Category / international

Writing some blurb

Publisher Routledge announced the forthcoming edited volume Menstruation in Nepal: Dignity Without Danger, which is edited by Sara ParkerMadhusudan Subedi and Kay Standing. This book examines the complexities of menstrual beliefs and practices in Nepal. Taking an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach, it explores and promotes the rights of women, girls and people who menstruate, to a dignified and healthy menstruation.  I had the honour of being asked to write some of the blurb for this exciting book.  Partly, because of our wide-range of health services and health promotion research in the country and partly because of our previous paper on reusable sanitary towels in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal [1].

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery & Women’s Health

 

Reference:

  1. Budhathoki, S.S., Bhattachan, M., Pokharel, P.K., Bhadra, M., van Teijlingen, E. (2017) Reusable sanitary towels: Promoting menstrual hygiene in post-earthquake Nepal. Journal of Family Planning & Reproductive Health Care 43(2): 157-159.

HE policy update 5: 26th February 2024

An interesting mixture of news: a look around through the eyes of the House of Lords library and a lengthy analysis of the differences between the 4 nations, a hopeful look forward through the UUK manifesto for the election, Research England are taking steps on spin-outs and there are serious concerns about abuse of franchised provision arrangements in some parts of the sector.  I also look at the latest developments in two sad cases of student deaths and what the might mean for the sector going forwards.  A look at Scottish and Welsh funding for HE just makes everyone scratch their heads more about how to make the numbers add up.

Politics and Parliament

Here’s something cheerful in the context of all the criticism of the sector: a House of Lords library briefing on the sector’s contribution to the economy and levelling up.  This has come out because there is a motion in the House of Lords in early March:  Lord Blunkett (Labour) to move that this House takes note of the contribution of higher education to national growth, productivity and levelling up.

As we were reminded by all this week’s chaos and anger about the Gaza motion and its various amendments, these “motions” have no actual force: they don’t directly lead to any action or decision, they are usually very party political in nature and it is not unusual for one party or another to decline to vote on them at all so that while they may be passed there is even less meaning to be taken from them.

That is not to say that they don’t have some impact: the debate itself can influence perceptions in the longer term and the briefings are always interesting. A reminder that briefings from the libraries of the House of Commons and the House of Lords are not party political: they are intended to be factual and to be used by all potential participants in the debate.  As such they provide a useful summary of the current state of affairs.

So to this one:

Citing a London Economics report for UUK in August 2023: Its analysis estimated that the ‘economic footprint’ of HE providers across the UK resulted in:

  • 768,000 full-time jobs
  • £71bn in terms of gross value added (GVA)
  • £116bn in terms of general economic output

And goes on to quote from the report: In addition to the large impact within the government, health, and education sector itself (£52.8bn of economic output), the activities of UK HE providers are estimated to generate particularly large impacts within the distribution, transport, hotels, and restaurants sector (£15.4bn), the production sector (£12.6bn), the real estate sector (£9.7bn), and the professional and support activities sector (£9.2bn).

Using a separate London Economics Report with HEPI and Kaplan International Pathways from May 2023 it also refers to findings about the contribution of international students: The average impact was highest for parliamentary constituencies in London (with an average net impact of £131mn per constituency, equivalent to £1,040 per resident). The average impact per parliamentary constituency in the North East and Scotland was estimated at £640 and £750 respectively per member of the resident population; between £500 and £510 per member of the resident population in the East and West Midlands, Northern Ireland, and Yorkshire and the Humber; and between £360 and £390 in the North West, South East, South West, the East of England, and Wales

There is a load of data about participation, and then this on outcomes, using the government’s graduate labour market statistics from June 2023

  • Looking at the labour market as a whole (therefore not just 2020/21 graduates), the government has identified better employment outcomes for graduates than non-graduates:[28]
  • In 2022, the employment rate for working-age graduates (those aged 16–64) was 87.3%, an increase of 0.6 percentage points on 2021 (86.6%). For working-age postgraduates, the employment rate was 89.3%, an increase of 1.1 percentage points on 2021 (88.2%). For working-age non-graduates, the employment rate was 69.6%, a decrease of 0.2 percentage points from 2021 (69.8%).
  • In 2022, 66.3% of working-age graduates were in high-skilled employment, compared to 78.3% of postgraduates and 23.6% of non-graduates.
  • In 2022, the median nominal salary for working-age graduates was £38,500. This was £11,500 more than working-age non-graduates (£27,000), but £6,500 less than working-age postgraduates (£45,000).

