Category / international

FHSS academics’ paper cited 1,000 times

This morning ResearchGate alerted us that our paper published two decades ago ‘The Importance of Pilot Studies’ has now been cited one thousand times [1].  This methods paper in the Nursing Standard is very often used by authors quoting a  paper in their research methods section when they have done pilot or feasibility study for a larger-scale study. This paper is also our second top cited paper with 1,982 citations on Google Scholar and, interestingly enough, on SCOPUS it is not listed at all.

Pilot studies are a crucial element of a good study design. Conducting a pilot study does not guarantee success in the main study, but it does increase the likelihood of success. Pilot studies fulfill a range of important functions and can provide valuable insights for other researchers. There is a need for more discussion among researchers of both the process and outcomes of pilot studies. 

This paper is one of several methods paper focusing on pilot studies we have published over the past 22 years [2-8].

 

Professors Vanora Hundley & Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery & Women’s Health

 

 

References:

  1. van Teijlingen E, Hundley, V. (2002) ‘The importance of pilot studies’ Nursing Standard 16(40): 33-36. Web: nursing-standard.co.uk/archives/vol16-40/pdfs/vol16w40p3336.pdf
  2. van Teijlingen E, Rennie, AM., Hundley, V, Graham, W. (2001) The importance of conducting & reporting pilot studies: example of Scottish Births Survey, Journal of Advanced Nursing, 34: 289-95.
  3. Simkhada, P, Bhatta, P., van Teijlingen E (2006) Importance of piloting questionnaire on sexual health research (Letter), Wilderness & Environmental Medical Journal, 17(4): 295-96. wemjournal.org/wmsonline/?request=get-document&issn=1080-6032&volume=017&issue=04&page=0295#Ref
  4. van Teijlingen E, Hundley, V. (2001) The importance of pilot studies, Social Research Update Issue 35, (Editor N. Gilbert), Guildford: University of Surrey.  Web:  http://www.soc.surrey.ac.uk/sru/SRU35.html
  5. Hundley, V., van Teijlingen E.
  6. van Teijlingen E, Hundley, V. (2005) Pilot studies in family planning & reproductive health care, Journal of Family Planning & Reproductive Health Care 31(3): 219-21.
  7. (2002) The role of pilot studies in midwifery research RCM Midwives Journal 5(11): 372-74.
  8. van Teijlingen E, Hundley, V. (2003) Pilot study, In: Encyclopaedia of Social Science Research Methods, Vol. 2, Lewis-Beck, M., Bryman, A. & Liao, T. (eds.), Orego, Sage: 823-24.

 

The Missing Persons Indicator Project: Research Collaboration for Knowledge Exchange

The Missing Persons Indicator Project, initiated several years ago by Professor Melanie Klinkner and Andreas Kleiser from the ICMP, has recently been enhanced by a visit to the ICMP, aimed at optimising knowledge exchange. Its goal is to showcase each state’s relationship with missing persons through comprehensive data analysis. This initiative began as a collaborative effort, with data gathering undertaken by undergraduate students at Bournemouth University, engaging students in real-world research and ensuring the project’s sustainability by welcoming new students each September.

Since its inception, the project has been fortunate to work with many enthusiastic students who have completed the first round of Structural Indicator 1. This indicator demonstrates the commitment of states to international legal instruments. The table below outlines the current indicators involved in our data collection process:

Context Indicator A qualitative assessment as to whether the state has experienced extraordinary events that may be correlated to a rise in missing persons cases.
Structural Indicator 1 The commitment shown by states to international legal instruments is an indicator of their duties and obligation in relation to missing persons.
Structural Indicator 2 Domestic legislation by states as an indicator of their duties and obligation in relation to missing persons.
Structural Indicator 3 Institutional framework(s) established by states as an indicator of their duties, obligation, and enactment of legislation in relation to missing persons.

Thanks to HEIF funding, the Missing Persons Indicator Project recently had the opportunity to employ four student volunteers over the past two weeks. Their task was to accelerate the data collation for these indicators. By working through each indicator on a state-by-state basis, they developed a comprehensive understanding of each state’s unique situation. This method also allowed them to recognise and utilise specific details that might recur across the different indicators.

Every day, a designated “data-checker” reviewed previously inputted data to identify and correct any anomalies. This rigorous review process ensures the data’s accuracy, ethical integrity, and suitability for international dissemination.

Throughout this process, the students have been deeply engaged, asking insightful questions that challenged our perspectives and prompted us to consider aspects we might have overlooked. The atmosphere has been a hub of activity and intellectual growth.

We are extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of our student researchers. Their contributions have demonstrated that a student ‘data-lab’ is an excellent model for conducting research and achieving meaningful results.

As this term draws to a close, we are keen to alert teaching staff to the potential for their students to join the Missing Person Indicator project in September as we recruit a new cohort for the new academic year. To learn more about the project please visit our website!

Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Dr Tony Cammarato (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine) visits BU’s Drosophila scientists.

