting value for money? It would be easy to conclude that it should be down to HE providers themselves. But when we consider that many of the restrictions causing these issues come from government-mandated measures, and ultimately from a global pandemic, where to lay the blame becomes less clear.
  • And what is a customer to do once they’ve received a refund, but are still left with what they believe to be a faulty product? Money in the pockets of students might satisfy their initial gripes, but they still might not get what they set out to achieve when they completed their UCAS application.

Wonkhe have a review article going over it all: Someone has to give in the great tuition fees battle. Who will it be? A light read as Jim Dickinson injects some great examples in there. It covers student consent to changes in the curriculum arising from the pandemic. It concludes: Something – or more specifically, someone – has to give here. And if universities have nothing left, it’s either students or DfE. OfS wagging its finger at universities is just fence-sitting. The actual side that OfS picks in the coming battle will tell us everything we need to know both about its real priorities and its “independence“.

Wonkhe also cover a mini legal hiccup relating to the vacation (Christmas) household and their term time address.

Wonkhe report: Accommodation provider Unite has announced it will extend its 50 per cent rent discount until 8 March 2021. The extension applies automatically to students who successfully applied for the original discount. 

The BBC covered a letter written by the VC’s of seven universities calling for the interest on student loans to be scrapped for 15 months to ease the pressure on graduates. I.e. from lockdown 1 to summer 2021. The BBC state that just for first year undergraduates it would cost £33 million. The Government has stated that this wouldn’t support students now, which the hardship funding they announced (in Access and Participation section) will. The Government also reminded that half of students do not fully pay back their student loan. The VC’s letter also highlighted that demands for hardship funds have increased by over 100% in some universities.

On Tuesday the petitions committee met to consider e-petitions:

Guidance: The DfE published new return to campus guidance for HE students and providers. All remains as expected:

  • All teaching to remain online until at least 8 March except for certain practical subjects (e.g. veterinary, policing, medicine)
  • On accommodation and costsit states: Because of the changing position relating to face to face teaching and occupation of accommodation, students’ loan entitlements for the current term will not be reassessed if they are still incurring accommodation costs away from home, meaning that students in receipt of the ‘living away from home’’ loan will retain the maintenance loans paid at the start of term, which will be repaid in the usual way. This should help to ensure students have the financial support they need during these exceptional circumstances. Students who are no longer incurring accommodation costs away from home (e.g. because they have exited their contracts, or moved home permanently), or who no longer wish to receive the higher rate of loan, should continue to request reassessment.
  • On testing: HE providers should set a clear expectation that all students should access coronavirus (COVID-19) testing immediately on their return to university and on a twice weekly basis thereafter (until the end of March). With students who choose not to get tested on return, to self-isolate for ten days.

Quick News: Meanwhile a review published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has found that the currently unregulated use of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) products nearly quadrupled to £2.7bn during 2020 and five million people had used them since the start of the pandemic. This has been flagged as a potential student concern because: The trend of younger people moving away from products such as credit cards and towards new offerings, including unregulated BNPL products was regularly raised by respondents to the review. It calls for the market to be properly regulated as there is significant potential for consumer harm. The Treasury confirmed interest-free BNPL agreements will now be regulated by the FCA. It means that providers will need to undertake affordability checks before lending and ensure that customers are treated fairly, especially those who are vulnerable and struggling with repayments.

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

Dods share that Times Higher Education have published the results and subsequent report of their Digital Teaching Survey, which aims to capture an overview of universities’ digital transitions in response to the pandemic, and the effect this has on students and learning outcomes. You can view the report in full here

Carried out in October and November, the survey attracted 520 self-selecting respondents. And although the majority (334) are from the UK, a total of 46 countries are represented in the responses, spread across all continents bar Antarctica.  Among the findings are:

  • More than half of respondents say the initial move to online teaching had a negative effect on their mental health, and nearly six in 10 believe it hit their students’ mental health.
  • Only a fifth believe that their students value remote education as much as face-to-face, but less than a third think tuition fees should be discounted when instruction moves online.
  • Only four in 10 junior academics believe their reopened universities’ planning for Covid outbreaks is robust, compared with seven in 10 senior managers.
  • Less than a fifth of respondents regard the two-track physical and online approach to teaching as sustainable, while two-fifths regard an online-only future as sustainable.
  • Respondents are mostly unsure whether good online teaching results in stronger learning than traditional teaching, but more than twice as many disagree as agree.
  • More than three-quarters would like online meetings to endure beyond the pandemic.

Wonkhe and Pearson published findings from their latest student experience research: Students’ experiences of study during Covid-19 and hopes for future learning and teaching and Pearson have a blog highlighting the key elements here. They work through what aspects of online and blended delivery should be retained in the short term, what are the areas for longer term strategic development, and what can be gratefully consigned to the dustbin of history.

There seems to be a consensus among university leaders of learning and teaching that while the explosion in online and blended learning of the past year didn’t come about in exactly the way the sector would have chosen, there’s now little sense in reverting back to the way things were before.

In the blog Pearson say:

  • What university leaders may consider heartening and daunting in equal measure is that there are very few elements of online learning and teaching that the students we surveyed would not like to see continue after the pandemic.
  • Also: Despite the positive endorsement of many aspects of online and blended learning, these findings should not be taken as an absolute endorsement of the quality of the academic experience as it’s currently being delivered.
  • Our sense from the survey is that students understand – up to a point – the challenges facing universities and teaching staff and genuinely appreciate ongoing efforts to support them. Students were particularly warm about communications with teaching staff, with 82 per cent agreeing that tutors are responsive when they need them.

And on a quality experience:

  • However, when we asked straight out whether students thought their academic experience had been of sufficiently good quality during the autumn term, only 40 per cent said yes. This increased to 56 per cent for those who had reported their course had been delivered through a mixture of face to face and online.
  • You might argue that students don’t have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the concept of “quality” to be able to answer that question meaningfully. So we also asked about aspects of course delivery.
  • 32 per cent agreed and 41 per cent somewhat agreed that teaching is intellectually stimulating. 31 per cent agreed and 38 per cent somewhat agreed that their course is clear and well organised. This suggests that for the most part the basics are in place in terms of teaching and curriculum. That said, improving the organisation and signposting of courses in the VLE could be a relatively easy way for universities to further support their students in this area.

The blog also highlights (by comparison to earlier June 2020 survey) that access to feedback, support from lecturers, and access to technology and resources have all improved. Where there’s room for further investigation is in providing a consistently engaging online learning experience and bringing curriculum content to life for students. 

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

63% would like more opportunities for interactions with other students
57% would choose more contact time with tutors

Methods to support monitoring their own progress were also highlighted. The blog states:

Only 35 per cent said they have regular indicators about how they are performing on the course. In a context where students are more isolated and have fewer opportunities to compare notes with peers or talk informally to lecturers, building opportunities for self-assessment of progress can be especially helpful to give students academic confidence and self-efficacy, especially given the finding on students’ sense of their own preparedness for formal assessment. 36 per cent said that more frequent assessments and progress reviews would make a difference to their experience.

Pearson say:

  • Where educators aspire to take forward a rich flexible learning environment that blends face to face and online elements, there’s an opportunity to make some of the latent aspects of learning more explicit through the course design. For example, better user experience (UX) design of VLEs could vastly improve signposting and help set expectations around learning. With flexible learning, educators could be much less constrained by scheduled contact hours, and more able to create curriculum structures and processes that enable students to progress in their learning.
  • Interaction between students need not only take place in the classroom but can be supplemented by online discussion and forums. Curriculum content can be broken down into more manageable chunks that can be digested digitally, and the classroom used for more engaging interactive tasks and activities.
  • Academic skills development can be baked explicitly into learning activities with defined tasks designed to be completed during independent learning time. Crucially, students can be encouraged and supported to develop as independent learners through use of formative self-assessment. And all this could be supported with remote check-ins with tutors and online access to wellbeing, careers and academic support services.
  • it’s clear that, now students have recognised the benefits of a more flexible approach,the direction of travel in meeting students expectations for the future of learning and teaching will be towards a more purposefully flexible approach that draws on the best of both online and face to face learning. Although one does wonder whether it is the institutions rather than the students that needed to recognise the benefits of flexible blended learning. The infrastructure and mindset change cannot be underestimated but we can hope the pandemic accelerated the turnaround of the proverbial educational oil tanker.

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

  • Increases in students studying video games degrees since 2012/13.
  • A Turing (student mobility) website is coming soon – more information…and setting out the application process in the coming weeks

Augar

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.

Many of the consultations this year have potential to be transformative for the sector. BU readers can find our response to the OfS consultation on quality and standards here.  You can read the UUK response here and the one from London Higher here.

As we note above, the PQA consultation is live (we are considering a BU response)

Other news

Nick Hillman makes the case that English universities need to cultivate allies – either in wider society or in Whitehall – to prepare for the coming spending review.

Equality: Advance HE published the blog Ensuring continued steps towards gender equality. And Wonkhe report: Advance HE has released the second part of its literature review investigating the prevalence of unconscious bias in teaching and learning in higher education. Bias in the Curriculum brings together best practice from across Advance HE members, recommending that an awareness of curriculum bias be built into teaching, with students invited to co-create interventions to address it.

Youth Mental Health: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made an announcement on appointing Dr. Alex George as a Youth Mental Health Ambassador

Law Programmes: A new Wonkhe blog – A new qualification route will shape future lawyers – the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) offers law schools the chance to radically rethink their course offer.

Careers support: Wonkhe report: A report from the City and Guilds Group and Burning Glass finds that just 16 per cent of working adults understands how their skills would transfer to another career. The survey of just over 1,000 adults finds that 21 per cent lacked knowledge of work in other employment sectors, and 19 per cent described a “lack of confidence” in considering a second career. TES has the story.

Low quality courses: Wonkhe comment on a SRHE blog piece stating it explains how the ministerial complaints around standards and “low quality” courses have only become less coherent over the past ten years.

Brexit: Wonkhe reports that The European University Association has published a short briefing into the implications for universities of the final Brexit agreement. The document covers the UK’s withdrawal from the Eramus scheme, cross-border data sharing and trade in educational services, and travel and residence between the UK and the EU.

Youth Unemployment: In December 2020 the Lords Liaison Committee recommended that the House established a new special inquiry committee to consider youth unemployment, education and skills. This report set out recommendations for the Committee to address. They include:

  • The societal trend of prioritising the A-level/University route, the consequences for the labour market and society and what steps may be taken to address this.
  • The funding and support provided for technical education, including apprenticeships, sector-based skills programmes and the national skills fund.
  • The challenges posed by COVID-19 and Brexit to the employment prospects for young people and how these might be addressed.

The Youth Unemployment Committee has now been established in the Lords, the details are gradually being populated here and this link names the members.

Wellbeing:  Just after we sent last week’s policy update a new report was issued by Jisc and Emerge Education Student and staff wellbeing in higher education. It suggests ways in which universities can address student mental health and wellbeing by embracing technology and embedding wellbeing practices into every aspect of university life.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 28th January 2021

The media and sector are still digesting last week’s policy onslaught. You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

There are new student statistics out, a new independent reviewer of Prevent, the international students’ graduate visa is still unclear and remote learning must continue for most students.

Online teaching continues

Restrictions remain in place for universities who are only permitted to offer remote learning until 8 March at earliest. Students on ‘critical courses’ such as medical, clinical and healthcare subjects will continue with their Covid-secure face to face teaching. Students and staff on campus are instructed to continue to take part in twice weekly testing on offer to help limit transmission and identify asymptomatic cases. The Government’s press release is here.  The position will be reviewed on 22nd February.

Parliamentary News

Former Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, comments on the recent raft of HE policy documents issued by the Government. Chris says:

  • …it is tempting to think that something is happening in the education world. That temptation should be tempered, for nothing really will—or indeed can—happen until the sound of the Treasury till ringing open at the Spending Review later in the year. Samuel Beckett might have titled this particular ongoing saga, ‘Waiting for Rishi’.
  • Still, enough morsels—consultations on consultations—have been thrown out there to keep the higher education policy world busy for now. And those with learned, occasionally bitter, experience of these matters know that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, as the history of white papers and their eventual chrysalis into legislative butterflies demonstrates.

Tuition Fees & Student Loans:

The latest petition to reduce the maximum student fee from £9,250 to £3,000 has been rejected by the Government with this rebuff: Tuition fee levels must represent value for money and ensure that universities are properly funded. Government is not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000. There is a full Government response here which closely follows the established party line and ticks all the HE policy bingo boxes you would expect it to.

The Government also confirmed there are no plans to cap the income repayment threshold for student loans.

Research

R&D Roadmap: The Government published the results of their consultation on the proposed UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap.

During the November 2020 Spending Review the Government committed to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing £14.6 billion in R&D in 2021/22, supporting the R&D Roadmap commitments and helping to consolidate the UK’s position as a science superpower on the road to spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027.  The Government report the research community was overwhelmingly supportive of the ambitions set out in the R&D roadmap (published July 2020). The Roadmap proposals included setting up an Office for Talent and creating an Innovation Expert Group to review and improve how the government supports research; the proposals are expected to be developed into a comprehensive R&D plan.

Dods summarise the responses:

  • Responses emphasised that the sustainability of funding was an important factor in achieving bigger research breakthroughs and for strengthening our research infrastructure and institutions. Specifically, support for a balanced portfolio of research and innovation activities, with a diverse range of funding mechanisms was considered “important to increase the effective application of new knowledge and encourage innovation.
  • Responses also suggested that place-based funding—which is a major priority of the government—could build upon local expertise and existing strengths using both new and existing mechanisms. Increased funding for both research and innovation activities, as well as for public engagement activities, was viewed as important to inspire and support the new generation.
  • The need for an improved research and innovation culture was also emphasised. Responses indicated that improving research and innovation culture through promoting greater diversity in the R&D community, making R&D a more attractive career, and reducing bureaucratic processes were vital factors in achieving bigger research breakthroughs, encouraging innovation, and attracting, retaining and developing diverse people and teams.
  • Responses also suggested that research must be informed by, and partnered with, a wide range of relevant stakeholders to achieve real-world impact. Other key themes that emerged from the survey included greater support for collaboration and knowledge exchange across the R&D landscape, a strategic and long-term approach to set a clear direction for the UK and continued support for education, training and skills.

You can read all the responses in detail here.

Whilst discussing the next steps the Government have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&D (including the devolved nations). They also continue to explore how we best create an environment where diverse and talented people from all over the world are enabled and encouraged to work to the best of their ability and fulfil their potential in their career of choice.

Innovation slump: The National Centre for Universities and Business published a report on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on how universities contribute to innovation. It found that:

  • nearly 90% of UK universities reported a significant proportion (I.e. over 10%) of their innovation projects had been delayed due to the pandemic.
  • 48% of the universities surveyed reported that the scale and scope of innovation projects were being reduced.
  • 36% reported that more than 10% of their innovation activities and projects with external partners were cancelled. With 45% recognising a decline of at least a 6% in the overall level of innovation activities they have with industrial partners. Aerospace, automotive manufacturing and within the creative industries experience bigger adverse effects.
  • Institutions stated that the lack of financial resources to support collaborations, insufficient government funding to such activities and the inability to access the necessary facilities and equipment for work to continue were the reasons behind the reduction in innovation.
  • It was also recognised that the roles of universities in driving innovation may change as the UK confronts the economic recovery

On moving forward the report finds:

  • Government schemes helped universities continue to contribute to innovation through the crisis
  • More needs to be done to enable universities to contribute fully to economic renewal
  • More funding for core knowledge exchange services, translation and commercialisation, and challenge & outcome driven programmes
  • Supporting place-making
  • Targeted support for place and sector recovery from Covid
  • Improve flexibility, bureaucracy and terms of funding
  • Ensure metrics capture diversity of contributions and reward diversity of universities
  • Ensure long-term sustainability of the university system and its ability to contribute to innovation and economic development

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

  • Covid-19 has brought the importance of collaboration between academia and industry firmly into public awareness. Indeed, breakthroughs such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are only possible because of the advent of collaborative partnerships. This is why the new survey data released today is so worrisome. Nearly 90% of universities have been forced to delay a significant proportion (more than 10%) of new innovation projects with external partners, and over a third have reported that projects have been cancelled.
  • Maintaining these types of innovation projects is vital if we are to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. Innovation requires collaboration. And we see time and time again that collaboration requires strong partners. We are therefore urgently encouraging all businesses and UK universities to continue to form these vital partnerships. What’s more, we are also calling on the Government to take proactive steps to help companies stay afloat and investing in R&D through the crisis. This includes extending Covid-19 support schemes and postponing repayment of loans until lockdown restrictions are significantly eased. In no uncertain terms, for the UK to emerge from this crisis stronger, we need to encourage innovation. Driving an innovative economy, through tax incentives, effective regulation and well-targeted support schemes must be a fundamental component of the March 2021 Budget. We need to see action now, before it’s too late.

Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study and authored the report said:  The new findings released today show that Covid-19 has had a hugely disruptive impact on universities and their ability to continue to contribute to innovation through the current health and economic crisis. We have seen the transformational effects of universities and businesses working together in finding practical and innovative solutions to wicked societal problems. This is why the findings of our study are so worrying. A strong, resilient and sustainable system of universities, research institutes and technology development organisations, working in close partnership with the private, charitable, and public sectors will be crucial to driving an innovation-led economic recovery and tackling other critical and urgent global challenges. Unless we proactively tackle the many challenges facing universities and their innovation partners to reverse these worrying trends, we risk not only hampering our economic recovery but also the UK’s longer-term competitiveness in key sectors.

Research Professional comment on the significant proportion of innovation projects delayed due to Covid: This is not surprising given that most institutions are still imposing bans on ‘non-essential travel’, labs have been closed periodically during the pandemic and industrial partners have been making extensive use of the furlough scheme. There is a limit to the innovation you can do on MS Teams—it doesn’t even have a ‘breakout rooms’ function, for pity’s sake.

Research Funding Subsidy: Last week’s funding letter cut the additional teaching funding that London institutions receive to cover the additional costs relating to teaching within the capital. This prompted fears from London institutions that they may also lose research subsidies associated with their higher costs (12% inner and 8% outer London) – which would run to significant figures and threaten some London institutions’ stability. Research Professional explore this concern in London Waiting  and explain that Research England have stated they haven’t yet received the funding allocations for 2021/22 so cannot consider the impact on quality related funding.

Quick News

  • Sustainability: The University of Exeter have launched the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub (CE-Hub). The hub will work with the five centres recently announced to explore how reusing waste materials in a wide range of industries, including textiles, construction, chemical and metals, could deliver huge environmental benefits and boost the UK economy… It will create a repository of national research, knowledge and tools to inform new research, policy and industry solutions, facilitating collaboration across a wide range of sectors and strengthening a UK-wide community dedicated to delivering a circular economy.
  • Everyone loves a space story. Here is the Government’s press release on the spacewalk to install the British funded Columbus Ka-band Terminal.
  • Research Professional: Horizon Europe ‘will be open to UK researchers from the start’. European Commission encourages applications from, and collaboration with, UK-based researchers
  • The rumours that Scotland and Wales are committee to find a way to stay in Erasmus+ have bounced about ever since the announcement the UK would not take part. Research Professional covers the latest here.

Prevent

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced the new Independent Reviewer of Prevent will be William Shawcross. Shawcross will have some time to settle into his role and to adjust the terms of reference and set timescales before he relaunches the Independent Review of Prevent. Originally a call for evidence as part of the review was launched in December 2019 but progress stalled due to the pandemic. Shawcross’ appointment isn’t without controversy. Prior to his confirmation in the role Muslim Engagement and Development expressed concern given his longstanding history of propagating Islamophobic views.

Industrial Strategy

All the way back in November 2017 Theresa May’s Government finally published the Industrial Strategy admist much fanfare and after months of trailing its contents. A flurry of activity and focus on the four grand challenges followed. However, Theresa May was ousted as PM and when Boris assumed the mantle there was an unofficial cooling towards the Industrial Strategy which was never explicitly stated. However, this week Boris’ Government have made a move and updated some of the missions associated with the four grand challenges and laid out further progress updates. You’ll need a keen eye to spot the new material.  It looks much the same.

More engaging was this week’s BEIS Committee session Post-pandemic economic growth: Industrial Strategy which contained various elements relating to HE (quick points below). Dods have provided a fuller summary of both sessions here. The second session included testimony from both Science & Research Minister Amanda Solloway and CEO of UKRI Dame Ottoline Leyser.

  • The scale of ISCF initiatives had led to a remarkable acceleration in collaboration with universities and that increasing the ISCF would be welcome by the university community.
  • The Grand Challenges largely spent money in the right places but there were issues in how this was then used, in particular which risk sharing mechanisms were used and relative spend on pure science/blue sky research vs targeted research.
  • Where there are linkages between universities facilitation of collaboration between academia and business at local level to support local industrial strategies the evidence shows large spillover effects on the local economies. The Researchers In Residence programme which puts academics into industry to solve specific problems was also mentioned.
  • Defining success of the delivery of the industrial strategy – Leyser, stated that defining success was a contested issue. She said proximal measures such as number of patents and jobs created could be used; she said the ISCF metrics on these issues looked positive but there was an issue over whether this translated into long-term productivity.
  • On ISCF delays/ Innovate UK grants Solloway said BEIS needed to work to fund ways to reduce bureaucracy and get grants out quicker.

Access & Participation

White & left behind: This week the Education Committee continued its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (summary of the session here). There was little content on HE aside from witness, Dr Javed Khan, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardo’s, stating that it was important not to over-emphasise the importance of university, compared with other further education pathways when he was questioned on what solutions there were to address the issue of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds being the least likely to attend university.

Meanwhile Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, has published a new OfS blog – White students who are left behind: the importance of place. It reiterates familiar messages that HE colleagues focussed on access will be very familiar with, alongside hints and mentions of other Governmental priorities such as levelling up and HE institutions working in partnership with schools and colleges. It even tentatively touches on the (slightly controversial but so far has flown under the radar) sudden move of the Social Mobility Commission into the Cabinet office. Below are the best bits from Millward’s blog, but, really, I’d recommend you read the succinct version by the BBC instead.

  • The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them. So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives. Research suggests that this is not about low aspirations or wanting any less for children; it is about expectations – a realistic assessment of the barriers to getting on. Schools can do a lot to shift expectations, but as recent focus groups have shown, people in left-behind towns feel the decline of local institutions and civic engagement.  The Social Mobility Commission has identified the need to join up educational interventions with other measures to improve local prosperity and it is now better placed  to drive this across government through the Cabinet Office…universities and colleges can bring this together in their local areas through the breadth of their subject interests, their relationships with businesses and public services, and their bridging of education and skills with research and development. This equips them to create pathways through all levels of education, both full-time and while in work, and for adults as well as young people.

From the BBC article, Poor white teens in ‘left behind’ towns not going to uni:

  • …male white British free school meal pupils are the least likely of all the main ethnic groups to progress to higher education (DfE)
  • 59% of youngsters from black African families on free meals went to university and 32% of black Caribbean youngsters eligible for free meals… for white pupils on free meals the figure was 16% – and only 13% for boys.
  • The research emphasises the importance of place, identifying particularly low entry rates in “former industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, or coastal towns”.
  • But white students on free meals in London seemed to have bucked the trend, with an…entry rate that “has pulled away from that in other parts of the country” – and the capital overall has higher rates of going to university.

TASO: Wonkhe: A report from Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) highlights the lack of good quality evidence for interventions to support care-experienced students in higher education. Summarising 57 published studies, and validating findings with 18 sector practitioners, it calls for the availability of better quality data drawing on agreed definitions. There are also recommendations that each provider should have a named contact for care-experienced students.

Exams: Minster for School Standards Nick Gibb: Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, we cannot guarantee all students will be in a position to fairly sit their exams this summer.

Disability: Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission has released guidance for pupils with disabilities when applying for undergraduate courses. The guide aims to highlight potential barriers during the UCAS application process, as well as detailed routes to and eligibility for funding for reasonable adjustment.

Decolonisation: Wonkhe: The National Union of Students (NUS) has launched a library of decolonisation resources. It hosts information on what decolonisation is and links to podcasts, books, videos and articles to help readers explore, and expand skills and knowledge of the decolonising higher education movement.

Parliamentary Questions

International

Graduate Visa Route – Covid Barrier. Research Profession explore the confusion surrounding graduate visas stating it threatens to undermine the government’s message to international students. This stems from the Government’s decision that international students who did not return to the UK by April 2021 might lose their eligibility for the Graduate Immigration Route (i.e. the right to remain in the UK for two years after completing their studies). The Government have stated: It is a core principle of the graduate route that someone must have spent some time studying in the UK…In light of the impact Covid-19 has had on international students, those who began studying overseas in autumn 2020 and who enter the UK before 6 April 2021 to complete their course will be eligible for the graduate route if they meet the requirements. And: Those who begin study overseas in January 2021 will also be eligible for the route if they enter the UK to complete their course before 27 September 2021 and meet the requirements…Any period of distance learning in the current academic year will not count against eligible students who graduate after 2021, providing they complete their course in the UK under the student route. Those who do not complete their studies in the UK will be ineligible.

Research Professional explain that the sticking point is that that government guidance for international students urged them to stay away unless their course required them to be on campus for face to face teaching. A commentator within the article states it is:  highly unreasonable, and from a policy point of view self-defeating, to take fees from international students, advise them to delay travel for health policy reasons and then pronounce that they cannot follow the graduate visa route because they did not return to the UK in time. Particularly when the pandemic’s second wave is raging and they would put themselves at risk by arriving in the UK. Quite!

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, responded: We are working closely with the government, UK universities and sector bodies to support the smooth implementation of the route and to ensure its success. Given the current Covid-related restrictions, we understand that international students are, on the whole, being advised not to travel to the UK at this time, and we continue to work with partners to ensure that students can still benefit from this opportunity. And that Universities UK was “actively working with the Home Office to explore what further flexibilities can be introduced given the ongoing restrictions”.

You can read the full Research Professional article here.

Access to Healthcare: Wonkhe cover the i News report explaining that European students who study in the UK will have to pay more than £1,000 to access healthcare, with the opportunity to claim the cost back a year or more later.

More on last week’s announcements

You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

Admissions: Wonkhe have a short and interesting article outlining three options to address differential learning loss arising from pandemic restrictions. You’ll need to read the article to discover the options (worth doing) but these two HE-centric snippets stand out for admissions and student performance:

  • Because our education system, at multiple levels, is both about sorting and learning gain, it all presents two interlocking problems. One is how we fairly assess children and students given the impacts of restrictions have not been felt equally or equitably across society. The other is what we do about overall levels of learning loss which we might reasonably assume matter if we wish our society to be educated.
  • …If nothing else, there is a clear and present danger that universities will underestimate and underfund the support needed to address the problems presented by the intake of 2021. That seems to be a much more pressing educational issue than packing the Russell Group even tighter, destabilizing the rest of the rest of the sector in the process – which will mean no part of the sector will realistically have the time or capacity to address the issues we’re about to receive.

Credit transfer and flexible learning: HEPI have a blog “Can the pandemic bring a new dawn for flexible higher education?” by Luke Myer, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the Quality Assurance Agency, looking at the new enthusiasm for credit transfer described in the Skills White Paper.

  • One major challenge identified by our participants was England’s current regulatory metrics. The importance placed on data for continuation, retention, and completion creates a regulatory disincentive to provide short, flexible higher education programmes. …So, the metrics need to change.
  • A related challenge is regulation from professional bodies on maintaining the currency of knowledge for particular sectors. One solution here may be to differentiate durations on the portability of different qualifications, depending on their relevance.
  • Along with regulation, the funding model in England was identified as a barrier. There is typically no module-based funding under the Student Loans Company’s current model; this is compounded by other limitations including inflexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy and Equivalent and Lower Qualification (ELQ) funding restrictions. 

And some of the solutions?

  • Bringing higher education and further education closer together will require a careful balance between joining up the funding system and avoiding damage to institutional autonomy. Our participants referenced the new tertiary systems which appear to be developing in several Asian and emerging high-income economies, which have strong permeability between ‘academic’ and ‘occupational’ provision. …
  • A key part of this work should be to map the silos which already exist – between higher education and further education, between academic and vocational learning and between different kinds of learners – in order to understand the potential progression pathways for new students….