The paper goes on to talk about government policy, including its levelling up strategy, but also its policy statement from July 2023 which was the final response to the Augar review from 2019.  You’ll remember this one, it talked about promoting level 4 and 5 courses, applying student numbers controls to provision with “poor outcomes”, and proposed fee caps and loan limits for foundation years.  [You will also recall that this confirmed they would not go ahead with the minimum entry requirements that had been proposed].

In the context of international students, the paper notes the concerns about immigration and the recent changes to visa rules to prevent most students bringing their families to the UK.  Following some exciting stories in the press about entry standards (which were covered in the last update), the paper notes the recent announcement by UUK that they will review admissions practices for international students.

UUK has recently announced a review of admissions practices for international students following concerns that institutions were lowering admission standards to bolster recruitment and fees. This will include reviews of:

  • foundation programmes for international and domestic students
  • the agent quality framework, which provides tools and best practice guidance for when universities use agents to help recruit international students
  • the admissions code of practice, which sets out expectations for university processes

There’s an analysis of responses to the levelling up approach including a reference to a report by Lord Willetts from October 2023 which set out four groups of benefits that higher education can offer individuals and society.

It should be an interesting debate, and a useful reminder of the value of higher education.  Just don’t expect any policy changes as a result.

Universities UK manifesto

The UUK manifesto sets out a wish list for the sector.  It all looks very expensive and so while ambitious, unlikely to be replicated in anyone’s actual manifesto.  We can expect to see more of these over the next few months. Research Professional have the story here.

Future of apprenticeships:

An article in the FT by Alison Wolf calls for the percentage of the apprenticeship levy to be reduced, for it to be extended to smaller businesses and for limits what it can be used for.

Regional inequalities

In the meantime, the Education Policy Institute, along with a range of partners, have published a report Comparing policies, participation and inequalities across UK post-16 education and training landscapes.  This is an interim report and compares contexts, choices and outcomes across the 4 nations.  It’s a weighty piece and mostly about 16-18 education, but some highlights relevant to HE include:

  • The level of policy churn experienced within UK E&T is enormous and potentially damaging for all the individuals and institutions involved. Constant policy churn emphasises the view that the E&T system is at best flawed and at worst failing. This has the potential to harm the morale of staff and stakeholders involved in the system as well as negatively shaping the aspirations of young people and their families and their perceptions of different E&T pathways. ….[they may be talking about FE mostly here but this applies to HE too, and the impact of this washes through to post-18 education]
  • When we were able to look at socio-economic inequalities in access and outcomes, we observed gaping differences in educational outcomes from choices. Those from more disadvantaged backgrounds were less likely to achieve A level or equivalent qualifications, and less likely to achieve degree-level qualifications. As a result, they are then less likely to be in employment, will have lower earnings and less likely to be in professional occupations when they do enter the labour market. These inequalities are of similar size across all four nations, with just slightly higher university attendance amongst the most disadvantaged students in England.
  • Outcomes are particularly concerning in Wales, including “Welsh boys having the lowest levels of higher education participation

Recommendations are mostly about schools and FE not HE, but we would agree with this:

  • A new stable settlement is needed. In the short run, a new vision and policy approach for post-16 E&T may be needed. This will require political consensus within each nation on goals and ambitions that can be realised, well-funded institutions and structures, and a stable set of qualifications

In the section about funding it notes the divide between FE and HE (from p24):