BU’s team of Drosophila scientists were delighted to host a visit from Dr Tony Cammarato, Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Tony (a visiting fellow at BU) met and gave a fantastic talk to colleagues and undergraduates, detailing work spanning three decades that has defined how heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) regulate force during contraction.

(L to R) Dr Tony Cammarato, Ms Jess Whalley, Dr Paul Hartley, Dr Yutaka Matsubayashi

By identifying the specific amino acids that control how muscle troponin proteins interact with the cell’s contractile myosin and actin ‘scaffold’ his research group is explaining how cardiomyopathies develop in humans. The work, which consistently features in the field’s leading journals, is highly significant not only for its rigour and ingenuity but also because it is laying the foundation for medical interventions that correct the cardiomyopathies.

 It is well worth noting that this research relies heavily on genetically defined Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), a very powerful and tractable tool with which to model the molecular mechanisms underpinning human cardiomyocyte function.

 At BU we use Drosophila to model the effects of ageing, metabolism and environmental pollutants on heart and kidney function. It has become very clear that insect and human cardiovascular systems are affected in the same way by the same problems. So, by working with scientists such as Tony, we can develop experimental approaches that generate findings of relevance to many species, including humans.

Health of Nepalese migrants workers research

Today, Sunday 9th June, our paper ‘Health and well-being of Nepalese migrant workers abroad was highlighted by ResearchGate as being widely read.  This scientific paper which was part of Dr. Pratik Adhikary’s PhD study in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences has been read 1,000 times.

The importance of understanding mixed methods

Earlier this week ResearchGate alerted us that the paper ‘The Growing Importance of Mixed-Methods Research in Health‘ has been read 900 times on that platform [1].  This methods paper focuses on  the growing importance of mixed-methods research to a wide range of health disciplines ranging from nursing to epidemiology.

Mixed-methods approaches requires not only the skills of the individual quantitative and qualitative methods but also a skill set to bring two methods/datasets/findings together in the most appropriate way. Health researchers need to pay careful attention to the ‘best’ approach to designing, implementing, analysing, integrating both quantitative (number) and qualitative (word) information and writing this up in a way that enhances its applicability and broadens the evidence-based practice. This paper highlights the strengths and weaknesses of mixed-methods approaches as well as some of the common mistakes made by researchers applying mixed-methods for the first time.

Our team in the Centre for Midwifery & Women’s Health (CMWH) has written several other methods papers on the importance of mixed-methods research in community-based health studies [2-5].  We have, of course, conducted and published many mixed-methods studies over the past two decades [see for example 6-10].

 

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

 

 

References:

  1. Wasti, S. P., Simkhada, P., van Teijlingen, E., Sathian, B., & Banerjee, I. (2022). The Growing Importance of Mixed-Methods Research in HealthNepal Journal of Epidemiology, 12(1), 1175–1178.
  2. Simkhada, P., van Teijlingen, E., Wasti, S.P., Sathian, B. (2014) Mixed-methods approaches in health research in Nepal, Nepal Journal of Epidemiology 4(5): 415-416.
  3. Mahato, P., Angell, C., van Teijlingen, E., Simkhada, P. (2018) Using Mixed-methods Research in Health & Education in Nepal, Journal of Health Promotion 6: 45-8.
  4. Harvey, O., van Teijlingen, E., Parrish, M. (2022) Mixed-methods research on androgen abuse – a review, Current Opinion in Endocrinology & Diabetes 29(6):586-593.
  5. MacKenzie Bryers, H., van Teijlingen, E. Pitchforth, E. (2014) Advocating mixed-methods approaches in health research, Nepal Journal of Epidemiology 4(5): 417-422. http://www.nepjol.info/index.php/NJE/article/view/12018/9768
  6. Pitchforth, E, Watson, V, Tucker, J, Ryan, M, van Teijlingen E, Farmer, J, Ireland, J, Thomson, E, Kiger, A , Bryers, H. (2008) Models of intrapartum care and women’s trade-offs in remote and rural Scotland: A mixed-methods study BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 115(5): 560-569.
  7. Wasti, SP, Simkhada, P., Randall, J, van Teijlingen, E, Freeman, J. (2012) Factors influencing adherence to antiretroviral treatment in Nepal: a mixed-methods study. PLoS ONE 7(5): e35547. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035547.
  8. Simkhada, P., van Teijlingen, E., Devkota, B., Pathak, RS, Sathian, B. (2014) Accessing research literature: A mixed-method study of academics in Higher Education Institutions in Nepal, Nepal Journal of Epidemiology 4(4): 405-14.
  9. Dost, S., Arnold, R., van Teijlingen, E. (2023) Management capacity in the Afghan Ministry of Public Health pre-Taliban: A mixed-methods study of political and socio-cultural issues, Razi International Medical Journal, 3(1): 9–18
  10. Sharma, S., van Teijlingen, E, Hundley, V., Stephens J., Simkhada, P., Angell, C., Sicuri, E., Belizan, J.M. (2013) Mixed-methods evaluation of maternity care intervention in rural Nepal: measuring what works, Poster P.2.3.004(A), Tropical Medicine & International Health 18(Suppl. 1): 183-184.

