Category / international

VIRTUAL ROUNDTABLE (FACEBOOK LIVESTREAM): Digital media and the Syrian Crisis.

Digital media and the Syrian Crisis. How development organisations leverage digital technologies to support Syrian refugees & Internally Displaced People.

December 13, 3pm-5pm (GMT)

You are warmly invited to participate to a virtual roundtable/debate on how organisations use digital media to promote peacebuilding, reconciliation and community reconstruction in the Syrian crisis. The following organisations will present their experiences, and discuss challenges and opportunities opened up by digital media for supporting peace-building and reconciliation in the Syrian crisis:

  • Nabil Eid, Strategic Disability Inclusion – Syria
  • Joel Bergner, Artolution.
  • Ali Sheikh and Aida Hussein, Syrian Eyes.
  • Mohammed Al Dbiyat, Salamieh Friends Association.
  • Suha Tutunji, Jusoor Organization.

The event will be live-streamed on the e-Voices: Redressing Marginality facebook page:

The virtual roundtable is part of the AHRC International Network eVoices: Redressing Marginality. To know more about the network please check our website:

MIDIRS reproduced Afghanistan paper

Dr. Rachel Arnold’s paper ‘Parallel worlds: an ethnography of care in an Afghan maternity hospital’ [1] originally published in Social Science & Medicine (Elsevier) has been reprinted in full in MIDIRS.  This is quite an accolade and should help this paper reach a wider audience.  Rachel graduated with a Ph.D. from the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences in 2016, illustrating that some of the best papers get into print (long) after completing one’s Ph.D. thesis.




  1. Arnold, R., van Teijlingen, E., Ryan, K., Holloway, I. (2018) Parallel worlds: an ethnography of care in an Afghan maternity hospital, Social Science & Medicine 126:33-40.

HE policy update for the w/e 30th November 2018

Lots of news this week  – and some negative headlines as a result.

TEF update

Have you been following the changes to the TEF announced in February?  Are you up to date with the metrics and proposed structure.  Did you know that year 5 has been postponed?  We have prepared some slides on TEF which will bring you up to date – you can see them via the Policy pages on the intranet.

Unconditional offers – the next phase of the debate

Sarah wrote a long piece on unconditional offers last week, and this week we have this year’s data from UCAS.  The headline of the report is that unconditional offers were made to a third of young applicants in England, Northern Ireland and Wales in the 2018 admissions cycle   The actual report is here.  The report also notes that most unconditional offers (i.e. around two thirds of those made) were made to those aged 19 and over – i.e. post qualification.  This share has fallen since 2013 when it was 98%.

  • The report shows an increase to 68,000 in 2018 from 3000 in 2013.  But also, there are separate figures, of 66,315 “conditional unconditional offers” – i.e. those which become unconditional if the student picks the university as their firm choice.  In 2013 apparently no-one was making those.   As some students (quite a few) got both sorts, overall the data says that 34.4% of 18 year old applicants) (87,540) got at least one “unconditional” offer in 2018.
  • The report also notes that “In 2018, 18 per cent of offers made to young people for creative arts and design courses were unconditional, compared to 0.3 per cent for medicine and dentistry courses. This reflects that an audition or portfolio review is normally a core part of the assessment for a creative arts and design course. The demonstration of potential via this form of assessment often carries more weight in reaching an admissions decision than examination results.”
  • The Wonkhe analysis of who gets the offers shows that the biggest group receiving unconditional offers is the lowest POLAR quintile and that this year the difference is sharper than in previous years.  That sounds like good news, if you believe that unconditional offers should be used contextually to help students who may have other reasons for struggling to achieve the grades that reflect their potential.
  • This is also interesting: “In 2014 and 2015, applicants predicted AAA were most likely to receive an unconditional offer, but in 2018, applicants predicted BBC became the most likely. Applicants with higher predicted grades are, however, much more likely to receive a conditional unconditional offer.”.
  • “In 2018, almost one in three applicants predicted 11 points (equivalent to BBC) received an unconditional offer. Around one in ten applicants predicted 6 points or fewer (equivalent to DDD or below), and around one in 20 applicants predicted 18 points (equivalent to A*A*A*) received an unconditional offer.”

Jess Moody tweeted a SWOT analysis from 2014 from the Guide produced by the SPA (Supporting Professionalism in Admissions) National expert Think Tank.  Interestingly this guide also included some advice (which does not appear to be being followed consistently):

  • Type of acceptance – it would be inappropriate to add conditions to an unconditional offer, including type of acceptance as a condition, but providers will presumably want to avoid all these offers becoming applicants’ insurance. Much of the guidance available for applicants suggests applicants choose a lower offer as insurance, so providers may need to consider what strengths incentivise placing them as firm without affecting the character of the offer itself. [and this is the section of unconditional offer making that UCAS reports is growing fastest]
  • Published criteria – to be transparent, providers should publish the criteria for making unconditional offers: these will need to be clear in order to minimise complaints, appeals or calls for similar treatment from those not eligible.
  • Inadvertent discrimination – it is highly likely some groups will be advantaged over others by this approach, so providers should consider what steps to take in advance to limit discrimination, unnecessary barriers and unfairness, what procedures to have in place to consider mitigating circumstances in cycle, and what monitoring to undertake to review afterwards.
  • Reputational impact – how this approach will be perceived within schools/colleges and by applicants themselves could affect perceptions of the HE provider, its academic standing and its recruitment health. Negative perceptions could significantly undermine recruitment strategies and have a longer term impact in advisors’ minds. A clear communication strategy may help. Understanding the effect on key feeder schools/colleges would be useful, particularly if some would not benefit from the approach. Assume the press will take an interest and be prepared for queries.
  • Student performance – there should be a thorough risk analysis of any impact on students’ A-Level or other examination performance. It is quite possible that the risk to high achieving students is minimal; that a conditional offer is not their main driver and they would most likely continue to revise hard and perform as well. However, this cannot be assumed to be a constant across all students and the varying risk for different groups or for different levels of achievement should be analysed. It may also be worth considering whether there may be any progression issues in cases where students do decide to drop one or more of their examinations, or simply underperform in them, and if so whether there are any support arrangements required to ensure such complacency does not persist into their HE studies and that it does not hinder future career prospects.

Potentially the important section of this report is section 6 – the impact on A level grades.

  • “Previous research by UCAS4 revealed how 18 year old applicants studying for A levels while applying to university tend to achieve, on average, grades lower than those they were predicted to achieve. Typically, among applicants who are studying for three or more A levels, achieved grades tend to be between one and two grades lower across their A levels, than those they were predicted to get”…” In each year, a greater percentage of applicants missed their predicted attainment than met or exceeded it. Furthermore, in each year, the percentage of applicants who meet or exceed their predicted grades has decreased. Since 2013, the percentage of applicants who miss their predicted grades by more than 3 A level points has increased, with nearly one in four applicants missing their predicted grades by this margin in 2018”.
  • “Many factors are associated with the probability of an applicant not achieving their predicted attainment. The most important factors affecting attainment include prior attainment at GCSE and equivalent level, the predicted A level grades, and the subjects being studied, the type of school attended, and various background characteristics of the applicants. Holding an unconditional firm offer was also shown to affect attainment, with those holding an unconditional firm offer found to have a higher probability of missing their predicted attainment by two or more grades. This was the case even after controlling for many of the other factors associated with A level attainment.”

But there is an alternative modelling approach in Annex A to the report which suggests thatA.2 Less than 2 per cent of applicants who missed their predicted A levels by two or more grades in 2018, did so as a result of holding an unconditional firm”

So what does all this mean – that you can’t generalise about “bums on seats” and poor quality universities filling spaces on poor quality courses with students who aren’t up to it and shouldn’t really be there, with all the consequent hype about negative impact on quality of teaching in universities etc. that we reported last week.  Because the “conditional unconditional” offers are being made to mid-range students – not just “anyone”.  It is hard to argue that BBB students are low potential students who are being “bribed” into taking up a university place that they will not be able to make the most of.  Which is where the bums on seats argument always goes – people taking up places they shouldn’t have been offered, doing useless courses at poor universities, etc. etc.  BBB offers don’t look like that.

We have not seen (other than anecdotal) evidence for the long term impact of dropping grades at A level – that would need to control for prior attainment and other factors – as well as for patterns over over-prediction by schools.  These and other issues were described in a blog for Wonkhe by David Kernohan in August.

UCAS have the following conclusion:  The analysis cannot stop here. In accordance with good practice, many universities and colleges are tracking the progress and outcomes of students admitted with unconditional offers, and benchmarking them against students admitted to the same programmes through conditional offers. As this evidence base builds, providers should share their findings, to enable a nuanced debate about the future use of unconditional offers to young people.”