  • Historically, the four nations have maintained a divided system that rests on a categorical distinction between academic and vocational knowledge and skills. This is rooted in entrenched class division and a perception of HE as a gateway to privilege, contributing to an esteem deficit for FE and negatively influencing young people’s choices (and their families’ perceptions of the sector) when considering available pathways to a good future. Arguably this restricts access and progression and emphasises differentiation and social selection at the expense of social inclusion and the needs of individual learners. …
  • However, the relationship between FE and HE has become increasingly blurred over the last decade. Universities have been increasingly encroaching on FE spaces through a variety of sub-degree level provision, including, but not limited to, foundation degrees while degree level qualifications are offered by some FE colleges, with degree apprenticeships sitting in a hybrid vocational-academic space….
  • As each attempts to operate in the others’ space, competitive behaviours are increased and colonisation, rather than quality or diversity of provision, becomes the de facto driver. ….

Research and knowledge exchange: Spinouts

You will recall that the government published alongside the Autumn Statement its response to the Independent Review of University Spin-out Companies.  The government said that it accepted all the recommendations of the review and would implement them all.  These were:

  • Government will work with universities to improve deal terms, data and transparency in the sector. This includes reporting on which universities have implemented the policies recommended by the review, creating a database of spin-out companies and supporting the sector to develop a full set of deal terms guidance for different sectors, including template term sheets….
  • We are providing £20 million for a new cross-disciplinary proof-of-concept research programme. Research England will review the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) to ensure commercialisation functions in universities are appropriately funded and incentivised. We will set up a pilot of shared technology transfer functions for universities….
  • Government will map and publish support services available to founders and develop proposals to fill gaps or improve support. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will ensure that all PhD students it funds have the option to attend high quality entrepreneurship training and increased opportunities to undertake internships in local spin-outs, venture capital firms or technology transfer offices. ….
  • Government will continue its work to support access to finance through the Long-term Investment for Technology and Science (LIFTS) scheme, establishing a new Growth Fund within the British Business Bank, delivering a new generation of British Business Bank Nations and Regions Investment Funds and extending British Patient Capital to 2033-34 with £3 billion of funding. The government will also continue to deliver the Mansion House reforms, including improvements to our capital markets. …
  • To support our ambition to make the UK’s Research, Development and Innovation landscape more open and navigable, the government will work with UKRI and the National Academies to develop opportunities to improve their fellowship offer for commercialisation, including the option of ‘academic returner’ fellows. ….

Research England have now set out how they are going to do all this.  There is a blog here.

  • They want universities to let them know if they have adopted the best practice policies ahead of a stock take at the end of 2024. The set of best practice policies will be published later in the Spring.  They don’t think this is relevant to very many providers.
  • HESA is going to consult in April 2023 on collecting additional data
  • Reviewing HEIF: not doing anything now as they have enough data for review, approach will be published in the Spring
  • Pilot of technology transfer arrangements: more to come in the Spring

And this: Our Connecting Capability Fund (CCF)-RED programme is our main approach to developing university commercialisation capability, through collaboration. We are shortly to publish our priority commercialisation themes for CCF-RED including a first opportunity to bid

Education: Subcontracted provision

In late January there was a National Audit Office report that triggered press interest into allegedly fraudulent outsourced providers of HE. It doesn’t name providers.  As a result there is a hearing at the Public Accounts Committee on 26th Feb.   More here from Wonkhe.

We already knew that subcontracted provision is one of the OfS priorities for quality assurance reviews this year but those quality assurance reviews are not usually announced in advance and we don’t believe that they have been kicked off for this year yet.

This week the OfS have announced a formal investigation into one university in relation to its subcontracted provision, looking at whether:

  • the courses delivered by sub contractual partners are high quality
  • the lead provider has effective management and governance in place for sub contractual partners
  • the lead provider has complied with the requirements relating to provision of information to the OfS

A Wonkhe article on the formal investigation: 22nd Feb 24 highlights the large proportion of subcontracted students at this provider.