🌟Exciting News in Complex Networks Research🌟

I am thrilled to share that I have been honoured to receive the Scholarship for Events on Complex Systems (SECS) from the Young Researchers of the Complex Systems Society (yrCSS). This prestigious award will allow me to attend the upcoming Complex Networks 2024 conference in Istanbul, Turkey from December 10-12, 2024.

          

My PhD research focuses on “Complex Urban Road Networks: Static Structures and Dynamic Processes”, exploring the intricate dynamics of urban transportation systems. This field has always sparked my curiosity, and I am eager to delve deeper into this complex interplay of structures and dynamics.

In addition to this incredible opportunity, I am also a finalist in the multi-modal category of the TRA Vision Young Researchers 2024 Competition with my research project “Transport Capacity Planning for Mega-events”. It is truly humbling to be recognised for my work in this competitive arena.

I am grateful for the guidance and support of my PhD supervisor, Dr. Wei Koong Chai, whose expertise and mentorship have been invaluable throughout my research journey. I am excited about the upcoming conference, where I hope to further contribute to the field of complex networks research. Thank you for joining me on this incredible academic adventure!

Best wishes,

Assemgul Kozhabek

🌐🔬 #ComplexSystems #ComplexNetworks

See yrCSS: https://yrcss.cssociety.org/

Complex Networks 2024 conference: https://complexnetworks.org/

BU academic listed on Research.com

Research.com, a leading academic platform for researchers, has just released its 2024 Edition of the Ranking of Best Scientists in the field of Social Sciences and Humanities.  BU is listed as 509th globally.Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen, in the Centre for Midwifery & Women’s Health (CMWH), is the BU social scientist listed in this year’s ranking.  The full UK ranking is available here: research.com/scientists-rankings/social-sciences-and-humanities/gb and the full world ranking is available here: research.com/scientists-rankings/social-sciences-and-humanities

 

HE policy update No 12: 20th May 2024

The year started fairly quiet and then it all took off.  There is more to come on the international student story but the big news at the end of the week was the OfS financial sustainability report (which is linked of course, to the international student story).  A report on skills and LLE suggests we need to get better at credit recognition (now where have we heard that before?  Gavin Williamson wrote to the OfS about making it a priority in February 2021 but I don’t recall anything happening – there were other things going on at that point).

All change in Parliament

According to the Institute for Government, as of 9 May 2024, 104 MPs have announced that they will not stand again at the next general election

  • 64 Conservative
  • 19 Labour
  • 9 SNP
  • 8 Independent
  • 2 Sinn Fein
  • 1 Green
  • 1 Plaid Cymru

Research misconduct

The UK Research Integrity Office has released a report about the barriers to investigating and reporting research misconduct.

There are three themes:

  • the need for every actor involved to have clarity on the relevant procedures and processes;
  • confidence that these procedures will be followed (and the relevant parties have the appropriate skills, resources and information to do so);
  • and wider shifts in research culture which destigmatises research misconduct, promotes transparency, and ensures the task at hand – to uphold the research record – remains at the heart of investigating and reporting efforts.

The report makes four proposals:

  • The adoption of standardised requirements and procedures detailing how allegations of research misconduct are investigated and reported
  • Professional research misconduct investigation training for all sectors undertaking research
  • A flagging system that promotes transparency, destigmatises allegations of research misconduct, and normalises early raising of concerns
  • National infrastructure to collect and report on research misconduct cases annually

Education

Skills Commission report

The Policy Connect Skills Commission report is out. Perhaps not surprisingly, it calls for long term joined up thinking and associated funding.  The most interesting recommendation for HE, apart from the strategic approach in the first two recommendations, which includes devolving spending for adult skills to regional authorities, is the last one, which is a working group on cross-provider credit recognition in HE to support modular and lifelong learning.