The pathway to high level skills: a HEPI blog “The Government risks narrowing the path to higher level skills” by Dr Scott Kelly:

  • We are already seeing the negative impact of reducing the number of qualifications available at level 3. Earlier this month Ofqual warned about the scale of the disruption that will be caused by the DfE’s decision to remove funding from Applied General qualifications such as BTECs. As Ofqual noted, the number of students accessing HE with BTECs continues to grow, with the proportion accepted with A levels alone having fallen from 63 per cent in 2017 to around 60 per cent in 2019. Ofqual echo the concerns I raised in my report for HEPI on BTECs in 2017
  • As with previous attempts to overhaul the qualification system, up to and including the introduction of T levels, policy is likely to fail because it falls between two stalls – neither driven by the market nor based on sufficient industry engagement to ensure employers really value the qualifications on offer.

Students

The OfS have published a guide for students, representatives and students’ unions – Office for Students notifications. It explains how the OfS regulates universities, and specifically that the notifications process allows students, staff members and others to let us know about issues within a university. It emphases that the OfS doesn’t have a direct role in in dealing with individual complaints or with disputes between students and their university but they do want to hear about current issues on the aspects they do regulate on. Such as issues that might be affecting particular courses or groups of students (examples are given on pages 4-5) and recognising that students’ unions and representatives often have a great understanding of students’ experiences through their engagement and support

Wonkhe have a blog on the new guide Should students tell tales on their university or college? It states: What the guide doesn’t do is address in any meaningful way why a student, student representative or students’ union would bother. It doesn’t address what doing so might achieve, or what the ideal would be internally before getting this far. And nor does it reveal what OfS’ emphasis on it hides in the process – that the regulator doesn’t have much of a clue about what’s going on in universities.

The blog also explores the cost cutting reduction in OfS monitoring of universities and highlights how students sharing information on their university might be an opportunity for the OfS:

  • … during a pandemic in particular that leaves you in a bit of a monitoring hole – so to the rescue comes a beefing up of reportable events via students, student reps and students’ unions.
  • We’re not sampling. But we are “inviting” students and their reps to tell us stuff.
  • In practice, it is difficult to explain quite how flawed this monitoring sticking plaster really is. But I’m going to try.

The blog then carefully explains why it’s flawed and that it is unlikely students will use the OfS process en masse. Although perhaps they’ll complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator instead. This week they published their Operating Plans and we learnt that they received 2,604 complaints in 2020 (a 10% increase compared to 2019). Research Professional highlight:

  • Since student queries take some time before making their way to the OIA (complainants must first exhaust the internal arbitration options at their institutions), the numbers in today’s report will not include all those whose pandemic-related complaints about their universities were made last year.
  • Nonetheless, records have been broken. The OIA says it received 2,604 complaints in 2020—representing a 10 per cent increase on 2019 and marking the highest-ever number in a single year.

It is hard to imagine that this record will still stand when the numbers for 2021 are published next year. The OIA has reported record-breaking complaint numbers in each of the past three years, resulting in a cumulative increase in its caseload of nearly 60 per cent since 2017.

2019/20 student statistics

HESA released statistics on HE student enrolments and qualifications achieved in 2019/20.  We’ve got some extracts for you.

Much of the news in forthcoming weeks will likely focus on the increase in first class honours that were awarded (see below) which it will be argued are linked to the no detriment policies most institutions implemented. Wonkhe have good coverage on this in the first part of this blog. They remind us to:

  • …remember this. Students obtain at least their average grade. To get a first, someone would need to have been averaging a first in the year so far. This is emphatically not a matter of handing out firsts like confetti – this is recognising work that has already been done. Nobody who got a first in 2019-20 did so without working at a first class level for at least the normal part of the academic year. Class of 2020, take your praise.

Grades Achieved

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours increased from 28% in 2018/19 to 35% in 2019/20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, many providers issued public statements that a ‘no detriment’ approach would be adopted when it came to assessment. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment. 
  • The share of students who received a lower second qualification classification fell by 4 – from 19% in 2018/19 to 15% in 2019/20.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • In a continuing trend, full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

Science Subjects

  • The percentage of qualifiers who gained qualifications in science subjects increased according to age group.
  • Among qualifiers obtaining a first degree, there was a 50% split between males qualifying in science subjects versus those qualifying in non-science subjects. For females, the proportion qualifying in science subjects was 41%.

Qualifications by level

  • There was a decrease in the number of qualifications obtained in all levels for the 2019/20 academic year, despite growth in the overall number of first year students in preceding years. Evidence suggests that some of this decrease is explained by significant numbers of qualifications awarded this year not being reported. This is likely to be linked to the impact on examinations and awards resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded (see 
    figure 15 here). More details of the impact of COVID-19 on the data can be read in the notes.
  • The number of other undergraduate qualifications continued to decline, reflecting the decrease in first year other undergraduate student enrolment numbers.

Numbers

  • The total number of HE students in the UK in 2019/20 was 2,532,385, an increase of 3% from 2018/19. (2,697,380 when including HE students registered at FE providers.)
  • Undergraduate first degree courses account for the overall increase in number from 2018/19 to 2019/20
  • 15% increase (37,605) in first year masters taught course enrolments from 2018/19 to 2019/20. Full time enrolments increased more than part time.
  • During the five year period 2015/16 to 2019/20, masters taught and first degree level course enrolments have seen year on year increases. All other postgraduate and undergraduate level courses have seen year on year decreases in enrolment numbers.
  • Full time postgraduates had the highest level of international students (see Figure 8 here)
  • Business and management attracted the highest number of students overall with 16% of all students enrolling in this subject
  • Among science subjects, subjects allied to medicine was the most popular for students, accounting for a quarter of all science subject enrolments

Protected Characteristics

  • The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year both in enrolment numbers and in proportion of all students – from 2018/19 to 2019/20 the increase was 28,370
  • There were 122,755 students with a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or AD(H)D in 2019/20 – this number accounts for 33% of all students with a known disability
  • A further 105,590 students reported a mental health condition, such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety disorder.
  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years, while the percentage that are Asian, Black and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased
  • In terms of diversity within subjects, 82% of students studying veterinary sciences were female. For engineering and technology and computing, only 20% of students were female

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said [and here is the kick on grade inflation, if you were waiting for it]:

  • This latest set of figures covers students graduating during the early stage of the pandemic. This was a period of intense disruption, with universities needing to move studies online very rapidly. As a result of this many universities implemented ‘no detriment’ policies, and these policies lie behind the significant increase in first class honours awarded to students graduating in 2020.
  • Before the pandemic, OfS analysis found evidence that unexplained grade inflation at our universities had begun to slow. However, there is more to be done to ensure that students, graduates and employers can maintain their confidence in the value of a degree and temporary changes in response to the pandemic should not bake in further grade inflation. This will require careful work which balances the importance of standards being maintained with recognition of – and response to – the exceptional pressures that students remain under this year.

 Student Experience

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the results of their experimental statistics on Coronavirus & HE students in England for January 2021, covering student’s life satisfaction, mental health and accommodation status.

  • Of those students who travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break, 40% have since returned and 60% have not yet returned to their term-time address.
  • Of those students who provided complete travel information, 33% travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break and 37% stayed in their accommodation; the remaining 30% were already living at their usual non-term address or family home, or in ‘other’ accommodation.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of students indicated that their well-being and mental health had worsened since the start of the autumn 2020 term.
  • A statistically significantly higher number (63%) of students reported a worsening in their well-being and mental health, compared with 57% reporting the same in the previous student survey (20 to 25 November 2020).
  • Average life satisfaction scores of students decreased by 9% from 5.3 to 4.8 out of 10, between 20 to 25 November 2020 and 8 to 18 January 2021.
  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), compared with 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020).

The ONS provide some context:

  • The most recent data collected from the Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) show a further decrease in students’ average life satisfaction scores, with almost two-thirds of students reporting a worsening of their mental health and well-being.
  • These numbers are not surprising considering the new lockdown measures in place and the fact that many students have not yet returned to their university town or city. This is also reflected in the academic experience scores, with the number of students reporting dissatisfaction showing an increase since the last report.

Specifically on dissatisfaction:

  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), than the 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020). Of those who were dissatisfied with their academic experience, the most common reasons were learning delivery (75%) and quality of learning (71%).
  • Over half (56%) of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social experience since the start of the autumn term. The most common given reasons that students were dissatisfied with their social experience were limited opportunities to meet other students (86%) and limited opportunities for social or recreational activity (85%).

Parliamentary Questions

Health care

  • Healthcare students on placement are confirmed as eligible for priority access to the vaccine.
  • Still no answer on decisions re: nurses out of pocket due to course extensions. Which is odd because the Universities Minister has already said they will not have to pay additional tuition fees: Health Education England is working locally with each higher education provider so that placements are available and is supporting healthcare students to ensure that as many as possible graduate on time.

Institutions should not charge nursing students additional tuition fees in circumstances where they need more study time to complete their course as result of undertaking a paid placement in the NHS, or as result of needing to undertake clinical placements over an extended period.

Regulatory

Students

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Budget 2021: You can read the Russell Group’s submission to the 2021 budget here.

Contract cheating: Previous Universities Minister Chris Skidmore intends to try his luck by presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill aiming to make essay mills illegal, including advertising them, in the UK. Skidmore is concerned that the pressures of pandemic learning and being physically distanced from a student’s academic community and usual resources may create vulnerabilities that contract cheating services thrive upon. He has called on the sector to contribute evidence and examples for his Bill presentation. He writes: This bill won’t be the immediate end to essay mills, but it can be the start of a legislative process that can and does influence government to take action. By making the collective case against essay mills, at the very least I hope this is one legislative effort the sector can welcome. For an explanation of the Ten minute Rule Bill see last week’s policy update (page 18) or Chris provides a succinct explanation: the canary in the legislative coalmine. Research Professional cover the story.

Appeals and academic judgement– there’s a HEPI blog on this, linked to the consultations on the new proposals for A levels and vocational qualifications, which close on 29th January.

Careers Resourcing: The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services publishes a report on resourcing higher education careers services. Wonkhe say: More than 90% of careers services experienced a drop in income, related to the inability to host careers fairs. The majority of services have reported a rise in demand from students, with none experiencing a decrease.

Wellbeing: The Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust has published a report on the drop in girls well being during adolescence.  While the wellbeing of all young people (Gen Z) declines by the end of their teenage years, there is a strong gender divide within this: girls see far lower levels of wellbeing and self-esteem than boys – driven by a sharp fall of both during mid-adolescence. Depressive symptoms rise among both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17 but they increase more markedly for girls.  For a summary of the paper including which factors have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Generation Z contact us.

Also out this week is the Children’s Commissioner for England’s fourth annual report on the state of children’s mental health services in England. Dods tell us it finds that, while there has been an expansion of children’s mental health services over the past four years, such was the poor starting point that services are still nowhere near meeting the needs of many hundreds of thousands of children. With 1 in 6 children estimated to have a probable mental health condition, the Children’s Commissioner calls for a major recovery programme for including an NHS-funded counsellor is every school in England and online wellbeing support.

Young employment: The Office for National Statistics released the latest Labour Market Overview on young employment.

  • The number of 16-24 year olds employed stands at 3,561,077 . This has fallen by 24,487 on the last quarter and by 203,386 on last year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds unemployed stands at 596,400, up 15,403 on the previous quarter, up 114,662 on the previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds economically inactive stands at 2,699,569, a decrease of 43,662 on the previous quarter, but up 53,514 on the previous year. This is an economic inactivity rate of 9.4%, down 0.6 ppts on previous quarter but up 1.0 ppt on previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds claiming unemployment related benefits is 515,905. This is an increase of 2,730 or 0.5% in the last quarter and 281,413 or 120% on the previous year.

Student Accommodation: The House of Commons Library has published Coronavirus: Student accommodation issues to brief MPs on the key points prior to participation in parliamentary business. The blurb: Compliance with coronavirus restrictions has meant many students haven’t been able to live in their term-time accommodation for significant periods and many have had a poorer experience at university than expected due to Covid outbreaks and restrictions. This has led to students demanding rent refunds or discounts. How have universities, other accommodation providers and the Government responded to this?

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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HE policy update for the w/e 21st January 2021

After a long wait the sector received a landslide of HE policy interventions on Thursday. The FE Skills White paper, PQA consultation, the Government’s take on Augar, publication of the Pearce TEF review with the DfE’s response, and significant changes to the HE recurrent grant, alongside some far less exciting stuff! And it wasn’t a quiet week before all that.

Some of it is good, some of it is very ominous indeed.  Some of it is very high level and vague and so could go either way.  There are a lot of new consultations to come and there will be lots to talk about in 2021.  It will keep Sarah and I busy!

Boil that kettle, locate your reading glasses, and get comfy on the sofa ready to enjoy a bumper policy update!

Skills White Paper

This is the biggy because it’s a White Paper,  However, most of it is not about HE. The Government has published the Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth white paper setting out their ambition for reform to the post-19 technical education and training landscape.

Gavin Williamson spoke in the House of Commons (see this link at 13:08 pm)

  • White paper on skills for job published today (see below)
  • Enormous challenges ahead to rebuild the economy. Support packages already announced (etc).  Strong and independent trading nation (etc).
  • Lifetime skills guarantee, flexible digital skills bootcamps (etc).
  • April – kick start Higher Technical Education by making it easy to get a loan. Pilots on modular learning.  Lifelong loan entitlement running from 2025.
  • Employers at the centre of technical education. Supporting local economy.  German style local skills improvement plans led by Chambers of Commerce. Strategic development funding for FE.
  • New courses – trailblazer areas this year. Fund of £65m in 2021-22.
  • $1.5bn of capital funding for FE. Announced next phase for FE and T-levels.
  • Longer term – more coherent longer term funding model that will collaborate on with the sector. Principles of high value, greater flexibility and greater accountability.  By 2030 nearly all technical courses will follow employer led requirements.
  • Continue with apprenticeships and T-levels.
  • Network of Institutes of Technology will expand across the country.
  • Top quality teaching staff in FE – recruitment campaign, more support etc, training and development and industry experience.

We’ve done a separate 6 page summary for BU readers, because it’s long (and repetitive and full of the usual patting on the back about other good things already announced).

RP say (amongst many other things):

  • It’s almost as if there is a good news story to be told about further education, while the government hopes its lack of decision-making on higher education falls off the news agenda…
  • It’s actually called the Skills for Jobs white paper, which in fact takes the story away from underfunded further education and pivots towards post-Covid economic recovery. You will have seen much of the content before.
  • …So modular funding is on its way, but 2025 is a long way off—that takes us into the next parliament. Perhaps the Treasury has costed the commitment and decided to kick that particular can down the road.
  • The Skills for Jobs white paper… will seek to justify both disinvestment in higher education and funding of technical education on the cheap. It will play to the prejudices of the Conservative base and the idea that too many people are going to university and that decades of regional inequality can be resolved by more plumbing courses at local further education colleges.

From Dods: The Department says that the measures announced today “will put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, and that further and technical education is the second-class option.”

The White Paper is being pitched as forming part of the Plan for Jobs

  • As expected, the Paper enshrines the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, providing a clearer idea of what the programme looks like in practice – adults without a full level 3 qualification (A-level equivalent) to gain one from April 2021 for free in a range of sectors including engineering, health and accountancy.
  • The long-touted Lifelong Loan Entitlement is also fleshed out in more detail, representing significant reforms to student finance. [Actually, there is very little detail and there is going to be a consultation on this “in early 2021”.]

Measures include:

  • The Government is investing £1.5bn in further education colleges, to allow for high quality buildings and facilities
  • Employers will have a central role in designing “almost all” technical courses by 2030, to ensure education and training reflects the skills needed in the job market, supported by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education
  • Business groups, including Chambers of Commerce, will work alongside colleges to develop tailored skills plans“to meet local training needs”
  • This will be supported by a £65m Strategic Development Fund to put said plans into action, and establish new College Business Centre
  • New approved qualifications from September 2022, supported by a Government-backed brand and quality mark, to boost the quality and uptake of Higher Technical Qualifications(levels 4 and 5)
  • From 2025, people can access flexible student finance so they can train and retrain throughout their lives, supported by funding in 21/22 to test ways to boost access to more modular and flexible learning.
  • Nationwide recruitment campaign to get more teachers into further education and supporting professional development including a new Workforce Industry Exchange Programme
  • An “overhaul” of the funding and accountability rules, so funding is better targeted at supporting high-quality education and training that meets the needs of employers
  • An introduction of new powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve, and strengthening of Education Secretary’s powers to intervene in corporations and local areas with persistent weaknesses.  [The sales pitch on this is a good bit of spin, it is presented as an opportunity to have a strategic discussion with the department and pitch the strengths of the college, but….]

The next phase of the FE Capital Transformation Fund has also been launched today, and further education colleges across the country are invited to bid for funding to upgrade buildings and campuses.

The Augar report stressed the need for impartial and quality careers advice and guidance, so more people can be support to make the right education, training and career choices. There will be an expansion of Careers Hubs and other infrastructure in line with the Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance. Furthermore, Dods tell us that, as part of the Skills White Paper reforms, Professor Sir John Holman has been appointed as Independent Strategic Advisor on Careers Guidance, and will oversee the local and national alignment between The Careers & Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service. Sir Holman is currently an Emeritus Professor in Science Education at the University of York, and is also Senior Adviser to both the Gatsby Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

RP continue:

  • The Department for Education says: “The measures announced today will put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, and that further and technical education is the second-class option. Instead, they will supercharge further and technical education, realigning the whole system around the needs of employers, so that people are trained for the skills gaps that exist now, and in the future, in sectors the economy needs, including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing.”
  • The government may be hoping that first sentence becomes true; it surely knows that the second sentence lacks credibility. The white paper proposals are accompanied by a £65 million Strategic Development Fund to put the plan into action and to “establish new College Business Centres to drive innovation and enhanced collaboration with employers”.
  • To put that in context, the much-mocked Turing one-way exchange scheme has a budget of £100m, which is a reduction by nearly half of its Erasmus predecessor. The £65m fund is not going to reverse decades of underinvestment in skills, while College Business Centres sound like a classic ministerial vanity project doomed to irrelevance when their limited funding dries up.
  • There is going to be a lot of that sort of thing today, including the Workforce Industry Exchange Programme, aimed at coaxing talented individuals to teach in further education. It is not thought to involve basic incentives such as a competitive salary or security of employment.

RP also pick apart the percentage comparisons in the DfE’s criticism of the sector.

Wonkhe did a special email update at lunchtime: Debbie McVitty runs through the highlights so that you don’t have to.

On the proposals for funding lifelong learning, Debbie says: If the government can crack this policy Holy Grail, it will have a genuine claim to having radically transformed post-compulsory education. But this white paper marks an intention to start developing the answers rather than concrete proposals. 

Commenting on the government’s interim response to the post-18 review of education and funding, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘An increased focus on lifelong learning will help develop the highly skilled graduate workforce needed to support our economy, nationally, regionally and locally. The OfS plans to work with students, the sector and employers to explore how higher education can be made more attractive and responsive to mature learners, and ensure that mature students are aware of the breadth of options available to them in both further and higher education.
  • ‘The focus on quality and the need to tackle poor quality provision is a strategic priority for the OfS as we consult on new proposals to enable us to anticipate and respond to poor quality, while ensuring that our approach is proportionate and targeted where it is needed.’

Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Committee:

  • “The proposals from the prime minister and department for education mark a sea-change in government thinking on skills.
  • “It will help address our skills deficit by boosting the accessibility of technical qualifications alongside the lifetime skills guarantee. It meets the needs of businesses in building an employed-led system, working with FE, to design employer qualifications and ensure funding follows employer requirements. It will give those from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to climb the skills ladder of opportunity, through the skills guarantee and easier access to finance. It is good that new funding will be made available in areas where colleges work with employers to transform their skills offering.
  • “‘Build back better’ clearly means building back a skills nation. I am really excited by these plans.”

Policy Exchange blog – Alun Francis and Andy Westwood preview the forthcoming FE White Paper.

There are some relevant blogs on HEPI:

Research

Academic spinouts: Wonkhe review: The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub has published a report on academic spinouts. Just four universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL – account for a third of UK spinout companies, with all such companies raising £1.30 billion in investment in 2018. While the impact of the pandemic is not yet fully known, indications point to increased investment in spinouts dealing with medical technology and pharmaceuticals. The Scotsman has the story.

Parliamentary Question: The potential merits of extending funding for all PhD students who have faced disruption as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.

Changes to HE Teaching Grant

So alongside all of this it is not surprising that we see some “rebalancing” in funding away from HE.  And given that “low value” courses have been a focus for some time, it is not surprising to see how this has gone.

Gavin Williamson spoke in the House of Commons (see this link at 13:08 pm)

  • Proposed reform to teaching grant will allocate funding to deliver value for money for students and the taxpayer. Strategic priorities.  Engineering and medicine.  Will “slash” taxpayer funding for subjects such as media studies.
  • Will provide additional support for specialist arts institutions.
  • Will consult on introduction of minimum entry requirements and addressing the high cost of foundation years. We cover this in more detail with the rest of the Augar content below, the minimum entry requirements bit is a cost saving measure, of course.
  • Full response on Augar and post-18 review with next spending review (well maybe).

There’s more (a lot more) in the response to Augar, which we cover below, but let’s get down to brass tacks and immediate changes to 2021/22 funding first.

Gavin Williamson has written to the OfS to set out new guidance for the allocation of the £1.48 billion HE teaching grant for the 2021/22 financial year.

  • Strategic reprioritisation of high-cost funding towards the provision of high-cost, high-value subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy, high-cost STEM subjects and/or specific labour market needs, reducing funding initially by 50% for high-cost subjects that do not support these priorities (with further decreases in subsequent years).
  • Remove weightings for London providers from across the T-Grant, including the students attending courses in London supplement, and weightings within the student premiums. (This saves the Government £64 million.)
  • Allocate £5m to providers in order to provide additional support for student hardshipThis is to mitigate the rise in student hardship due to pandemic impacts on the labour market which particularly affect, for example, students relying on work to fund their studies, students whose parents have lost income and students who are parents and whose partner’s income has been affected. The OfS should establish exactly how this is distributed but the funding should be clearly targeted towards disadvantaged students. The £5m will be a drop in the ocean across the national provider base but provide another support statistic for the Government to trot out when asked how they are addressing the issue.
  • Allocate £15m to help address the challenges to student mental health posed by the transition to university, given the increasing demand for mental health services. OfS to establish how to target those students in greatest need of such services, but likely through a Challenge Competition.
  • Protect the £256m allocation for the student premiums to support disadvantaged students and those that need additional help [yes, that £256m]
  • Reduce the allocation for Uni Connect to £40m (losing £20m). With the lost £20m redirected towards mental health and student hardship (as per the bullet points above) – so it’s not really new money, more robbing Peter to pay Paul.
    Back to Uni Connect – the letter says: Funding for Uni Connect was originally agreed until July 2021, and so this is an appropriate moment to consider the scope and objectives of the programme. We welcome the current [OFS] consultation on the future of the Uni Connect programme… we believe that future investment is best directed to support the core infrastructure of partnerships, and funding targeted activities to fulfil specific policy objectives.
  • Increase funding for specialist providers, particularly those who are world leading and specialise in the performing and creative arts, by approximately £10m to £53m. This will help to support and/or expand the provision at those providers best equipped to secure positive outcomes for graduates, boosting outcomes for the sector. Note the wording there – positive outcomes, boosting outcomes…so specialist providers without the right metrics might be disappointed! Again the OfS is to decide who is eligible.
  • Deliver capital funding to providers through a strategically targeted bidding process and target funds at specific projects and activities aligned with the high-quality, skills-based education agenda – not the old formula model (because: The extent to which we can assure ourselves that funding is adding value and investment is focussed on key government priorities is, therefore, limited.) Jisc and HESA’s Data Futures Programme can still be supported too.
  • If you are willing to delve far enough you’ll spot that Annex C allocates £28 million for Turing outward mobility in 2021/22 from the teaching grant.

The letter also instructs OfS to consult with the HE sector given the impact on the HE sector anticipated from the proposed changes. With all the other special allocations to iron out and their regular workload the OfS will be busy!

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said about the Department for Education’s statutory guidance for the OfS’s approach to funding:

  • ‘Distributing funding is an important part of our regulatory work. Our annual grant funding for universities and colleges plays a critical role in ensuring the availability to students of high quality, cost-effective higher education across the country. We intend to consult on the government’s proposed changes to how we distribute this funding, and have written today to universities outlining our proposals for consultations and a revised schedule for distributing next year’s grant allocations.’

Wonkhe: Gavin Williamson has set out his strategic priorities again to OfS including changes to the teaching grant that will hit London universities the hardest.

HEPI also has a blog piece on the case for the Office for Students to be a strong regulator, working closely with universities and sector bodies.

Post-18 Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and interim response to the Augar report

The Augar report from 2019 has been gathering dust for a long time following the (2018) Post-18 Review of Education and Funding (one of  Jo Johnson’s legacies). The Augar Review made 53 recommendations for the reform of the FE & HE sectors including a more coherent unified post-18 system.   You might want to look back at what Augar actually said (way back in May 2019).

The Government’s response to Augar has been long promised and many times shifted further down the road due to elections, Brexit, the pandemic, and the further postponement of the comprehensive spending review.

While the sector may approach the Government’s response to Augar with both anticipation and trepidation – alongside a healthy dose of just tell us! – it seems we’ll still have to wait for the real decisions. The DfE’s interim conclusion of Augar has been released, the main points are below. Much is inextricably tied in with the Skills white paper and FE decisions. The Government also plan to consult on further reforms to the system in spring 2021, before setting out their full response. The full conclusion of the review is promised to sit alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review. Augar: the sequel, we can’t wait!

  • The TEF will continue to play an important role in driving improvement in HE provision. The OfS will consult on a more, streamlined, improved, low-burden TEF exercise, and in an aim to reduce bureaucracy, the Government will not be introducing subject-level TEF. There is a lot more on the TEF below.
  • The Government are considering further reforms for tackling ‘low quality provision’ and will set out a response in due course.
  • The report highlighted the significant taxpayer subsidy in the HE student finance system. The Government intend to freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control, initially for one year, with consideration of further changes before the next Comprehensive Spending Review. It appear the reduction in the fee cap to £7,500 may still be on the table.

Wonkhe have a blog: editor in chief Mark Leach argues that the government’s chronic failure to resolve the Augar recommendations on reducing home undergraduate fees is storing up serious problems for later this year – Holding the threat of reducing fees over the sector will not help universities or students. 

Research Professional (writing before the response was officially released): What will be presented as an interim response to Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education and funding will be little more than a holding position, with all the big financial decisions put on hold until the comprehensive spending review…It is also, no doubt, a way of putting pressure on universities so that the government gets its way on other policy priorities, such as low-value courses. Time will tell whether these interim findings will be a sword of Damocles held over universities or part of a process by which the Augar review is finally put out to pasture.

Autumn 2021 is the earliest the next CSR is likely to take place.