Context from the NAO report:

  • Universities ….may create partnerships, also known as franchises, with other institutions to provide courses on their behalf. The … lead provider.. registers those students studying at their franchise partners, which allows them to apply for funding administered by the Student Loans Company (SLC).
  • Students may apply for loans covering tuition fees … and maintenance support …. Students normally repay these loans, including accrued interest, once they have finished studying and are earning above a certain amount. These loans represent a long-term liability to taxpayers if not repaid. …. during the 2022/23 academic year SLC made £1.2 billion of loans for tuition fees and maintenance for these [franchised] students.
  • Lead providers must be registered with the …OfS…, for their franchised provider’s students to be eligible for student funding. Franchised providers do not need to register. Lead providers retain responsibility for protecting all students’ interests, including teaching quality at franchised providers. They also confirm to SLC that students at their franchised providers are, and remain, eligible for student funding….

Summary findings:

  • …The number of students enrolled at franchised providers more than doubled from 50,440 in 2018/19 to 108,600 in 2021/22. Much of this expansion has been in a relatively small number of providers, with eight of the 114 lead providers responsible for 91% of the growth. Despite this increase, in 2021/22 those studying at franchised providers represented a small proportion, 4.7%, of the total student population…
  • ….Government intended the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA) to encourage providers to join the sector and improve innovation, diversity and productivity. DfE considers that franchising helps widen access to higher education. In 2021/22, 57,470 out of 97,000 (59%) students from England studying at franchised providers were from neighbourhoods classed as high deprivation, compared with 40% of students at all providers
  • …As a lead provider retains responsibility for a franchised provider’s compliance with these standards for their students, there is no statutory or regulatory obligation on franchised providers to register with OfS. In 2021/22, 229 (65%) of the 355 franchised providers were not registered
  • …Lead providers share fees with their franchised providers, the amount varying according to their contractual arrangements. OfS does not have detailed knowledge of these arrangements but, where it has, told us that some lead providers retained between 12.5% and 30% of tuition fee payments…
  • …We have seen that some providers use agents or offer financial incentives to recruit students, activities which government does not prohibit or regulate. Government does not know how many providers use these practices, but those we have seen are used by franchised providers. One scheme offered students rewards for referring other people to the provider, with no limit on the number of referrals. There are no regulations to prohibit or regulate these practices, which may present risks to taxpayers’ and students’ interests. Students who sign up in response to incentives may be vulnerable to mis-sold loans, while also being potentially less likely to make repayments…
  • …Over the past five years trend data show that, at franchised providers, detected fraud cases have increased faster than the proportion of SLC-funded students. In 2022/23, 53% of the £4.1 million fraud detected by SLC by value was at franchised providers
  • …Routine analysis by SLC detected suspicious patterns of activity involving franchised provider students across four lead providers. Further investigation by SLC raised concerns across a total of 10 lead providers. Following a request from SLC, DfE instructed SLC to suspend payment of tuition fees while cases under suspicion were investigated. This led to SLC identifying and challenging 3,563 suspicious applications associated with £59.8 million of student funding, with 25% of this money still withheld as at January 2023…
  • …In May 2022 a lead provider disclosed to OfS, as required by its registration conditions, that it suspected widespread academic misconduct at one of its franchised providers and was undertaking investigations. Following investigation the lead provider withdrew the majority of the then 1,389 students enrolled at the franchised provider. SLC has recovered £6.1 million in respect of the tuition funding provided to withdrawn students. OfS has clawed back £172,600 of its grant funding paid to the provider in respect of these students. To date, DfE and OfS have not imposed other sanctions on providers…
  • …There is insufficient evidence that students are attending and engaging with their courses. In determining a student’s eligibility for loan payments, and before making payments, SLC uses lead providers’ data to confirm students’ attendance. Lead providers self-assure their own data, also having responsibility for the accuracy of their franchised providers’ information. There is no effective standard against which to measure student engagement, which attendance helps demonstrate, and there is no legal or generally accepted definition of attendance…
  • …Given SLC’s concerns about potentially fraudulent student loan claims, OfS required several lead providers to commission independent audits of their franchised provider controls and data submissions. This identified controls weaknesses. In October 2023, OfS announced that, for the first time, it would consider whether registered providers had franchise arrangements when deciding where to focus its work assessing student outcomes
  • DfE is consulting stakeholders on potential changes to how providers are regulated. SLC has undertaken a ‘lessons learned’ exercise which proposed recommendations that need to be taken forward by other bodies, including OfS and DfE. …. DfE told us there had been discussions on potential policy options with representative bodies and universities with a large proportion of franchised provision…