  • Recommendation 1: The Government should develop a national skills strategy that is embedded within a wider industrial strategy. It should create a Skills and Workforce Council, a non-departmental public body at arm’s length from government, to oversee the delivery of the strategy’s goals.
  • Recommendation 2: The Government should provide Mayoral Combined Authorities and other regional authorities with “no-strings-attached” funding settlements for adult skills and an enhanced set of powers to shape skills provision in their area.
  • FE:
    • Recommendation 3: Further Education colleges should receive multi-year funding settlements of 2+ years from the Education and Skills Funding Agency or, where applicable, their regional authority.
    • Recommendation 4: The Department for Education should deliver a new Further Education Workforce Strategy.
    • Recommendation 6: The Department for Education should extend the Pupil Premium Plus to looked after children and care leavers aged 16-19 in Further Education, building on the successful pilot programme.
  • Apprenticeships
    • Recommendation 5: The Government should enact a multi-pronged strategy to address the financial and educational barriers that 16-19-year-olds face when seeking to take up and complete an apprenticeship. The strategy to help young apprentices should involve:
      • Encouraging and supporting all regional authorities to introduce free travel.
      • The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) exempting them from earnings-based reductions in Universal Credit and Child Benefit payments.
      • Providing a VAT exemption for their equipment purchases.
      • Providing them access to the maintenance loan system.
      • The Department for Education developing an alternative to maths & English exit requirements.
    • Recommendation 7: To increase investment in skills, all Apprenticeship Levy funding should be allocated to training and not be retained by the Treasury.
    • Recommendation 8: The Government should reform the Apprenticeship Levy. Employers should have greater flexibility to use funds for a range of high-quality training. Part of the levy should be ringfenced to promote entry-level talent in the workforce.
  • Lifelong learning
    • Recommendation 9: The Government should launch a new lifelong learning initiative that supports the “right to retrain”
    • Recommendation 10: The Department for Education should develop the digital infrastructure to underpin life-long learning. Each learner should have access to a personalised digital environment including a skills account and passport
    • Recommendation 11: The Higher Education Minister should lead a working group on cross-provider credit recognition within the higher education sector. The group should include senior figures from the sector and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)

Student complaints: OIA annual report

The next sections of this update include doom and gloom about financial sustainability and more worry about limits on international students, which would make the situation worse. However, in this context it is helpful to have a reminder about student experience.  While it is a negative take, because only otherwise unresolved complaints that have exhausted university processes can be taken to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, their annual report provides a snapshot of where the sector is at.

Summary: complaints are up, mostly driven by complaints by international students.  Some stats are set out below. there is lots of useful advice on how to avoid these problems: mainly listening to students, applying processes properly and making sure that policies and communications are clear.

TEF analysis

The Office for Students have published another analysis of the TEF which focuses on strategic approaches to improvements.  Findings summarised below.  there’s a theme: it’s about impact.

Planning for and implementing success

  • … The relationship between mission and values on one hand and the strategic steps taken to improve practices on the other is not always fully articulated. However, the importance of the specific context of each provider type is evident.
  • Providers describe a range of operational frameworks employed to effect strategic change. These include frameworks for approaches to teaching, curriculum design and student assessments. It is not always made clear how wide the implementation of these frameworks is across undergraduate provision, and how they are evaluated and adjusted accordingly. In the best examples, frameworks helpfully illustrate changes to practice and their impact is evaluated with reference to internal and external data.
  • Some providers have explicitly changed the scope and content of their educational provision during the TEF period, whereas for others there appeared to be more continuity. Where changes had been made, providers typically explained the reasons for them in relation to improved impact on students. Evaluation of that impact, where provided, was helpful.
  • Providers all refer to a range of ways in which staff whose roles relate to student education, student experience and student outcomes are developed. Advance HE fellowships play an important role in structuring developmental provision, both for early career staff and with respect to continuing professional development. The relationship between developing staff and addressing challenging areas (for example, particular programmes with poor student satisfaction or outcomes, or in thematic areas such as assessment) is sometimes, but not always, made clear. Findings from evaluating staff development are not always indicated, but within 25 pages it is very difficult to include information of this kind. Some providers highlight new or changed staff roles that have made a demonstrable impact on student experience or outcomes.
  • The development of resources, estate and infrastructures has been significant for many providers in the sample. The impact of the global Covid pandemic on practice is frequently noted; the development of digital resources and online infrastructures has been a high priority, resulting in some changes to approaches to teaching and learning. Providers also describe improvements to the built environment, and these accounts of improved learning environments are most effective when their development has been related purposefully to changing modes of teaching and student engagement, and when their impact has been evaluated.
  • Providers give strong accounts of the ways in which they are embedding working with students as partners into the life of the organisation. Many providers have moved beyond simply including student representatives on committees, to developing much more comprehensive partnerships with students’ representative bodies. Examples of activities include regular student forums, ‘students as change agents’ initiatives and student ambassador schemes. Most providers also highlight the importance of maintaining and enhancing strong relationships with alumni, who can, for example, act as advisors for programme teams and as mentors for staff or students.
  • The importance of partnerships is made clear in many submissions. A range of partnerships is articulated; these may be academic, industry-related or civic. The rationale for the choice of partners is generally clear, and their impact on student experience and outcomes articulated, but more could perhaps be done, even within the page limit, to highlight evaluations of partnerships in relation to impact on students.