There is a blog here from the VC of Portsmouth University that responds to the negative press:

  • “If our outputs are good – if our graduates succeed in life and work – who cares whether they arrive because of unconditional offers or AAA offers? Equally, if we recruit students who are not successful we will be judged accordingly.
  • The government’s approach is akin to assessing the quality of gyms on the basis of the fitness of their members when they join. They would only admit very fit people in the first place and this would clearly not measure the benefits of going to the gym. It would more reliably measure prior attainment and social background.
  • Most importantly, if the government is prescriptive about universities’ admissions criteria, it will increase the risk that many students who can benefit from university will not be allowed to go. Who benefits from this?
  • The general principle is clear: universities should be held to account on how well our students do during their studies and after they leave, not on how well they do before they arrive. This is the only way to determine whether public investment in universities is value for money.”

This is clearly a debate that will continue to run….

Graduate outcomes

On Tuesday the negative headlines were all about the latest IFS analysis of salary data – “the impact of undergraduate degrees on early-career earnings”.  Although this may be a misleading title – the report itself says that there is not necessarily a causal link….

Main findings (from DODs)

  • Those who attend HE earn a lot more on average than those who do not. At age 29 the average man who attended HE earns around 25% more than the average man (with five A*-C GCSEs) who did not. For women the gap is more than 50%.
  • A large portion of this difference can be explained by differences in pre-university characteristics: a typical HE student has higher prior attainment and is more likely to have come from a richer family than someone who does not attend. They would therefore be expected to earn more, even had they not gone to university.
  • Once we account for differences in pre-university characteristics, we estimate the average impact of attending HE on earnings at age 29 to be 26% for women and 6% for men. If we focus on the impact of graduating, these returns rise to 28% and 8% respectively.
  • There is strong evidence that the earnings of men who attend HE continue to grow faster than their non-HE counterparts after age 30. For women, the divergent trends in earnings by education type after age 30 are less clear.
  • Subject choice appears to be a very important determinant of returns. For men, studying creative arts, English or philosophy actually result in lower earnings on average at age 29 than people with similar background characteristics who did not go to HE at all. By contrast, studying medicine or economics appears to increase earnings by more than 20%. For women, there are no subjects that have negative average returns
  • We estimate that 67% of men and 99% of women (85% of students) attended universities that have significantly positive returns on average by age 29.

In accompaniment to this report, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has also released a statement, outlining that despite the vast majority of graduates earning more at the age of 29 than those who do not go to university,

  • “there are still cases where students aren’t necessarily choosing the institution (or course) that will deliver the best returns”.
  • The Office for Students, the new regulator we have set up to look out for students’ interests, has the power to crack down on institutions delivering poor outcomes for students. The graduate earnings premium could be even higher if all prospective students have the best information possible about where and what they study when making choices. The research we’re publishing today, alongside other data like the Teaching Excellence Framework and our Open Data prize, will help make this a reality.”

Sample press coverage:

BBC: This latest report could raise some very awkward questions. Is it reasonable to charge students £9,500 regardless of course or university when there are such different outcomes in earnings? And is it sustainable to have such a high level of fee and debt, when for so many, particularly men, the returns can be marginal or non-existent?  [of course the graduates don’t have to pay it back, under the current system, but it may (and obviously is) prompt the government to ask whether they should fund them]

The Independent: Male students at a top university receive hardly any boost to their future earnings compared with peers who chose to avoid higher education altogether, government figures suggest.  The University of Glasgow, a member of the Russell Group which represents the most selective universities in the UK, makes no significantly positive returns for male attendees, the data finds. It comes as Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) research shows one in three male students attend an institution that gives them no significant advantage in terms of salary over their non-graduate peers.

Some interesting points from the report:

  • The returns to HE also differ considerably for different types of students . Attending HE only increases the age 29 earnings of lower prior attainment men (based on GCSE grades) without a STEM A-level by 4%. This compares to 20% for their peers who also do not have a STEM A-level but have high GCSE grades. The return is low because students with lower prior attainment are more likely to take low-returning subjects like creative arts, communications and sport science, and are more likely to attend lower-returning universities.  However, this is not the only explanation: even when they study the same subject or at the same type of university as their peers who have higher prior attainment, they experience lower returns.
  • This is a particularly important when considering the impacts of expansion in the HE system: in our period of study, 70% of all students with five A*-C GCSEs that did not attend university fell within this lower prior attainment, without STEM A-level group.
  • Men with higher prior attainment and a STEM A-level have an estimated return of 5%, which might be lower than expected. This is hugely varied: studying law, medicine or economics increases their earnings by around 20%, and the return to attending a Russell Group for this group is around 10%. On the other hand, studying arts English, communications, psychology, languages and history, or attending Post-1992 or Other universities actually appears to result in lower earnings for this group than they would have achieved had they not gone to university (of course, these individuals may be making these choices for reasons other than to try to maximise their earnings). These particular estimates should be treated with caution, as overall only 5% of individuals in this group do not go to HE, and they are likely to be quite unusual – indeed, they have very high average earnings of around £40,000 per year by age 29.
  • Among women, the overall returns to HE are high for all groups, though some similar patterns emerge. Higher prior attainment women without a STEM A-level have higher returns than their lower attainment peers. Unlike for men, there is little evidence of lower prior attainment women without a STEM A-level experiencing lower returns when studying the same subject as their higher attaining peers. Instead, the lower returns for this group appear to be driven by a higher propensity to study lower (although still significantly positive) returning subjects such as social care, sociology or education, and because they are more likely to attend lower-returning universities.

They also note:

  • It is important to highlight one of the drawbacks of our data: we are not able to observe hours worked, and so instead we investigate annual earnings. This is likely to be particularly important in our estimates of the returns to HE for women, which are likely to at least partly reflect the fact that women who attend HE are much less likely to work part-time and so have higher earnings directly as a result of working more hours
  • There are three main caveats that should be attached to our results, however.
    • First, the results should not be interpreted as definitively causal. Whilst we are able to move beyond the existing literature by making use of rich data and sophisticated estimation techniques, unobservable differences that could affect earnings may remain between individuals taking different education options, such as different preferences over, for example, potential career paths or different levels of passion or enthusiasm for working and studying. Generally speaking, the academic literature that has looked at this issue finds the potential bias to be relatively small when thinking about overall returns (Card, 1999), but to be larger when looking at different subjects and institutions Kirkeboen et al., 2016; Andrews et al., 2017).
    • Second, we are only able to look directly at earnings up to age 29, which is clearly very early in the careers of graduates. We provide evidence to show that the earnings differential between graduates and non-graduates is still growing at that point, which suggests our estimated returns are likely to understate the potential lifetime differences in earnings between graduates and non-graduates.
    • Third, our estimates of the returns to HE are solely pecuniary. Whilst these are likely to be a major component of the return to HE, we are not estimating non-pecuniary returns, such as improved health, a more pleasant work environment, reduced crime or increased civic participation

Wonkhe analysis by David Kernohan:

  • But it is Sam Gyimah’s interventionist language that worries me most. If he expects OfS to intervene based on these findings (which was the impression he gave me) then he needs to be clear that an age 29 salary detriment is due mostly or entirely to the quality of HE provision. Without controlling for region or qualification status, and without a proper historical treatment of the data, this assertion can’t safely be made. We are seeing the effects of poor quality salary data in policy already – as institutions like the University of Bolton would perhaps most easily address OfS registration conditions by upping sticks and moving to Bloomsbury.
  • Statements and press releases have included, at least in passing, the idea that salary might not be the only measure of higher education success. The idea of hard-working nurses and diligent social workers – or the artists and writers that contribute to our idea of a civilisation – is waved at us as a token alternative to a purely salary driven metric. But without the corollary that they should perhaps earn more, and that in many cases it is within the gift of the government to make that happen.
  • I’ve always held the position that this is interesting research data, but it is not useful for policy making or application decision making. But Sam Gyimah feels it is “better than nothing” for both those use cases. It isn’t – it is actively unhelpful. For all the prestige that the IFS brand offers, this is political data designed to act as a signal in the still fondly hoped for HE market.