There are some interesting articles from the last year here:

  • A Wonkhe article from June 2023 that chillingly refers to “legal threats aimed at silencing the discussion
  • A Wonkhe article on what better regulation might look like: June 2023
  • Wonkhe on the OfS priorities for quality reviews: October 23
  • Wonkhe piece on the NAO report: Jan 2024
  • A comment piece on Wonkhe on law regulation: January 2024

A HEPI paper from this week suggested some ways forward, describing what one provider (Buckinghamshire New University) already does and concluding: “We believe the solution is a strong sector-wide and sector-owned code of practice that requires higher education institutions to work together in the wider interests of students and stakeholders, including government and regulators. This would see higher education institutions establish effective consortia for each franchisee, simplifying and coordinating the multiple demands they place on franchisees, and strengthening the requirements to enhance quality and promote stability”.

Duty of care

There has been a long running campaign by bereaved parents, politicians and others to impose a “duty of care” on universities in relation to students with mental health issues, sometimes described as similar to universities being “in loco parentis” for students.  The stories are always terribly sad and this is a difficult area, especially as students are adults and sometimes do not want to engage with university services or staff on these issues, and sometimes don’t want to involve their parents either.   A little bit of clarity is emerging as a result of two recent cases.  There is no legal duty of care (whatever that means) yet, but there is discussion about a responsibility on staff to “notice” and also about a duty to ensure that process and procedures don’t get in the way of reasonable adjustments.

This debate will continue: the government is pushing all universities to sign up to the University Mental Health Charter (BU has) and the OfS is also undertaking work on this.  The government have a taskforce led by Professor Edward Peck, and I reported on their first stage report in the last policy update: you can find that report here and the policy update from 5th Feb here.  It is a complex area but one where there will certainly be a lot more changes in approach to come: including potentially OfS licence conditions in the future.

I noted last time the recent coroner’s report into a student death at the University of Southampton.  This Wonkhe article from January covers the story.

  • Like so many students [Matthew Wickes] was diagnosed after he began on his course, and did not disclose his condition to the university – and so formal codified reasonable adjustments were not able to be put in place.
  • But despite the lack of disclosure, [the Coroner] does raise concerns about the “level of awareness, understanding and curiosity” of academic staff around the mental health of students – particularly in the post-pandemic climate – where “interruptions to their study and dysregulated student life have had a significant impact on their mental health”. The message seems to be – it was likely that there would be significant, long lasting mental health impacts from Covid and its lockdowns, which ought to have generated a strategic response in terms of staff capacity to recognise them.
  • There is a thread in this and similar cases that is about capacity to “notice”. [The Coroner] noted the university’s processes for “raising a concern” by academic staff through student hubs, and the university talked in the inquest about a new “early warning system” involving triggers around academic absence or changes in study or support behaviours. But [the Coroner]’s worry was more basic: I am concerned that in not ensuring that academic staff are at least armed with the ability to spot or to know when to make initial enquiries of students or are clearly guided on how best to do so (particularly with regard to an understanding of the needs and skills required to liaise with students with neurodiversity), there is a risk that an over-focus on academic policies and procedures will endure and that those students who are struggling to adhere to them will be missed or overlooked.
  • For example, during the inquest the university had said that all staff were offered training on mental health management and provided with guidance on how to support students. But [the Coroner] said: I am concerned that aspects of this are not made compulsory for academic staff … It remains unclear as to who or how many staff have actually viewed or undertaken the online training around student mental health.
  • …But while the coroner isn’t saying that all staff or all personal tutors should be counsellors or mental health experts, he is effectively saying that all students ought to be able to expect that the staff that teach and support them have a basic level of awareness and competency over student mental health.
  • Even if an issue is identified, Wilkinson identified concerns with the interventions in place (particularly for neurodiverse students given an apparent focus on group based interventions) and also discussed concerns over the existence, frequency and accuracy of the recording and minuting of academic meetings with students: It was of concern to me that the university was unable to locate or provide clear minutes of supervisory catch ups, progress checks or agreed guidance or actions for Matthew. It was of further concern that the academic staff supporting and mentoring him in his third year had not provided written evidence of his progress or agreed minutes of actions etc to him.