Some extracts from the response – but at 13 pages it is worth reading in full:

  • The Government’s focus on the response to the coronavirus pandemic means that now is not the right time to conclude the review in full. However, we remain committed to introducing further reforms that will ensure a just and financially sustainable student finance system, drive up the quality of higher education provision and promote accessibility for students. This will include consideration of elements mentioned in the Augar Report, including student finance terms and conditions, minimum entry requirements to higher education institutions, the treatment of foundation years and other matters. [note the minimum entry requirement piece. You will recall the outrage about this proposal which was going to be in Augar – the discussion at the time about the impact of a 3Ds minimum level.  Augar actually stopped short of recommending it but threatened it as a response to the sector not sorting out issues relating to “low value courses”.  See more detailed section below.]
  • We plan to consult on further reforms to the higher education system in spring 2021, before setting out a full response to the report and final conclusion to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review. [and how many times have they said that – the last two spending reviews at which we were promised this were cancelled]
  • As a further part of our Lifetime Skills Guarantee, and informed by the recommendation of the Augar panel, we will move to a system where everyone has a Lifelong Loan Entitlement, giving them access to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education. This flexible entitlement will bring technical and academic education closer together and will help people to train, retrain and upskill throughout their lifetime. The Lifelong Loan Entitlement will provide fairness of opportunity by making the same funding system available regardless of the route you choose and when you choose to study. We will consult on the scope and detail of the entitlement in early 2021, including seeking views on objectives and coverage.
  • This is potentially huge: We will move towards modularisation of higher education in order to provide a truly flexible system that provides more opportunity for upskilling throughout people’s careers, as recommended by the Augar Report. We will consult widely about the changes that are needed to enable universities and colleges to provide a modular offer.[doesn’t say when they will consult on this]
  • Our vision is that the substantial majority of post-16 technical and Higher Technical Education will be aligned to employer-led standards by the end of this decade
  • We will set out how the higher education teaching grant will be used next year to ensure that more of taxpayers’ money is spent on supporting provision which aligns with the priorities of the nation, such as healthcare, STEM and specific labour market needs. This gives reassurance to potential students that incentives are aligned to encourage courses with good job outcomes and reinforces the Government’s commitment to safeguarding the UK’s high-quality research base.
  • As recommended by the Augar Report, we will create a system that stimulates demand for technical education, improving the nation’s skills and encouraging growth…..
    • …We need a better balance between academic and technical education – we are currently too skewed towards degrees above all else
    • .. We want every student with the aptitude and desire to go to university to be able to do so and we want technical, employer-centric training to be a viable option for many more people.
  • We will ask the OfS to consult on a more streamlined, improved, low-burden TEF exercise that will ensure that the drive to improve the quality of provision applies across all providers, not just those at the lower end. In line with the ambition to reduce bureaucracy, we will not be introducing a subject-level TEF. [that is a fascinating nuance – see the TEF section below]
  • We are considering what further reforms may be needed to tackle low-quality provision and will set out a full response on this issue in due course. [So what is that, then?  More than what the OfS are already doing with their quality and standards work, presumably.    Augar also looked at, in the same way as it looked at minimum grade requirements, (i.e. “we aren’t recommending but you could look at”), targeted number caps on courses offering low value for money.  Is that what the government response is hinting at?.  We look at this in more detail below as well].
  • The Augar Report highlighted the significant, and growing, taxpayer subsidy in the higher education student finance system. It is important that the student finance funding systems remain sustainable and that those who benefit from their higher education should make a fair contribution. We intend to freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control. This will initially be for one year and further changes to the student finance system will be considered ahead of the next Comprehensive Spending Review. [There you are, postponed again to another spending review. Which is surely unlikely to happen this year, for the same reasons as it hasn’t happened the last two years.]

HEPI has a blog “The Government’s emerging vision for universities: labour-market need at the heart of the system.”

  • The Government might be determined to put short-term labour-market need at the heart of our higher education system – determining the subjects that people are encouraged to or able to study… If enacted, these proposals will lead to (i) a weaker student voice, (ii) an un-benchmarked metric that equates professional-level employment fifteen months after graduation with success, and (iii) connecting university courses’ conditions of registration to a pass/fail rule about successful outcomes that takes no account of the social backgrounds of different students. This would be a very significant change in how universities are held to account and, by implication, a philosophical shift on what the fundamental purpose of university is considered to be. Short-term labour-market need, not student choice, will be at the heart of the system. The Government is perfectly entitled to do all this but it will have ripple effects. The current funding model puts primary responsibility on the individual graduate to pay for their education. Young people might wonder whether they should pay in a system that steers their choices in a direction someone else has judged appropriate.

So what’s coming next on Augar?

So, the response to Augar says there will be a consultation on minimum entry requirements and one on “further reforms”  – and more work on low value courses.  We remind you about the previous debates about minimum entry requirements, and what Augar said about them, as well as what it said about further action on capping student numbers for low value courses.

Minimum entry requirements: This suggestion was made in Augar the context of this:

  • Our preference is for the HE sector, through the OfS, to resolve the problem of students being inappropriately recruited onto low value courses.
  • We believe that the sector should have three years – until the start of academic year 2022/23 – to put its house in order

If not, Augar said, then the government should do two things – impose minimum entry requirements and cap numbers on low value courses.

To remind you about the arguments:

Augar was published in May 2019 and actually said this on minimum entry requirements (see pages 99-101)

  • We have considered the introduction at some future date of a contextualised minimum entry threshold for access to Level 6 student finance for students under the age of 25, to be used if the measures outlined above did not deliver the scale and pace of change needed. Students under 25 with tariff points below a certain level would be ineligible for student loans for tuition at Level 6. To repeat, this policy would need to be implemented such that disadvantaged students were not unfairly penalised.
  • The choice of threshold would be critical. As Figure 3.14 shows, there is no clear drop-off point in graduate earnings by attainment. To be effective, a threshold would need to be both high enough to address the issues of drop-out and lower wage returns set out earlier; and low enough to ensure that the impact could be managed across the sector and would avoid disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups.
  • Were a minimum entry requirement introduced, it should apply only to students under the age of 25, after which work experience, rather than Level 3 qualifications alone, would be the appropriate entry criterion. The policy should apply only to Level 6 courses: any young person with Level 3 attainment below the threshold would still be eligible for student finance to study at Levels 4/5, and could then use their qualification at those higher levels to progress on to, and therefore receive finance for, Level 6 in the future. Introducing high-quality alternatives to degree study will be crucial to addressing the problems of low-value degrees set out above. Students recognise the value of higher-level study but they must have these alternatives available to them or they will continue to enrol for poor-value degrees. We are aware that even with contextualisation the impact on some HEIs would be significant. Some of them might wish to focus on the new higher technical provision discussed in the previous chapter; if they chose to do so, this would be a positive outcome [ouch]
  • We consider a minimum entry threshold contextualised for socio-economic background to be feasible and that it could address the problems of low returns for graduates in a socially progressive way.
  • However, such a threshold would be a significant intervention into what has been designed as a competitive autonomous market. It could be seen as a reversal of the principle of allowing all who are able to benefit from HE to attend, a principle that has underpinned HE policy in recent years and was first pronounced in the 1963 Robbins Report.
  • It might be objected that the contextualisation process breaks the clear link between attainment and entry established by a minimum entry threshold. For example, it could result in a position where two students at the same school with the same grades holding the same offer from the same university would have different outcomes; one would be moderated over the threshold and attend university while the other would not. In so doing, it could be presented as an example of social engineering – and breach of concepts of fairness – that do not fit comfortably within a meritocratic education system.

There was a lot of debate about this idea before Augar was published – because it was leaked as a possible recommendation.  Chris Skidmore, who was Universities Minister at the time, did not like the idea.  In the end it was watered down as a threat if the sector did not sort out “low value courses” by 2022/23.  The current government look to be a bit more impatient and have assumed that these issues will not be sorted out by then.  And it may not be just this that they are considering – we look at the other Augar threat on targeted number caps below.

Targeted number caps on courses offering poor value for money

This was in the same context as the minimum entry requirements proposal:

  • Our preference is for the HE sector, through the OfS, to resolve the problem of students being inappropriately recruited onto low value courses.
  • We believe that the sector should have three years – until the start of academic year 2022/23 – to put its house in order

..and if not then: Augar said this on capping numbers (see pages 101-102)

  • If recruitment practice has not improved by 2022/23, discussed further below, an alternative or complementary option for the government and OfS is the imposition of a cap on the numbers admitted to courses that persistently manifest poor value for money for students and the public. The existing regulations give OfS the power to implement such caps where that is justified in accordance with their regulatory aims, at institutional or subject level.
  • The government has made it clear that it will not re-impose a cap on student numbers at national level. It would be out of scope for us to propose this and we would not wish to do so, even if it were within our terms of reference. However, we are mindful that the government does exceptionally place a cap on numbers, notably on university places for Medicine, because of the very high cost of a medical degree and of the professional training that follows it, and have considered whether this practice could be extended.[this looks interesting now in the light of the attempt to apply student number caps in the pandemic which was abandoned so quickly when the extent of the 2020 A-level results mess-ups became apparent].
  • We therefore invite the government to consider the case for encouraging the OfS to stipulate in exceptional circumstances a limit to the numbers an HEI could enrol on a specific course, or group of courses.
  • Where there is persistent evidence of poor value for students in terms of employment and earnings and for the public in terms of loan repayments, the OfS would have the regulatory authority to place a limit, for a fixed period, on the numbers eligible for financial support who could be admitted to the course. The institution in question would remain free to recruit to all other courses without restriction. Such a cap system would clearly target the institutions that are offering poor value, rather than altering the entry criteria for individual students.

International and mobility

Wonkhe have new content: Ahead of the British Council’s international education virtual festival this week, Director Education Maddalaine Ansell takes stock of the state of international recruitment.

Parliamentary Question: Ensuring the UK remains an attractive destination for education for international students

Wonkhe have a blog on what is needed for Turing to be a success. Here are some of the recommendations:

  • Monitor the graduate outcomes of Turing on a longitudinal basis so we can measure its benefit not just as a snapshot six or twelve months from graduation but over an individual’s lifetime
  • Be global in principle but trade oriented in focus because the rise of the Asian Century means giving our students as much opportunity to travel to Asia and learn Asian languages/culture as engaging with Europe and North America.
  • Ensure more industry and employer engagement which will require universities to understand their international graduate destinations and form alliances and partnerships with international companies that can host students on work placements overseas. With robust country specific data on international graduate outcomes institutions can focus employer engagement where it will have the most impact.
  • Attribute value to soft power because global goodwill is essential for the UK’s future economic success particularly during and following the global pandemic. Mapping the careers of those that take part in Turing will put the UK in the driving seat when it comes to having alumni with a wide network of contacts with the authority to invest and trade.
  • Demonstrate excellence through international employability by showing the value to an individual’s future career if they take part in Turing. Evidencing the outcomes from the scheme must be part of the hearts and minds approach to ensuring that UK students are motivated to take part in outward mobility.

Meanwhile Wonkhe report: Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams is reported to be in discussions with her counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland about the possibility that the three nations could rejoin the Erasmus+ scheme. Nation Cymru has the story.

HEPI have a blog: Five questions to ask about the Turing scheme

Parliamentary Questions

  • Whether UK students will be liable for fees in their host countries under the Turing programme. Answer – students taking part will receive grants to help them with the costs of their international experience…On tuition fees, we expect these to be waived for Turing scheme participants consistent with the arrangements for Erasmus+.
  • Will Turing involve a competitive bidding element? Answer: We will be making further information available very shortly to enable providers across the UK to prepare to bid for funding when applications open in the coming weeks for placements to take place from September 2021. This will include information on how applications will be assessed, and funding allocated and we plan to have a call for bids much like Erasmus+. Successful applications will receive funding for administering the scheme and students taking part will receive grants to help them with the costs of their international experience.

This scheme will be demand-led and will be open to bids from providers across the UK. As such, there is no projection as to the number of students from each nation or specific limits for any specific region.

TEF

The Independent (Pearce) Review of the Teaching and Student Outcomes Framework (i.e. the TEF Review) has been published. This was completed and submitted to government (in August 2019) but hibernated in the Ministerial in tray (election etc…) whilst Governmental focus and priorities shifted.

RP:

  • the subject-level Teaching Excellence Framework looks to be heading for the highest shelf in the cupboard of abandoned higher education policy initiatives. It seems as if the Office for Students is to be sent back to the drawing board to come up with something less burdensome and more in keeping with government priorities on low-value courses.
  • As ever, higher education should be careful what it wishes for, as the replacement for the subject-level TEF might be even less rigorous and more intrusive. The absence of benchmarking in the Office for Students’ consultation on quality has spooked some, who fear the imposition of a less sophisticated assessment process for universities.

Here are all the links:

Overall: Is it worth it?: Given the value of HE to the UK, we believe it is firmly in the public and student interest for TEF to have, as its primary purpose, the identification of excellence across all HE and to encourage enhancement of that provision.

We’ll set out the Pearce recommendations and the government responses together so you can compare.

Statistical analysis:

Pearce: Improvements are needed in the management and communication of:

  • statistical uncertainty at all levels of the process, including multiple comparisons
  • small numbers ( small providers and/or small datasets ) and non-reportable metrics
  • relative versus absolute comparisons

These have a significant impact on flagging and generating the initial hypothesis.

Appendix B sets out the essential ONS recommendations that address these concerns.

Government: …we would like the OfS metrics group to take into account and address the concerns raised by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) when reviewing the robustness of its metrics and data.

Subject level exercise:

Pearce: The process and statistical risks become exacerbated at subject level where the impact of problems due to small numbers becomes greater. This, in addition to the problems with subject categorisation and risks of inconsistencies at scale, mean that ratings at subject level risk undermining the successful development of TEF as a whole.

There is evidence however, that a subject-level exercise has value for driving internal enhancement. For this reason, we recommend that while TEF should not progress to ratings at subject level at this stage, a subject-level exercise should be incorporated into the provider-level assessment and inform provider-level ratings.

Work is needed to develop the most effective way to do this. We propose that all providers receive a full set of subject-level metrics and that failure to sufficiently address variability in subject performance should act as a limiting factor on ratings of the aspects of assessment and the overall provider rating.

Government: …we do not want to move to subject-level TEF ratings, because we do not consider at this stage it can be achieved without significant burden

Metrics:

Pearce:

  • Teaching and Learning Environment: Institutionally determined evidence addressing ‘how we create an excellent environment for teaching and learning and how we know we are doing this well’. Subject variability in teaching and learning environments should be addressed.
  • Student Satisfaction: Evidence to address ‘what our students think of our educational provision’. National comparisons should use National Student Survey (NSS) metrics. In the submission, institutions should address their performance in the NSS metrics and may also add their own data. Subject variability in satisfaction should be addressed.
  • Educational Gains: Institutionally determined evidence addressing ‘what our students gain from our educational experience and how we evidence that’. Educational gains might include knowledge, skills, experience, work readiness, personal development and resilience. This will be conceptualised differently in different institutions. Since there is no single nationally comparable metric of ‘learning gain’, each provider would be expected to demonstrate how, within their own particular mission, they articulate and measure ( quantify if possible ) the educational gains that they aim to provide for their students. Subject variability in those gains should also be addressed.
  • Graduate Outcomes: Evidence to address ‘what our students do as graduates and how we have supported these outcomes’. In addition to the existing TEF employment metrics, measures beyond employment should be used and regional differences in labour markets should be controlled for. Continuation and differential degree attainment should also be part of this aspect. Institutions would use their submission to respond to the metrics and add their own data. Subject variability in graduate outcomes should also be addressed.

Government:

  • ….the Government does not consider ‘Student Satisfaction’ to be an appropriate measure of excellence, as satisfaction can, potentially, be too easily obtained via a reduction in quality or academic rigour – we believe ‘Student Academic Experience’ to be a more appropriate aspect
  • …we would like the OfS to ensure that the TEF ratings are based on an assessment of high quality, nationally gathered metrics and data (e.g., Graduate Outcomes, Longitudinal Education Outcomes and non-continuation data) and contextual qualitative information.
  • It should use more than just earnings and should take account of regional variations
  • OfS will also need to consider if and how educational gain can be reliably measured
  • The outcomes of the NSS Review will be important in considering the role the survey plays in the TEF assessment. We recognise that there is a place for students’ feedback on the quality of their teaching and learning experience and we will work with the OfS to develop how this aspect of quality could be included

Plus, new: For this reason, the Government considers it essential that student outcomes should act as Limiting Factors, such that a provider should not achieve a high TEF rating if it has poor student outcomes. We will work with the OfS to determine how the Limiting Factors should work. [so they will be a baseline in the quality framework and a limiting factor in the TEF -they are doing a lot of work here]

Submission

Pearce: …a standard structure should be developed which incorporates a subject level exercise. The student body should also be given the opportunity to provide direct input in an independent structured submission.

Government: We agree with the Independent Review’s recommendation that provider-level ratings should be derived from robust data and structured submissions from providers and students.

Ratings:

Pearce: Greater granularity in the rating system would provide more information about excellence and reflect the complexity of educational provision. We therefore recommend providers are awarded both an institutional rating, and a rating for each of the four proposed aspects.

We also recommend that the names of the ratings should reflect the level of excellence identified. We propose the following names:

  • Meets UK Quality Requirements
  • Commended
  • Highly Commended
  • Outstanding

Government: We agree with the Independent Review that there should, in future, be four TEF ratings overall, with the top three being signifiers of excellence to varying degrees.

The new bottom category will capture those providers failing to show sufficient evidence of excellence, and it will be made clear that these providers will need to improve the quality of their provision. We will work with the OfS to confirm the names for the four ratings in due course. [this is really interesting – the OFS quality consultation has a whole thing on using the bottom TEF rating as a reason to investigate a provider, which suddenly makes sense].

The name of the scheme

Pearce: We heard much frustration that the name ‘Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework’ does not adequately reflect what the TEF really measures. Teaching is only assessed via proxies and the student learning experience is dependent on more than just teaching. We recommend that the name should reflect more accurately what a revised TEF will measure and assess. Of the options we have considered, we propose the Educational Excellence Framework (EdEF).

Goverment: The Government would like the scheme to continue to be known as ‘the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) This name has a well-established brand value, and is increasingly understood, in the UK and internationally, to mean a rating on teaching, learning and student outcomes.

And in terms of the practical question about what happens next, the government have said:

  • … we will end the current approach of TEF running each year and expect the TEF to be a periodic exercise, taking place every 4 or 5 years.
  • Its costs should also be kept proportionate and for each exercise the costs, for both providers or the OfS, should, at an absolute maximum, not exceed the costs per provider of the TEF exercise that has taken place to date

And the OfS have told us (Letter to universities):

  • We are developing proposals for the TEF to be an integral part of the overall quality system in England. The role of the TEF is to continue to incentivise excellence above our baseline requirements. In developing our proposals for the TEF, we will take into account the Independent Review recommendations and the government’s response to these, and the evidence from the subject-level pilots. We expect to consult on these proposals in the spring, aligned to more detailed proposals on our approach to the regulation of quality and standards through the conditions of registration. 
  • We do not expect a new TEF framework to be in place before the current TEF awards expire in summer 2021. We are considering the options for the interim period until a new TEF framework is in place and expect to consult about this soon.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘Students invest a significant amount of time and money in higher education and should expect a high-quality academic experience. The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) plays an important role in driving up the quality of provision in universities and colleges – we welcome the publication of Dame Shirley Pearce’s review and the recommendations she has identified for developing the scheme further.
  • ‘We are committed to raising the bar on quality and standards across the English higher education system. As we refine our overall approach to regulation, the TEF will continue to incentivise improvement in areas that students care deeply about: the quality of teaching and learning, and how well their courses set them up for success after their studies.
  • ‘We will develop proposals on how best to take forward the independent review recommendations and the government response to these, as well as evidence from our own subject-level pilots. We expect to consult on proposals for the future TEF in the spring, aligned to more detailed proposals on how we regulate quality and standards through conditions of registration.’

On Wonkhe: TEF – Big changes lie ahead and David Kernohan is here to walk you through them.

Admissions

The DfE launched a consultation on their proposed changes for post-qualification admissions (PQA) in HE as part of Thursday’s deluge. The consultation explores whether student’s receiving and accepting university offers after they have achieved their A level grades would ensure a fairer higher education admissions system.

Brief overview of rationale from the documentation:

  • There is evidence that disadvantaged students ‘undermatch’ in relation to the grades they actually achieve
  • A PQA system might encourage disadvantaged students to be more aspiration in their choices and identify courses they are better matched to
  • Use of conditional unconditional offers and other undesirable admissions practices such as material inducements to persuade students to enter certain courses has increased in recent years, dramatically in the case of conditional unconditional offers
  • The current system is complex and difficult to navigate
  • Post-Qualification Admissions (PQA) has been proposed as a reform that could help alleviate some of these issues by a wide variety of groups and commentators across the political spectrum – including The Sutton Trust, The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), The UCL Institute of Education and Policy Exchange
  • UCAS and Universities UK have concluded that now is the time for admissions reform to be considered, following months of engagement with students, schools, colleges and universities. This consultation will build on these findings, working across education sectors, to agree how reform could be delivered.

The consultation document states: We believe that it is time to explore whether a PQA system could address some of the challenges posed by the current HE admissions system: namely, that it is complex, lacks transparency, works against the interests of some students, and encourages undesirable admissions practices. Key delivery partners, as well as those across the education sector, have signalled that this is the right time to review the system. The experience of having completed full Level 3 qualifications, and knowledge of their actual results could put students in a better position to decide on their best options for further study. PQA could allow them to consider the full range of available qualifications, including higher technical qualifications as well as degree level study. Hence, it may lead to more students making better informed decisions, improve continuation rates in higher education and potentially lead to better career outcomes for students.

Prior to publication Research Professional said:

  • while a consensus seems to be gathering that post-qualification admissions are the right thing to do, a rearguard action is being mounted by vice-chancellors of low-tariff and medium-tariff universities who think that their institutions will be disadvantaged by the change.
  • The feeling is that there are some universities that need to spend more time building a relationship with applicants, and post-qualification admissions will see school leavers migrate towards established brand names. This, of course, may be what the government is hoping for.

Wonkhe have: A consultation from DfE on post-qualification admissions landed and Jim Dickinson has everything you need to know.

Exams in 2021: 

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, issued a written ministerial statement on exams. There was no new content or updates, all remains as we outlined in last week’s policy update, the consultation closes next week.

Meanwhile Sammy Wright, a Social Mobility Commissioner, has stated that:

  • fair A level results are impossible and calls for a fully funded foundation year at university to avoid “catastrophic unfairness” among this year’s cohort.
  • Wright said disadvantaged students would not face “a level playing field” because they had missed out on more digital learning than their peers, and he warned that asking teachers to be objective in their grading could result in “a worse disaster than last year”. He also stated that no matter how grades are awarded, many students will be embarking on courses in September 2021 at a lower level than they may have done in a normal year

Wright was in favour of the Government’s proposal for clearing to take place after students have had time to appeal their grades. Wright states: At all costs we must avoid the chaos of clearing in 2020—and as such, we again call on UCAS and universities to ensure that clearing does not happen until all appeals have been responded to.

HEPI have a blog: How to be ‘innovative’ in school exam assessment – fewer grades

The Sutton Trust has published a report on how teachers and parents are responding to the second period of school closures.

Free Speech

During 2018 the debate over Free Speech in HE was a frequent topic in the policy update. While the HE sector agrees free speech is essential many were baffled by the Government’s dogged pursuit of the topic and the lack of evidence of its prevalence. This week we were transported back to 2018 – but on steroids – gone are the Ministerial speeches and push for the HE sector to sign up to ‘agreements’, now some Parliamentarians want a law and the ability to fine universities if they fail to uphold free speech. Conspiracy theorists might hypothesise that it all feels like another step towards a different agenda of tighter Governmental control over these (pesky) semi-autonomous university organisations. But back to this week…

David Davis (Conservative MP, currently an under-secretary of state for Wales and assistant Government Whip) presented a Ten Minute Rule motion on Freedom of Speech (Universities). In essence the Bill aims to: place a duty on universities to promote freedom of speech and to make provision for fining universities that do not comply with that duty. Davis’ introductory speech included:

  • Today, there is a corrosive trend in our universities that aims to prevent anybody from airing ideas that groups disagree with or would be offended by. Let us be clear: it is not about protecting delicate sensibilities from offence; it is about censorship. We can protect our own sensibilities by not going to the speech. After all, nobody is compelled to listen. But when people explicitly or indirectly no-platform Amber Rudd, Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell, Peter Hitchens and others, they are not protecting themselves; they are denying others the right to hear those people and even, perhaps, challenge what they say.
  • …views expressed in a recent survey commissioned by Britain’s biggest university academic union showed that Britain has the second-lowest level of academic freedom in all Europe. Just last month, a report by Civitas found that more than a third of our universities impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech—including, I am ashamed to say, Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews. The fact is that a number of our international allies today protect freedom of speech much better than we do.
  • Although in the UK we theoretically have laws protecting freedom of speech, in practice they are buried in education Acts, resulting in the protections not being widely known and universities not always upholding their duties.
  • speech that is illegal—incitement to violence, for example—would of course be forbidden, but speech that is merely unpopular with any sector of the university would not be proscribed. Controversial views and the challenging of established positions would not be proscribed.

Ten Minute Rule motions are an opportunity for backbencher MPs to float an idea for a new Bill to the House, a ‘vote’ at the end of the (roughly) 10 minutes decides whether the Bill passes to the next stage. Similar to Private Members Bills the Ten Minute Rule motions rarely pass into legislation. However, some are introduced as a plant for the Government (perhaps to judge sentiment and support within the house without Cabinet embarrassment). This Bill was supported by 11 other Conservative MPs and it passed the initial ‘vote’ meaning it can progress to the second reading stage.

In theory Davis’ Bill should now stall – because time for all private bills has been paused due to Covid – but Davis knew this before he presented the Bill. Furthermore, if the Government wishes to back the Bill they can allocate it some of the time set aside for the Government’s agenda to progress it through the legislative stages. It will be an interesting one to watch.

Wonkhe take issue with the content of Davis’ speech: David Davis’ speech in support of his Ten Minute Rule motion to introduce a Freedom of Speech (Universities) Bill was passed unopposed in the House of Commons. His speech took in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the “no-platforming” of Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell, “professional iconoclast” Peter Hitchens, and Amber Rudd – none of which were actually denied a platform.

Free Speech was one of the landmarks within Sam Gyimah’s tenure as Universities Minister in which he seems to have made several unsubstantiated claims that he later had to row back from. This BBC article stated the committee found little evidence that such censorship was “pervasive” – but instead found that a relatively small number of incidents were being widely shared. Research Professional dismissed another of Gyimah’s claims about overegging a safe space culture – With the Department for Education unable to confirm this latest claim about safe-spaces in universities, there remains little documented evidence of a culture of censorship in UK higher education. And an Oxford Professor states the obvious elephant in the room about lack of evidence in this Guardian article –  When it comes to Sam Gyimah and Jo Johnson’s warnings that free speech is threatened, I’ve never seen either of them produce any evidence to support those statements. In education you’re supposed to be able to back up what you say, and they just don’t. The same article has Amatey Doku speaking within his 2018 role at NUS: There is vigorous debate every single day at universities. If there really were a censorship problem we’d hear about it. What we actually find are isolated instances blown out of proportion. There are a couple of reasons why ministers exaggerate: politically it plays well for their voter base. 

iNews provide up to date coverage of the issue highlighting that Free Speech has continued as a hotspot for the Government, they state:

Michael Barber (outgoing Chair of the OfS) made a farewell speech on Wednesday evening in which he mentioned free speech. Research Professional pick it apart in their inimitable manner:

  • Referring to high-profile cases of “no-platforming”, Barber said: “I am often told that the vast majority of such possibly controversial speaking engagements do in fact go ahead. I am willing to believe that this is the case, but I would love to see the data. It is hardly a job for a regulator but if I were a university administrator or an influence at Universities UK, I would be collecting the data.”
  • England’s higher education regulator-in-chief seems to be unaware that the organisation he has chaired for the past four years gathers precisely these data, asking universities to return figures on the number of speakers approved or rejected as part of the Prevent legislation. In 2017-18…53 speaker requests [were] rejected. Of those 53, how many were to do with extremist views and how many were to do with a failure to complete the onerous paperwork properly? We are willing to bet on the latter for quite a few.
  • The Prevent statistics do not capture the Amber Rudds and Germaine Greers, but they do capture the reality of free speech in UK universities, rather than the issue imagined by some who mistake inherited privilege for inalienable rights.
  • Barber said: “My critique of the current free speech debate is not that it is too extensive but that it is too limited. After all, the conceptual rule for such events is surely clear: a university should be a place that actively promotes and protects the widest possible freedom of speech within the law.” At which point he should have sat down, or turned off his Zoom, because nobody ever, anywhere, has disagreed with that.

So will the Bill progress or fizzle…? I’m not sure even the Government know right now. Wonkhe’s irreverent interpretation (written before the Bill was presented) made me smile: There’s little chance of whatever’s in it becoming law all on its own – so we’ll have to wait and see to work out whether an extension of the culture war that the public looks increasingly bored with will take off this time around.

Education Oral Questions

Gavin Williamson took centre stage for Education Oral Questions and the Topicals on Monday breezing through content asking about:

  • the end of the Brexit transition period for HE,
  • Turing – Question: how will the Secretary of State ensure that the Turing scheme, a poor replacement for Erasmus, is as effective in encouraging inward student mobility? Answer: The Turing scheme is not a poor replacement…It is about us looking around the globe as to how we can expand opportunities for students. No comment on inward student mobility was made.
  • Research investment
  • Students paying rent for accommodation the Government have mandated they may not use (Answer: hardship funds)

Wonkhe covered the HE questions: Education Questions in the House of Commons saw Gavin Williamson once again reiterate that support for students remains under review – but apart from the £20m put towards hardship funds just before Christmas there has been no action.

Specific questions from Labour’s Emma Hardy and the SNP’s Stuart McDonald on support for rent where students are unable to use the property if following government guidelines saw no substantive answer.