Alternative funding systems

So while the focus on value for money continues, HEPI have published a paper on a possible alternative structure by Johnny Rich:

  • In order to balance the cost more fairly between students, taxpayers and employers, the paper proposes that, instead of students borrowing money to pay for tuition, businesses should pay a levy for each graduate they employ. The amounts would be equivalent to the student loan repayments made under the current funding system in England.
  • Revenue from graduate levies would be paid directly to the higher education institution where each graduate studied. Institutions would be financially sustainable because they would share an investment in the future employability of their students, rather than because they maximise their student intake.
  • The paper has been written in a personal capacity by Johnny Rich, a higher education specialist who is also Chief Executive of Push, a not-for-profit outreach organisation, and the Engineering Professors’ Council.
  • Rich also argues for a redistribution of funds between higher education institutions based on their ability to attract and support students from poorer backgrounds. This would give institutions an incentive to support social mobility and ensure access money is spent more effectively.

The BBC cover it here

Policy – the future?

Dods Political Consultants have produced a series of guides exploring what can be expected from political developments in the following areas over the next six months. Internal readers should click here to link to the guides which cover:

  • Business and Employment
  • Health and Social Care
  • Justice and Home Affairs
  • Defence, International Development and Foreign Affairs
  • Environment and Rural Affairs
  • Energy and Utilities
  • Financial Services
  • Housing, Communities and Local Government
  • Science, Technology and Digital
  • Transport and Infrastructure
  • Welfare

Brexit update

The latest update from UUKi looks so far positive – we quote below

Withdrawal agreement – The Withdrawal Agreement, concluded two weeks ago, confirms that (if the agreement is ratified) the UK stays in Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe and during the transition period, and nothing changes in the immigration rules for EEA citizens or for UK nationals in EU member states, who retain their legal status as EU citizens.  The Withdrawal Agreement still needs to be approved and ratified by both the EU – at the emergency EU Council summit on November 25 and by the European Parliament – and also by the UK Parliament, and that is, of course, by no means guaranteed. Attached you will find an e-mail from UUK Chief Executive, Alistair Jarvis.

 Political declaration for a future UK-EU relationship and the successor programme – The draft political declaration for a future UK-EU relationship has been ‘agreed in principle’ today. The full document is available here. This document creates the basis for future participation in EU programmes such as Erasmus and Horizon 2020 and shows a willingness on both sides for this to happen (11). Although it recognises that free movement will end there is an agreement to work towards visa-free travel for ‘short-term visits’ (52) and to consider conditions for entry and stay purposes such as ‘research, study, training and youth exchanges’ (53).

UUK is in regular contact with the UK Government, EU officials and European stakeholders to stress the importance of the successor programme to the sector and our strong desire to associate. The European Commission adopted its proposal for the successor scheme to Erasmus+ in May, and the European Parliament has since published its response to the proposal. Attached you’ll find an overview of the amendments the Parliament proposed. You can find the full report here. The main amendments the Parliament has proposed are to:

  • Keep the name Erasmus+ (instead of Erasmus)
  • Triple the budget to € 47 billion (the Commission’s proposal was to double to € 30 billion)
  • Include extra measures and methods to ensure more inclusion in the new programme such as having national agencies develop a multiannual national strategy to foster inclusion
  • Start using Structural Funds to finance high-quality proposals that cannot be financed by Erasmus due to lack of budget, without the need to submit a new application

Current resources:

In the meantime, UUK has published a briefing on “no-Deal” Brexit.

If the Brexit negotiations end without a deal in place, then: 

  • there would be great uncertainty on whether any commitments agreed as part of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement on citizens’ rights and continued participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ still apply
  • there would be no agreement on implementing a transition period between the date of Brexit and 31 December 2020, during which time it was envisioned that freedom of movement would essentially still apply
  • there would be no certainty on what the UK’s future relationship with the EU would look like, including in areas like the mobility of citizens and access to EU programmes

Any impact from a no deal Brexit could result in the following outcomes taking effect on 29 March 2019:

  • the residency and work rights of EU nationals already working in universities would be unclear EU nationals 
  • entering the UK could be treated as third country nationals, subject to non-EEA immigration rules and requirements 
  • the UK’s ability to participate in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ could cease, because there would be no legal obligation for the UK to pay any financial settlement on exit 
  • the continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications covered by the current EU Directive would be uncertain

The government has already committed to a number of stability measures beyond March 2019 (including technical notices) that UUK has actively lobbied for. These are set out below. 

  • EU citizens’ rights: the Prime Minister has said that “even in the event of no deal” the rights of EU citizens living in the UK “will be protected”. The UK government has committed to the roll out of the EU settlement scheme in advance of the March 2019, indicating a possible direction of travel in the event of a no deal.
  • Horizon 2020: in July 2018, the UK government extended a commitment to underwrite payments of Horizon 2020 awardsso that it covers grant applications for funding streams open to third country participation (i.e. multi-beneficiary grants) that are submitted after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. In September 2018, UKRI launched an online portal for UK based recipients of Horizon 2020 funding to log details of their grants.
  • Structural Funds: the same government guarantee of EU funding also underwrites the UK’s allocation for structural and investment fund projects under the EU budget period to 2020, and managing authorities will continue to sign new projects until programme closure. 
  • Erasmus+: In July 2018, the UK government extended a commitment on EU funding to also underwrite the payments of all competitive grants to include centralised Erasmus+ actions (e.g. collaborative projects). On mobility specifically, the government has also agreed to extend its underwrite, although subject to agreement with the EU, until the end of 2020, as set out in the government’s Technical Notice on Erasmus+ in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal.
  • EU student fee status/financial support: governments across the UK have confirmed that EU students starting a course in 2019/20 (the first cycle post-Brexit) will still be eligible for home fee status and for financial support as per existing rules. These announcements have not been caveated as being subject a Brexit deal being agreed, and UUK has been informed by the Department for Education that these commitments (for England) would be honoured even in the event of no deal. 
  • Qualifications recognition: the Brexit White Paper states that the government wants to establish a system on mutual recognition of professional qualifications (MRPQ) that covers the same range of professions as the existing MRPQ Directive. 

Further, UUK suggests that universities consider taking the following action in order to prepare for a possible no deal scenario: 

  • speaking with European partners regularly to share understanding of the impact of no deal and collaboratively plan for such an outcome
  • being mindful of how courses are described to prospective students in terms of fee/loan status and qualifications recognition 
  • working with existing staff with non-UK nationalities and considering communication to this group around the publication of the EU Settlement Scheme 
  • These suggested actions are set out in more detail in the following section, covering: EU citizens’ rights and migration rules; participation in the Horizon 2020, Erasmus+ and Structural Funds programmes, and on student fees and qualifications. 

Grade inflation

In a week of difficult headlines for the sector, the second set were about grade inflation.

UUK issued a report: from the press release:

 “A wide range of factors behind the increase in the number of graduates receiving first and upper-second class degrees.  This report by UUK, GuildHE and QAA, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, on behalf of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) looked at the reasons behind the increase in the number of graduates receiving first and upper-second class degrees.

Key findings show that a wide range of factors could be driving the increase in upper degrees, including additional investment in teaching and learning and heightened student motivation. However, there is a risk that a continued increase in the number of top degrees may undermine confidence in the value of a degree from a UK university, making the classification system less useful for employers and students.” 

  • The average percentage of upper degrees awarded by an institution in 2016/17 was 74%, ranging from 52% to 94%.
  • The average percentage point change in the proportion of upper degrees between 2010/11 and 2016/17 was 11 points, ranging from a fall of 11 points to an increase of 34 points. There was an increase in the proportion of firsts, from 15% to 25%.
  • Over half (54%) of institutions had an increase in the proportion of upper degrees of 10 points of more between 2010/11 and 2016/17

And this is a real risk, as the report says:

Online polling of 2,063 UK adults by BritainThinks for UUK in May 2018 provides further indication of public attitudes towards the value of a university education within this context:

  • 5% agreed that ‘being a graduate is less impressive now because more people have degrees than in the past’.
  • 61% agreed that ‘a university degree is only worth doing if it will help you get a better job’.
  • 55% agree that ‘people going to universities can get better jobs than those who don’t’

Is it really grade inflation?

“Grade inflation has been defined as ‘an upward shift in [student grades] over an extended period of time without a corresponding increase in student achievement’ (Rosovsky and Hartley 2002: 4). Applied to the UK, this would mean an increase in upper degree awards without improvement in student attainment. Quality assurance systems aim to maintain the integrity and consistency of standards, for example through internal moderation and external examining. However, the charge of grade inflation implies that these processes do not counter (or are imbued by) educational cultures and/or financial and market incentives that have softened rigour.

Proving whether the upward trend in grades is inflation or as a result of improvement in student performance is highly complex and imbued by debates between different educational philosophies. To test whether grade inflation is real requires accurate knowledge of a student’s divergence from an expected outcome, while accounting for the impact of teaching and learning and student motivation on attainment.”