The next case relates to the University of Bristol.  Again, Wonkhe have the story.

  • Natasha’s father, Robert Abrahart, brought a legal action against the university alleging it had contributed to his daughter’s death by discriminating against her on the grounds of Disability contrary to the Equality Act 2010, and by breaching a duty of care owed her under the law of negligence.
  • In May 2022, a senior County Court Judge, Alex Ralton, ruled that the university discriminated against Natasha and that this contributed to her death. Ralton found that the university had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments to the way it assessed Natasha, engaged in indirect Disability discrimination against Natasha, and treated Natasha unfavourably because of the consequences of her Disability.
  • But Ralton did not find that the university owed Natasha a common law duty of care. The High Court has now considered both an appeal from the university, and a cross-appeal on the duty of care issue.
  • The university’s appeal challenged the court’s finding that the university breached the duty to make reasonable adjustments, and challenged the court’s finding that the university breached section 15 of the Equality Act 2010 (discrimination arising from Disability). Both areas failed.
  • …the university … failed in its argument that…the assessment of a student’s ability to explain laboratory work orally, to defend it and to answer questions on it was “a core competency of a professional scientist” and so not subject to the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
  • …The appeal judge …overall found that the County Court’s judgement – that the university’s reliance on due process and medical evidence before making adjustments did not outweigh its duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments – was sound, particularly given its awareness of Natasha’s challenges and the impact on her ability to participate in oral assessments.
  • Crucially, [the appeal judge] didn’t disagree with the County Court in rejecting the university’s arguments that it lacked sufficient knowledge or expertise as a defence for its inaction – and found that the university’s internal regulations and policies, while important, “must yield” to the legal requirements to accommodate students with disabilities. In fact, the procedures, in practice, became another barrier to making necessary adjustments.
  • ….The university had argued that “legitimate aims” were rigorous assessment and fairness among all students and that that hadn’t been properly considered. That wasn’t washing with [the appeal judge]. Finding the original judgment’s findings to be permissible, he concluded that if complying with the duty to make reasonable adjustments would have resulted in Natasha attending and potentially performing better, then the marks and penalty points ascribed to her (which were, after all, based on her non-attendance or performance in the unmodified assessments) could not be deemed proportionate.

The response from the University of Bristol is here.

Harassment and sexual misconduct

A year since the OfS launched their consultation on their new approach to this, we are still waiting for the outcome: the consultation closed in May 2023.  There’s an anniversary HEPI blog on the issues, which are complex and contested: perhaps why it is taking the OfS so long to reach a conclusion.

International

Recent updates have talked about the conflicting rhetoric on international students: Lord Jo Johnson has written in the FT with a plan to sort out the problem.  Nice try; but the first two seem unlikely to catch on:

  • First, Westminster must fix the funding crisis. With domestic fees frozen for all but one of the last 10 years, universities lose money teaching home undergraduates. The government must inflation-proof fees, ideally by linking increased funding to outcomes and aligning interests of universities, taxpayers and students. Such a mechanism exists in the Higher Education and Research Act and was used in 2017 to lift fees to £9,250. Institutions that deliver great outcomes, as assessed by the Teaching Excellence Framework, should once again be allowed to raise fees in line with inflation.
  • Second, the government should ensure the Office for National Statistics only counts international students as net migration when they stay on post-study. In this framework, they would be included in migration figures when they transfer from the student visa to a graduate route or work visa. Otherwise, they would be treated as temporary residents or tourists.
  • Third, universities would commit to ensuring that entry requirements for international students are comparable to those for domestic ones. This can be measured using the actual grades held by those who have accepted offers. And it should, in theory, be a low-cost commitment, as universities claim to be doing it already.
  • Fourth, universities would commit to transparency on effective entry requirements. This means publishing the distribution of actual grades held by those accepted, broken down by course and domicile, as opposed to just the advertised entry requirements. There is often a wide difference between the two. This would, additionally, be a game-changer for widening access for disadvantaged domestic students, who will see that they have a chance of admission to many institutions with lower grades than advertised. [this is part of the UUK fair admissions code anyway]
  • Finally, the government should require every institution recruiting international students to provide an annual statement to the Office for Students. This should detail plans for the international student body, broken down by domicile and programme. Greater visibility into institutional recruitment is needed to reassure domestic stakeholders that international students are not crowding out domestic ones. 