  • Remote education (for pupils). Williamson states problems should be addressed with the school first before resorting to Ofsted complaints. Live lessons for SEN pupils was also covered as was laptops for disadvantaged pupils and internet access and free school meals.
  • Technical and vocational exams

During topicals:

  • Q – Bim Afolami: Many students have suffered as a result of inadequate teaching and pastoral care at their universities, in addition to unfair costs for accommodation that they are not even allowed to stay in. What action will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that the Government are a voice for students, that they stand up for students and that they allow them to be compensated in some way by their universities when those universities fail them and let them down?
  • A – Gavin Williamson: There can be no excuses when universities are not offering the type of remote teaching and educational support that is expected. That is why it is so critical that, where that remote teaching and support is not happening, students’ rights are upheld. We saw at the tail end of last year that students’ rights were upheld and universities had to redress that. That is the right approach. We recognise how important it is to support students, which is why we will continue to look at how best we can support them through programmes such as the hardship fund.

This week’s Education Committee session focussed solely on the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services. There was no HE content. Do get in touch if you would like to receive Dods’ summary of the Committee session.

Case for Commons Reform

UCL’s Department of Political Science have an interesting publication: Taking back control – Why the House of Commons should govern its own time. It highlights that much of the time within the Commons is directed by the Government ministerial agenda and that several of the reforms recommended 10 years ago have not been implemented – some of its central concerns about the management of time in the House of Commons went unheeded… whereby MPs [despite coming from the majority party] have inadequate say over the running of their own institution. The report makes recommendations for change such as allocating more regular opposition and backbench business days, that the weekly agenda be put to members in an amendable form for decision (as happens in other parliaments) which would make ministers more responsive to the Commons majority (particularly their own backbench MPs). Also: that there should be a wide-ranging formal review of the extent of government control of House of Commons business.

In conclusion: As the Wright committee pointed out more than a decade ago, the extent of government control of the House of Commons is both unusual in international terms, and problematic for the functioning of Westminster. This was already true under periods of single party majority government, but it became even more obvious under minority government, as applied between May 2017 and November 2019. At present, House of Commons rules too often explicitly privilege the government rather than privileging the parliamentary majority. But these two will not always be the same thing. The core principle guiding House of Commons functioning should be majority decision-making, not government control.

Strategic Education Recovery Plan

Previous universities minister, Chris Skidmore, writes Thinking, fast and slow. Why we need a long-term Education Recovery Plan for Conservative Home. The article begins with humble words acknowledging the reality of home schooling whilst working. He recognises the disruption to all children’s learning and calls for an all through long term education plan from nursery to university. He states: We cannot afford to simply react to events, waiting to see what happens with the spread of the virus and its containment, before we decide the next stages of an entire generation’s future. The impact of the pandemic will emerge like the widening ripples in a pond when a stone has been thrown: its impact, in particular its educational impact, will be with us for years, a fact which we must come to terms with and have a strategic plan to help counter.

Already the Chair of the Education Select Committee and educational leaders have called for a redesign of the examination system. What is needed foremost, however, is a definitive understanding of the outcomes that we wish to achieve, before moving onto the processes to deliver this.

He highlights with two years’ worth of key stage assessments cancelled a system is needed to monitor individual pupil progress, so that pupils at risk of educational failure due to the pandemic can be rescued as quickly as possible, and given the individual support and tuition that they need to get back on track. This should be viewed as the critical mission. Identifying those pupils at risk of educational disadvantage means new forms of assessment, and data collection, will need to be considered. Above all, there must be transparency and a common approach to what is being measured. And this is the crux of his point. While schools will all be tracking and assessing the individual pupils without a national approach where is the policy push and additional funding. Remember the year 7 support funding – for pupils below year 6 SATs standards has been sucked into the coronavirus catch up fund – with different criteria for access.

He also talks about exams and HE admissions – I’m cautious about re-inventing the wheel at a time when stability and certainty is needed. Pupils deserve exam results to show for all their hard work, and existing systems that have held their own as a standard over time should not be thrown out for the sake of change. But we do need to address the issue of admissions to university, and how results and assessment are used to deliver this.

Post Qualification Admissions have been proposed as a way forward, yet with the qualifications themselves under review, we need greater long-term certainty of how we can achieve an equitable admissions system that encourages disadvantaged pupils to reach their potential.

Reforms to post-18 education to ensure lifelong learning and flexible qualification structures have taken on a fresh urgency in light of the pandemic, especially with the likely need for retraining and reskilling of a large number of people seeking new forms of employment. 

Ultimately, a long-term education recovery plan must start not from what is convenient for existing systems and vested interests of the organisations that operate in this space. To do this would mean that those with the loudest voices, and greatest lobbying efforts, win out. What is needed instead is an approach that defines the “points of contact” at every stage of a child’s educational journey — and defining how these have been adversely affected by the pandemic, and what can be done to resolve this.

Defining and delivering a long-term plan, with the investment needed to achieve this, will be hard work: easier, more tactical approaches, may seem more attractive. Yet to achieve an effective recovery, the longer term, strategic planning is now essential… With all the immediate talk of laptop provision as the instant solution to current learning problems, we must not forget that now is also the time to prepare all pupils for their educational recovery, encompassed in a long-term strategic approach.

HE Staff Statistics

HESA have released HE sector staff statistics and data for the (pre-Covid) period to 1 December 2019.

Much media content has focussed on the lack of improving diversity, particularly at professorial level (see BBC). Some headline points from the HESA analysis.

  • Staff ethnicity – 18% BMC – an increase of 1 since 216/17; 11% of professors are BME
  • Staff nationality – 17% EU (excluding British), 14% non-EU
  • Gender – Men are more likely to work full time (52%) and academics are more likely to be male (53%); Females make up the larger proportions of part time staff (66%) and work in a non-academic role (63%).
  • Age – 19% of academic staff are aged 56 or over; almost half of all professors are aged 56+ years.
  • 78% of academics’ salaries were paid in full by the institution. The other 22% were financed in part by research councils, UK branches of multinational companies, the NHS and/or UK and overseas charities.
  • 44% of academic staff held teaching and research contracts. 32% held teaching only contracts. Teaching only contracts are increasing steadily each year, in 2015/16 teaching only contracts were held by 26% of staff.

Wonkhe have a good analysis delving into more detail (with understandable interpretations) here. Their blog specifically looks at Black underrepresentation too. The blog concludes by looking forward and reminding us that today’s issues will all have an impact on future figures. The pandemic has resulted in redundancies without appointing replacements, Brexit and the new immigration system may affect the diversity of nationalities employed, and, Wonkhe: A lot of what happens depends on government decisions as well as those made by providers – in particular institutional managers will be watching the decisions made by the Office for the Independent Adjudicator that could have a wider impact on student fee refunds. Other decisions made about university funding, for example as part of the response to the Augar report, will have an impact on university liquidity too.

Welsh support for students

The Welsh Government announced an additional £40m for universities to support students facing financial hardship. The fund aims to help the students most affected by the pandemic with expenses such as accommodation costs and addressing digital poverty. The £40 million is in addition to the previous £40 the Welsh Government provided to support students and universities. Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Education Minister, said:

  • This year, due to reasons beyond their control, many thousands of students have not been able to return to campus yet. In some cases, this means some students might still be paying for their accommodation while they are unable to use it. We recognise how difficult this is, which is why we are announcing this additional funding.
  • Our universities have worked tremendously hard to support their students, ensuring learning has continued, while putting measures in place to protect their students, staff and their local communities.  This funding will allow them to build on that good work.

The Welsh Minister’s tone differs substantial from her English counterpart Michelle Donelan (who is still under fire on her Twitter feed). This week Research Professional dissect and comment on Donelan’s 6 ‘student’ Tweets, and they offer MP and leading HE sector figures censure on her simplistic slogans.

Access & Participation

HEPI have two blogs:

Digital Poverty

At the end of last week Jisc, Universities UK, GuildHE and ucisa wrote to Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, calling on the Government to lift higher education students out of digital poverty to avoid a lost generation of learners. By ignoring university students while helping other disadvantaged learners to study online, the government and telecommunications companies risk creating a ‘lost generation’of young people who are missing out on their education. They state:

  • Half of higher education students are digitally disadvantaged
  • Many families are at risk of slipping into poverty and cannot afford the data costs required for online study
  • Digital and data poverty is the main issue that prevents effective delivery of online learning
  • Demand for hardship funding from universities has doubled

Indicating that around half of HE students are digitally disadvantaged, the letter cites the learning and teaching reimagined research project conducted by Jisc with sector partners, which found that digital and data poverty is the main issue that prevents delivering online learning effectively.

The letter goes on to highlight that, despite the welcome extra government funding to alleviate hardship for HE students, the demands on hardship funding have doubled, putting significant strain on university resources.

In conclusion, the letter, which calls for an urgent meeting with government and telecoms companies, states: Universities have moved mountains to provide learning and teachingonline since the first lockdown and are now much better equipped to deliver a quality curriculum online. However, without urgent action to ensure students can get online affordably, the government is risking creating an even deeper and more long-term digital divide in education. We urge you to take action now on behalf of all higher education students experiencing digital poverty, or risk creating a lost generation of young people who are missing out on their education.

The Guardian cover the story here.

Disabled Students Commission: Wonkhe summarise the new report: The Disabled Students Commission has published its annual report, Enhancing the disabled student experience. The report outlines how the commission approached supporting disabled students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Going forward the Commission plans to adopt a student lifecycle model to inform its research and recommendations, with considerations including the intersection of disability with other characteristics such as race and gender, the diversity of disabled student experience, and greater consultation with disabled students.

Parliamentary Questions:

  • Access to post-16 education for asylum seekers is governed by funding rules in further and higher education.
  • What proportion of people (a) applying for and (b) securing places at higher education institutions were from (i) working class and (ii) disadvantaged backgrounds for the academic year 2019-20.
  • The effect of the covid-19 lockdown on the attainment gap (pupils). Answer: The Department has commissioned an independent research agency to analyse catch-up needs and monitor progress over this academic year. This research is based on a large sample of pupils and will identify whether particular groups of pupils have been more affected by time out of school – including the most disadvantaged, those with historically poor outcomes, and those in particular areas.
  • What assessment the Government has made of the report by the Social Mobility Commission Changing gears: understanding downward social mobility, published in November 2020; and what plans they have to address the Commission’s finding that one in five people move into a lower occupational group than their parents.

Students

Wonkhe have two student focussed blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

  • Sharia compliant alternative student finance product (no update yet); but this one on potential barriers to Muslim students has been answered
  • Additional support for HE students who have caring responsibilities for children and who are engaged in university studies alongside home tutoring. Government response: it’s up to the university but we expect them to be supporting student welfare
  • What support the Government plans to provide for undergraduate students whose university education has been disrupted by the covid-19 outbreak. Answer (as you’d expect): we are working with the sector to make sure that all reasonable efforts are being made to enable all students to continue their studies and provide the support required for them to do so. Our expectation, during these challenging times is that universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition and the Office for Students (OfS) will continue to actively monitor universities to ensure that quality of provision is maintained and accessible for all. And yes, Donelan also mentions the £256 OfS Student Premium funding which can go towards student hardship funds and the £20 million of additional hardship funding expected by providers soon
  • Student Finance – Illness/shielding: Students who suspend their studies for a variety of reasons, including shielding, can apply to Student Finance England for their living costs support to be continued while they are absent from their course. Students who suspend their studies due to illness automatically receive living costs support for the first 60 days of their illness.
  • Supporting students who have paid rent for accommodation at university but are unable to use it as a result of covid-19 restrictions. Answer: The government plays no direct role in the provision of student accommodation. However, the government encourages all providers of student accommodation to review their accommodation policies to ensure that they have students best interests at heart. We also urge them to communicate their policy clearly and be fair.
  • Emma Hardy, Shadow universities minister has been asking some emotive questions about students nurses such as whether they’ll have to pay extra tuition fees because Covid has prevented them from completing their placement hours and similar on course extensions
  • Private rented student accommodation – no Government support for release from contracts, use of hardship funds mentioned
  • While the parliamentary question asked about the mental health taskforce the minister sidestepped to respond: it is for higher education providers as autonomous bodies to identify and address the needs of their student body and to decide what mental health and wellbeing support to put in place…the government has asked universities to prioritise mental health support, and continue to support their students, which has included making services accessible from a distance…Many providers have bolstered their existing mental health services, and adapted delivery mechanisms including reaching out to students who may be more vulnerable. You can read more on the Government’s response here.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Consultations to look forward to from today’s pile of announcements:

  • OfS consultation on a new TEF (in the “Spring”)
  • OfS consultation on interim arrangements for the TEF because the current awards expire in the summer (“soon”)
  • DfE consultation on further reforms to the higher education system in spring 2021, before setting out a full response to the report and final conclusion to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review.
  • DfE consultation on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement – “we will consult on the scope and detail of the entitlement in early 2021, including seeking views on objectives and coverage.”
  • DfE consultation on the changes that are needed to enable universities and colleges to provide a modular offer – doesn’t say when they will consult on this.
  • DfE: We will set out further plans to use the National Skills Fund in due course, consulting on the details in spring 2021 to ensure that the investment from the Fund helps to meet the needs of adults, employers and providers
  • DFE will consult on the proposals to reform FE funding and accountability

The OfS say: We are aware of the sustained pressure on providers as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt and of the additional burden that may be caused by these proposed additional consultations. We have extended the deadline to our quality and standards consultation to 25 January 2021 and will continue to monitor the situation regarding current and future consultations. 

Other news

  • Remote teaching: Wonkhe: Matt Jenner led a popular online course about teaching online – here’s what he learned from the experience about how to support educators in adapting to remote teaching.
  • On Monday Boris Johnson launched a new business initiative – the Build Back Better Council. Details including the Council members are here.
  • Teach online this year: UCU (the University and Colleges Union) are calling for teaching to remain online for the rest of the academic year to protect the wellbeing of staff, students and their communities. UCU state they fear staff will be forced to return to work in unsafe and unpredictable working conditions. UCU have warned they are considering balloting members for action against an unsafe return to in-person teaching.
  • Student rent strikes: The BBC cover student rent strikes in Wales. Politics Home also have an article on rent strikes.
  • Asynchronous learning: From Wonkhe – Asynchronous learning gives students the chance to treat modules like box sets, bingeing or skipping as they see fit. Tom Lowe wonders what this might mean for learning.
  • Academic misconduct: Contract cheating is well known however this (short) Times article explores the perspective of the innocent who was wrongly accused of cheating. It is written by lawyers who represent students appealing against academic misconduct.

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HE Policy Update w/e 18th January 2021

The Minister for Universities and the OfS ended the week with the opposite of a charm offensive.  Significant interest in student rent reached a head this week with MPs calling for action and supporting student concerns in Parliament. GCSE and Gavin Williamson announced his alternative plans for exams this summer (spoiler alert: the proposal centres on externally set exams, but they will be marked by teachers and other evidence can be taken into account). Perhaps not surprisingly the political gossip centred on whether Gavin Williamson has run out of road.

The Minister takes to Twitter

So perhaps rather late in the day taking a lead from other leaders who (used to) use Twitter to communicate with the masses, and continuing the pattern that both the DfE and the OfS have had since March of communicating with the sector late at night and at weekends, Michelle Donelan took to Twitter on Friday evening (at 7.16pm).  With the “student message” headings left in, which were surely drafting notes, it looks like it was done in a hurry.  It is safe to say that it hasn’t been very well received, with attacks both from across the sector and also from the group it was probably aimed at – parents (ie voters).

It’s a real issue that the Minister is taking this tone and approach, apart from perpetuating the myth of the £256 million.

And the tone is consistent with the tone the OfS are taking.  They wrote to universities on Thursday.

  • They say that universities should do all they can to deliver the teaching they have promised to students and make alternative arrangements where this is not possible – this may include putting on extra lectures, repeating parts of the course, or offering fee refunds.
  • The OfS does not have legal powers to require refunds to be paid, but it has set out actions for universities and colleges to ensure they continue to meet regulatory requirements so that students can continue to benefit from their education.
  • The regulator has asked universities to assess the extent to which they have met the commitments they made to students in relation to teaching and alternative arrangements, and inform the OfS where there are risks that they may not be able to comply with its regulatory conditions.
  • Universities should assess:
    • whether they were sufficiently clear with new and continuing students about how teaching and assessment would be delivered in 2020-21, the circumstances in which changes might be made, and what those changes might entail
    • whether during the 2020 autumn term, students received the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably have expected to receive based on information provided
    • whether current plans for the 2021 spring and summer term will ensure that students receive the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably expect to receive based on the information provided.
  • The OfS will, where appropriate, take action as the result of notifications from students and others, and is likely to request further details of provider assessments where it has additional concerns.
  • Where students are not provided with clear information about how teaching and assessment will be delivered in 2020-21, or where teaching and assessment are not delivered as promised, universities are expected to actively consider refunds or other forms of redress.
  • The OfS expects each university to:
    • inform students of any further changes to teaching and assessment arrangements, such that these are broadly equivalent to those previously offered to students within the requirements of public health advice
    • inform students about their entitlement to seek refunds or other forms of redress – such as the opportunity to repeat parts of their course that were not delivered this year – if they have not received the teaching and assessment promised
    • provide students with clear information, advice and guidance about the implications of the changes and the options available to them.  This must include clear signposting of the route to complain or seek redress.
  • The OfS intends to publish revised guidance by the end of January on protecting quality and standards during the pandemic. These changes will include guidance on the approach to exams and assessments and the appropriate measures universities should take when considering mitigating or exceptional circumstances.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • “The pandemic is having a profound and ongoing impact on students who are still facing exceptional challenges. Universities and colleges have generally worked tirelessly under great pressure to ensure that students continue to receive good quality teaching, albeit now largely delivered remotely. We have consistently emphasised the importance of universities being clear to students about potential changes to course delivery where face-to-face teaching is not possible.
  • “Of course, we understand the tremendous pressures that the new lockdown imposes on universities and colleges, and some may no longer able to deliver the teaching and assessment arrangements that they said they would. This may not be in their direct control. However, in these circumstances they should do all they can to offer students alternatives – for instance by putting on extra lectures or course content later in the year – and where that is not possible, they should consider providing refunds where appropriate.
  • “Students will also be rightly concerned where they are being charged rent for properties they can’t currently occupy. Some universities have decided not to charge full rent in these circumstances. We are encouraging all universities and colleges who are not already doing so to consider carefully what the appropriate response is to these unprecedented circumstances where students have been asked not to return to their accommodation this term. We are also asking universities to consider what discussions they can have in support of their students with private landlords.”

Lots of commentary is available and will continue to emerge (apart from the responses to MD’s tweets) but here are some:

Admissions

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to Ofqual Chief Regulator, Simon Lebus, setting out the  2021 exam grading contingency options for consultation (including vocational qualifications). The regulator responded the same day with his own letter (its almost as if he knew what Gavin’s letter would say before he received it!).

And then the consultations came out on Friday and run for two weeks.  The main proposal for GCSEs and A-levels as noted above is externally set exams, sat in school and marked by teachers, used as part of a package of evidence for teacher assessed grades, with moderation and quality controls but no forced ranking or overriding algorithm, and a massive appeals process for all students which must be managed by schools.  On vocational exams it is hard to understand what they are proposing – they want assessments to go ahead and where these are practical and need in person attendance “the assessment will need to wait until it can practically be conducted, and the student is ready.”  The position is different because the relationship between Ofqual and the awarding organisations for vocational qualifications is different, so they are largely leaving it to Pearson and the rest to sort out.

Apart from anything else, this is perplexing for school and college students.  The PM told them exams were cancelled – what he actually meant was that “normal” exams would not go ahead but that assessment would continue which might well (read almost certainly) include formal exams which will in many cases be sat in school.  Lots of people and students welcome the opportunity to have exams.  But those who were anxious about them will now be anxious again.  If nothing else it would reduce anxiety levels to be accurate when making significant announcements.  If the detail wasn’t available (and it was, because they say have been working on it for months) then the PM could just have announced it was being looked at.

Consultation: GCSEs, AS and A Levels

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Based on teacher assessment
  • A teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education
  • Consulting on what broader evidence teachers require in setting grades and whether the externally set tasks and papers are required or just recommended.
  • Pupils should be assessed based on what they have learnt, rather than against content they haven’t had chance to study (balanced against good enough coverage of the curriculum)
  • Schools and colleges should undertake quality assurance of the teachers’ assessments and grades and provide reassurance to the exam boards. There will be training and support for this and external checks in place for fairness and to ensure consistency between institutions.
  • Changes to the institutional grades awarded as a result of the external quality assurance are expected to be an exception – the process will not involve second-guessing the judgement of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable. Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.
  • A clear and accessible route for private candidates to be assessed and receive a grade – consultation will consult on these options.
  • A clear route for review and appeal of grades (again ironed out in the consultation).
  • No algorithm will be used nor automatic standardisation of any individual’s grades

 Consultation detail:

  • It proposes externally set papers, possibly modular to allow teachers to choose which papers depending on what has been covered, to be marked by teachers and then included in the assessment along with other evidence. Exams to be sat in schools but with potential for online for students who can’t attend.  One of the consultation questions is whether these papers will be mandatory.
  • The main difference from last year is that there will be no forced ranking of students and while there will be moderation by the exam boards (which is surely going to be algorithm based although they can’t use the A word) any decisions have to be made by people. There will be no formal grade boundaries for the exams.
  • The other thing to note is that all students can appeal and the schools have to manage the appeals – a further appeal to the exam board will be on procedural issues only.  Also on timing – the assessment is to be made as late as possible but results will be published early……

Consultation: Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VQTs)

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Students will be able to progress fairly, irrespective of whether they sat an exam in January
  • Assessments should continue, taking place remotely, as adapted by individual awarding organisations
  • Recognition that level of disruption may mean no all internal assessment can be completed by all students
  • Essential assessments will be held in February and March for some students – i.e. where they must demonstrate the proficiency required to enter directly into employment or are needed to complete an apprenticeship – these will continue with protective measures in place.
  • Written exams will not go ahead. Assessments to be held online where they can, where they can’t alternatives will be consulted upon.

Consultation:

The proposed new alternative regulatory arrangements would:

  • permit awarding organisations to develop an approach to awarding qualifications in scope of the Department’s proposed policy on the basis of incomplete assessment evidence. As part of their approach awarding organisations should consider their minimum evidential requirement for awarding these qualifications to ensure sufficient validity and reliability. They should also consider where they need additional assessment evidence from teachers and what form this should take. For qualifications most similar to GCSEs, AS and A levels we would expect awarding organisations to use similar approaches to assessment and awarding. These approaches are currently being consulted on in parallel with this consultation.
  • expect awarding organisations to be mindful of the burden their approach places on centres and learners, and to provide clear and timely advice and guidance
  • require awarding organisations to issue certificates (where appropriate) as normal and to not refer on the certificate to a result having been determined under the alternative regulatory arrangements
  • require awarding organisations to include private learners in their arrangements as far as possible
  • permit awarding organisations to take the same approach for qualifications taken in international markets, provided that this does not undermine the validity of the qualifications. We would also expect awarding organisations to consider and address the risks around malpractice and the particular needs of the international market

In Lebus’ letter to Williamson a few points stand out:

  • we are fully committed to doing all that we can, including making sure teachers are equipped and making use of awarding organisations’ quality assurance processes, so that students’ results are as fair as possible
  • no assessment arrangements can take account of all the different ways that students have suffered from the pandemic.
  • we have been considering together the potential alternatives to exams and other formal assessments for some time and have learned a number of lessons from last summer. Our thinking is well advanced. It is, though, important that all affected by these arrangements have the opportunity to comment on them.
  • We both wish to ensure that accountability for decisions following the consultation is clear and transparent. We understand your final determinations will be reflected in a formal direction to us under the relevant legislation. We will publicly and formally record the decisions we take in light of your direction. [A ‘don’t blame us’ this time warning?!]
  • we will want the consultation to consider the role of externally set short papers.
  • we also wish to support and incentivise students to engage with their education for the remainder of the academic year, including to continue with any non-exam assessment where possible. We propose that the final determination of a student’s grade should take place as late in the academic year as possible. We believe this will give students a greater sense of agency, which is critical to securing widespread acceptance of the outcomes
  • It is important that the consultation makes clear to all, especially those who rely on the results to make selection decisions, that overall outcomes this year will likely look different from 2020 and previous years. This issue will be important for your work with the post-16 and higher education sectors to secure orderly progression and to protect the interests of disadvantaged students.
  • We are acutely aware that all who have a stake in the results this year, particularly students and their parents and carers and teachers, as well as higher and further education institutions and employers, need certainty about the arrangements to be put in place

A selection of this week’s coverage:

The Petitions Committee agreed to schedule debates for the following e-petitions which reached over 100,000 signatures:

However, as Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) neither will see a debate in the immediate future.

Admissions Reform: Research Professional have an article: There is an “appetite for reform” of the university admissions process, according to the Office for Students’ director for access and participation—but changing the application timetable is not a “magic bullet”.

Research

Kwasi Kwarteng, who was previously minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, has taken over as Business Secretary as Alok Sharma has gone off to head COP26.

  • Research Professional (RP): One of the immediate issues that Kwarteng will be asked to consider is whether the Research Excellence Framework should be further delayed given the pressures put on university staff by the latest lockdown. No-one has yet been prepared to make the case that ensuring REF returns are made by 31 March is a priority for our newly designated critical workers. RP cover this here and here.
  • Also Research Professional: emails seen by Research Professional News have revealed the close ties between prime minister Boris Johnson’s controversial former adviser Dominic Cummings and the UK’s largest public research funding agency.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee held a session on The contribution of Innovation Catapults in delivering the R&D Roadmap you can read a summary of the session here. It included scrutiny of the catapults role in meeting the Government’s 2.4% R&D target.

UKRI announced the winners of the second phase of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s (ISCF) decarbonisation of industrial clusters: cluster plan competition. The six winners sharing the £8 million come from consultancies, development companies, local authorities, partnerships, and consortiums. It is unclear if any have strong links with universities.

NERC appointed four new Science Committee members from the HE sector. And the Wellcome Trust’s new Director of research programmes, Cheryl Moore, will take up the post in May 2021.

Research Fundermentals published their own horizon scan and predictions about what 2021 will mean for research matters.

Research Professional also published these articles:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Concerns

Despite parliamentary petitions and grass roots campaigning students made small progress with the calls to be refunded for tuition fees during online study and receive rent reductions or get out of their letting contracts. The lobbying quietened down for a while but gained momentum in the last week. Towards the end of last week several Labour MPs signed an early day motion (EDM) calling on the Government to scrap tuition fees and cancel student debt. As it was a manifesto pledge for Labour the EDM wasn’t remarkable.

Next the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students launched an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on university students and calls for compensation.  

The number of parliamentary questions relating to student fees and accommodation costs has grown significantly again, including those relating to healthcare tuition fees and nurses working within the NHS as part of the Covid response. This week rent stories exploded across the media and HE specific sources, students initiated rent strikes, Unite Students (a major student accommodation provider announced partial refunds and concessions) and MPs came out in support of student rental concerns.

BBC – students have pledged a rent strike over unused rooms

Research Professional – universities have been warned that they could be breaking the law by refusing to allow students to return to halls; and:

The UCAS Knight Frank survey was released to a very receptive national audience. Wonkhe describe:

  • a survey of more than 70,000 new and current students between February and November last year. The Student Accommodation Survey finds that between March and June, around 75 per cent of students surveyed reported that they had or were planning to move back home, though there were regional variations.
  • Seventy-two percent of last year’s first year students were not paying rent after campuses closed – 71 per cent of students in other years were paying full rent.
  • The survey also offers an insight into who pays for accommodation – 41 per cent of first years, and 49 per cent of those in other years, reported that their parents or guardians were funding accommodation costs. On average, students living in private purpose built student accommodation (PBSAs) paid £7,200 per annum, compared to £6,650 in university accommodation and £5,900 for students in privately rented accommodation.
  • Sixty-nine per cent of students living in university-owned or PBSAs were happy with their landlord’s approach to Covid-19, compared to just 25 per cent of students in houses of multiple occupancy.

Research Professional add: Unsurprisingly, the ability to terminate tenancy agreements and a degree of flexibility on rent were highlighted as factors behind greater contentment with purpose-built accommodation over other settings…Respondents renting in non-purpose-built housing said private landlords were not prepared to make “any allowances for the impacts of the virus” and had “poor communication or lack of understanding and sensitivity around students’ financial situations and job losses”.