There is lengthy analysis of many factors which are relevant to assessment and it is worth a read if you are interested in this area.

The recommendation is that: “Higher education institutions should make a statement of intent to protect the value of qualifications over time by:

  • Publishing analysis of institutional degree outcomes, supported by appropriate external assurance, in a ‘degree outcomes statement’ or equivalent.
  • Publishing and explaining the design of the degree classification algorithm, including where it deviates from accepted norms of practice.
  • Ensuring that assessment criteria meet and exceed sector reference points and reviewing the use of data in quality assurance processes.
  • Supporting the professional development of academics working as external examiners to help maintain standards and the value of qualifications.
  • Reviewing the structure of the degree classification system to ensure that it remains useful for students and employers.”

“The statement should be taken forward through a UK-wide consultation by UKSCA, including appropriate national approaches and variations. The consultation should aim to establish a common framework for taking forward the statement including:

  • a framework for institutional review of practice and data
  • common principles for algorithm practice
  • a shared sector metric on degree outcomes
  • recognition of a common description of degree classification criteria
  • terms of reference for a review of the classification system
  • a timeline for action”

Reporting: the Guardian

This consultation has been announced and will run until 8th February 2019 – BU will prepare an institutional response.

And remember that the current year 4 TEF includes grade inflation data, which will be published for all institutions in January.

Consultations & Inquiries

Click here to view the updated consultation and inquiries tracker. Email us on if you want to chat or contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

From Wonkhe:

  • The father of former student Ed Farmer, who died while taking part in a student society initiation, has called for students involved in future ceremonies to be expelled. The Independent, the BBC, The Telegraph, the Guardian and the Mail Online all have the story.
  • David Gardner argues in the Financial Times that universities “risk their reputations through links to repressive regimes”.

From Research Professional: Observers of how universities are thought of outside the academic bubble would do well to listen to the phone-in on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2, on the subject of unconditional offers.  While people who work in higher education (and early-morning policy journalists) might scratch their heads and wonder why the government would want to push a clearly doomed policy like accelerated degrees, the discussion on Vine’s programme shows how discontent over university funding has gone mainstream. Higher education funding policy is now at the mercy of different varieties of populism, and universities will find that very difficult to combat from the quadrangle or the boardroom.


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Two papers rejected the day after submission in same week

This week we had this enviable record of two academic papers on health topics being rejected the day after submission.  The first paper was submitted on Monday to Issues in Mental Health Nursing.  Our paper reported the Content Analysis of a review of the nursing curricula on mental health and maternity care issues in Nepal. The journal editor emailed us the next day to inform us that the topic was interesting, but not relevant enough to the journal’s readers.

The second paper submitted by a different configuration of staff was submitted last Friday to the Journal of Youth & Adolescence.  The second paper reported a qualitative study on students views on abortion in the south of England.  This journal’s rapid reply came the next day (yesterday) stating that:

Unfortunately, the editors have completed an internal review of your study and have deemed your manuscript inappropriate for our journal. Although your manuscript has important strengths, the journal has moved away from supporting qualitative work (unless it would be part of a journal special issue). Please rest assured that our decision has nothing to do with the quality of your study or findings.

On both occasion we had discussed potential journals and we thought we had targeted appropriate journals for the respective manuscripts.  Moreover, in both manuscripts we managed to cite at least one paper published in the journal to which we had submitted it.  The general message to my colleagues is that it does not matter how many papers you have written and submitted, you will: (1) occasionally opt for the wrong journal; (2) continue to face regular rejection by journal editors; and (3) have an opportunity to submit to another journal.


Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health

HE Policy update for the w/e 23rd November 2018

Considering we were late and included much of Monday’s news in the last update, this is a bumper update for you.  Lots of data and lots of speculation about fees etc.  We have managed to avoid the B word this week – as you will have had enough of it from all the other news sources.


Sophie Bradfield, the Policy & Campaigns Coordinator for SUBU, returns with another guest piece for us this week

Sutton Trust has published research today on graduate internships detailing that “39% of graduates in their twenties have done an internship, including almost half (46%) of young graduates under 24.” These statistics have a direct correspondence with research published in a Lancaster University HECSU-funded Graduate Resilience Project in 2016, looking at how students transition after graduating, where “45% of respondents identified a concern that they lacked relevant experience.” Pairing this with the competition for graduate jobs, it’s of no surprise that so many students seek to undertake internships. At BU gaining placements and real-world experience is a unique selling point and as BU proudly states on the placement information page “90% of our graduates have relevant work experience and this can give you a real head start in the competitive jobs market.” The Students’ Union at Bournemouth University (SUBU) is in absolute agreement that offering opportunities to gain experience can really help students to stand out from the crowd; learn transferable skills for employment; and increase employability and so we have a lot of extra-curricular opportunities on offer for students and collaborate with BU on a number of joint projects including recruiting paid students to be on programme review panels.


BU PhD student PROSPERO publication

Congratulations to BU PhD student Dimitrios Vlachos who had his PROSPERO protocol published [1].   Dimitrios working on a project promoting the Mediterranean-style diet in childbearing age, he is supervised across faculties by Dr. Fotini Tsofliou and Prof. Katherine Appleton.

Well done!

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health (CMMPH)



  1. Tsofliou, F., Appleton, K., Vlachos, D. (2018) Barriers and facilitators to following a Mediterranean style diet in adults: a systematic review of observational and qualitative studies. PROSPERO 2018 CRD42018116515




New paper on Nepal by FHSS’s Dr. Nirmal Aryal

Many congratulations to Dr. Nirmal Aryal, postdoctoral researcher in FHSS for his new publication ‘Blood pressure and hypertension in people living at high altitude in Nepal’ in Hypertension Research [1]. Hypertension Research is a prestigious journal published by Nature (Impact Factor of 3.4).

This is the first study of its kind to collect cardiovascular disease and risk factors related information at four different altitude levels above or equal to 2800 m and from ethnically diverse samples. This paper highlighted that despite known hypoxia-induced favourable physiological responses on blood pressure, high altitude residents (>2800 m) in Nepal might have an increased risk of raised blood pressure associated with lifestyle factors and clinicians should be aware of it. The authors previously published a systematic review paper summarizing global evidence on the relationship between blood pressure and high altitude [2].

This publication is available online at: and pre-refereed version is available in BURO.

Well done!

Dr. Pramod Regmi & Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen



  1. Aryal N, Weatherall M, Bhatta YKD, Mann S. Blood pressure and hypertension in people living at high altitude in Nepal. Hypertension Res 2018 doi: 10.1038/s41440-018-0138-x[published Online First: Epub Date]|
  2. Aryal N, Weatherall M, Bhatta YKD, Mann S. Blood pressure and hypertension in adults permanently living at high altitude: a systematic review and meta-analysis. High Alt Med Biol 2016; 17: 185-193.

Open Event: Creativity and Marginality

You are warmly invited to participate to the final dissemination event of our AHRC e-Voices: Redressing Marginality International Network, titled Creativity and Marginality. The event will take place on December 5 (4pm-8pm), Lawrence Lecture Theatre and The Lees Gallery.

The Creativity and Marginality Symposiumwas conceived of, following a series of workshops and events held in the UK, Kenya and Brazil, as part of the AHRC E-Voices: Redressing Marginliaty Network ( This network focuses upon marginalized groups across different geographical regions that are using technologies in a range of ways to bring voice to their experiences of marginality.

In this symposium BU academics across faculties will present their own research which resonates with the theme: addressing creativity in practice, research method and outcome and with socially marginalized groups. The symposium will be followed by the opening of an exhibition featuring a small selection of pieces presented at the ShiftEye Gallery in Nairobi Kenya. It will also include some pieces from other projects. Finally the evening will conclude with a screening of the documentary Aji-Bi: Under the Clock Tower (2015) by Moroccan director Rajaa Saddiki. A film about a group of Senegalese migrant women working as hairdressers and stranded in Casablanca.

Check the program and register here!

Highly topical BU article on BREXIT

Congratulations to Dr. Rosie Read and Prof. Lee-Ann Fenge in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences who just published in the academic journal Health and Social Care in the Community.  Their paper is called What does Brexit mean for the UK social care workforce? Perspectives from the recruitment and retention frontline’ [1].  You can’t have a more topical academic paper and it is freely available on the web through Open Access!  