Evidencing, rewarding and celebrating success

  • Some providers have changed or enhanced their ‘planning and review’ frameworks. Some have adopted Theory of Change principles, which can help to pin down key purposes, actions and approaches to evaluation.
  • Providers highlight internal data, both qualitative and quantitative, to illustrate progress made in relation to TEF features. Some providers are very clear about the range of internal data available to them, how it is being gathered, how it has been improved and how key findings have been acted upon. Providers also refer to external datasets, including the published OfS data and other sources of data, for example the International Student Barometer. Providers sometimes helpfully link, compare and analyse data from different sources that relate to similar themes; again, it is difficult to do this at any length within the word limit, but key areas of development can be highlighted briefly.
  • Some providers have the capacity to undertake research studies into student education, student experience and student outcomes, which then inform practice. Some also refer briefly to published research from the sector and its relevance to their strategic steps for improvement. Such studies can provide a helpful evidence base for action, and in some cases students become partners in undertaking research, bringing their insights to bear in helpful ways. Smaller providers may benefit from collaborating in this area.
  • Many providers have improved their promotion and reward frameworks to improve the status of teaching, innovation and education-focused leadership. These are helpfully outlined, although with varying degrees of clarity with respect to the numbers of staff impacted and the ways in which this may be impacting student experience and outcomes.
  • Different approaches are taken to highlighting and promoting successes. Annual awards for staff, some or all of which are voted for by students, are highlighted as providing valuable opportunities to celebrate success and promote innovations and good practice. Providers also highlight institutional awards and rankings. The extent to which these add to the submission can be variable; context and scope of the impact recognised by the awards or rankings can be difficult to ascertain. However, there are many positive examples of promoting and celebrating excellent provision and improvements among and sometimes beyond the provider’s community.

Overall:  the TEF submissions provide credible accounts of very high quality and outstanding practices. They are strongest when links are clearly made between the planned steps, the nature and scope or the actions taken, and the evidence of improved student experience or outcomes. The use of Theory of Change principles could be helpful in establishing consistent practices with respect to embedding meaningful evaluation into all identified areas of improvement. These principles, or comparable articulations of logical strategic steps through the planning, action and evaluation process, could both help providers embed evidence-based practice in all areas of development and articulate those approaches even more clearly and succinctly in future TEF submissions.

Post-study work visas

We are expecting some sort of government response this week to last week’s MAC report recommending that the visa should stay as it is and there is visa data from the Home Office out on Thursday.  But while we wait there are other things to think about.

The FT has an article on the public perception of international students.  Citing a Survation poll:

  • A significant consensus emerges in the survey: 57 per cent of people think illegal immigration should be the priority and an even larger majority, 66 per cent, think that the post-study visa should allow international graduates to work in the UK for the two permitted years — or even longer.
  • Just 2 per cent thought that restricting the ability of students to stay in the UK and work after their studies would be a good way of tackling high immigration and only 1 per cent want the government to focus on reducing international student numbers. (For comparison, 45 per cent say that blocking small boat arrivals should be the priority.)

On Wonkhe, David Kernohan has asked why there aren’t more home PGT students.

  • PGT students (headcount) paying home fees have fallen sharply, from over 200,000 in HESES20 to just over 160,000 in 2023. This could be a decline from a pandemic-era boom, or a result of a high number of vacancies within the high-skill end of the job market, but it also represents bad news for provider incomes.
  • There’s a subject aspect to this too. The continuing absence of HESA Student 2022-23 data means we can’t be as precise as I might like, but the most notable decline is in the “D” (classroom-based, non-STEM) subjects – and I’d take an educated guess that much of the decline has been in business courses.
  • People who have completed a higher degree report a higher quality of work (a compound measure developed at HESA that includes consideration as to whether a graduate finds their work “meaningful”, whether they are using what they have learned in their studies, and whether what they are doing aligns with future plans). This is variable by subject, but offers a better insight into the wider benefits of postgraduate study (salaries or job types don’t really work when so many take postgraduate courses while already in employment).

And what would Labour do?  This from the Evening Standard gives a flavour:

  • A Labour government will recognise the “major contribution” made by international students to the UK economy and be led by evidence about its impact on immigration, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said. “International students make a major contribution to our country in economic terms,” she said in an interview with the Standard, pointing to their higher fees feeding into a “cross subsidy” for British students. “Alongside that, the jobs in local communities that are created and the investment that comes – that’s felt in every community right across the country that has a university,” the shadow minister said.
  • Ms Phillipson stressed: “We do want to bear down on the very high levels of net migration that we see overall. And we’ll be looking carefully at whatever the Government says in response to the Migration Advisory Committee. “But they have set out some very clear recommendations which are evidence-based, and our approach on international students will be in line with the best available evidence,” she said.
  • “The majority of students who come here have a great experience and then return home to their country of origin. And then we build those ties that endure over the long term, our standing in the world, business links.”