On Wednesday a NUS survey highlights student rental concerns. Wonkhe summarise: The most recent iteration of an NUS survey finds that 69 per cent of students are worried about their ability to pay rent, and 22 per cent have been unable to pay their rent in full in past months. The survey of 4,193 students ran between 6 and 23 November. 

An equally well timed YouGov poll surveyed the nation (so not just those with a vested interest as students or parents of students) on accommodation fees. They asked Do you think students who are unable to return to their student accommodation due to lockdown should still have to pay rent as normal or not?  54% of the public respondents felt that students shouldn’t have to pay anything at all; 30% felt they should pay a reduced rate; 5% felt students should continue to pay their rent in full.

Several MPs and Lords have expressed support for students to be offered some form of package or reduction. David Davis MP tweeted his letter to the Government to support university students who are unable to return to their term-time accommodation. He also stated Unite Students are right to provide refunds to students for periods where they cannot return to their properties and calls on the Government to step up.

This cross-party parliamentary support for student rent forgiveness alongside Boris Johnson acknowledging that the issue needs addressing, and Unite Students’ proactive refunds have been significant progress for this student concern. What remains to be seen is what position the Government will take however, no matter how sympathetic they are to the cause, it is still hard to imagine a Government scheme offering blanket refunds (including private landlords).

A selection of parliamentary questions on tuition fees…

And parliamentary questions on other student matters:

Finally the Petitions Committee published their latest decisions on e-petitions which received over 100,000 signatures and agreed to schedule a debate for:

However, Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) so the debate will not take place in the immediate future.

Professional Registration

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) issued a press release stating they’re in discussion with Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, alongside 17 professional, statutory and regulatory body representatives and Universities UK to address new challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The press release states they: discussed a range of barriers affecting progression and graduation in accredited programmes, in order to ensure students are able to complete their awards this summer and progress into the workplace with continued assurance of high standards and competencies.

QAA Chief Executive, Douglas Blackstock said:

  • Throughout the pandemic, QAA has engaged with PSRBs on behalf of our members and with a focus on ensuring students can progress towards the profession they have chosen. These bodies play an important role in protecting public safety and we are grateful that they have been able to adapt flexibly during the pandemic.
  • QAA has worked with professional bodies for many years and will continue to work collaboratively with them, and our members, so that students can achieve professional competencies and learning outcomes and so that standards are maintained.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said: It is absolutely vital that students are able to graduate from their courses this year and achieve the meaningful qualifications that they need to kickstart their careers. Education has been our priority from the start of this pandemic, and we will continue to work closely with QAA, Universities UK and sector bodies, to identify and address any challenges they face during this difficult time.

Will he stay or will he go?

Speculation about Williamson’s continued tenure as Education Minister continues. On Monday Research Professional reported Boris as stating that the education secretary is doing his job “to his utmost ability”. One doesn’t quite know if that is support or censure. The BBC have: Gavin Williamson: How has he survived? It is well worth a read, it begins: Gavin Williamson’s political obituary has been written so many times he must sometimes feel like the walking dead. So how has England’s under-pressure education secretary survived in his job? Or is there a counter-narrative that he’s been unfairly blamed for decisions not really his own? For example, it has been well trailed that Boris went over Gavin’s head in closing the schools during a meeting he didn’t attend – meaning a U turn in one of Gavin’s flagship policies (that schools would remain open). The question of a reshuffle or even just an ousting of Williamson may come down to the reluctance (stubbornness?) of Boris to sack key staff, despite their mistakes and public unpopularity. Or perhaps as the BBC put it Gavin knows where the bodies are buried.

Gavin Williamson was scrutinised by the Commons Education Committee on Wednesday. Prior to the session Research Professional speculated what he might be questioned on in this brilliant article. It mentions many of the major points and issues facing education and HE at present and with only a couple sentences on each it is a great catch up for anyone still stuck in the Christmas cheese or overcome by home schooling.

In the end the Committee had very little direct HE content. There was strong focus on schools and on matters surrounding the alternatives to the 2021 exams (including BTEC) Williamson’s performance at Committee maintained the Government lines and yielded little new information. He appeared uninformed at times and employed famed political techniques such as not answering the question asked, answering a question that wasn’t asked, avoiding apologising and blaming others (schools mostly). However, he was focussed in his answers and less aggressive in tone than in recent appearances. Dods provide a comprehensive summary of the session here.

If you want the short version, there was one question on HE:

  • Asked about financial sustainability for universities, including the challenge for the newer ones with no reserves, and about student accommodation costs.  Rambles about universities giving additional support (?).  Some institutions may be in financial difficulties, he says the restructuring regime is established and ready to go.  Despite concerns there have been no collapses but contingency is ready.  MP says her local university was offered a loan not a grant and some management consultants that they didn’t want or need and they have had to have major staff cuts.  GW says some will have to restructure what they offer and how they run.  Zero empathy for the sector in these replies.   He doesn’t answer the questions either.

And he mentions us at the end when he thanks everyone working in education, including universities.

Graduate Wellbeing Analysis

The OfS have released data for key performance measure 17 – graduate wellbeing. It shows part timers scoring higher on life satisfaction and for feeling that things done in life are worthwhile.

Note – only the respondents who gave the strongest positive wellbeing response were included in the above analysis. For the data and more information start here. It may seem odd to you that the OfS data release only covers this aspect and limited data. It seems odd to us too. One hopes it isn’t the regulator searching for a new stick to beat HE with or engaging in political point scoring.

Education Policy – research / curriculum development

The Education Policy Institute has published two reviews. Curriculum policy in England has been characterised by frequent change in recent decades. In order to identify lessons about how curriculum systems can be better formulated and revised in England, this evidence review outlines how five leading education nations around the world have developed their curriculum systems in recent years.

The first review aimed to understand how leading education nations around the world develop their education policies and examines the education systems of Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland and South Korea – How Leading Education Nations Develop And Reform Their Curriculum Systems.

The second considers the role of research and evaluation in education policymaking in leading nations including Australia, Finland, Japan, Scotland and Singapore. It focuses on how leading countries organise, focus and fund their education research and evaluation, both in the context of major system change and in terms of how each country assesses the effectiveness of its education system.

Access & Participation

The Education Committee continued hearing evidence into the inquiry on Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dods have provided a summary of last week’s session which covers several aspects relating to HE.

Fair Admissions: The Nuffield Foundation have published Fair Admission to Universities in England: Improving Policy and Practice. Neon describe the report: A new report from the Nuffield Foundation finds that highly selective universities in England are increasingly taking into account the socioeconomic and educational contexts in which applicants achieved their grades when making admissions decisions. However lead author, Professor Vikki Boliver of Durham University argues that universities should be bolder in their approach:

“Universities have taken some tentative steps in a positive direction when it comes to widening access to higher education for students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. This is encouraging but by being bolder we believe that they can further improve the chances of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The report recommends several steps that universities should take including:

  • Reducing entry requirements for contextually disadvantaged applicants by more than just one or two grades.
  • Contextualising all admissions criteria, including GCSE grades, personal statements and interview performances.
  • Ensuring that the new commitments to supporting contextually disadvantaged students to achieve their potential at university are fulfilled.

Overall the report recommends switching from the traditional admissions model, where places go to the highest qualified candidates, irrespective of social background, to a model where prospective students’ qualifications are judged in light of their socioeconomic circumstances. The report also recommends that there is a move towards post qualification admissions and replace POLAR with individual measures of socioeconomic disadvantage which is made available to universities.

Parliamentary Questions:

International & Mobility

Research Professional published: Drop in international first-years made up by other students

On Turing The Times has an opinion piece from Taiwo Owatemi, MP for Coventry North West, on the inadequacies of the new scheme.

Parliamentary Questions

Parliamentary Questions

Sir John Hayes supports the alternatives to HE agenda:

Regulatory

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Censoring ‘Free Speech’: Students and graduates recruited to work on a free speech campaign have resigned in protest stating their views were censored and they were pushed to conform. There was also anger that they had been signed up without understanding the links between Toby Young’s controversial pressure group the Free Speech Union (FSU) and the project they had been recruited to. The Guardian has the story.

Poverty report: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published its annual report on the nature and scale of poverty across the UK. It covers investment in skills and the retraining agenda.

Mental health: The Government have announced they will reform mental health laws.

T levels: The Government announced a £135 million capital fund for T level providers to bid into. The Government press release states: the multi-million pound investment will ensure T Level students have access to the world class facilities and cutting-edge equipment they need to get ahead.

Tech access for disadvantaged pupils: Commenting on the Department for Education’s supply of laptops and other equipment to enable disadvantaged students to access remote learning, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: It is not credible for Boris Johnson or Gavin Williamson to claim that their priority under Covid is to protect the very same disadvantaged students they have so routinely let down. It is a stain on the Government’s record that they have failed disadvantaged students so badly. The immense disruption in autumn half term, with so many absent from school due to self-isolation or close contact with those in their bubble who were having to self-isolate, was a clear warning that the education secretary needed to properly build the groundwork for a continuity and equity of education for all students. But the warning went unheeded, and in Gavin Williamson ‘s recent announcements on laptop and data roll-out it is abundantly clear he is still weeks away from anything like an adequate response. Schools have been kept waiting for equipment that has been promised to them throughout the pandemic, with last minute delays, changes or retractions of the kit they need becoming an alarmingly normalised response from the Department for Education.  It is surely a no-brainer that schools should be compensated for having to plug the gaps, which are entirely due to governmental sloth. Every child must have access to the equipment they need to ensure they can learn safely from home. When will the government take their responsibility towards these children seriously?  However, speaking at the Education Committee on Wednesday Gavin Williamson painted a very different picture stating the equipment had been sent to schools and some were in line to receive additional items.

Islamophobia: Research Professional published this article Universities fail to see ‘insidious nature’ of campus Islamophobia stating that the report finds improvements are needed by institutions.

EdTech Boom: FE News report that lockdown measures and mandatory school closures in 2020 led to a 71.5% growth of the UK educational technology (EdTech) sector – despite a -11% contraction in GDP overall. Over the course of the pandemic, schools, colleges and universities have had to move lessons online, and many educators, organisations and businesses have developed smarter ways to deliver remote learning. The growth puts the value of the UK EdTech market at almost £3.5bn – with EdTech exports pre-crisis bringing in £170m to the economy, now expected to have topped £292m.

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New study of management & recruitment in UK TV industry

This week sees the launch of The State of Play survey, an important new study into management and recruitment practices across the UK’s television industry. The initiative is a collaboration between colleagues in the Faculty of Media & Communication, the television union Bectu, and the freelance Producer-Directors’ association, Viva La PD.

It’s an exciting development’ says Christa van Raalte, Deputy Dean for Education & Professional Practice in the Faculty. ‘BU has long been known for the graduates who go on to work in the media, but we also have an important contribution to make to improving the way these industries actually operate’.

Prior to the pandemic, the UK’s film and television sector had been generating an annual trade surplus of almost £1 billion. Yet Covid-19 has exposed systemic and routinely overlooked problems. Chronic under-investment in professional development and over-dependence on an army of freelance workers has made it especially vulnerable. These workers – reliant on precarious, short-term contractual employment – have faced months without work, with over half ineligible for any Government support. Many may be permanently lost to the industry, exacerbating both pre-existing skills shortages and the industry’s well-documented lack of diversity. However the crisis has also been instrumental in raising awareness of structural weaknesses, previously unacknowledged by many industry leaders. This presents an unprecedented opportunity for much needed reform.

The study draws on previous work that BU has done in this area, and feeds into a larger piece of work for which external funding is currently being sought.

For more information about The State of Play survey, contact:
Richard Wallis (rwallis@bournemouth.ac.uk)
Department of Media Production, FMC.

*New* Full Economic Cost thresholds for research and knowledge exchange (RKE) activity

A review of BU’s research and knowledge exchange activity demonstrated that over the past three years BU’s RKE income met c. 80% of the full economic costs (fEC) of the projects. The review also looked at the fEC thresholds and found they were out of date and unrealistic, for example, a number of the thresholds did not match the funding models provided by funders.

The Research Performance and Management Committee (RPMC) have therefore approved changes to the fEC thresholds for RKE activities at BU. The new thresholds have been chosen to make it easier to work with organisations on RKE projects that will benefit society. Moreover, the new thresholds set realistic expectations for working with a range of funders so that research activity is sustainable at BU.

In addition to the thresholds, the RPMC has confirmed an expectation that all new costs to the project (Directly Incurred costs) must be covered by the income to be received from the funder. Ideally the income will be sufficient to also provide a contribution to the other costs to the project (i.e. existing staff time and overheads). This will enable BU to ensure RKE activities are financially viable and sustainable.

The new thresholds set a minimum fEC recovery rate by funder/activity type (see Table 1). They should be discussed with your Funding Development Officer at the start of the bidding process and before any conversations take place with external organisations/partners. All Principal Investigators will be asked to design their projects around meeting or exceeding these minimum thresholds and making sure the Directly Incurred costs will be covered. This may not be possible for all funding schemes. Where there is a strategic reason for applying to such a scheme and there is no alternative funder (such as some prestigious fellowship schemes) then this should be discussed with your Funding Development Officer who will advise on options.

If you have any queries about what this will mean for your research, please contact Ehren Milner (emilner@bournemouth.ac.uk).

HE Policy Update for the w/e 2nd October 2020

We’re in October already! This week has been busy in Parliament, and we had some Ministerial engagement too.  Boris unveiled a skills pledge and Gavin Williamson made a statement regarding students returning to universities (and was subsequently slammed for inaccuracies).  And angry parents have taken issue that their children might be prevented from returning home from university for Christmas if they are in isolation or caught in local lockdowns.

BU welcomes the Minister for Universities

Michelle Donelan MP paid a short virtual visit to BU this week.  You can read more here.  It is good that the Minister is making time to make these visits and the conversation was wide ranging and interesting.  Thanks to all involved, especially as these things are always short notice and subject to last-minute change.

Comprehensive Spending Review – and all its ramifications

No one knows quite what form (or if) the comprehensive spending review (CSR) will take. However, sector organisations continue to lobby the Government with their wish lists to be included within the CSR. The Association of Colleges have published their 37 pager much of which aligns with recent Government ambitions on skills spending, higher technical education, apprenticeships, levelling up and addressing disadvantage. Specifically they call for higher rates of FE funding, expanding provision to accommodate the 2024/25 young population surge (plus IT infrastructure investment), a 16+ pupil premium, and the favourite old chestnut – reducing oversight, bureaucracy and compliance costs.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published Spending Review 2020: COVID-19, Brexit and beyond. Pages 3-5 summarise the key findings succinctly and ultimately the report advises the Chancellor not to plough ahead with a full Spending Review. It concludes:

  • Even if Mr Sunak makes the sensible decision to set only one year of spending plans, the process will be fraught with difficulty, with many delicate trade-offs. Perhaps the most important question is the extent to which the extraordinary funding increases provided in response to COVID-19 need to continue into future years.
  • [With Covid likely to] swallow up much of the increase in funding pencilled in between now and 2023−24. Whatever is left would likely be allocated to priority areas such as the NHS, schools, the police or the ‘levelling-up’ agenda. The Chancellor has rowed back from the spending envelope he committed to in March, but his emphasis on the need for ‘tough choices’ suggests that it could become less, not more, generous. Other public services could well be facing a further bout of austerity

No one is expecting good news. And the Government’s intentions following the Augar report are expected to be laid out as part of the CSR. Even HEPI warn of impending doom when they consider Augar in the context of recent events below.

Research

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee Greg Clark has written to the minister for Science, Amanda Solloway, relating to research and development investment.  The letter is available here. He asked for:

  • Further detail for example on the terms of support for higher education institutions announced by the Government.
  • The Government’s plans to address research funding & cross subsidisation in the long-term to ensure that university research funding is sustainable.
  • Further details on the R&D roadmap

Match funding change: On Thursday the Government suspended the 50:50 matched funding requirement for industrial research applications to the Aerospace Technology Institute programme. This is to mitigate the effects of Covid on the industry.

Research parliamentary questions

A selection of Wonkhe blogs relevant to research interests:

Off topic – but interesting – Sellafield have released a report in the name of sharing the importance of science. It highlights how R&D has transformed their organisation & safety. Short press release here, report here.

PM’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee

Boris announced the Lifetime Skills Guarantee scheme (full speech here, press release with stakeholder support here). Main points:

  • The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is a system where every student will have a flexible lifelong loan entitlement to four years of post-18 education. Boris stated this will promote real choice – at the moment many young people feel they have to go for the degree option. They feel they have only one chance to study, and to borrow. They might as well go for the maximum, and get a degree. It launches April 2021 in England and is paid for through the National Skills Fund.
  • Adults without an A-Level or equivalent (a level 3) will be offered a free, fully funded college course, to learn skills (those valuable to employers) and the opportunity to study at a time and location that suits them. The list of courses is expected to be released shortly.
  • The funding model will change with more flexibility to study in bursts (so an individual can spread it across their life period) and easy access to loans for higher technical as well as degree programmes. Politico state there will be a push to massively expand vocational courses. The government will provide finance for shorter-term studies in areas such as coding to help train workers for jobs of the future, rather than the typical three or four year university studies.
  • Alongside studying in segments students should be able to build up credits and transfer between different providers both colleges and universities. This in itself is expected to enable more part time study.
  • Boris pledged to:
    • invest in skills & FE (£1.5 billion for college capital works)
    • expand apprenticeships (as mentioned above) and make them more portable to move from company to company
    • expand digital boot camps (£8 million, programmes in four new locations)
    • from 2021 boot camps will also be available for construction and engineering – supporting the national Industrial Strategy
    • 62 additional courses will be added to the free online Skills Toolkit
    • end the pointless, nonsensical gulf… between the so-called academic and the so-called practical varieties of education… now is the time to end this bogus distinction between FE and HE. (Not all Conservatives agree with this – see this blog in Conservative Home.)

Boris also said:

  • The post-18 educational system is not working in such a way as to endow people with those skills…lab technicians, skilled construction workers, skilled mechanics, skilled engineers, and we are short of hundreds of thousands of IT experts
  • …And look I don’t for a second want to blame our universities. I love our universities, and it is one of this country’s great achievements massively to have expanded higher education.
  • But we also need to recognise that a significant and growing minority of young people leave university and work in a non-graduate job, and end up wondering whether they did the right thing.
  • Was it sensible to rack up that debt on that degree? Were they ever given the choice to look at the more practical options, the courses – just as stimulating – that lead more directly to well-paid jobs?
    We seem on the one hand to have too few of the right skills for the jobs our economy creates, and on the other hand too many graduates with degrees which don’t get them the jobs that they want.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commented:  A week ago Labour called for a National Retraining Strategy fit for the crisis Britain faces, but what the government proposes is simply a mix of reheated old policies and funding that won’t be available until April. By then many workers could have been out of work for nearly a year, and the Tories still think that they will need to take out loans to get the training they will need to get back in work. These measures will not reverse the devastating impact of a decade of cuts, and will not give workers the skills and support they need in the months ahead.

Association of Colleges responded to the PM’s speech:

  • We believe that colleges should play a bigger part in a more collaborative education and skills system that allows people to train and retrain throughout their lives. Today’s speech is a strong sign that this thinking will form much of the foundation for the upcoming FE white paper and develop a system that works for all adults and not just those fortunate enough to go to university. 
  • A new entitlement to a fully-funded Level 3 qualification and more flexibility built into L4 and L5 are important steps forward as the government begins to implement the Augar Review. There is a lot more to do to stimulate demand from adults and employers and to support colleges to have the capacity to meet needs.
  • We must get this right to ensure our education and skills system is fit for purpose – I hope the Prime Minister’s words are just the beginning on the road to a fairer and more accessible post-16 system for everyone who needs it.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is less convinced:

  • …The speech lacks specifics.
  • The Prime Minister has made a time-honoured distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘practical’ skills, although there is little here to explain how exactly this shift will occur. Successive governments have made the same noises.
  • Extra funding for people without A-levels may be sensible, but it is not clear that there will be a massive demand for lower-level qualifications from either students or employers.
  • The offer of more flexible support for higher education and spreading study over longer periods is welcome in principle, but again there is little to suggest how this will work in practice. There is no evidence of a more fundamental change, such as linking a university’s funding to the success of its graduates, which might incentivise new forms of provision.
  • This speech is worthy, but it amounts to neither a convincing response to rising unemployment nor to a radical change in adult education.

Skills Productivity Appointment

With the FE sector and skills focus holding significant traction within Government a new appointment is significant. Stephen van Rooyen will head up the Skills and Productivity Board. His Chairmanship will have an influential role in driving forward the Government’s FE reform programme. The Board is responsible for advising on the skills that employers need for the future and that will help grow our economy post C-19, alongside how to ensure the courses and qualifications are high-quality. Stephen’s background is here, including his support for apprenticeships.

Stephen stated: The work of the SPB will be carried out by a panel of five leading skills and labour market economists, supported by Department for Education officials. The panel will undertake independent research and analysis in response to questions set out by the Secretary of State and Chair. Applications for panel members closed earlier this month and appointments will be made in due course.

Education Committee session

Following Boris’ pledge the Education Committee session focussed on adult learning schemes and mechanisms questioning Gillian Keegan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills. Direct HE relevant content was limited to whether there would be any maintenance grant support for more disadvantaged students. Keegan replied that there were already discretionary funds to support disadvantaged students, or those facing additional barriers to learning.

Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Committee pointed out there was nothing on community learning in Boris’ announcements. Keegan responded that the announcement was focused on economic outcomes for individuals, and, that the focus is on learners and helping them access more modular and flexible training. While this isn’t about HE it reveals the depth of emphasis the Government is placing on flexible learning at all levels and that adult and skills budgets aren’t altruistic – just like Government intent for HE – support focuses on the key skills needs for the country to support economic prosperity. So no fluffiness on the route to levelling up!

Keegan also showed interest in the concept of a skills tax credit to incentivise employers to provide training to low skilled employers, however, she conceded it hadn’t worked well in other countries.

On the social care sector the Government intend to professionalise this employment area initially through T-Levels and apprenticeships. Keegan felt this might be a route to higher pay in the sector.

Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education

On Thursday Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, made another oral statement, this time on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education. There was much overlap with and reiteration of Boris’ Skills Guarantee speech with a little additional detail.

Here are the key points in brief:

  • A White Paper will be published later this year on how to re-balance further and higher education.
  • FE has been overlooked for decades resulting in lost opportunities and businesses with unfulfilled skills gaps.
  • Everyone must have the opportunity to upskill and retrain – both young people who do not want to attend university and those who are forced to retrain following redundancy.
  • Linking with Boris’ skills pledge speech from Tuesday he called for closer alignment of FE and HE and re-announced the lifetime skills guarantee and greater flexibility in the educational system for people of all ages. There will be a consultation on the flexibility and transferability of credits during 2021 and the Government will legislate as needed in this Parliamentary session.
  • Williamson stated that these announcements will support the country’s recovery from Covid, however, they are also a continuation of the commitment to levelling-up. He reminded that the skills guaranteed means adults without A levels can re-train. He also reiterated that there would be funding for alternatives to degrees e.g. loans for higher technical education.
  • The apprenticeships programme will be expanded and barriers that employers face in taking on apprentices addressed. This will include allowing larger businesses to transfer their unused levy to fund smaller employers and ensuring redundant apprentices have the opportunity to continue their education.
  • T-levels (equivalent to 3 a-levels) have now commenced (in autumn 2020).
  • Williamson also announced funding of £111 million for the expansion of traineeships, £32 million for recruiting careers advisers, and £17 million for work academies in England. He restated previous funding commitments of £170 million which intends to establish 12 Institutes of Technology (IoT), with £120 million following on to develop a further 8 IoTs. The funding competition for the next 8 IoTs will open shortly.

Skills Gaps

Incidentally The Migration Advisory Committee published a review of the shortage occupation list this week.   The key reasons given for wanting to be on the SOL were:

  • A lack of a suitably skilled workforce in the UK
  • An unwillingness of the UK workforce to consider certain roles due to: physical demands; unsocial hours; an unwillingness to relocate; or seasonality of these roles;
  • That training alone is not a viable solution due to the time it takes and lack of long term certainty.

The Committee also warned Ministers to urgently address low pay in the social care sector in order to avoid a staffing crisis in January.

Augar Review

Having detailed the rise and Government zeal for FE and technical skills alongside the announced flexibility in funding and the comprehensive spending review speculation we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Augar, particularly the fees aspect. Fortunately HEPI covers the interpretation of Augar within the recent context in a discursive manner here. The blog is titled: As the Government begins implementing the more popular elements of the Augar report, we shouldn’t forget the rest of it (including what it said on fees)…

Excerpts:

  • …no one could have predicted how much change would happen between then and now. When the Augar report was published, Philip Augar said it was a take-it-or-leave-it package. In other words, he said it was a carefully calibrated model, not a pick-and-mix. I suspect the goal was to disincentivise policymakers from banking any proposed savings and then rejecting the counterbalancing proposed new spending. 
  • after the COVID crisis began…[Augar]… writing in the Financial Times that his most high-profile recommendation – reducing the headline full-time undergraduate fee cap from £9,250 to £7,500 – should perhaps be junked while others should still be implemented.
  • Now it has been confirmed by the Prime Minister that some of those other recommendations are indeed now to be implemented. For example, the Augar report’s first two recommendations were for ‘a single lifelong learning loan allowance’ and access to student finance ‘for modules of credit’, and these ideas have now been accepted. The devil will be in the detail…
  • But such tweaks cost money and, now that the Treasury is beginning to finalise its plans for the Spending Review, it is time to focus again on that most famous of all of the Augar report’s recommendations, the one on fees… In the COVID crisis, we may all have paid too little attention to the fact that the actual proposal for a lower fee cap remains on the table… There will be voices urging the Treasury in the run up to the Spending Review to cut spending on universities (either to reduce borrowing or to spend more on other priorities, including other educational priorities)… Cutting fees could play well in the culture war. It would be at one with some of the negative coverage of universities in recent times. And universities are typically in larger towns and cities that are less likely to be represented by a Conservative MP… But cutting the income of universities now is an objectively terrible idea… it nonetheless seems clear that severe cuts to the main income stream for universities in the midst of a crisis, while failing to replace the lost income, would make the Institute for Fiscal Studies’s dire warnings about the number of universities that could go bust during the pandemic much more likely to come true.

Student loans

In a week where there has been a constant focus speculating on the CSR and with the Government making announcements about flexibility in student loans and new spending pledges fresh attention has fallen on the student loan outlay figures which were published at the end of last week.

The Government changed the way it accounts for certain things, including the student loan, in the last Parliament and we now have the RAB – the Resource Accounting and Budgeting charge which predicts the proportion of loans that have been paid out to students that are expected to never be repaid back into the Treasury.

The RAB has now hit a whopping 53%, yet the DfE target for unpaid loans is much lower at 36%. Uncomfortable figures particularly with the Government’s claims that not enough students are accessing graduate level jobs at the end of their degree and that too many young people are choosing to go to university over other routes. And all within the landscape of unprecedented Government borrowing to fund the pandemic and economic needs (and dare I mention it – Brexit). In addition, there is also the forthcoming population boom to consider with 2030 expected to require a significant increase in availability of provision – all of which would have to be paid for. However, the Government may be hoping to redirect some of this boom demand into more technical or hop on – hop off higher level provision.

A current forecast suggests the Government will have a £20 billion outlay by 2024-25 for student loans.

The great annual migration

Gavin Williamson made a statement and responded to questions regarding students returning to universities. Below follows a summary of the main points in the full statement and questions session. For a shorter version you can read the press release which just covers Williamson’s statement here.