The paper is based on research on research they undertook last year on the impact of Brexit on the social care workforce.  A key finding is that, irrespective of whether they employ EU/EEA workers or not, research participants have deep concerns about Brexit’s potential impact on the social care labour market. These include apprehensions about future restrictions on hiring EU/EEA nurses, as well as fears about increased competition for care staff and their organisation’s future financial viability. This article amplifies the voices of managers as an under‐researched group, bringing their perspectives on Brexit to bear on wider debates on social care workforce sustainability.


Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen



  1. Read R, Fenge L‐A. (2018) What does Brexit mean for the UK social care workforce? Perspectives from the recruitment and retention frontline.
    Health Soc Care Community [online first] :1–7.



CoPMRE Fifteenth Annual Symposium: Globalisation and Healthcare Report


CoPMRE held its Fifteenth Annual Symposium  Globalisation and Healthcare: Opportunities and Challenges in October.  The conference was a success thanks to the inspiring speakers and received excellent feedback.  You can read a full report on the conference here and authorised presentations can be found here.

Congratulations to Denyse King

Congratulations to Denyse King, who is currently attending the Future Technologies Conference, FTC 2018; Vancouver, BC; Canada (15-16 November).  Her conference paper ‘NoObesity apps – From approach to finished app’ has been published in Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing [1].  Denyse is part of the Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health (CMMHP) where she is a Lecturer (Academic) in Midwifery based at BU’s campus in Portsmouth ,

Obesity is still a growing public health problem in the UK and many healthcare workers find it challenging to have a discussion with service users about this sensitive topic. They also feel they are not competent to provide the relevant heath advice and are seeking easily accessible, evidence-based, mobile health learning (mHealth). mHealth applications (apps) such as the Professional NoObesity and Family NoObesity (due for release late 2018), have been designed to: support families with making sustainable positive behaviour changes to their health and well-being, ease pressure on practitioners’ overweight and obesity care related workloads, as well as to support the education of professionals, students and service users. This paper describes the process of designing the apps from the inception of the idea, through the stages of research, app builds and testing. The processes of collaborative working to design and develop the apps to meet the needs of both service users and health professionals will also be reflected upon. Childhood obesity is an complex problem and whilst it is recognised that the NoObesity apps cannot singlehandedly resolve this health crisis, it is proposed that they can support families to identify and reduce the barriers that prevent them from living healthier, happier lives. 


King D., Rahman E., Potter A., van Teijlingen E. (2019) NoObesity Apps – From Approach to Finished App. In: Arai K., Bhatia R., Kapoor S. (eds) Proceedings of the Future Technologies Conference (FTC) 2018. FTC 2018. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, vol 881. Springer, Cham, pp. 1145-1157.

HE policy update for the w/e 9th November 2018

Two major reports out this week covering value for money and international students plus all the excitement and intense debate from Wonkfest. Enjoy!

Value for Money in HE

The Education Select Committee have published their inquiry report on Value for Money in Higher Education. The committee calls on both universities and the Government to ensure better outcomes for students, expand degree apprenticeships, make university more accessible to a more diverse range of students and tackle Vice-Chancellor pay. Here are the key recommendations taken from the report:

Value for Money for Students and the Tax Payer

  • Every higher education institution should publish a breakdown of how tuition fees are spent on their websites by end 2018. The OfS should intervene if this deadline is not met.
  • Self-regulated senior management pay is unacceptable. The OfS should publish strict criteria for universities on acceptable levels of pay that could be linked to average staff pay, performance and other measures that the Office for Students sees fit.

The Quality of HE

  • The Committee welcomed the independent review of TEF and recommended it focus on how the exercise is used by students to inform and improve choice. The review must include an assessment of how TEF is used in post-16 careers advice.
  • Institutions should move away from a linear approach to degrees, and enable more part-time, mature and disadvantaged students to study in higher education. The Committee recommended that the Government’s current post-18 review develop a funding model which allows a range of flexible options including credit transfer and ‘hopping on and off’ learning. More flexible approaches to higher education should be supplemented by the option for undergraduates of studying for two-year accelerated degrees alongside the traditional three-year model. However, The introduction of two-year degrees must not create a two-tier system where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged to take them on the basis of cost.


  • The Committee expressed extreme disappointment in the response from the Institute for Apprenticeships to widespread concerns from the higher education sector on the future of degree apprenticeships. The report urges the Institute to make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority. Degree qualifications must be retained in apprenticeship standards, and the Institute must remove the bureaucratic hurdles which universities are facing.
  • The Committee believes some of the money which is currently allocated by the Office for Students for widening access could be better spent on the development and promotion of degree apprenticeships and support for degree apprentices to climb the ladder of opportunity.
  • The implementation of T-Level qualifications from 2020 could offer improved access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Government should engage with universities and UCAS in order to determine an appropriate tariff weighting prior to the introduction of T-levels.

Social Justice

  • The Office for Students must clamp down on the rise in unconditional offers. Their steep increase is detrimental to the interests of students and undermines the higher education system as a whole.
  • The Committee recommends a move away from the simple use of entry tariffs as a league table measure towards contextual admissions, foundation courses and other routes to entry. Institutions should state their contextualisation policies in their application information.

Graduate Employability

  • Student choice is central to the debate over value for money in higher education. Our inquiry found a woeful lack of pre-application and career information, advice and guidance, particularly awareness of degree apprenticeships. The Government’s current post-18 review must look at routes into higher education, and the quality of careers advice which students receive.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, Learning and Work Institute, talks of value beyond fee calculations, stating:

  • Today’s report from the Education Select Committee on Value for Money in Higher Education places a welcome focus on the need for greater flexibility within the higher education offer. It rightly recognises that the ‘one size fits all’ approach of 3 year full-time study often excludes those who need to balance learning with work or caring responsibilities, or with poor health or disability.
  • In the context of an ever-changing economy, where people need to learn and develop their skills throughout their lives, Learning and Work Institute have repeatedly argued that the collapse in part-time and mature learners is disastrous. The recommendations made to create more flexible models of study, grow degree apprenticeships and re-instate maintenance grants have the potential to help turn around this decline.
  • While much of the public debate around higher education focuses on tuition fees, this report helpfully recognises that value is not just about cost. The Committee’s call for greater transparency on the returns to higher education, notably through earnings and employment outcomes is important in supporting learners to make good choices.
  • Taken together, the report provides a welcome steer to the forthcoming Augar review that higher education needs to be more inclusive, and deliver a better deal for all of its learners.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Exec OfS, stated:

  • “We are already responding specifically to a number of areas highlighted in the report. We are preparing a new approach to significantly reduce gaps in access, success and progression for disadvantaged students. Through the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes framework (TEF) we promote excellent teaching and improve information for students including student employment outcomes.”

She went on to state OFS support for degree apprenticeships, the analysis of unconditional offers and the impact this has on students, and to reiterate messaging around VC’s pay.

Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Select Committee who produced the Value for Money report writes a short piece in the Guardian to defend the Committee’s recommendations. This is the Guardian piece he responded to.

Research Professional write: Universities may find a much-needed friend in the Commons education committee.

Accelerated Degrees

As the Value for Money report places emphasis on flexibility of learning design and accelerated options a recent IFF Research report is being circulated which considers the attractiveness of accelerated provision to international students. 59% of the international students surveyed hadn’t heard of accelerated degrees, but once explained 44% stated they would consider studying through accelerated provision. You can read a short summary of the research here.

16-19 Funding

Meanwhile the House of Commons Library has produced a briefing paper on changes in 16-19 education funding since 2010. It details the reforms and changes to the funding approach in the period and cautions against comparing funding over time. It lists the four main issues that have recently caused discontent within 16-19 funding circles:

  • The overall level of funding and the lower level of 16-19 per student funding compared to per student funding in secondary and higher education.
  • Underspends on the 16-19 education budget in 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17.
  • The absence of a VAT refund scheme for sixth form colleges (such a scheme exists for schools and academies).
  • The funding requirement that students who have not attained certain GCSE grades in maths and English must continue to study those subjects post-16.

The Library produces these briefings to ensure that parliamentarians have sufficient background and brief on a topic to ensure informed discussion within the Houses. There was an Education Select Committee hearing on school and college funding on Tuesday (contact Sarah if you would like a summary of the session). The select committee content is timely and comes at a time when the HE sector is awaiting the outcomes of the post-18 review of education and funding.


Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec of Universities UK, took to the press this week to respond to last week’s rumours that the Government were considering cutting HE fees as part of their review of post-18 funding and education. Alistair argues against fee cuts stating it would throw social mobility into reverse. He goes on:

  • Without a cast-iron guarantee that Treasury cash will cover the shortfall, we may once again see a cap on numbers that will be a lid on aspiration. It will mean bigger class sizes, poorer facilities and less student choice. It will weaken research and throw into doubt hopes that the UK will become a high-productivity, high-wage economy

He restates familiar points that highlight that fee cuts will benefit mid-high income graduates only. He highlights the 82% increase in disadvantaged students commencing university since the fee introduction.