OfS annual financial sustainability report

The Office for Students have issued their annual sector financial sustainability report and, no surprise, it makes a grim read. Alongside this there is an insight brief

Some extracts from the main report:

  • Overall, providers are forecasting deterioration in the short- to medium-term financial outlook. Their data returns show that the sector’s financial performance was weaker in 2022-23 than in 2021-22, and is expected to decline further in 2023-24, with 40 per cent of providers expecting to be in deficit and an increasing number showing low net cashflow.
  • The sector is predicting an improvement in outlook from 2026-27 onwards, however, this position is based on significantly optimistic predictions of student recruitment for the sector as a whole. Our modelling of different recruitment rates suggests that the actual outturn position for the sector in the short and medium term is likely to be even more challenging than providers have forecast and the longer-term recovery they forecast is significantly uncertain. Without the growth assumed in providers’ student recruitment forecasts, our analysis suggests that the recovery providers are anticipating would be reversed and the financial situation would continue to weaken across the period to 2026-27 unless mitigating action is taken
  • In aggregate, the forecasts submitted by providers assume growth of 35 per cent in international student entrants and 24 per cent in UK student entrants between 2022-23 and 2026-27. The latest data on undergraduate applications and student sponsor visa applications indicates that there has been an overall decline in student entrants this year, including a significant decline in international students. This contrasts starkly with the sector’s growth forecast at an aggregate level….
  • Providers need to be ready to manage this uncertainty. They need to have plans in place to respond proactively if they are not able to achieve their student number targets and to respond to other risks that may be present in their specific context. We know that many are taking action to secure their financial position. While this can involve making difficult decisions, leadership teams are right to take action to ensure their institutions are financially sustainable over the medium to long term and to ensure they can continue to provide a high quality education to students.
  • Financial performance and strength vary significantly between providers. However, projections from the sector’s financial data show that an increasing number of providers will need to make significant changes to their funding model in the near future to avoid facing a material risk of closure. We are seeing some strong examples of this in the sector, with providers proactively identifying risk and adapting their operating model to respond to the emerging challenges. Within the information submitted by providers, there are examples of steps to improve efficiency. Many providers have put significant focus on protecting their cashflow, ensuring they are well placed to maintain their viability and are prepared for future financial risks. However, our view is that many providers will need to take additional, or more significant, action to fully respond to the financial risks that the sector is facing. It is important that providers are developing robust and realistic financial plans that incorporate stress testing and contingency planning.
  • The growth [over the last few years] in business and management, law and social sciences correlate with those subject areas that are often considered less expensive to deliver, where there is greater demand and where less specialised facilities and equipment are required for students’ learning

On Wonkhe there is a review of what it all means and the four scenarios that the OfS have used to suggest what might happen next.

HE policy update No 11: Migration Advisory Committee special

The Migration Advisory Committee review is out!

The report was released on 14th May as planned.

Firstly, because you are all interested in this, the recommendations,  Worth reading and set out (in more detail but lightly summarised) at the end of this update, but broadly:

  • They propose keeping the post study work visa because numbers will fall anyway as a result of the other changes (dependants for students and salary thresholds for skilled workers) will reduce the numbers of students coming and those staying for the long term in any event.  They note the impact on universities of removing it, particularly universities outside London and the South East in the context of no increase in tuition fees.
  • The government wants the graduate visa route to support the UK labour market (mainly graduate roles and STEM, they are not happy about international students working in non graduate roles in social care). In response to this, rather than suggesting subject level caps, as some had predicted, they merely suggest that the government and the sector should “collaborate” on integrating international students into work in priority sectors.
  • But there are some recommendations for change, particularly in relation to agents and data monitoring. On agents, they recommend that “universities should be required to publish data on their spend on international recruitment agents and the number of students recruited through agents annually”.  They also suggest that the voluntary code for agents is probably insufficient and therefore recommend a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents which includes quality controls, and enforced removal of agents from the system for compliance breaches, and a data sharing framework to monitor compliance.  They want universities to have to say which agent they have used on a CAS application.
  • On data, they want universities, who already have to report completion of a programme, to report on degree class. This would inform applications to the Graduate route.  They want the Home Office to sort out its own data and use HMRC data.

It is also important to note that the introduction makes it clear that they do not believe that there is significant abuse of the Graduate route.

Context: The MAC quote the government’s purpose when setting up the graduate route:

  • In 2021, the Home Office outlined the key objectives of the Graduate route. It is worth quoting this in full: “The Graduate route is introduced to enhance the offer to international students who choose, or are considering choosing, to study in the UK. It is intended to retain their talent upon graduation thus contributing to the UK economy. Through increasing the attractiveness of the UK as a destination of study, the policy will ensure the UK remains internationally competitive, assist to achieve the Government’s ambition to increase the number of international students in higher education and increase the value of education exports.

The questions: the committee summarise their instructions (important because of what has been said since)

  • The letter made clear the intent of the government to continue attracting “the brightest and best” international students to study in the UK consistent with the International Education Strategy, and the important role the Graduate route has played in this ambition. However, there was a concern in the commissioning letter that the Graduate route may be attracting migrants to come to the UK primarily for post-study work opportunities, rather than to access a quality education and the secondary opportunity to gain experience in the UK labour market.
  • The government asked us to provide evidence in answer to 5 questions:
    1. Any evidence of abuse of the route including the route not being fit for purpose (covered in Chapter 3); (see above; no)
    2. Who is using the route and from what universities they graduated (covered in Chapter 1);
    3. Demographics and trends for students accessing a study visa and subsequently accessing the UK labour market by means of the Graduate route (covered in Chapters 1 and 2) (see above);
    4. What individuals do during and after their time on the Graduate route and whether students who progress to the Graduate route are contributing to the economy (covered in Chapter 2); and,
    5. Analysis of whether the Graduate route is undermining the integrity and quality of the UK Higher Education system. This includes an understanding of how the Graduate route is or is not effectively controlling the quality of international students, such that it is genuinely supporting the UK to attract and retain “the brightest and best”, contributing to economic growth, and benefiting British higher education and soft power – in the context of the government’s wider International Education Strategy (covered in Chapters 3 and 4)