  • Students will be able to return home for Christmas should they wish to. The Government will work with universities to ensure this can occur safely. DfE Guidance will follow however it may include ceasing face-to-face contact two weeks early to provide time for students to self-isolate before returning home. Universities must ensure students who wish to remain within their university accommodation over the Christmas period are safe and well looked after. However, Williamson didn’t directly address a later question by Mark Harper MP who asked for reassurance students would not be trapped in their university accommodation for the period of self-isolation. [Many have pointed out that this ignores the fact that many students go home (or elsewhere) much more regularly than this….]
  • Labour (Yvette Cooper MP) asked if the Government was proposing all students self-isolate at the end of term to return home and pressed for mass testing Williamson stated that different cases, local circumstances and term end dates mean they envisage the self-isolation will cover only a very small number of universities. Later Hilary Benn pressed Williamson on whether students may go home to isolate again. He responded: We will be setting out clear guidance in terms of students and making sure that that fits within the broader guidance right across the country that is available for the wider population as well.
  • Blended learning should continue with face-to-face contact where possible. Teaching should not be solely online. The 11 September tiered approach guidance balancing learning requirements against the C-19 risk and local restrictions continues to apply.
  • Students who isolate must be properly cared for and the university should ensure they can access food, medical and cleaning supplies. Confirmed that universities are doing this. Students living outside of the campus or university housing should also have access to advice and support. Williamson was challenged during the questions by Sir Edward Leigh who was opposed to an enforced whole halls of residence lockdown. Williamson stated: Students follow the same rules as those in society and: We always want to ensure that there is a sensible and proportionate response to ensure that students are able to go about their business and continue their learning online and, importantly, face to face.
  • Universities need to provide additional mental health and practical support to students during these difficult times, particularly those new starters. The Minister stated he was pleased with universities efforts in this regard – Many universities have bolstered existing mental health services and offer alternatives to face-to-face consultations. Once again, I would like to thank staff at universities and colleges who have responded so quickly and creatively to the need to transform those essential services.
  • Later Damian Hinds MP planted a friendly question asking Williamson to talk about the great work done by universities and the likes of Student Minds – the support available and how it is being stepped up. Williamson responded: An amazing amount of work is done by every single university, but there has also been a recognition by the Office for Students that there may be gaps. That is why the Office for Students has stepped in to ensure that where students find that there is not that type of provision, something is provided for them, so that no student is in a position of not being supported. It is incredibly important that all students understand that support is available to them for them to be able to enjoy their time at university and succeed in their studies.
  • Acknowledged Universities hard work to make reopening as safe as possible. Feels both universities and students have followed the guidance. Students only subject to the same restrictions as the community in that area. Stated C-19 cases occurring in universities is inevitable, just as it is in the wider community, however, he believes universities are well prepared to handle outbreaks as they arise. Expressed that he was impressed with the way universities have worked with local authorities and local public health teams to safeguard students and staff.
  • The Department for Health and Social Care are working to make sure testing capacity is sufficient and appropriate for universities. They continue to make more tests available, more local testing sites and more processing laboratories. However, demand outstrips supply so staff and students should only request a test if they have symptoms or are advised to by an official.
  • Universities are also able to call on £256 million provided by the Government for hardship funding for students who have to isolate. Williamson also mentioned this money later in relation to chi Onwurah MP’s question which stated the only financial support the sector has received is to address the shortfall in scientific research funding, which is critical but does not have an impact on the learning experience. [The £256 million isn’t additional or new money and actually it was decreased in May from its original allocation so this has been criticised as misleading – see below]
  • The Government have taken a conscious decision to prioritise education…We will never be in a position where we can eliminate all risk, but we will not condemn a generation of young people by asking them to put their lives on hold for months or years ahead. We believe that universities are very well prepared to handle any outbreaks as they arise. 

Later in the discussion he stated that: We must not forget, however, that hundreds of thousands —almost a million—students have safely returned to university over the last few weeks. They will start their studies and benefit from a brilliant, world-class university education.

During the questions the Government was critiqued for:

  • Not doing things soonerwhy did it take the Secretary of State and the Health Secretary until last Wednesday to write to local directors of public health about the return of university students? (Kate Green). Answer: they were updating from the last advice SAGE produced, acting on the issues and suggestions made by SAGE.
  • Test & trace ineffective -self-isolating students live in particularly difficult circumstances (e.g. room size, no family support, living with a group that are practically strangers). (Kate Green). Later others used the shambolic privatised test and trace system to press for students to have access to tests to travel home safely (Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi).
  • Remote learning – students without digital access or a device; and additional support for students with SEN. This is where Williamson got himself in hot water. He stated: The hon. Lady raises an important point about digital access. I am sorry that she missed the announcement that we have made £100 million available for universities to use to ensure that youngsters have digital access, including students from the most deprived backgrounds, who would perhaps not be in a position to access courses. It is vital that if we are in a situation where people will have blended learning, all students are able to access it. We are taking seriously some of the challenges that all students and universities will face, which is why we have made £256 million available to make sure that where students are facing real hardship, universities can access funding to help them. [However, the £100m for digital access was for schools, so he has been criticised for that too as well as the £256m claim]
  • Lilian Greenwood MP picked up on disabled students accessing equipment and support Williamson stated it was the universities responsibility: under equalities legislation there is a duty on universities to ensure that there is proper and fair provision for all students. That is what we would expect from all universities. He also mentioned the £100m fund again (which is for schools).
  • Williamson side stepped and didn’t respond directly to Carol Monaghan’s call to address the fee-paying structure of (English) higher education by reducing fees and increasing Government funding to universities. Williamson stated: I thank the hon. Lady for putting forward policy suggestions for future Conservative party manifestos. We want to ensure that universities are properly funded, so that they are able to have world-class facilities that can beat other universities anywhere in the world. Laura Trott MP also addressed fees –  in some cases students will be paying full fees for what are now only online courses – and she called on the Minister to advise and ask the OfS to confirm that university bonuses not be paid unless fees were lowered. Williamson stated: I will be asking the Office for Students to look at this and give very strong and clear steers on this matter to ensure that no bonuses are going out as a result of this crisis. [Incidentally if you can stomach more on the fee refund debate Wonkhe have an excellent article debating the latest here. ]
  • Dame Cheryl Gillan MP called on Williamson to champion two-year degree courses. Williamson sorted the accelerated offer and reiterated there were other routes apart from university, including apprenticeships.
  • And on white working class boys (following a question from Robert Halfon, Chair Education Select Committee) Williamson stated: On why not enough youngsters on free school meals or white working-class boys are going to university, that is a real issue. We need to see change. We need to look at different options to ensure that those youngsters realise that they can succeed as well at university as all the other youngsters who choose to go. We will ensure that we deliver it as we level up across the country over the coming years.
  • The session concluded with Williamson confirming if Covid student numbers rose substantially the Government would review its position – We will constantly work with the sector very closely to ensure that we adapt and support it if the pandemic means that we have to make changes.

Labour issued a press release after the statement: Williamson’s blunders in the chamber further evidence serial incompetence. It covers the £100 million digital mistake and a second – Williamson said: the “Student Loans Company also offers a system whereby extra maintenance support can be made available through individual assessment.” Labour have critiqued this stating Students can change their maintenance loan applications if there is a change in their household income, but this does not allow the Student Loans Company to provide additional maintenance support simply because of increased needs for students. Labour raised these aspects as a point of order and called for the record to be corrected. It was refused but the Deputy Speaker acknowledged that the opposition had successfully made the point on the record.

Wonkhe dissected the statement mistakes too and added:

  • That Williamson encouraged the Office for Students to forbid the payment of bonuses to university staff – the Office for Students does not directly have this power.
  • They also clarified what we mentioned above on the £256million boost to student hardship funds. Wonkhe state: These already existing funds were initially allocated to universities to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds as “student premium” funding, and were actually cut from £277m last year by Gavin Williamson back in May.

NSS to LEO

With the launch of the NSS review Emma Hardy, Shadow HE Minister, wrote for Research Professional to voice concerns on alternative judgements of university quality:

  • Ditching the NSS with no replacement would put greater emphasis on Longitudinal Education Outcomes data, which only tell us how much graduates earn. This appears to fit with this government’s notion of ‘value for money’ and ‘value to the taxpayer’, and this is no doubt how it will be presented. However, what it can’t be said to measure is ‘value to the country’ or even ‘value to the economy’.
  • Covid-19 has underlined the importance of key workers and there are many graduate jobs, including those of nurses and health workers, that do not carry big salaries. LEO data may be able to tell us which graduates go into the best-paid employment but, because wage levels are geographically influenced, they discriminate against universities in deprived areas that support local economies by training the graduates those economies need.
  • Worse, the data discriminate against higher education institutions that recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds, because a significant determiner of postgraduate income is still students’ socioeconomic background before they attend university. As the main measure for judging universities, LEO data can only embed inequalities—the exact opposite of ‘levelling up’.

Her article goes on to suggest that this definition of value looks like a proxy for an attack on the numbers going to university. And after noting past cuts to technical education Emma states:  the government has tried to blame the crisis in further education on the success of our universities. Universities should not allow this to continue unchecked… 

And the implications of the virus….

It’s unlikely that you’ve managed to escape the tug and thrust of student Covid news over the last week. We’ll cover it here as speedily and painlessly as we can.

Mass testing continues to be central to the Opposition’s calls. Earlier in the week Kate Green (Labour’s Education Secretary) pressurised the Government on Sunday’s BBC Breakfast calling for a commitment to test every HE student before they return home at the end of term. She also stated we should pause the student migration now until an “effective, efficient testing system” is put in place.

Next in the saga was Amanda Milling MP, Co-Chair of the Conservative Party, who stated: There are no plans to keep students at university over Christmas and Labour is deliberately creating unnecessary stress for young people to score political points.

Finally Williamson put us out of our misery on Tuesday when his speech confirmed the Government and universities would work together to save Christmas allowing students who wish to, to return home. The details surrounding isolation and plans for those with active Covid symptoms are to follow in DfE guidance. And in Thursday’s Covid briefing the PM paid tribute to students who were studying in these unprecedented times.

Kate Green also wrote a letter to Gavin Williamson which included students access to remote learning. She stated:

[On remote learning]…To do this, they must also have access to the right equipment, connectivity and environment. The “digital divide” has been raised with your department on numerous occasions, including in a recent report from the Office for Students which showed its impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. What urgent steps are you taking to bridge the digital divide…?

Leaving home to go to University should be a momentous and exciting step for young people and their families. It is deeply distressing that so many will now not get the university experience they deserve, and face the appalling prospect of being locked in their rooms with no chance to make new friends.

Universities have done all they can to prepare for students’ safe return to campus, but the government has failed to play its part. You let young people down with the exam fiasco over the summer, and now many of those same students are being let down again. These young people deserve better than your incompetence.

Previously she has stated that students should have the choice to remain in the family home:

We do think it is important that students have a choice. If they feel they are going to be safer at home then they should be able to stay at home and conduct their learning remotely.

OfS Edicts: The OfS have commented on the student situation as they return to university and expressing their expectations for the HE sector to meet:

  • Universities have worked hard to make campuses safe, and have developed programmes that mix face-to-face and online learning. However, our guidance says that is essential that they provide students with as much clarity as possible on what they can expect. Where the situation changes universities should provide regular information updates.
  • Where students need to go into isolation, universities have to be clear about how courses will continue to operate in these circumstances and what welfare, resources and support are available. Universities should provide information about how testing can be accessed where it is expected by the health authorities and ensure that such students can access food and other essential provisions. We will be following up with individual universities and colleges where we have concerns about the arrangements they are making for teaching and academic support. 
  • Students have a right to good quality higher education – whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two. Where they feel this is not happening they can raise concerns with their university, escalating complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator where a resolution cannot be found. They can also inform the OfS, and we can and will investigate if we believe that universities have not taken all reasonable steps to protect standards or where quality is slipping for groups of students.

Finally, here is a small selection of this week’s coverage on students & Covid.

Scottish Pact: Scotland’s Universities have agreed a Consistent Core of Care – a package of 10 measures – to support student wellbeing for the first semester in response to C-19. Three measures specifically address students who are quarantined or isolating such as very regular check ins with the student/household.

Student Spread: The New Statesman has used Office for National Statistics local neighbourhood classifications (he granular output areas) of student areas to compare Covid cases.

They found:

  • 1.15 confirmed cases per student neighbourhood in England
  • compared to 0.36 cases per non-student area.
  • Student areas are also more likely to be represented among those recording the highest case rates.
  • The effect is greater within cities with substantial student districts and particularly in the north.
  • The number of cases is rising faster in student areas than non-student areas.

The article acknowledges that:

  • not all of the cases within the student classified areas will have been students
  • as a whole, there are still more Covid-19 cases outside of student neighbourhoods than within them
  • Also: cases were rising in workplaces across the country before students went back to university – indicating they were not the cause of the rise in cases, but rather accelerated a pre-existing trend.

The Times Red Box has a piece calling for immediate mass testing in every university town. They believe students and staff should be tested twice per week and look to Illinois which has a campus tracing team who support with tracking and immediate testing so no one isolates unnecessarily. They also suggest using the universities laboratory capacity to process the tests (40 in the UK have the facilities the article suggests, others could use a mobile facility on site). Acknowledging that rapid testing can be inaccurate in identifying a lower viral load makes the retesting a key part of the approach. The interesting aspect of this article is that it makes the case not just to stop the spread of the virus but for the mental health of students – it sees regular mass testing as unlocking an almost normal experience.

Research Professional have coverage of student mental health in Top priority – How serious are universities about student mental health?

LBC have a short piece on the human rights lawyer who has stated the Manchester residence lockdowns were legally dicey.

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

The BBC published University entrance: The ‘taboo’ about who doesn’t go primarily looking at the barriers and alternate motivations of young white working class males.

The OfS has released TUNDRA data which measures the frequency with which people living in a more granular area have accessed HE over a series of years. Wonkhe have a very short blog with some charts utilising the new data.

UCAS have a new blog considering the aspects which may encourage care experienced students to disclose their care background in their application personal statement.

Lord Hunt championed several parliamentary questions on ensuring care leavers have access to the internet and a digital device this week – see here, here, here and here.

The Sutton Trust has published a report on school closures and lower social mobility

Exams cancelled?

The VC’s of Birmingham and Sheffield Hallam have a thoughtful piece in the Times calling on the Government to cancel the 2021 A level exams:

  • Decisions need to be made now to give teachers, universities and students certainty. The coming year will be unpredictable. Local lockdowns will have a differential effect on learners who have already faced massive disruption. Making that up would be tough anyway; making it up through further local disruptions to teaching will be almost impossible. The danger is that next summer’s results will be as chaotic as this year’s, with students having had much less time to learn.
  • There is a simple solution for assessment. This year, government rightly allowed teacher grades to stand. The problem was no effective grade moderation. Government should ask examination boards to use the time we now have to develop a robust moderation approach. It’s a method which works in almost every other advanced educational system.
  • Our approach would have huge benefits. It would give students certainty and remove the worry that learning would be interrupted by a local lockdown. It would give universities certainty about assessments. It would ease progression from school to university for learners whose education has been so interrupted. There is also another benefit: it would open up a route to more effective university admissions, fit for a post-Covid world. 

This parliamentary question confirms the Government does not intend to implement predicted grades in 2020/21. And this one questions the steps the Government are taking to ensure schools have clear guidance on exams in summer 2021 before students have to submit applications to UCAS.

NAHT also have grave concerns about the 2021 exam series, they’re particularly concerned about the impact of a compressed time period with back to back exam conditions:

  • we remain concerned about proposals that next year’s summer exams should be pushed back. While that initially sounds like it would help students have more time to learn and prepare, it could have a disastrous effect on students’ experience. Delaying the exam series, while still needing to generate results in time for university offer deadlines, would necessitate a compression of the exam series, meaning more exams for young people in a much shorter space of time. Given how high stakes these tests are, this could only add to the unfairness and inequity of the situation, could lead to further disadvantage for some students over others, and would certainly have a negative impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing.
  • Ongoing teacher assessments could end up being crucial this year – we should be looking at how we use a range of measures rather than assuming things can be fixed by simply delaying the exams. If 2020 has shown us nothing else, it is that relying solely on a series of high-stakes exams means that we are left with no other options if things go wrong…Unfortunately there are currently few signs that the authorities who presided over this year’s chaos have learned the right lessons or are acting quickly enough to avoid another mess.

And the TES cover calls from Lord Baker to cancel the 2021 GCSE and A level exams.

Currently the media focus is on assessment methods and arrangements but over the academic year increasing focus is likely to build on universities admissions arrangements and timescales.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Degree Apprenticeships: Ofsted are now solely responsible for the inspection of apprenticeship training provision at all levels – including degree apprenticeships delivered within HE providers and all level 6 & 7 provision. There is a partnership aspect in that the OfS will continue to provide Ofsted with relevant information to inform inspection judgements. Gavin Williamson’s letter to Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector, is here. It also instructs Ofsted to build capacity and capability for the new responsibilities upskilling existing staff and:  the recruitment of additional inspectors with suitable expertise including knowledge and experience of higher educationOfsted should also work closely with [Government Education] officials and the Office for Students in preparing the apprenticeships sector for this change, particularly… those providers who are not already familiar with Ofsted inspection. I expect Ofsted to work collaboratively to ensure that the circumstances of the sector are fully understood.

Remote working within HE Sector: Wonkhe tell us about a new report from SUMS consultancy into higher education working practices during the pandemic finds that line management support, team cohesion and institutional communications were most important in supporting staff wellbeing during the initial stages of the pandemic.

SUMS consulting have published: Working well – during and beyond Covid-19: A report into staff health, general wellbeing and remote working enablement in the HE Sector

  • The HE sector is not on its own in having to adapt quickly to changes in work location and practice. Many of the observations set out in this report transcend industries. However, this research has specifically sought out the perspectives of those working in UK higher education…The resulting paper identified eight critical success factors to support good change management in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis; and learning points for the future… This study reflects on initiatives put in place driven by remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic and poses questions around the potential for these initiatives to be sustained and embedded in the long-term employee experience.

Wonkhe also covered the report and have highlighted: line management support, team cohesion and institutional communications were most important in supporting staff wellbeing during the initial stages of the pandemic.

Engineering Careers: a new digital platform for engineering outreach (online and in person) activities (aimed at schools) has been launched – Neon.

Levelling up: The UK2070 Commission have published Go big. Go local – a new deal for levelling up the UK. The blurb: There are deep-rooted inequalities across the UK. These are not inevitable. However, we lack the long-term thinking and spatial economic plan needed to tackle them. Included in the 10 point plan (page 2):

  • Creating New Global Centres of Excellence harnessing increased investment in research and development to create ‘hub and spoke’ networks of excellence and growth across the country comparable to the economic impact of the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge
  • Future Skilling the UK tackling the historic under-performance of the UK on skills through national plans to raise attainment levels, especially in those skills needed to achieve the levels of the best performing places.
  • a powerful ministerially-led cross-government committee needs to be established with a dedicated team, to oversee delivery and embed levelling up, supported by spatial analysis, flexible funding and new measures of success…
  • Page 48 lists the top 24 most deprived Council areas in terms of access to services, skills and education & levels of social mobility.

You can read the full report here.

Travel & Transport Guidance: The updated guidance for higher education providers in England on when and how to reopen their campuses and buildings is available here. The updates relate to travel and transport.

International: Wonkhe report that The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will announce later today expanded vetting for overseas applicants to university courses relating to questions of national security. This comes amid concerns around students from China collecting information for the People Liberation Army. The Times has the story.

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HE policy update for the w/e 10th September 2020

We thought it might be a quiet week, this week, but we were wrong.  The DfE has started the new academic year with a bang, and the Ofs are going to be busy.

So we are back properly to our weekly schedule although with a bit of flexibility on days of the week.

International student visas

The Home Office have made an announcement about student visas.  The new international student immigration route is opening early, from 5th October to allow the “best and brightest” to apply for a visa under the new points based system.  That includes EU students.  This will mean that “as a result of coronavirus, some overseas students are choosing to defer their entry onto courses in the UK until the spring semester of 2021. Introducing these new routes now means that students will be able to benefit from the new streamlined process whilst still giving sponsors time to adapt after their autumn intake”.

The Secretary of State and the Minister for Universities speak

Gavin Williamson has been speaking to UUK.  He starts with a bouquet of praise and thanks for the sector and almost an apology for the extra work on admissions this year, although not quite.  There was always going to be a “but…”.

First he wanted to “land three key messages” related to the pandemic:

  • Keep going – and he looks forward to working with us all as the situation evolves over the autumn term
  • The importance of collaboration – specifically with local authorities.
  • And to stay alert, which includes comms to students and keeping them at uni rather than sending them home if there are local restrictions

And then the “but”.  It starts nicely:

  • Too often, there can be an implicit narrative that every university needs to measure itself against Oxbridge. That if a university isn’t winning Nobel prizes and taking in triple A students it is somehow second rate.
  • In reality, it is the diversity of our sector which will drive the levelling up agenda that is central to everything this Government does.

But…

  • There are still pockets of low quality. One only has to look at the Guardian subject league tables to see there are too many courses where well under 50% of students proceed to graduate employment.
  • But more fundamentally, in order to create a fairer, more prosperous and more productive country, we need to reverse the generational decline in higher technical education.
  • We have already announced that, over the next few years, we will be establishing a system of higher technical education where learners and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses that provide the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, whether they are taught in a further education college, a university or an independent training provider.
  • Of course, a large proportion of this will be delivered in our great further education colleges, but what I also want to see is for universities to end their preoccupation with three-year bachelors’ degrees and offer far more higher technical qualifications and apprenticeships. These would be more occupation focused and provide a better targeted route for some students, and benefit employers and the economy.

Again, none of this is new, he has been completely consistent.  It will be interesting to see how the sector responds.

Michelle Donelan

There was a double act at UUK this morning, as the Universities Minister also spoke.

Again, lots of thanks and different examples too.  I want to say a special thank you. Thank you for bending over backwards to unlock the dreams and opportunities of this year’s cohort.

Her speech is mostly about the bureaucracy reduction announcements set out below.  But in return for this her speech also has a “but”.  Her but is also consistent with what we have heard before.  She wants:

  • readily accessible bitesized learning for people looking to upskill and reskill…. and also foster a culture of lifelong learning”.

And it comes with a carrot – or a stick – hard to tell which:

  • You will remember that the Augar review looked in detail at flexible learning and argued for widespread changes to the organisation and funding of higher education to enable that flexibility. And we will respond in parallel with the Spending Review. Rest assured, the global pandemic has not and will not throw us off course.”

Her last point was about mental health, and the need for on-going support.

Bonfire of the metrics (and general reduction of bureaucracy)

The OfS were due to review the NSS this year, and of course we are also waiting (and have been waiting for ever, it seems) for the government response to the Pearce review of the TEF.  But the DfE have gone early.  In a move which confirms what we and everyone else has been saying all summer, the DFE have confirmed that they only really care about outcomes (and continuation) and asked the OfS to do a serious review of the NSS by the end of the year.

The announcement is here.  It is much broader than just the NSS, and there are some really interesting developments, so we will set them all out by area.

Starting with the Office for Students

The measures outlined below are a combination of decisions taken by the OfS to help achieve those aims, and changes that DfE would like the OfS to implement. DfE will be following up this policy document with strategic guidance to the OfS,”

  • Enhanced monitoring – the OfS intends to report to the DfE within 3 months on how it is reducing its use of enhanced monitoring
  • Data futures – OfS has agreed to review the proposed termly data collection to make sure it is proportionate – also looking at making data collection more timely. Due by end October with final decisions alongside an OfS data strategy in April.
  • Random sampling – the OfS has suspended this
  • No further regulatory action on student transfers – this was a “big issue” in the original Jo Johnson Green/White Paper – students were being prevented or discouraged from transferring, apparently. The OfS has decided to review their current requirements for monitoring and consult on changes – but the headline suggests they won’t get more onerous.
  • The announcement welcomes the already announced decision to make estates and non-academic data collected by HESA optional.
  • Review of TRAC (T). The Transparent Approach to Costing for Teaching.  This data was used by Augar to attack fees and the announcement recognises that the government have used it to look at efficiency.  The OfS have been asked to review it because the sector have said that it is “disproportionately burdensome”.  This year’s return has been cancelled.  A “way forward” for the review is due by October alongside the UKRI review of the other stream of TRAC (see below).
  • Review of the transparency condition – this is the monitoring data provided to the OfS relating to offers and acceptable, completion and outcomes, including by gender, ethnicity and background. The OfS have said that they will explore if the amount of information requested can be reduced and replaced by other sources, and the DfE are “pleased” with that.  Due by end October.
  • Reduction in OfS fees – the OfS have to review their own efficiency with a view to reducing fees, and to help them along the government’s review of fees (which are set by the Secretary of State) will take place this Autumn instead of next year. The QAA and HESA are expected to reduce their fees too.

So, the NSS.  Hold on to your hats – these statements are bold!

  • We have asked the OfS to undertake a radical, root and branch review of the National Student Survey (NSS)…..Since its inception in 2005, the NSS has exerted a downwards pressure on standards within our higher education system, and there have been consistent calls for it to be reformed. There is valid concern from some in the sector that good scores can more easily be achieved through dumbing down and spoon-feeding students, rather than pursuing high standards and embedding the subject knowledge and intellectual skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace. These concerns have been driven by both the survey’s current structure and its usage in developing sector league tables and rankings. While government acknowledges that the NSS can be a helpful tool for providers and regulators, we believe its benefits are currently outweighed by these concerns. Further, its results do not correlate well with other, more robust, measures of quality, with some of the worst courses in the country, in terms of drop-out rates and progression to highly skilled employment, receiving high NSS scores. Accordingly, the extensive use of the NSS in league tables may cause some students to choose courses that are easy and entertaining, rather than robust and rigorous.
  • The government shares concerns raised by some in the sector that, in its current form, the NSS is open to gaming, with reports of some institutions deliberately encouraging their final year students to answer positively with incentives or messaging about their future career prospects. Academics have also criticised the cost and bureaucracy the NSS creates, arguing that the level of activity it generates can be a distraction from more important teaching and research activities. There is a sense that the level of activity it drives in universities and colleges has become excessive and inefficient. For example, we are aware that some providers employ analysts to drill down into NSS performance, in some cases at module level, and investigate any sub-par performance.
  • Student perspectives do play a valuable role in boosting quality and value across the sector, but there is concern that the benefits of this survey are currently outweighed by the negative behaviours and inefficiencies it drives. Universities must be empowered to have the confidence to educate their students to high standards rather than simply to seek ‘satisfaction’.

Now, many people will agree with at least some of that.  The sector blows hot and cold on the NSS – heavily critiquing its use in the TEF, then worrying that there was no voice for students when it was diluted in later iterations.  Many have criticised it for being subjective and unhelpful (so not so much a criticism of the survey as a tool for driving improvements, as a criticism of its inclusion in the TEF and league tables) – but that was a case of the TEF using the metrics that they had, because there wasn’t anything else.  Lots of people have criticised the methodology, despite the reviews that have been carried out before.  Some universities have had consistent boycotts (Oxbridge).

But don’t think that abolishing it will mean that we can stop worrying about the underlying issues.  The OfS have been asked (by the end of the calendar year!) to:

…undertake a radical, root and branch review of the NSS, which:

  • reduces the bureaucratic burden it places on providers
  • ensures it does not drive the lowering of standards or grade inflation
  • provides reliable data on the student perspective at an appropriate level, without depending on a universal annual sample
  • examines the extent to which data from the NSS should be made public
  • ensures the OfS has the data it needs to regulate quality effectively
  • will stand the test of time and can be adapted and refined periodically to prevent gaming

Expectations are high.  No annual survey and yet reliable data….that reduces the bureaucratic burden, and prevents gaming and avoids lowering standards and grade inflation.  Notably there are no positive suggestions about what a new approach actually will achieve other than “reliable data on the student perspective”.  You might ask perspective on what?  Not satisfaction, it seems, or even experience, but “quality and value”.   It sounds like getting rid of it completely is on the table, replacing it with something else that isn’t a survey at all.  But what?  So this is your moment.  What is the best way to get “reliable data on the student perspective”.  We look forward to engaging with staff across BU on the inevitable OfS call for evidence.

Obviously the OfS have responded to all this.  They seem to think that they will be keeping the survey.  Maybe the requirement to avoid an annual universal sample means just that – not annual, not everyone, just a sample?

  • ‘On the NSS, our review will seek to reduce any unnecessary bureaucracy, prevent any unintended consequences and gaming of the survey, whilst ensuring that the NSS stands the test of time as an important indicator of students’ opinions and experiences at every level.

UKRI and BEIS

UKRI are being asked to make a lot of changes

Selection

  • simplify eligibility criteria for bidding
  • streamline grant schemes
  • streamlined two stage application process for grants – only necessary information provided at each stage
  • single format for CVs
  • “brand new, fully digital, user-designed, applicant-focused and streamlined grants application system with the first pilot launched in August”
  • single information document for a call rather than lots

Assurance and outcomes

  • harmonising reporting
  • reducing the number of questions and making it “minimally demanding”
  • enhance risk based funding assurance approach to reduce the burden and assure an organisation not individual projects
  • review end of award reporting

Other things

  • provide additional independent challenge (on costs and bureaucracy)
  • Stop multiple asks for information that already exists
  • review TRAC (as mentioned above)

NIHR

The NIHR are congratulated for already taking a number of steps to reduce the burden on researchers.  Now there are a set of new commitments to take this further.