  • “A cut in fees without the funding gap being met in full would be a political, educational and academic dead end. Some institutions could close, excluding tens of thousands of disadvantaged students. Most universities would face serious funding problems. The world-class education they provide, and which students expect, would be compromised.
  • Any reduction in funding would damage universities’ ability to deliver the skills that 21st-century businesses need. The UK already faces a talent deficit of between 600,000 and 1.2 million skilled workers by 2030. Teaching cannot be separated from research. Fewer academics will mean fewer discoveries.”

Martin Lewis continues his campaign to prepare parents for the financial contribution they are expected to make to top up their children’s living costs while at University. He has released a video warning parents and the article gives indicative levels of how much parents might have to save:

  • “This is a warning for parents of all teenagers. Now over 50% of our young people go on to university. And while you commonly hear that you don’t need to pay for that upfront, it’s no longer true – there is a hidden parental contribution.
  • …students get a living loan too, but the thing they don’t tell you is it’s means tested, and therefore the gap between the full loan and the amount you get is effectively a parental contribution…the impact is huge; the amount of living loan the student gets is reduced from family income of £25,000 and by the time you reach around £60,000 depending on circumstances, the amount they get is halved.
  • My problem though is when students receive their living loan letter, it tells them the amount of loan you’re getting: “You’re going to get £5,000 for your living loan.” What it doesn’t do though is tell them: “The full loan is £10,000. The reason you are only getting £5,000 is because of that means testing – the gap of £5,000 is effectively the parental contribution.”
  • So if your family income is over around £60,000, start preparing to save £15,000. If your total family income is under £25,000, you don’t need to save anything. If your family income is in the middle, £45,000, you want to be saving around £7,500 for your kids to go to university.”

OfS approach to insolvent providers

No bail out

In the policy update last week under the heading of Boom and bust we described how the recruitment crisis has allegedly left some universities on the brink of insolvency. This week Michael Barber, Chair of the OfS, has reiterated messages that the OfS will not rescue failing institutions:

  • “Universities make a huge contribution to students and the wider economy. Nobody wants to see them fail. However, bailouts would neither be good for students nor fair for taxpayers. It would just delay the inevitable.
  • We will not bail out universities or other course providers in financial difficulty…it would be irresponsible to give more public money to people who are demonstrably unable to manage their institution in a sustainable way. Nor would it be responsible to sit and wait for institutions to run into difficulty, or to leave students in the lurch once it occurs.
  • This doesn’t mean that we would do nothing if a university failed…Where failure is a possibility, we will work to protect the student interest…Our core principle is that students should be able to continue and complete their studies where they want. If this is not possible, they should be compensated.” Source

While the message is clear, others within the sector seem to be adding caveats to this hard line approach.  Wonkhe report that Gyimah had a softer message than Barber. Gyimah stated “there’s a difference between messing up your business model and the result of policy decisions”. (He was talking about the Open University).  Gyimah responded that cases would “be considered one-by-one”.

Sam also announced DfE were looking at student accommodation costs and didn’t rule out the possibility of rent controls. Watch the full footage of Sam Gyimah in conversation with Mark Leach of Wonkhe (here) and read an analysis here.

Meanwhile the Huff Post spills the beans that one of the HE provider’s reported to be in financial jeopardy isn’t on the OfS’s new register because the OfS is overwhelmed by the volume of new providers attempting to join the register. The article suggests this leaves students in a dire position without financial protection because the student protection plan isn’t in force. Excerpt:

  • Yet the OfS refused to comment when asked by HuffPost UK about what it would do should an institution fail before it was fully registered. It said instead that it would seek to use powers held by the defunct Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which it replaced.

Research Professional provides an alternative viewpoint to in their article What is the regulator for? arguing that

  • “any newspaper could have run a headline about universities being in financial difficulties at any point in the past 25 years. For a long time, the Higher Education Funding Council for England kept a register of institutions at risk. Up to a dozen universities were said to be on it at any given time.”

Free Speech

Michael Barber also spoke on free speech at Wonkfest (his slides) stating that the focus on no platforming invited speakers is

  • only one part of the issue. It is also about diversity of perspective in seminars and lectures, about the way in which unpopular ideas are debated rather than suppressed.”
  • “There is a tendency currently to suggest that students should be protected from ideas that they may make them feel ‘uncomfortable.’ – Barber notes a US, not UK example – I also want to be sure it is not where we are headed because it is to totally miss the point; when students are faced with such ideas, universities should teach them to listen, to understand and then argue with vigour a different case if they wish to. The way to combat speech that is challenging and unpopular is to confront it, not suppress it. The way to deal with discomfort is to develop the resilience to overcome it not to hide or flee from it. Indeed, I would argue that feeling uncomfortable is an essential ingredient of learning and the pursuit of truth.”
  • “I often hear people say that free speech is not really an issue in our universities – that it has been overstated by the media or politicians. This is not an issue that can be quantified by the number of instances that make the headlines or the instances of no-platforming, although it is right to track those. Rather it is a fundamental matter of what our universities are for. Free speech is one of the most precious freedoms ever established, and universities above all should be places where it is cherished. The OfS will be an unashamed champion of free speech.”

Sam Gyimah has been the subject of media and sector derision in the past over some of his unsubstantiated claims (for example see here, here and here) particularly while championing Free Speech. In a parliamentary question this week he reiterates Barber’s message that it isn’t about identifying and counting contraventions of free speech, nor books removed from libraries, but the more intangible elements of censorship within the delivery of education:

Q – Jo Stevens: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the oral contribution of the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, of 17 May 2018, Official Report, column 241WH, what information his Department holds on the (a) number of speaking events blocked by a university or students’ union, (b) books removed from university libraries and (c) changes to courses due to changes in equalities guidance.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The information requested is not held centrally. The department does not collect data on the number of speaking events blocked by a University or Students’ Union, books removed from university libraries and changes to courses due to changes in equalities guidance
  • As set out in a statement on 17 May, we do not believe that measuring free speech on campus by events that happen is sufficient, as this does not evidence self-censorship or those events that do not happen in the first place. We are committed to defending free speech on campus to avoid a culture of censorship which risks leading to those outcomes to which the question refers. Comprehensive guidance on Freedom of Speech for the higher education sector is due to be published by the end of the year.

Gyimah also talked of the monoculture on campus with some students and staff shying away from discussing race and gender issues. Meanwhile Research Professional state the free speech debate has been around since the 1960’s.

International Students

The International Students APPG (all party parliamentary group) ran the inquiry A sustainable future for international students in the UK which explored the opportunities and challenges surrounding international students. (Find BU’s response to the inquiry on this webpage.) Their inquiry has concluded and they have published their report (press release here).
Note: this APPG report is separate from the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) report on international students. Whilst some of the content is very similar there are key differences, for example the MAC report did not recommend removing students from the net migration figures.

Here are the report’s recommendations:

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GOVERNMENT –  The APPG recommends that a cross-departmental group establishes a clear and ambitious target to grow international student numbers, supported by a cross-departmental strategy and a commitment to remove students from the target to reduce net migration.

  1. The Government should offer a clearly labelled and attractive post-study work visa which allows up to two years of work experience in the UK.
  2. The Government should pursue an EU deal for unrestricted movement of students and researchers, as part of a close relationship with European universities and provide urgent clarity for EU nationals studying and researching in the UK on what changes they will experience in visa and funding rights.
  3. Immigration rules should facilitate and encourage students to study in the UK and at multiple study levels within the UK education system.
  4. The Government should promote and protect the diversity of the UK education offer including small, specialist, vocational and further education providers within the proposed recruitment strategy.
  5. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration should conduct an independent review of credibility interviews within the student immigration system to ensure the system is fit for purpose, cost-effective relative to current risk and does not limit the diversity of international students in the UK.
  6. The UK Government should work closely with devolved and regional governments to support growth in international student numbers, protect local courses and institutions which are dependent on international students, and support regional and national initiatives which enhance the benefit of international education such as work experience schemes and industry engagement.
  7. The Government should accurately track data on education as an export and as an economic value, including at a national, regional and local level. Government should include education in their trade strategy when approaching bi-lateral agreements.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UNIVERSITIES, COLLEGES AND SCHOOLS – Education institutions should share best practice across the education sector to enhance internationalisation strategies through maximising the advantages and benefits of having a diverse body of international students, as well as support more UK students to study abroad.