Recommendations:

The future of the Graduate route

…. Based on our analysis, the Graduate route is broadly achieving its objectives and supporting the International Education Strategy. We recommend retaining the Graduate route in its current form.

In making this recommendation, our key considerations follow.

  • The government’s concerns about misuse of the route and its aim to reduce net migration:
    1. The restrictions on dependants on the Student route only came into force in January 2024. This change of policy on the Student route is in effect a restriction to the Graduate route, as dependants are only eligible for the Graduate route if they have been dependants on the Student route. Early indications show that this change will reduce the number of international students coming to study in the UK later this year, though it is not yet possible to assess the full impact given its recent implementation. In time, this change should reduce the numbers of both main applicants and dependants on the Graduate route as the student cohorts move into the route.
    2. We also expect the share of people moving from the Graduate route to long-term work visas in the UK to decline due to significant increases in salary thresholds on the Skilled Worker route. It is possible that this could potentially disproportionately affect some groups of international students and we would expect that the Home Office would have considered this whilst conducting an Equalities Impact Assessment before changes were made to the route.
  • The impact of closing or further restricting the route on the higher education sector:
    1. Under the current higher education funding model, closure or additional restrictions could put many universities at financial risk. There has been a substantial fall in the real value of domestic fees since their introduction and many HE providers are becoming increasingly reliant on international student fees as the business model to fund increasing losses on domestic student provision (driven primarily by inflation) and research. If the government were to prioritise different objectives and restrict the route significantly, it should only do so once the full impact of the change to the dependants rules on the Student route and therefore the Graduate route can be seen and once it has addressed the current HE funding model which is driving the dependence on international student fees.
  • The government’s levelling up agenda:
    1. Based on where the expansion of student numbers has occurred and the reliance of regional economies upon universities, a decrease in international student numbers due to the restriction or closure of the Graduate route could disproportionately impact local and regional economies outside London and the South East.
  • For these reasons, our recommendation is to retain the Graduate route in its current form.
    1. However, we do suggest that greater collaboration between government and the HE sector could be fostered to support the government’s desired labour market objectives for the route. International graduates provide a potential pool of underutilised labour and could be better integrated into priority occupations and sectors. Universities benefit from the Graduate route, and they could further support the integration of international graduates into work and do more to raise awareness of the route among employers.

International Recruitment Agents and the Agent Quality Framework (AQF)

  • It is important to protect international students from abuse and exploitation and to ensure that UK HE and our available study routes are being represented accurately by international recruitment agents. While we recognise the valuable role that many agents play in supporting international students and HE providers, we have heard from student representatives and Graduate visa holders about poor practice amongst some agents and sub-agents, such as providing misleading information about UK HE to prospective students.
  • There is limited transparency around the extent to which universities are using agents. We recommend that universities should be required to publish data on their spend on international recruitment agents and the number of students recruited through agents annually as a starting point to improving disclosure.
  • Whilst we welcome the voluntary Agent Quality Framework (AQF) to control for the quality of agents going forward, the current lack of a mandatory data sharing framework makes it difficult to understand which agents are working in the best interests of UK HE and students and the scale of poor practices. Based on experience of voluntary schemes within the immigration system, there is insufficient evidence that this voluntary code will prove effective against deliberate poor practice. We recommend that the government establishes a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents which encompasses the quality controls in the voluntary AQF, consulting with the Devolved Administrations to ensure UK-wide coverage. Where agents and subagents are shown to have engaged in non-compliance, they should be removed from the system.
  • We also recommend that a new data sharing framework encompassing key parties including universities, the British Council, and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), should be established to monitor agent and subagent practices effectively. This could include a requirement for universities to submit which agent has been used in an application for a Certificate for Acceptance of Study, allowing UKVI to collect comprehensive data on agents.