  • Will consider ways of making peer review more proportionate
  • “will immediately delete clauses which place obligations on research institutions which add limited value to the general research endeavour and end user from the standard NIHR contract”
  • “review eligibility criteria for all funding streams including requirements for compliance with charters and concordats”
  • Will drop the requirement for Silver Athena Swan – but instead “We will expect organisations that apply for any NIHR funding to be able to demonstrate their commitment to tackling disadvantage and discrimination in respect of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act (2010). These are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation” [that sounds like more not less bureaucracy….]
  • “NIHR currently obliges researchers, through a standard contractual provision, to notify DHSC of all publications associated with their research. ….This contractual clause will be deleted for almost all new contracts from 1st August 2020 “

Reductions in providers’ internal bureaucracy

What could this mean?  Well:

  • We …expect providers to ensure reductions in government or regulator imposed regulatory activity are not replaced with internal bureaucracy. In addition, we want them to go even further to enable academics to focus on front line teaching and research: stripping out their existing unnecessary internal bureaucracy, layers of management and management processes. [now that interesting, we flagged it a few weeks ago because it featured in the introduction to the financial restructuring document as an objective…but it is still unclear how this should be implemented – and one person’s internal bureaucracy is another person’s sensible internal control measure]
  • There are a wide variety of organisations which offer voluntary membership awards or other forms of recognition to support or validate an organisation’s performance in particular areas. …. Such schemes can be helpful but can also generate large volumes of bureaucracy and result in a high cumulative cost of subscriptions. Where a university believes that membership of such schemes are genuinely the best way of addressing a matter, it is of course free to do so, but in general universities should feel confident in their ability to address such matters themselves and not feel pressured to take part in such initiatives to demonstrate their support for the cause the scheme addresses. [from the points made above, that probably includes Athena Swan – what else?]
  • We will engage with the sector, and in partnership with research funding bodies across the UK, to tackle the broader issues that are often causes of unnecessary bureaucracy. [Like what?]
  • This is also an opportunity to shift the research sector to more modern methods of research, which will help cut red tape too. This means embracing modern methods of peer review and evaluation. It also means tackling the problematic uses of metrics in research and driving up the integrity and reproducibility of research. Crucially, we must embrace the potential of open research practices.

David Kernohan was quick to respond on Wonkhe.  One thing he points out is that the government are correct that the NSS does not correlate with highly skilled employment or outcomes.  But he points out that the government’s favourite two metrics don’t correlate with each other either  – and of course why would they.

Brexit

Have you missed it?

As you know, the trade deal with the EU has to be done by the end of the year because that is when the transitional period ends.  It could have been extended, but the deadline to request an extension was 30th June 2020 – and there was no way this government (with its large majority all signed up to a possible no deal Brexit) was going to ask for an extension.

The deadline for a deal has similarly been a bit flexible – of course, and despite all the talk of dates, the most real deadline is 31st December.  Originally it had been suggested that the deal needed to be done by July to allow for ratification – now both sides are saying that the EU leaders’ meeting on 15th October is the deadline.  But no-one will really be surprised if it carries on after that.  The withdrawal agreement was sorted in October last year, as you will remember and was then approved by Parliament in December 2020, receiving royal assent in January, just days before the UK left the EU on 31st January.  It was close.  The draft legislation wasn’t even published during all the backwards and forwards before the election, because it was such a hostage to fortune for the May government.  Then Boris negotiated changes to the withdrawal agreement and “got it done”, just in time.

So, the government are getting ahead.  Hence all the fuss about the new draft bill. Press coverage has been very excitable, especially as the NI Secretary confirmed in Parliament before it was published that the new law will “breach international law in a specific and limited way”.  As many are saying, that is not usually a defence (“sorry officer, but I only [insert criminal offence of choice here] in a specific and limited way”).  You can read the Hansard extracts here.

The Internal Markets Bill was published yesterday.  If you want to read it, it is here, which is where you will also find all the amendments etc. as it goes through.

The Institute for Government have a short blog here:

  • The bill would give ministers powers to make regulations about state aid and customs procedures for trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and would allow ministers to make regulations inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • The existence of those powers is a breach of Article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which provides that the UK must use primary legislation to give full effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law.
  • However, unless the powers were actually used, the UK would not be in breach of the state aid and customs provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol.

So that answers that question.

And also:

  • Perhaps more extraordinary than the bill’s provisions on international law are those on domestic law. Under s45(4)(g) of the bill, regulations made by the minister on state aid or customs declarations would have legal effect notwithstanding their incompatibility with “any rule of international or domestic law whatsoever”.
  • This appears to be an attempt to oust the jurisdiction of the courts to review the legality of ministerial decisions under these powers at all.
  • Such clauses are rare, and they rarely work. The courts have repeatedly found ways of reviewing government decisions even where similar clauses have tried to keep them out of the picture.
  • That is because the judges consider them an affront both to the rule of law and to parliamentary sovereignty. “It is a necessary corollary of the sovereignty of Parliament,” the Supreme Court said in a case on this issue last year, “that there should exist an authoritative and independent body which can interpret and mediate legislation made by Parliament.”
  • Section 45 of this bill will make uncomfortable reading for anyone who believes in the principle that governments are subject to the law, at home and abroad. It requires careful scrutiny in parliament.

The other concerns are about timing.  We can look forward to the arguments being aired in full over the next two weeks.

So what is the issue?

From the BBC:

  • The UK and EU settled on the Northern Ireland Protocol. This would see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU customs rules after the transition period – meaning customs declarations would be needed for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, as well as some new checks on goods going from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
  • It was unpopular with some sections of the Tory backbenches and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which had been supporting the government until that point. But the agreement was passed through Parliament and the Northern Ireland Protocol became part of the international treaty.

You will remember all this, because the PM said there would be no checks, and then the government said well actually there would, etc…..

From the BBC again:

  • Downing Street said one thing it would do is allow ministers to unilaterally decide what particular goods were “at risk” of entering the EU when passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and therefore subject to EU tariffs.
  • The law would also give ministers the powers to scrap export declarations on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and would make it clear that EU state aid requirements – where governments give financial support to homegrown businesses – would only apply in Northern Ireland.
  • But the government insists the bill only introduces “limited and reasonable steps” to “remove ambiguity” – not “overriding” the withdrawal agreement, as government sources had suggested on Sunday.

We will see.  Maybe they are just making sure that there is time for proper Parliamentary scrutiny this time, by publishing something technical in good time rather than waiting for October when the deal is finalised and there is no time to discuss it properly.  Or maybe it is sabre rattling.  And why might they need to sabre-rattle?  Because, apart from the NI border issue, there are also a couple of (unsurprising) issues outstanding in the main trade deal negotiations with the EU.

One is fishing rights, which was always going to be tricky.  You will recall that at one point it nearly derailed the discussions last year when France and Spain demanded extra concessions at the last minute.  There is an Institute for Government article from March and a  Guardian article (from June).

And the other issue is state aid – the rules about supporting domestic businesses, which are seen as anti-competitive.  There is an FT article on that.

We can expect a lot more rhetoric, bitterness, and positioning over the next few weeks.  It is clear that the deal won’t be done until it is done, and also that all the other bits, like research collaboration and participation in Erasmus, are dependent on there being a deal at all.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 16th July 2020

This week we have more from the Universities Minister as the post-Covid policy direction becomes clearer, as well as that speech from the Secretary of State abandoning (again) the 50% target for HE participation , some Committee views on the impact of the virus and what to do about it, and in case you have forgotten about Brexit and the new points-based immigration system, we had more detail this week.  There is the NSS  and some other survey news too.  Brace yourself – it’s another bumper edition.

The Universities Minster speaks

A two-for-one offer this week.  Below we will talk about Gavin Williamson’s speech on FE (and related attack on HE).  But before we get to that, we want to share Michelle Donelan’s latest on 15th July when she was questioned by the Education Select Committee.

As we write this the transcript of the session isn’t available, but there is plenty of media coverage.

You should read the Research Professional article in full, but in case you don’t have time we offer some highlights:

  • Donelan was answering a question from Conservative committee member Caroline Johnson, who wanted to know which groups of young people were least likely to go to university, why that might be and what was being done to encourage them.
  • “First of all I want to say that we don’t necessarily want everyone to go to university—that was very much the essence of the secretary of state’s speech last week,” she said [see below for our summary of that]
  • …Whether you are advantaged or disadvantaged, higher education is not necessarily the best route to get to where you want to go in life,” Donelan said. “I really think we need to move away from this focus of how many students get to university because it is such a blunt instrument that isn’t actually very accurate in terms of social mobility,” she added. “If a student gets to university and drops out after year one and has a year’s debt, what does that achieve for their social mobility? Nothing. In fact, it sets them back in life. “It is about them completing high-quality, academically rigorous courses that then lead to graduate jobs—and that is the important measure we should be looking at.”
  • Johnson did not miss the fact that the universities minister had not really addressed her question, so she went back in for a second go. “The question was: Which groups are currently least likely to go to university and is there much talk about helping those groups…to consider it as a career [choice]?” she said.
  • Donelan trotted out the well-worn line about “record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university” (missing out the word “young”, which is crucial here given the decimation of the mature student body) but acknowledged that there were “still challenges within different sections of society, including white working-class students”. “But I actually don’t think it is a good measure to look at,” the minister continued. “It is the wrong question, if you don’t mind me saying, because it doesn’t matter about looking at which groups don’t get to university. It is about making sure that those groups that do go complete, that [their course will] lead to graduate jobs, but also looking at what is in that student’s best interests.”
  • …Donelan’s declaration that this “doesn’t matter” will be confusing for the great many people who work in widening participation. Johnson seemed taken aback, too. “Does that mean no university will be required to have a target of any particular demographic of student?” she asked.
  • Donelan’s response that universities were “individually accountable” for their access and participation plans, and that there were “different issues in terms of demographics” for different universities, will not do much to address that confusion. Nor will her repeated message that “access and participation is not just about getting the student in; it is about making sure they can complete their course” and then go on to get a graduate job.
  • “We need the sector to actually look at their offer…and their messages to prospective students, because they do tend to promote courses too much that don’t offer those graduate outcomes,” the minister concluded.

Jim Dickinson has also done a summary for Wonkhe and we pick out some different points although of course he includes the access and participation stuff too:

  • Remember all that stuff about bite-size, modular learning in Augar? It sounds like that will make it into the response in the Autumn. Donelan said: “Some of the work I’m doing at the moment is looking at potential for modular learning and how we can expand the part time offer as part of our response to Augar, which we will be responding to in line with the spending review.” Whether that Augar response will tackle the widespread disbelief this time last year that the SLC would be able to handle the complexity of loans for tuition and maintenance at module level remains to be seen.
  • That “other half” of the bailout – the “restructuring regime” yin to the research funding yang, if you will, is coming. And we got a preview of the length and thickness of the strings that will be attached here: “So I can’t obviously pre-empt a report that’s going to come out. But what I can say is the driving force behind all of my work and all of the department’s work in HE is to prioritize quality provision that is fit for purpose and that unlocks opportunities for individuals that are making, at the end of the day, a massive investment in their future and one that they do want to see pay off in some form or another. I think too long we’ve let far too many students down by pushing and promoting courses that don’t have that value, don’t lead to those graduate outcomes and jobs. But at the same time, get them into tens of thousands of debt, which I just don’t think is good enough.”  Any funding from DfE would surely have to come through OfS, which was already busy with a funding review and a look at its minimum thresholds for quality. 
  • Lots of people have been concerned about student hardship during the pandemic, and so were the committee. Here the minister stretched credibility beyond all usual limits in her framing of the ability to spend some student premium in a slightly different way – an issue we’ve picked Donelan up beforeon the site: “Students have been affected by the pandemic in terms of finances, that’s undeniable. So most institutions have their own hardship funds and assistance already. And then they receive money every month for access and participation, which we worked with the Office for Students to remove the restrictions around so that they could unlock twenty three million pounds per month for April, May, June and July.  So 23 million pounds each, which is a considerable amount of money that they were able to then access to top up their hardship funds. And we promoted the use of that for things like accommodation, technology costs, system connectivity costs, all of these things. And that’s had a really fantastic impact in terms of trying to direct that support. I think it was right that we channelled that through universities who had these relationships and could identify those students most in need.”  We’re very much looking forward to seeing the evidence for the claim for the “a really fantastic impact” line, which surely must be coming given how much we all like to focus on “what works” and “outcomes” these days.

Levelling up and higher technical education

On Thursday last week Gavin Williamson gave a speech with the Social Market Foundation and then on Tuesday this week, a press release with more of the detail.

The speech set out the Government’s intentions to refocus FE, raising its profile and establishing the higher technical route as a genuine alternative to a degree. The announcement was well trailed in advance as the sector anticipated that the government would abandon Tony Blair’s target for 50% attending university (of course this wasn’t actually the target and it had already been dropped – Blair’s target was not about universities and l technical education for people under 30, as explained by former Minister Chris Skidmore here ). Given we have had several weeks (months?) of anti-HE rhetoric we had an impending sense of doom as we waited for Williamson’s speech. However, while there are the usual digs, it focussed enough on FE to be balanced.  And there is an opportunity for universities. For years the Government has urged HE institutions to work with their local schools and FE provision and received a lukewarm response, and universities will be able to access the higher technical qualification funding in collaboration with FE providers.

There was lots of interesting content in the speech, browse through the below, summarised in places to shorten it:

  • There is so much right with our education system but when it comes to further education, too many people here don’t value it as much as they should.
  • It exasperates me that there is still an inbuilt snobbishness about higher being somehow better than further, when really, they are both just different paths to fulfilling and skilled employment. Especially when the evidence demonstrates that further education can open the doors to greater opportunity, better prospects and transform lives. We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.

The Minister mentioned the following sources of financial support mentioned in the budget last week (read more in our update from last week).

  • When I first came into this job, I was firmly of the belief that there needed to be a major shift in how we treat further education. Not just because of its importance in levelling up. But because further education is vital if we want our country to grow economically and our productivity to improve. We need fundamental change, not just tinkering around the edges.
  • …Further education is central to our mission of levelling up the nation. Or quite simply, giving people the skills that they need to get the jobs that they want. If you want to transform many of our left-behind towns and regions, you don’t do it by investing more money solely in universities. You invest in the local college – the beating hearts of so many of our towns.
  • But unfortunately, we’ve not been providing as many of our young people with this opportunity as we should….Since becoming Education Secretary, I was shocked to discover that while the number of people going to university has increased, the total number of adults in education has actually fallen.
  • So what’s driven that fall?… There has been a systemic decline in higher technical qualifications… Within Higher Education Institutes, foundation degrees have declined from a high of 81,000, to approximately 30,000. Undergraduate part-time study in higher education has also fallen significantly, from nearly 250,000 in 2010 to under 100,000. Together, these more than outweigh the increase in young people going to university. And for those who haven’t achieved the equivalent of A-Levels by age 18, the chances of proceeding to higher levels of qualifications is, as Philip Augar’s report puts it, ‘virtually non-existent.’… Only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification. This compares to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada…We’re writing off people who have a tremendous potential to contribute to our society.
  • For decades, we have failed to give further education the investment it deserves. Of course, we know universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture. But it’s clear that there are limits to what can be achieved by sending ever more people to university, which is not always what the individual or our nation needs. 
  • In February I got sent a copy of the Oxford Review of Education’s special edition, about Higher Education and the labour market…Consistently across countries, there is evidence of filtering down in the labour market. That means that graduates are competing for jobs that used to be – and could still be – done by non-graduates. And a significant proportion of graduates fail to gain much advantage from going to university at all…It reinforces what we already know…that 34% of our graduates are in non-graduate jobs, more than any other countries in Europe except for Ireland and the Czech Republic. And employers say that too often, graduates don’t have the skills they need, whether that’s practical know-how or basic numeracy and literacy. [Here you may wish to read Wonkhe’s alternative take on the 34% underemployed.]
  • ….Skilled trade and professional occupations, in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, report some of the highest skills shortages. Many of these occupations require intermediate or higher technical qualifications – precisely the things that we are not teaching. Simply as a nation we seem to have given up on them when these are the skills we need most to have a chance of competing against other nations.
  • And let’s not pretend these qualifications are in any way inferior to a degree. The outcomes speak for themselves. Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. I’d like to pause on that point just for a moment. A work-based, technical apprenticeship, lasting around 2 years, gives greater returns than the typical three year bachelor’s degree. For too long, we’ve been training people for jobs that don’t exist. We need to train them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future. We have to end the focus on qualifications for qualifications sake. We need fundamental reform: a wholesale rebalancing towards further and technical education. And across our entire post-16 sector, we need a much stronger alignment with the economic and societal needs of the nation.
  • My personal commitment is to put further and technical education at the heart of our post-16 education system. Like the Prime Minister, I believe that talent and genius are expressed as much by the hand and by the eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay.
  • We need to create and support opportunities for those who don’t want to go to university, not write them off – or drive them down a path that, can all too often, end with graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work.

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

  • Apprenticeship level and move to employer-led standards
  • Introduction of T levels
  • But, we need to go further, we need to go further and we need to go faster: to remove qualifications that are just not fit for purpose; to tackle low quality higher education; and to give colleges the powers and resources that they need to truly drive change.

Germany…

  • This autumn I will be publishing a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities. This will not be about incremental change, but a comprehensive plan to change the fundamentals of England’s further education landscape, inspired by the best models from around the world.
  • It will be centred upon two things. Firstly, high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. All apprenticeships starts will be based on those standards from August this year and we will be looking to place such standards at the heart of our whole technical education system. Secondly, colleges playing a leading role in developing skills in their areas, driving an ambitious agenda that responds to local economic need and acting as centres for businesses and their development.

The Minister pledged to review the 12,000 level 3 qualifications simplifying the system into a consistently high-quality set of choices with a clear line of sight to study at higher levels.

  • …following our consultation last year we will be bringing forward plans to reverse the decline in higher technical education so that we can begin once more to train people for the jobs that the economy actually needs…And we want to do much more to open up more flexible ways of studying, including better support for modular learning.
  • Reforming and growing higher technical education will be a long-term endeavour. We want to see our great further education colleges expanding their higher technical provision. And although this speech is about further education, universities can be an important part of the solution, if they are willing to significantly step up their provision of higher technical qualifications.
  • Of course, qualifications are only half of the picture. Equally important is where they are taught…how our colleges should look in the future…They should be led by great leaders and governors who are drawn from local communities and businesses, and teaching staff who have already have experience working in and with industry…They should have industry-grade equipment and modern buildings which are great places to learn in and which act as centres for business development and innovation…They should deliver courses that are of the highest quality and which are tailored to the needs of employers and their local economies…They should work with small, local businesses to support the introduction of new technology and processes, and offer training in emerging skills….And there should be a robust system of governance so that every college is financially secure, flexible and dynamic. [That’ll keep the Government/ESFA busy then!]
  • We are also driving forward our network of Institutes of Technology. They will lead the way on delivering higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths – skills that will give this country a competitive edge not just in the industries of today, but, just as importantly, those of tomorrow. The first 12 are being rolled out across the country, ready to deliver the next generation of technicians and engineers, and more will follow soon. [Later this year the government plans to launch a competition to ensure that all of England is covered by an Institute of Technology.]

I think a lot of thought went into Williamson’s speech as he even attempts to change the rhetoric:

  • Some people say that further education and apprenticeships are for other people’s children. Let me be clear: I don’t. I’d be delighted if my children went to college or did an apprenticeship.
  • …No longer can we persist in the view that university is the silver bullet for everyone and everything. The revolution and need for change is long overdue. Education’s purpose is to unlock an individual’s potential so they can get the job and career that they crave. If it fails to do that then education itself has let them down. Today I have laid down a marker for change. A commitment to stand for the forgotten 50%. [You may recall that it was Ed Miliband who first coined the ‘forgotten 50%’ phrase in this context.]

Responses

The Guardian have an article from Berlin Bureau Chief – Philip Oltermann –  Importing Germany’s dual education system is easier said than done stating the German set up is fundamentally different to the UK (for a start it’s a federal nation, and a lot bigger) but also because it has the same ‘issue’ with HE being a preferred option. The Guardian states:

  • it involves complex coordination between the different actors, which the UK would at present struggle to reproduce, but also because it is threatened by the same cultural factors that have made universities so popular in the UK.  
  • ..the German dual system requires a high level of complex coordination between the employers who pay the trainee’s wages, the federal states that fund vocational training schools tailored to the needs of local industry, the unions that feed into the curriculum, and the chambers of trade and industry that carry out the exams at the end.
  • Previous British attempts to build up German-style dual systems – New Labour’s “14-19 Diplomas” and David Cameron’s ambitious apprenticeship targets – struggled to build up the educational infrastructure required to go with it.
  • Most British unions don’t have the capacity to feed expertise into training programmes… there isn’t an equivalent tradition of employers’ umbrella organisations developing training programmes for their entire sector.
  • In addition, not just Britain but Germany too is experiencing a gravitational pull that draws more and more young people towards universities rather than apprenticeships.

And the key point is this –

  • One reason for the trend, labour market experts speculate, is that academic degrees promise more flexibility, which is one of the downsides of the dual system.
  • While Germany’s dual training programmes produce highly specialised workers that can be perfectly matched to a sector’s current needs, they can struggle when digitalisation or globalisation throws that sector into crisis, as German printers, tailors or photo laboratory technicians have discovered in recent years.

Williamson’s speech is all about training young people to fit within specific fields of work, particularly addressing skills gaps – but those gaps will close and educational programmes take longer to respond. Flexibility really is the key here as people expect to need to change professions 5-7 times during their working span (Careers advice online, Financial Times, although this source takes issue with the ‘job hopping millennial’).

Before the Minister made his speech ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Conservative Home agreeing with Williamson’s speech but also using his piece to remind about:

  • Step-on, step off, credit based learning, that allows for a personalised education for the 100 per cent, not one that seeks to divide between two systems.
  • we should not turn the clock back – but equally let’s make sure we give everyone, regardless of background, an equal chance to learn. More part-time, flexible learning for adults of every age can help achieve this.
  • My greatest objection to the 50 per cent headline grabbing figure is that it masks some of the truly horrifying, persistent divisions in our country. Still just nine per cent of white boys on free school meals living in the North East access higher education; only six per cent of pupils who have been in care will do so. These divisions are even more acute when the type of university institution is taken into account. In 2018, 17 per cent of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7 per cent of them enrolled at high-tariff providers.
  • It is not acceptable for money to be handed over to institutions without delivering the necessary qualification. So called ‘non-completions’ are an unacceptable waste of talent and resource – which is why we need to create a learning system that prevents young people from dropping through the net.

In what will likely be an interesting summer for policy twists e should not dismiss Skidmore’s remarks simply because he is a backbencher. Currently Donelan is overshadowed by her two predecessors and their recent frequent media pieces…’ as if they are trying to influence from the side lines as they scent the change on the wind.

On the speech Wonkhe say: There are also serious doubts about the government’s capability and capacity to deliver meaningful reform in this area. It seems perennially confused about what it wants from higher education… And the fact that ministers can’t seem to support further education without attacking universities has left many on both sides of the old tertiary divide scratching their heads.

Wonkhe also sum up some of the media and sector responses for us: Greg Walker, CEO of MillionPlus said that some of the rhetoric in the speech missed the mark “as it appears to see HE and FE as alternatives, which they are clearly not”. University Alliance CEO Vanessa Wilson added that it was wrong to suggest that higher education “rarely offers technical qualifications and training”. The speech is covered by the BBC, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independenti News, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Mail. The Spectator also runs an opinion piece from the Social Market Foundation’s Director, James Kirkup, on the “genuinely important” speech, while the Guardian’s Education editor muses on what might come of Williamson’s education “revolution”.

Writing before the speech was released Research Professional made some good points:

  • How the government will actually stop school leavers choosing “popular-sounding courses”, as Donelan put it, remains to be seen.
  • Scarcity of places and repurposing the course offer of universities that get into financial trouble are two tools available, but they are unlikely to have much impact in the short and medium term while the demographic of 18-year-olds in England is at its lowest for several decades and supply outstrips demand.
  • It would seem that not even the coronavirus can dim the desire of young people to go to university, or of their parents to see them there. So what makes the government think it can do what Covid-19 cannot?
  • Even after the government has trebled tuition fees, cut grants and created a market of alternative providers, young people still want to go to university in numbers that continue to grow. The expansion of university participation is driven by the desires of students and their parents, not by irresponsible vice-chancellors looking to put bums on seats, as a former universities minister once put it.
  • …Williamson may rail today against a previous emphasis on increased entry to university, while on the other hand this government might end up making good on New Labour’s 50 per cent participation pledge. That target … was always supposed to include students experiencing higher education on HND and HNC courses. An investment in further education, with a push on lower-level qualifications, might just result in the Conservatives finally realising the ambition of Tony Blair’s government.
  • A canny education secretary who wanted to get things done would incentivise higher education in a further education setting and enable partnerships between universities and local colleges. An education secretary hidebound by ideology will seek to erect obstacles to university attendance, which will prove to be ineffective and counterproductive in the long run.
  • How Williamson chooses to pivot in his speech today will tell us a lot about what the legacy of this government will be for universities. Will it be five years of lobbying against restrictive measures or will it be a period of contributing to national recovery through joined-up thinking across the education system?

Post-speech Research Professional focus on the poor state of the FE sector and suggest that the Government’s reforms are the reason for the numbers decline within the mature population.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of The Sutton Trust, said:

  • Further educationandapprenticeshipshave a crucial role to play in widening opportunity … We would also like to see many more degree and degree-levelapprenticeshipsavailable to young people. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to earn while they learn, graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants. 

Tim Thomas, Make UK Director of Labour Market and Skills Policy said:

  • This is a welcome move to parity between academic and vocational education. For too long vocational education has been seen as the second class option for those who don’t make it to university. An employer-led vocational training system is the only way that we will meet the skills needs of the future and properly train the next generation with the future skills needed by business.
  • High quality engineering apprenticeships can offer better careers than university education and are often seen by employers as a better source of talent and supplying the right skills required by business. We look forward to working with government on their white paper and producing the fundamental changes need to our vocational trading system needed to make these objectives a reality for employers and learners alike.

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

Higher technical quals consist of HNCs (Higher National Certificates, level 4) and HND (Higher National Diplomas, level 5) effectively plugging the levels between A level (level 3) and Degree (level 6). Unlike A levels and degrees they usually have a technical focus and the Minister intends for them to focus on the skilled professions particular where the UK needs additional manpower to service industry gaps. The Government intend to:

  • Introduce new higher technical qualifications from as early as September 2022 [digital quals in Sept 2022, health science and construction in 2023] with a Government branded quality mark certifying the qualification as delivering the skills employers need (and using the same occupational standards as T levels and apprenticeships will sit within).
  • Work with Ofsted and the OfS to ensure the course quality is consistently high across HE and FE providers and building on the Institutes of Technology. Wonkhe speculate that the regulatory role will sit with the OfS as the original consultation highlighted an assurance role for the Office for Students that focused more on inputs than outputs – we’re expecting to see a move away from that level of active intervention to a reliance on existing OfS registration requirements in the full announcement.
  • Raise public awareness through a national campaign supported by employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of opportunities that studying a higher technical qualification can open up and making sure students get the right information, advice and guidance to make informed choices. Also: we will raise the profile and understanding of the best higher technical education courses through a government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice and guidance.

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

The Government certainly means business with the speed they intend to introduce the new qualifications. Many complained that T levels are not ready, and they had a far longer lead time and are being introduced piecemeal. The higher technical qualifications will continue  the Government’s vocational and technical route after T levels, alongside the intended expansion of the Institutes of Technology.

It is expected that the new higher technical quals will focus on STEM and manufacturing at first. What haven’t been mentioned are degree apprenticeships nor topping up a HND to a full degree. It is somewhat conspicuous by its absence as this has always been the focus of previous Government efforts. However, given the current rhetoric about degrees and criticism of the cost of the degree apprenticeships, the absence isn’t surprising. Yet it does create a hole between the Government’s ideal for more applied research to take place in situ within businesses and industry, including PhDs, which need that top up to the full degree and the advanced research skills often learnt on the level 6 top up.

The biggest question is what fee regime the higher technical qualifications will be subject to.