  1. Messages for international students regarding the UK should be welcoming, clear, simple and consistent. These should be developed in cooperation between the government and the education sector.
  2. The UK should establish an international graduate and alumni strategy which would support international students for employment opportunities in their home country to boost UK soft power, research and trade and support greater engagement with alumni by universities, business and government. Activities to track the long-term employment destination of international graduates should be intensified.
  1. Education institutions, local government and local business should come together to attract, plan for, support and integrate international students in the local community.

Paul Blomfield MP, who is the co-chair of the International Students APPG stated:

  • “Increasingly restrictive policies and procedures over the last eight years have discouraged many international students from applying to the UK.
  • We need to press the reset button, establish an ambitious strategy to increase recruitment, put new policies in place, and send out a clear message that international students are welcome in the UK.
  • Our report offers a way forward for the Government, and a route-map to renewed competitiveness for our world-class universities and colleges. I urge Ministers to look carefully at our recommendations and step up to the challenge.”

The Russell Group response to APPG report welcomed the recommendations and emphasised post-study options and streamlined visas as vital:

  • “…an important part of this offer are the opportunities available to graduates to transition to work once their studies are complete. This is an area where the UK is lagging, and we hope that Ministers will seek to address this by improving the UK’s post-study work offer at the earliest opportunity.
  • Alongside this, we would urge the Government to consider the importance of having a proportionate, streamlined system for student visas. Making visa applications straightforward, user-friendly and cost effective will help improve student experience and generate a welcoming image of the UK.”

Lord Bilimoria writes for The Guardian: International students are abandoning Britain – we must stem the tide. 

Last week there was a parliamentary question on post-study work visas which didn’t sound promising:

Q – Gregory Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will introduce a Global Graduate Talent visa to allow international students sponsored by a UK university to work in the UK for a limited period following their graduation. [LINK]

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recently published its review of the impact of International Students in the UK. The MAC made several recommendations regarding port study work, though they did not recommend a separate post study work visa. We will be carefully considering the recommendations made in the report and will be responding in due course.

Students’ unions are in need of radical, systemic reform? Or are they?

This week we’re very excited to bring you an exclusive from our new guest writer, Sophie Bradfield. Sophie is the Policy & Campaigns Coordinator for SUBU and attended the big HE sector and policy event – Wonkfest – in London this week.  Sophie writes:

It was fantastic to work with the Wonkhe team to facilitate sessions at Wonkfest and attend some too. One which attracted my attention, unsurprisingly, was a debate on student union reform. The debate titled ‘Students’ unions are in need of radical, systemic reform? Or are they?’ had two speakers: Iain Mansfield- former senior civil servant in the DfE when TEF was designed; and Jim Dickinson- a big name in the Student Union movement as a formerly long-standing senior director at the National Union of Students.

As many will know, the purpose of Students’ Unions (SUs) was enshrined in the 1994 Education Act to act as ‘a representative body whose principal purposes include representing the generality of students.’ Almost every university has a students’ union and many, but not all, are affiliated to the National Union of Students- a membership organisation that nationally represents the collective student voice. As a staff member in a students’ union, I found it interesting to hear Iain’s viewpoints but it seemed that his knowledge and experience of students’ unions was limited. His argument assumed that all SUs think and act the same however just as each higher education institution is unique, so too, are the students’ unions.

With a plethora of damning media articles, comments from politicians and misunderstandings about safe space policies and ‘no platform’ policies, it’s not surprising that the debate turned to issues of freedom of speech and concern about students ‘banning’ speakers. Perhaps it’s also not surprising that the debate continues on this despite little to no evidence turning up from a freedom of information request by the BBC. In fact it was found, that cases where events have been cancelled, has been down to security costs rather than ‘no platforming’.

Iain argued passionately that Students’ Unions forcibly enrol students without any meaningful way of them ‘opting-out’ such as remuneration of fees, and explained this is problematic as SUs aren’t representative with low election turnouts. It was pointed out by a member of the audience that under new data protection regulations, students need to opt-in to SUs to receive correspondence. Jim also noted that opt-outs with a financial incentive would become an issue, leading new students to get back their £20-30 without knowing all of the benefits that being part of an SU brings. SUs help students to build their social capital; gain a sense of community and build meaningful relationships with other students; give them a platform to influence and improve their student experience; and enable them to learn how to solve their own issues collectively through democratic deliberation. Jim also explained that democratic participation isn’t just about election turnout; the representative legitimacy of SUs is demonstrated through a number of ways as student leaders run through many different levels. For example the student rep system, of which Bournemouth’s is nationally award-winning, has 575 elected student reps with multiple representatives for each programme, particularly for larger courses.

The debate concluded that whilst Students’ Unions are independent from their institutions, they occupy the same space and work closely, through their elected officers, with the institution on deliberative policy making on day-to-day educational issues such as assessment and feedback, for the benefit of students. If any reforms are needed across the movement, as a whole, it’s to focus more on these educational issues and move away from big political issues. It was noted that SU officers are also challenged by representing increasing student numbers, with bigger constituencies than many local councillors. An ongoing challenge for SUs is communicating the existence and purpose of a students’ union to students and the wider public, so students can make the most of all the civic and developmental opportunities that SUs provide.

More on Wonkfest

We’ve been name dropping Wonkfest throughout this update. It was a two-day policy and sector event that took place in London this week covering a myriad of topics. Such was the excitement of the attendees at Wonkfest that some Tweets started trending nationally.

BU was well represented with Mandi Barron leading the session Crisis, what crisis? Is student mental health really a “no brainer”?, Debbie Holley was on the panel for Teaching can’t be measured and frameworks are for fools and SUBU’s Sophie facilitating several key sessions.

Search Twitter using #WonkFest18 or backtrack through the action here.

Using this link scroll down to the section Questions for Sam Gyimah where he ‘defines’ a good degree that would be a good investment and suggests that setting fees for STEM courses even higher than the current £1,250 limit wouldn’t deter students but may actually make them more attractive to applicants. It’s an interestingly different approach to Labour’s plans to woo the youth voters and parents with free tuition fees.

Scroll down even further to Sam Gyimah – in Conversation with Mark Leach and you’ll find Sam’s unconvinced by post-qualification admissions and that accommodation costs are the primary issue students raise with him.

Here’s the summary from the Can teaching really be measured?  session (provided by Wonkhe).

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is one of the hottest issues in higher education in the moment – but is it capable of actually improving the quality of teaching?

The statutory independent review on TEF is due to be set up before the end of 2018 so we put together an expert panel to read the runes.

Wonkhe’s own David Kernohan was chairing the session – here’s his take:

  • The panel was clear we need to ask students about their learning and listen to their answers. Metrics will always be a part of the picture, but a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the needs and aspirations of undergraduates is an essential first step in improving teaching and the student experience.
  • The dual role of TEF (enhancement and information) is becoming more confused with many institutions hiring data scientists and not educational developers. It was noted that we sit at an important part of the life of the TEF, with the statutory review just round the corner – which again needs to involve the student voice as a fundamental point.
  • But, following the Augar review, the role of the OfS may change again – perhaps returning to a funding role?

The session provoked quite a debate online too with many pertinent Tweets.

Follow this link (which requires oodles of scrolling down) to read the summaries for:

  • Mandi’s Barron’s session on the student mental health crisis debate
  • Rankings, tables, metrics
  • The state of campus morale – and what we can do
  • Policy & politics of HE (Fiscal illusions and political delusions)
  • A session on putting impact before everything else – how do we help academics to not be pointless.
  • Win –wins in social mobility

Thirsty for more?

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Brexit: Research

A parliamentary question digging into where the money for guarantee funding will come from:

Q – Daniel Zeichner: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the funding allocated by the EU to underwrite successful bids by UK organisations to competitive EU grant programmes, including Horizon2020, will be funded from (a) UKRI’s annual budget allocation or (b) additional funding allocated by his Department in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. [LINK]

A – Elizabeth Truss:

  • If the UK leaves the EU next year without a deal, HM Treasury will make additional funding available to departments to cover projects under the HMG Guarantee, which includes Horizon 2020. Relevant departments will then be responsible for allocating this funding to UK organisations.

Grade Inflation

A guest writer on the HEPI blog explores grade inflation Agatha Christie style looking at the cumulative effects of inadvertent collusion as a response to increased competition. The article is far more entertaining than my description, although it doesn’t explore the counterarguments to its supposition.

Access and Participation – Social Mobility

Partnership to support schools – On Tuesday the DfE issued guidance information for schools and universities to form partnerships to share expertise and resources to maximise educational outcomes and improve opportunities for young people within their area.