Recommendations on data and monitoring

  • …. the introduction of the Graduate route in 2021 was a major policy change and we find it extraordinary that the government appeared to have very limited plans for data collection, monitoring and evaluation when the route was launched. Until this review, there was for example no data readily available looking at what universities those on the Graduate route had attended. In future, we recommend that the government should only open new migration routes or make significant policy changes when it has a clear plan for how it will collect and monitor data to assess the effectiveness of the route against its objectives and understand wider impacts. ….
  • We also recommend that the Home Office introduces a requirement for universities to provide confirmation of the course outcome (e.g. class of degree) on the Student route, in addition to confirmation that a course has been successfully completed which is currently required. This should be part of the process for international students applying for the Graduate route, and that the data are collected in a way that will enable statistical analysis. This will enable an understanding of whether the government’s objective of retaining talented students has been achieved.
  • We have also come across significant issues on the misunderstanding or mislabelling of Home Office data, … We recommend the Home Office undertakes a review of the data variables used for analytical purposes across the largest visa routes (including the Skilled Worker route, Student route and Graduate route) to develop a clear definition of what these data represent, and the quality of each variable collected. …We recommend that the government explore and make further use of the HO/HMRC matched data. … Data which follows the migrant journey over time linking between visas and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) earnings data is useful for analysing long term migrant progression and impact over time. …

Other data

Alongside the report, the Home Office published some data on migrants use of the Graduate route

Student perspectives

The Home Office also published some research on the sponsored study route to understand the broader context including the motivation of students and HEI perspectives.

So what next?

Well of course, just because the MAC report says keep the post study work visa doesn’t mean that the government will.  There appeared, from some of the media reports, to be a fair level of unhappiness with the outcome of the report.  There was a distinct lack of formal response though.  Those in the sector rushing to celebrate should be cautious.

The BBC:

  • The prime minister thinks there is “further to go” to bring down legal migration numbers, according to Rishi Sunak’s spokesman. “British students should be the priority for our education system and universities – and student visas must be used for education, not immigration,” he said. “We are focused on driving down migration whilst ensuring the UK attracts the best and the brightest.”

That sounds like doubling down.

The FT:

  • Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is still looking to restrict the UK’s graduate visa scheme to cut legal migration to Britain, even after he was strongly advised by the government’s migration adviser not to abolish the programme. Sunak’s spokesperson has insisted ministers were not obliged to accept recommendations from the independent Migration Advisory Committee.
  • …Senior Tories have been divided over whether to restrict the route. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and education secretary Gillian Keegan have privately lobbied to retain the scheme in light of the severe financial strain many universities are under, said people familiar with the matter. But former migration minister Robert Jenrick and former health minister Neil O’Brien, who released a scathing report attacking the Tory government’s legacy on migration last week, criticised the MAC’s findings. Both former ministers argued on social media platform X that the report was guided by misleading parameters set by the government. This included not asking the MAC to review the government’s goal of attracting 600,000 foreign students per year and asking it to assess the extent of abuse in the visa system, rather than the social and economic impact of this type of migration. Jenrick and O’Brien reiterated calls for the graduate route to be scrapped immediately.
  • …Industry figures cited in the report indicated the number of international students paying a deposit to study in the UK had fallen 57 per cent in May compared with a year earlier.

The Guardian

  • The report’s release has stoked an internal Conservative party row over net migration, with senior rightwing MPs describing it as a “whitewash”.
  • Robert Jenrick, a former immigration minister, wrote that the committee’s inquiries were tightly controlled by the commission from James Cleverly, the home secretary. “The MAC’s conclusions have clearly been constrained by the narrow terms of reference deliberately set by the government. If you order white paint, you get a whitewash,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
  • Neil O’Brien, a Tory MP who is an ally of Jenrick, described the report as a “whitewash” on Substack: “We are pursuing an arbitrary target, and the expansion of universities for their own sake.”
  • Another Conservative MP said backbenchers were “piling pressure” on Rishi Sunak to ignore the committee’s conclusions.
  • The government has so far declined to say whether it will accept the MAC recommendations. A source close to the home secretary said he would read the review thoroughly and listen to Prof Brian Bell, the committee’s chair, carefully before he makes any decision. They were due to meet on Tuesday afternoon.

Wonkhe has a piece summarising the findings which notes:

  • Whether government will issue a suitably studied response is the next question for the sector. Next week’s Office for National Statistics data will bring a headline figure for net migration in 2023, a number which UK politics seems to have lost the ability to contextualise over the last few bi-annual releases, opening itself up instead to a furious buffeting from the press.

Research Professional also has a piece by Nick Hillman

  • I am not a natural fan of the Migration Advisory Committee. It is said to be “independent” but has often seemed part and parcel of Whitehall—more specifically, the Home Office.
  • The chair and members are picked by the Home Office, who decide the terms of reference of the committee and the work it undertakes, while the secretariat includes Home Office officials.
  • But on this occasion, I am happy to eat my hat. The MAC has begun to strike out on its own. Even though it didn’t want the graduate route introduced in the first place, it now wants it kept in place. It has even floated some sensible-sounding—and, in truth, probably overdue—ideas on regulating agents. These could maintain confidence in the pathways followed by potential international students, although they won’t placate the Tory right.
  • …There are two possible responses from ministers and the opposition to the MAC. One would be to throw their toys out of the pram. When advisers don’t give the advice that ministers want, they can be sacked and the government can do as it pleases. But another response would be to recognise the MAC has indeed come of age and that the child sometimes knows better than the parent.