Finally the Government’s press release states the measure announced today will complement the Government’s review of post-18 education to ensure the system is joined up, accessible and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. The Government did review the higher technical level 4 & 5 space last year (it bumbled along quietly against the tertiary education and funding review). The Augar review was Theresa May’s baby and the Government has delayed its response and forthcoming changes for an embarrassingly long while. The Government may also think the lure of the technical route will result in a drop in degree applications – that remains to be seen, particularly given points made earlier about young people wanting flexibility over career choices rather than being channelled into a particular skill set and there is the forthcoming young population boom to accommodate.

Wonkhe have an interactive chart showing where the existing higher technical courses are offered. It describes approximately 1,000 courses currently exist with FE colleges delivering slightly more than HE institutions. Sadly it doesn’t geographically map where these courses are to show national coverage or patchiness, although you can browse through the provider names to get a feel for the national distribution.

There was a parliamentary question on difficulty for young people travelling to their T level placements from rural areas. The Government responds on increased funding to sources that could support the individual.

Finally, Mary Curnock Cook (ex UCAS CEO) blogs for HEPI stating that the technical curriculum needs to be on offer at secondary level too. Excerpt:

  • while I support the government’s aims to overhaul tertiary education options I fear their current approach will further divide society, lethally levelling up the already privileged middle-classes while sorting off the less well off, lower-attaining rest into what will forever seem like poorer options in lesser occupations. If levelling up is the aim, then we need to create broader and meaningful technical and skills pathways for all students, not just for those that do less well at academic GCSEs.

Admissions – use of calculated grades

Much of this week’s education-related parliamentary chatter has been about the use of predicted grades to determine GCSE and A level results. It is slightly surprising it has taken until now – given one of the main reasons for considering an alternative to HE admissions are concerns over the inaccuracy of predicted grades, particularly that disadvantaged students may be underpredicted (reducing their chances of reaching a higher tariff provider), BAME bias may result in underprediction, and SEN children can perform higher than expected in final exams (and mocks may not have incorporated the adjustments they would expect in the finals).

The Education Committee’s latest report Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades addresses the issue. 

  • We consider exams to be the fairest form of assessment, and any alternative will inevitably be an imperfect replacement. Ofqual has stepped up to the immense challenge of devising these exceptional arrangements,
  • We have concerns that the system described by Ofqual as the “fairest possible in the circumstances” could be unfair for groups including disadvantaged pupils, BAME pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND.
  • …We believe it is reasonable to remain aware that the potential for human bias in predicted grades may be replicated in the calculated grade system. We note that teachers and support staff themselves appear sceptical of the fairness of this year’s system of awarding grades
  • We are unconvinced that safeguards—such as additional guidance and practical recommendations—put in place by Ofqual will be sufficient to protect against bias and inaccuracy in calculated grades. In particular, given research evidence on unconscious bias, we are concerned that groups including pupils from low-income families, BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, and children looked after could be disadvantaged by calculated grades.
  • We raised our concerns about fairness for pupils with special educational needs to Ofqual, emphasising the importance of ensuring SEND specialists feed into calculated grades. We are pleased that Ofqual produced guidance on considering evidence from SEND specialists during the calculated grade process. We are concerned, however, that there was no accountability mechanism for ensuring this happened consistently
  • Given the potential risks of bias in calculated grades, it is clear that standardisation will be a crucial part of ensuring fairness. We are extremely concerned that Ofqual’s standardisation model does not appear to include any mechanism to identify whether groups such as BAME pupils, FSM eligible pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups…have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards.

On appeals the report says:

  • We took evidence on the system Ofqual has devised for appealing grades. Sally Collier assured us that Ofqual has “spent many hours with very many people trying to come up with the fairest possible appeal system in the circumstances”. Tom Bewick told us that given the circumstances, the 2020 system “is effectively the least worst option”.
  • We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination. Such a system also favours more affluent pupils and families with resources and knowledge of the system.

Recommendations:

  • We call on Ofqual to make a transparency guarantee—a commitment to publishing details of its standardisation model immediately to allow time for scrutiny. Ofqual should not be afraid of scrutiny or open debate over whether its model offers the fairest outcome for every pupil and provider
  • Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups such as BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligible pupils have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards. The Government must extend catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils to ensure this is not a lost generation. This should be done by doubling the disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula for pupils in Year 12, for at least the next year.
  • Ofqual’s evaluation must include comprehensive data on attainment, by characteristics including gender, ethnicity, SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligibility, providing full transparency on whether there are statistically significant differences between attainment this year compared with previous years.
  • It is right that pupils should be able to appeal their grade if they believe bias or discrimination has occurred, but Ofqual has not given enough thought on how to make this route accessible to all pupils. [The section within the report on appeals states The appeals process: a process for the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed?] …Without support, proving bias or discrimination would be an almost impossible threshold for any pupil to evidence. Disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, risk being shut out of this route. Ofqual must urgently publish the evidence thresholds for proving bias and discrimination, clearly setting out what evidence will be required. AND Ofqual must collect and publish anonymised data at the conclusion of the appeals process on where it received appeals from, including, as a minimum, type of school attended, region, gender, ethnicity, SEND status, children looked after (including children supported by virtual schools), and FSM eligibility
  • Ofqual must ensure gold-standard advice and support is easily accessible for all pupils unhappy with their grades. Both the helplines provided by Ofqual and the National Careers Service must be freephone lines. These must both be staffed by dedicated professionals with the training to provide sound and impartial step-by-step advice and support on options and appeals.

Paragraphs 30 onwards tackles calculated grades for vocational and technical qualifications.

A HEPI blog, Halfon is right: Ofqual has more to do, agrees with the Education Committee’s outcomes and urges for action to be taken. It make interesting points about the autumn exams too:

  • In the understandable rush to introduce a completely new system, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on 20 March, it probably seemed reasonable at first to invent a system in which dissatisfaction could be tackled by an opportunity to take an autumn examination. Over time this choice has unravelled. If initial results match the allowed national distribution and autumn exam candidates succeed in achieving higher grades, then grade inflation is bound to follow – unless other candidates are downgraded, which is unthinkable. Are autumn exam candidates being set up to fail? Or will the August results be scaled down to allow some headroom in the national distribution?
  • Furthermore, students sitting autumn exams face a compulsory gap year, because the exams will be too late for a 2020-2021 start. This in itself may be discriminatory, especially for disadvantaged students. The impact of autumn-awarded grades on admission prospects for 2021 is uncertain. Some universities are refusing deferred entry for 2021, others will honour offers but with added conditions. The competition for 2021 entry is likely to be much more intense as 2020 students reapply, a larger 2021 cohort apply for the first time, and international students from 2020 and 2021 return in much larger numbers.

Admissions – numbers up

UCAS announced a rise in application numbers last week – up 1.6% on last year and is the highest figure in four years. They state a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied to HE (last year – 38.9%) despite there being 1.5% fewer in the population because of the birth dip. (And 2020 is the bottom point in the population dip.) Just over a quarter of young applicants were from disadvantaged backgrounds (25.4%) using the participation measure. There is a small drop in EU student applications (down 2%).  And UCAS highlight that nursing applications (between January and June only) was 63% higher than the same period last year. Universities will be keen to ensure these applicants convert into enrolments once the results are out.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

Research Professional comment: This is great news for universities because it suggests that in the teeth of a fierce recession and with the prospect of gap-year travel off the table, even the model of blended learning on offer in institutions next year is proving to be more appealing to young people than continuing to be locked down with mum and dad.

Nursing

Every week the Government receive several parliamentary questions urging for leniency on nursing tuition fees both to cut tuition moving forward and refunds as a response to the coronavirus support work they undertook in hospitals. The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper exploring the current funding systems for healthcare students, plus medicine, dentistry and paramedics. The nursing section includes the recent impacts on applications to study and the September 2020 new bursary offers. The Government also issued a press release to celebrate that applications to nursing courses are up by 16% (at end of June) and that the NHS is currently employing a record number of nurses and midwives (the largest ever annual increase):

  • Around 18,370 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s permanent register to work in the UK compared to a year ago, bringing the total number to 716,607 by 31 March 2020. The number of people trained in the UK leaving the register has also fallen to a five-year low.

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

  • This is the second year in a row that applicant numbers have risen. In 2019 there was a 6.4% increase in people accepted onto nursing and midwifery courses in England compared to 2018.

However, the Royal College of Nursing responded to the increase in nursing applications stating a much larger increase is required if the government is to come anywhere close to its commitment of having 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England by the end of this Parliament.

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

  • “Application numbers for the nursing degree in England have reduced by 17.4% since 2016, the final year of the bursary. This means even if the all of the latest applications are turned into acceptances and ultimately registered nurses, the large workforce gap will still not close.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the contribution that nurses, and in particular student nurses, make to the entire health and care system. The effort they have shown has to be met with investment in our future nurses.
  • The government must invest properly in our domestic nursing supply and ensure patient need is met in the long term. To achieve this, it must wipe the debt of those who’ve had to take this on to study, provide full tuition fee support for all students and ensure maintenance support reflects students’ actual living costs.
  • The government should aim for an oversupply of nurses to strengthen our profession and keep patients safe.

Tuition fee refunds

Remember that mass petition for tuition fee refunds that was reopened by the Petitions Committee in Parliament? The Committee heard oral evidence and engaged 28,000 students through a survey and online forum (wider inquiry details here). The Committee has reported (key findings here) concluding that there should not be a universal reimbursement but that individuals can claim refunds on an individual basis in certain circumstances. The Committee stated:

  • While students do have a right to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course if the service provided by their university is substandard, we do not believe that there should be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.

However, as the Guardian reports, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP who chairs the petitions committee, said:

  • “Despite the hard work of lecturers and support staff, some universities have been unable to provide courses in a way that students feel is good value for money. Therefore, while we do not consider that a blanket refund for all students is necessarily required, we believe that the government has a role in ensuring any student whose university experience has fallen short is compensated.”
  • The report calls for refund procedures to be streamlined and better publicised, saying the existing complaints process or use of the courts places too much of a burden on individual students and are likely to be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.
  • The MPs also said the government should pay for tuition fee refunds this year, “given the importance of the higher education sector to the UK economy, and the exceptional circumstances”.

Wonkhe have a blog it starts: Should students get a refund? Some should, says a committee – but they won’t. The House of Commons petitions committee is clueless on consumer law and student rights.

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

  • work with universities, the Office for Students, and Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to produce guidance on when current and future university students may be entitled to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course;
  • establish a new system which enables all students to easily seek a full or partial refund of their tuition fees, or to repeat part of their course;
  • ensure that all students are advised of their consumer rights and are given clear guidance on how to avail themselves of these if they feel their university has failed to provide an adequate standard of education;
  • consider providing additional funding to universities to enable them to pay any refunds university students are entitled to as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak;
  • consider alternative means for reimbursing students, where an independent process has found that they are entitled to a refund;
  • consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

  • NUS has been calling for the Government to provide a Student Safety Net since the scale of the impact on students became clear. The Petitions Committee’s recommendations would go a long way in achieving this aim, with targeted fee reimbursements and debt write-offs. We also welcome the references to support for further study or to redo elements of the course.
  • Although the report highlights some of our key asks for education leavers, the recent Treasury announcements for graduates do not go far enough and we would like to see an extended economic support package put in place.
  • Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the cracks in a broken higher education system, and hit students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities the hardest. It is critical that the Government acts on these suggestions, but they must also go further. We are calling for universal compensation, and for the Government to protect our education sector from the failed project of marketisation before they lose the faith of millions of students.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has been on the ball throughout this process and in light of this week’s announcement they have blogged for Wonkhe:

  • We think it’s reasonable to expect providers to try to agree any significant changes with students as this is in everyone’s best interests. Where this is not possible, it’s important to explain to students what their options are. From our perspective, we would not be prescriptive about what this looks like in practice but we would look at whether the provider has taken reasonable steps to consult with students and enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Now that providers have had some time to plan for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, it is in our view unlikely to be reasonable for providers to rely on exclusion clauses that allow the provider to make significant changes to what it has promised, or not to deliver it at all, in the new year.
  • Where it’s not possible to deliver something that is at least broadly equivalent to what was promised, or to meet an individual students’ needs, the provider will need to think about how to put that right. It’s best to do this proactively without waiting for formal complaints to be raised.
  • There are groups of students whose studies are particularly badly affected by Covid-19 disruption and where significant changes are needed to their courses. It’s important to identify those groups and try to address their issues.
  • Providers will also be aware of and looking out for students who are vulnerable or less able to access replacement provision. Some of these students too may feel unable to continue with their studies, for example because their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or very anxious.
  • In such extraordinary times we think it’s reasonable for students to be considering deferring or interrupting their studies, although this may not be their best option. We think providers should be considering requests sympathetically, helping students to understand their options, and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so.
  • We don’t think it’s reasonable to have blanket policies such as refusing to give tuition fee refunds in any circumstances or refusing all requests for deferral, or not engaging with individual students’ concerns. We have already seen a worrying example of this among the first coronavirus-related complaints that have reached us. 
  • When we review a student’s complaint we look at whether the provider has followed fair procedures, and whether it has acted reasonably in the circumstances. We always take into account relevant legislation and guidance… A student’s contractual terms and conditions are important but we look more widely than that, at what is fair.

Research Professional have a short article on the Petitions Committee decision mainly focusing on restitution for students such as a tuition fee loan refund.

International Students

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) published a roadmap for a world-class international student experience. It calls for further visa flexibility, delaying the immigration health surcharge, and aims to build a stronger evidence base of current international students’ experiences, to drive future policy development and support policy asks. UKCISA also hopes to develop an International Student Charter.

Research Professional report on a survey suggesting that a fifth of potential EU students who considered studying in the UK plan to start their course earlier than they originally intended because of the tuition fee changes (the removal of home status).

Pinsent Masons (legal firm) run through all the recent Visa status changes. The Tier 4 content is just below halfway on this link.

Scotland have confirmed they will also end the free tuition for EU students from 2021. HE Minister Richard Lochhead explained it as a Brexit decision made with a heavy heart. He stated the £19 million  (per year) EU fee saving would be retained within Scotland to support more Scottish residents to attend University. To support Scottish universities internationalisation he aims to put a scholarship programme in place to continue to attract EU talent.

Despite last week’s urging from ex-Universities Minister Jo Johnson and Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy the Government’s response to the international students in the US (who will have their visa rescinded due to their institution offering online study only during the pandemic) will not take a proactive stance. Current Universities Minister Michelle Donelan simply reiterated all the ‘welcoming’ measures for international students that are already in place such as the online study visa exemption and the post study work visa system. No attractive marketing campaign will be launched. This isn’t surprising from the viewpoint of international relations with an America determined to take offence at slights, however, given how well the Government’s aides have been listening and responding to sector chatter recently a warmer response might have been anticipated.

The second half of this Research Professional article gives the perspective of a German student who is anticipating their visa will be cancelled. It reminds that there is more to it than an undergraduate student forced to choose between deferral or switching countries of study:

  • simply studying online at a US institution from Germany is not feasible for many who had plans to stay in the United States for an extended period of time and have made arrangements accordingly, including uprooting family. 
  • “Anyone who—sometimes accompanied by relatives—is completing or planning a stay of several years in the United States, and has temporarily given up his or her centre of life in Germany for this purpose, is faced with existential questions.”

Happily for those international students the point is now moot. Following immense pressure from the Harvard and MIT law suit (which was joined by the tech giants, e.g. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the US Chamber of Commerce) President Trump has dropped the visa cancellation.

Whether international students will be exempt from the mandatory C-19 quarantine period of 2 weeks.  Whereas this IDP Connect survey suggests 77% of international students would happily quarantine if it meant a quicker return to face to face on campus teaching.

Points-based Immigration System

A policy paper on the points-based immigration system was published this week with more detail on the Student, Graduate and Skilled Worker route. There are lots of items with a little more detail, however, the key points remain as we’ve mentioned in previous policy updates. For those with an interest you can read the main elements here. One key change is that universities will need to do more than just monitor attendance – they will need to confirm (keep records as evidence) that international students have fully engaged with the course. Research Professional have a short write up here.

Graduate Outcomes

HESA released the next set of Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics data, this time looking at graduates’ subjective wellbeing. They asked about how anxious/happy the respondent felt, whether they felt the things they do in their life are worthwhile, and whether they are satisfied with their life. The charts are here. The second set of charts examines the above questions by subject studied. Education and subjects allied to medicine stand out as happiest/most pleased with their life currently.

The third chart shows that there isn’t a lot of difference on the questions from students across the range of degree outcomes from pass to first. The fourth chart looks at gender differences – females stated more anxiety but also rate high on the worthwhileness of their life. You can also cut the data by domicile in the final chart.

Wonkhe’s data guru interprets the findings further in a specific blog.

Social Mobility Commission

Sandra Wallace (lawyer) and Steven Cooper (banking) have been appointed as interim chairs of the Social Mobility Commission on a job share basis. Both currently serve on the Commission and will fill the role temporarily until a substantive chair can be appointed. You can read more on the appointees background and the details of the appointments in the Government’s press release.

Bailout push

YouGov have undertaken a poll examining the 30 marginal constituencies (those which swing between parties at the election and aren’t a safe seat) which all have a (10%+) student population and a university within their catchment. The results of the poll aren’t publicly available (currently) so we rely on the reporting in the UCU press release for details. UCU report that voters in these constituencies support additional Government funding to protect their university from the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic. These constituencies MPs include PM Boris Johnson and Science Minister Amanda Solloway. The bottom of the press release contains a table detailing the constituencies and their elected MPs.

  • 76% felt their local university was important in creating local jobs
  • 79% felt the university was important to the local economy
  • 72% university is key in brining in outside investment to the local area
  • 75% the university supplies key skilled staff for local services such as schools and hospitals
  • 33% of those polled who were employed stated the university was important to their own job
  • 42% knew someone studying or working at the university
  • 66% believe there would be a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped at their university due to C-19
  • 75% were concerned of a negative local impact if their university went bust
  • 55% supported a temporary increase in Government financial support for their university to maintain courses and jobs (20% opposed the idea). [Hardy overwhelming support for this question!]
  • 43% want their local MPs to campaign for increased support for universities

NSS Analysis

The OfS have issued a press release on the 2020 National Student Survey additional analysis which examined the impact of the coronavirus on the results. They state that student satisfaction is stable and students continue to be discontented with course organisation and communication of changes.

  • The additional analysis acknowledges variations across the data but no evidence the results have been significantly impacted by the pandemic: The OfS used a statistical model to determine whether there is a significant difference between responses made before and after the 11 March (an ’11 March effect’) when other factors are taken into account. The model found that there is a difference for the majority of questions, but similar variations are also present in 2018 and 2019, so cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic.
  • 83% of students are satisfied with their course (2019 was 84%)
  • 67% feel their course is well organised and run smoothly (2019 = 70%; 2018 = 69%)
  • 62% felt students’ course feedback had been acted on (but only 49% of part time students did)
  • 2020 response levels were lower than in 2019 and 2018
  • Overall comparing against 2019 there is a small negative shift in the agreement rate for some questions.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

  • This academic year has come with unprecedented challenges for both universities and colleges, and their students. Notwithstanding the impact of both industrial action and the coronavirus pandemic on the students responding to the survey, the results remain remarkably positive.
  • However, for several years, students have reported comparatively lower satisfaction with the organisation and management of their courses, and how effectively changes are communicated. Now more than ever, the survey results demonstrate how important it is for universities to communicate changes effectively, run courses as smoothly as possible, and listen carefully to student feedback. This is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic …

 Student Number Controls

This week Jo Johnson writes for the Evening Standard. The piece tackles how student number controls and, reading between the lines, possible changes to the funding of certain degree programmes that the Government might be considering (remember Jo himself was in favour of differential fees and tried to bring in through the HERA legislation linked to the quality of the TEF judgement – but the Lords protested) could negatively impact on arts programmes.

  • Up until the Coronavirus struck, they [the creative industries] were growing at five times the rate of the economy and generating around 15 per cent of national gross value-added. Enabling historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema to access emergency grants and loans while their doors are closed is a no-brainer.
  • For policy to be fully joined up, however, the Department for Education must take care over how it operates recently re-imposed domestic student number controls. This risks turning into a crude process to allocate places – and therefore funding – on the basis of flawed measures of graduate earnings. This would unfairly penalise creative arts courses already in the cross-hairs of higher education sceptics in Parliament fired up by Gavin Williamson’s denunciation of the Blair-era target for 50 per cent of young people to go to university. If we have learnt anything lately, it is to value socially useful but lower-earning professions.
  • It would be incoherent to open the door to international talent to work across our economy, while restricting opportunities for domestic students to prepare themselves for careers in the arts. An economic nonsense too: the creative industries were generating £13 million for the economy every hour before Covid-19 – enough to repay the subsidy to arts courses in the student loan book many times over.
  • Our creative industries will only recover if we supply them with the skills and talent vital for their success.

Research

  • A parliamentary question asking whether HE institutions can combine all the sources of Government support.
  • Covid-19 researchers will receive visa relaxation measures.
  • An answer to a parliamentary question we mentioned last week has revealed that UKRI administers 70% of the research public funding (UK sources).
  • Establishing an effective coordination and oversight mechanism to serve the R&D spectrum in the UK – a Science for the Justice System Advisory Group has been established working with UKRI to coordinate forensic science in the UK.
  • Direct air capture R&D funding
  • Institutions eligible for research funding (influence of REF award)
  • Wellcome have a new blog – How could COVID-19 change research culture for the better?
  • Research Professional (RP) report that participation in Horizon Europe is dead in all but name – there are concerns over the terms on which the UK could associate with the EU’s research funding schemes and the cost of the joining fee plus the operational contribution is described as eye-watering. Cost estimates range from 600 million Euros to 12 billion Euros – way beyond the costs UK researchers could win back in funding. The article states that Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, said EU academia remains firmly behind UK association, and said British institutions must pile pressure on their government. If you’re not going to push anymore, nobody is. And that the European Commission has clearly indicated that this [terms/contribution] is still up for negotiation. Deketelaere implies it is the UK Government who are balking at joining Horizon Europe not the European Commission. However, there are question marks over the joining charge – the UK’s fee is being set out whereas it is unclear if the EU will charge other non-EU countries for association. RP report that the Treasury also expect the costs to come out of existing research budgets (previously it was going to be in addition to the science budget) because of the generous sums announced recently (and due to the cost of the pandemic for the Government). RP state:  Government sources now question whether the UK research community will be willing to blow a multibillion-pound hole in research budgets for the sake of access to the prestigious European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Awards.

RP continue:

  • While there are now clouds on the horizon for the UK’s participation in EU research schemes, all of this is subject to the caveat that negotiations over both a Brexit trade deal and the terms of Horizon Europe are still ongoing. Everything could change, but all available evidence suggests that the UK government is now preparing an exit strategy and has its excuse lined up already.
  • Playbook suspects that as Brexit trade deal talks intensify after the summer, UK universities will be presented with a choice between paying over the odds to play in Europe or settling for beefed-up domestic schemes administered by UK Research and Innovation. For vice-chancellors, the wallet will say UKRI although the heart may say EU—is it a price worth paying?
  • But, in the end, this is not a decision that will be made in universities.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Disadvantage: The OfS has published their latest briefing note which considers outreach to disadvantaged students during the coronavirus. It describes online outreach including two case studies of a blended summer school type model, and other approaches targeted towards BAME, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, mature learners, and other vulnerable or underrepresented groups.

HE Sector Financial Health: The House of Commons Library have published a briefing Coronavirus: Financial impact on HE. It covers the financial health of the sector, the impact of reduced international student numbers, the Government support packages (fee payments and research funding) and the R&D roadmap.

Student Loans: The SLC have launched a new online repayment service – it calculates a student’s up to date remaining loan balance. It aims to avoid over payments as students near the end of their repayments.

Prevent: Wonkhe report on the latest report reviewing Prevent. Wonkhe say:

  • The government’s Prevent strategy has led to the persistence of negative stereotypes of Muslims and “a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance” on campus, according to a new reportled by Alison Scott-Bauman at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges” recommends that there is a “strong argument” for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form, having curbed freedoms of speech and expression on campus.
  • Though there is ample evidence of widespread tolerance for all forms of religious activity among staff and students (with 88.1 per cent of students agreeing that “The experience of university encourages respect and mutual understanding among people who have different perspectives on life”), the research found a close link between belief in a “narrative of suspicion” about Islam, support for Prevent, and patterns of Islamophobia. The report recommends building awareness of Islamophobia via training and development, consultation, representation, and the encouragement of interfaith dialogue via free and frank debate based on the principle of mutual respect. The report is covered by the Guardian(along with an opinion piece by the report’s author) and the Telegraph.

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

Chinese relations: HEPI published UK Universities and China a series of essays on the challenges and complexities of the relationship between UK universities and China. It includes self-censorship; the importance of UK-China scientific research; and the recruitment and integration of Chinese students

Separately there is a recent YouGov poll which asks about UK/Chineses relationships. The interactive version of the chart is here.

Not just Brexit: Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) writes for UKandEU.com –  Universities and Brexit: past, present and future. It doesn’t just cover Brexit, but highlights that UK students get far less out of Erasmus than the incoming EU students studying in the UK, it even mentions this week’s bingo winner – the Blair 50% target. A longer read and some interesting points.

Student Experience: Pearson and Wonkhe have collaborated to examine students’ experience of learning during C-19 and their expectations for next year (shorter blog here).

  • 41% struggled to manage their wellbeing without in person contact with friends and university staff.
  • 34% found the new ways of learning challenging.
  • 34% struggled to manage their time without an enforced timetable.
  • 29% found the isolation difficult.
  • 34% struggled with lack of space or a quiet enough environment to study within.
  • 49% felt less confident to progress to their next step in their education or career –
    • with 13% of the 49% attributing this to external (non-university) factors (economy, jobs, research funding).
    • The factors relating to university were loss of industry experience, loss of practical skills development, lack of academic contact time, a lower sense of quality of learning experience.
  • 43% (of current students) plan to defer the next academic year to take a year out or look for work experience
  • 20% plan to leave education entirely (its unclear whether these were already final year students)
  • Of those planning to defer/leave 28% was because they didn’t want another semester of online study or the loss of practical experience reduced the value of their degree or because the logistics of travel, accommodation and teaching were too uncertain.
  • 47% of those who felt they had missed out (e.g. lab or studio based work) believe they should receive a fee reduction or refund as compensation. However, a quarter want to make up the missed experience at a safer later date, and 15% were willing to experience online. 10% didn’t feel it was the university’s responsibility to atone for the loss of experience.
  • On welfare the blog states:

One key message from the survey is that while students are clear that their wellbeing is suffering, the action they want universities to take is in the teaching and learning domain, rather than the welfare domain. Responses throughout the survey suggest that wellbeing issues are not simply the result of students being at home and the concerns over Covid-19, but that the way that universities have managed interactions and online learning has increased their anxiety, and had a negative impact on their wellbeing. It’s not simply about putting support mechanisms in place to help students with their wellbeing; it’s about stopping the causes.

  • 59% want universities to offer high quality online teaching as their priority for September rather than social interaction, well being support or access to learning resources.

Graduate outlook: Wonkhe report that research from Adunza finds that the number of graduate jobs available this summer has fallen by 73 per cent since the start of the year. Because larger employers are delaying graduate schemes due to the pandemic just 3,993 jobs are currently available, meaning that 100 graduates could be competing for each available job. FE news has the story.

HE Student Numbers: The House of Commons Library have published a paper on HE student numbers. It states: Headline student numbers have increased to new record levels in recent years following a short dip related to the 2012 reforms in the sector. There have been continued increases in entry rates for different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged areas/backgrounds where rates have also hit new record levels. However, headline numbers tend to focus on full-time undergraduates and there are ongoing concerns about student numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive. This includes part-time undergraduates, particularly those not studying first degrees, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, especially Nigeria and Malaysia, mature students and some disadvantaged groups.

There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers

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HE Policy Update 1st July 2020

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Value

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

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

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

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

Disadvantage

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

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

She goes over similar points later:

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

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

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

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

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

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

FE & Apprenticeships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They made several recommendations to improve apprenticeships:

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

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

Student Survey

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

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

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

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

Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy responded to the report:

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

Graduate Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

Research

R&D Roadmap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically on HE the roadmap states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec UUK, stated:

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

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

Business Secretary Alok Sharma stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

Disability

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

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

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

Graduate Internships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions

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

Parliamentary Questions

Students

HE Sector The importance of good indoor ventilation.

Student Number Controls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HE Sector Finances

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

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

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

Lords Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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