Disability – Sam Gyimah confirmed that research on the Disabled Students’ Allowance is expected to culminated in December and be published shortly after.

Targets – This week there were two parliamentary questions on the new OfS access and participation targets:

Q – Baroness Royall Of Blaisdon: What criteria they will use to measure the effectiveness of the mechanisms for meeting the new access and participation targets proposed by the Office for Students. [LINK]

A- Viscount Younger Of Leckie:

  • The Office for Students (OfS), as the new independent regulator for higher education, has recently consulted the sector on a new approach to regulating higher education (HE) providers’ progress on widening access and successful participation in HE. The OfS is expected to respond to the consultation later this year.
  • We would expect the OfS to keep any new approach under review, to assess its effectiveness in achieving our goals for improved access and participation in HE by under-represented groups.
  • The OfS brings together the levers of both funding and the arrangements for agreeing and monitoring Higher Education providers’ Access and Participation plans to seek continuous improvement in this area. OfS also now has access to a range of sanctions to address concerns about a lack of progress on access and participation.

Q – Baroness Royall Of Blaisdon: What assessment they have made of the case for providing higher education providers with access to free school meals data at the start of the undergraduate admissions cycle as part of measures to widen access to higher education. [LINK]

A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie:

  • Widening participation is a priority for this government. We want to ensure that everyone with talent and potential to succeed in higher education has the opportunity to do so, regardless of background, ethnicity or where they grew up. Higher education institutions play an important role in achieving this goal through their outreach and widening participation work.
  • Government has already made available school level data on pupils eligible for free school meals through the ‘Find and compare schools in England’ service and I encourage universities to make use of this. This is available at: .
  • Universities should also continue to work directly with schools and third sector organisations to spot and nurture talent early. I have asked Department for Education officials to look at ways the department can support the sector, to identify talented pupils and to help assist in targeting outreach activity.

Estranged Students – Previously we reported the Student Loans Company had come under heavy fire after it analysed the social media profiles of students claiming to be estranged to discover if they had any familial contact. This week Sam Gyimah’s response to a parliamentary question defends the Student Loans Company use of personal social media profiles to determine estrangement status. He describes the practice as: “a proportionate and effective way of detecting and preventing certain types of fraud.”

Care Leavers – The recent Covenant launch has prompted renewed interest in Care Leavers within Parliament, however, it is disappointing that the Minister’s response only references the Covenant and not the work of other sector bodies or university approaches in response to this parliamentary question:

Q – Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to widen access to university for children who have been in care.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • I want to ensure that all care leavers with the potential to benefit from higher education are encouraged to apply. Guidance issued by the Office for Students (OfS) to universities on completing access and participation plans identifies care leavers as a key target group whose needs their plans should address. Last week, we launched the Care Leaver Covenant, which will provide a way for organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors – including universities – to set out what support they provide to care leavers.
  • Universities are being asked to work with children in care and care leavers, to encourage them to apply and to provide them with additional support through the application process. A number of universities have already signed the covenant, including Leeds, Liverpool and Bradford; and we will continue to work closely with the OfS to encourage all universities to sign it.

Social Mobility in Counties – A Report by the County All Party Parliamentary Group, supported by the County Councils Network and Localis – This is a long report so please contact us if you would like to read it in full.  The report found that the perception of counties as affluent areas has masked deep-seated socio-economic challenges and deprivation in shire counties, while the additional costs of delivering rural services are also not fully recognised in the way funding is allocated to councils. Eight of the ten least socially mobile areas in England are county areas, and are overwhelmingly rural and coastal.

The report outlines that councils in London receive £482 per head, whilst metropolitan boroughs and cities receive £351 per head, compared to £182 per person for public services in county areas. This historically lower funding for public services and infrastructure is an increasing issue at a time when councils are having to re-route funding for social services and care for the elderly, and is hampering efforts by county authorities to provide vital services that promote and support social mobility such as bus routes, public transport, youth centres and libraries. The report finds that transport networks in particular are a major hindrance to social mobility in counties.

Q – Peter Aldous

It was great that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government were able to attend last Wednesday’s launch of the county all-party parliamentary group’s report on social mobility in county areas. Will my right hon. Friend work with the APPG to implement the report’s 11 recommendations, which will do so much to ensure that young people across the country have the opportunity to realise their full potential?

A – James Brokenshire

  • That sense of social justice to which my hon. Friend alludes and which was in the report profoundly reflects the Government’s aspirations and intent to see a country that works for everyone. I look forward to continuing to work with him and the APPG in considering the fair funding review and other steps to ensure that we realise that aspiration.

Source: Topical Questions


Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. Email us on if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • Brexit: EU Student exchanges and funding for university research
  • The State of competition in the digital economy

Other news

Family Connections: A new guest blog on Wonkhe explores how the volume and quality of connection with family members whilst the student is geographically distant during their studies supports students. For those with previous strong bonds with their family daily contact reduced stress and supported them through the difficult times. However, for others who deliberately chose to unlace the apron strings they felt the distance helped them to focus on their academic studies, although the research mentions many still had access to a family safety net if needed. The blog paints a different picture for estranged and care experienced students who lacked financial or emotional support which was exacerbated during times of challenge. The authors urge the sector to recognise the emotional buffer a family can provide and the knock on effects for those without support (“family disadvantaged”) who may experience loneliness, increased poor mental health and lower academic success.

CBI: CBI have published Educating for the Modern World. It notes that while links between business and education remain strong progress has stalled with gaps in understanding a major obstacle. The report notes 46% of businesses understand the new GCSE grades. It explores technical education, which is highly valued, but beset with apprenticeship vacancies, funding rule headaches, and mixed feelings towards T levels.

University graduates are valued, with graduates continuing to have higher levels of employment, lower levels of economic inactivity and higher earnings on average, compared to non-graduates. An overwhelming majority of businesses (79%) regarded a 2:1 undergraduate degree (or above) as a good measure of academic ability, despite increasing numbers of 2:1 and above classifications being awarded.

John Cope Head of Education & Skills, CBI said:  “Employers expect to recruit more people over the coming years but worry there aren’t enough skilled people to fill the vacancies.”

The CBI states four priorities it will work on:

  • Ensure the education system prepares young people for the modern world and work
  • Harness the power of business to improve the education and skills system
  • Create the rights conditions for lifelong learning
  • Champion our world-class education institutions, including schools, colleges, and universities.

Commenting on the CBI report Alastair Jarvis, Chief Exec of UUK, stated:

“Universities are working with businesses to meet employers’ needs, and it is also important for the government to support universities to offer more flexible courses. We need to be able to meet the needs of part-time and mature learners if we are going to raise the overall level of skills in the workforce.”

Mental Health: A parliamentary question response on tools to support mental health within schools.  Also in The Guardian this week James Murray, the father of Ben a student at Bristol who committed suicide, talks about how a building pattern of data could have triggered a warning and intervention system that may have saved his son’s life.

T levels: On T levels Anne Milton was questioned about enduring public awareness. She responded:

  • Our T level communications campaign will launch in 2019, ensuring that parents, teachers, students and the wider public know about T levels and where they fit among other choices after GCSEs. The campaign will be extended over time as T levels are rolled out more widely. We are working closely with the 2020 providers on this campaign, which will include resources to support regional communications.
  • We have provided £5 million to the National Apprenticeship Service, who have widened their remit to provide an advice and support service for employers, which includes raising awareness and promoting the benefits of T levels and industry placements to employers.
  • Information about the grading system for the component parts of T levels was confirmed in the government’s response to the T level consultation in May this year. We recognise the need to promote awareness and understanding of this as part of our communications to students, parents and employers.

PGT Satisfaction: Advance HE’s postgraduate taught experience survey was issued a few weeks ago but is now available for general download here. Their news story focuses only their high response rate and high levels of satisfaction (89%). Follow this link to read the key findings.

Graduate Outcomes: A new Wonkhe blog explores the new Graduate Outcomes (replaces DLHE) survey  noting concerns that the response rate may drop (perhaps even by 30%); that careers services may want to visibly support new graduates approaching the survey date in a more noticeable way than previously to maximise positive results; discusses a change of tack for alumni services; how the change of date will affect the outcomes data particularly for different courses such as teachers. The author also notes concern that an over-focus on data will lead to institutions cutting courses because their lower outcomes data may lead to unpopularity and unviability – cue the headlines that not enough universities offer a particular course and there is no a workforce gap. The blog then highlights the positives – a richer data set, longer support for graduates and a reduction in gaming tactics. Read Graduate Outcomes: necessity is the mother of invention for the detail.


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