Student numbers and admissions

There has been concern about falling numbers taking up healthcare courses, recently.  This story on Research Professional notes the fall in nursing applications.

Research Professional noted that some of the mission groups have written to the Secretaries of State for Education and Health calling for a cross government taskforce.  You can read the letter via the University Alliance website here.

The mission groups argue the taskforce would:

  • bring together representatives from the Department for Education and the Department for Health and Social Care to meet alongside representatives from NHS England, health regulators, local government and higher education providers.
  • effectively co-ordinate activity to bolster student recruitment, work to find ways of increasing the capacity of clinical placements and medical school places, and develop strategies to ensure the recruitment and retention of staff.
  • help realise the Long-Term Plan’s ambitious targets for degree apprenticeships, and to tackle the low funding and high regulatory burden associated with delivering them.

Universities UK have issued a report on why students may not go ahead, based on a survey.

The future for student funding under a possible Labour government: the Welsh model?

As we have described before, we know very little about what a potential Labour government would do about HE funding: they want to make it both fairer and more affordable, they are not keen on capping ambition and reducing numbers, but there is no more money.  The only thing we do know is that they are interested in what is happening in Wales on post-16 regulation.  And it seems likely that they would improve maintenance funding, at least a bit.

So in that context this HEPI blog is interesting.  HEPI are doing a tour and holding events this Spring to talk about how funding works across the UK and how it could be changed: I will report the outcomes.

And the Scottish model?

The IfS have published a report on the Scottish budget for higher Education Spending.

  • …. Unlike in the rest of the UK (where students are charged tuition fees), the Scottish Government meets the whole costs of teaching, and has controlled these costs in recent years by controlling the number of places for Scottish students and freezing per-student resources. Funding per student per year of study has fallen by 19% in real terms since 2013–14 and, as a result, Scottish universities are increasingly reliant on international student fees.
  • A cut to higher education resource funding … was announced at the Scottish Budget for 2024–25. This is a cash-terms cut of 6.0…. This implies that funding for home students will fall, with the Scottish Funding Council (which allocates funding to universities) trading off a further squeeze on per-student resources with potential cuts to the number of funded places.
  • Around £600 million is provided in the form of living cost support to students each year, the vast majority in the form of living cost loans (£500 million), alongside non-repayable bursaries of up to £2,000 per year for the poorest students. Living cost support has become less generous over time, with total support for the poorest students declining in real terms by 16% (£1,600 per year) between 2013–14 and 2022–23…..
  • A £900 cash increase in loan entitlements this academic year, in response to cost of living pressures, was the first real-terms increase in support since at least 2013–14. A much bigger increase of £2,400 per year is planned for next academic year. This delivers the Scottish Government’s commitment to provide a total package of student support ‘the equivalent of the Living Wage’ by 2024–25. The earnings threshold above which Scottish borrowers make student loan repayments is also set to increase in April 2024…. If there was full take-up of living cost support, these changes would increase average lifetime loan repayments in real terms by around £5,000, and increase average loan write-offs by around £3,400 per student.
  • Importantly, the costs of issuing loans to Scottish students, and of any eventual loan write-offs, are currently met by the UK government. Increases in generosity of support or in repayment terms for Scottish borrowers of the type planned for 2024–25 come at no cost to the Scottish Government’s main budget so long as this funding arrangement continues.
  • This system costs the Scottish Government around £850 million more per cohort (£28,700 more per student) than the English system would. From this spending, Scottish graduates on average gain £23,800 (largely through lower borrowing and loan repayments), and the UK taxpayer gains £4,900 per student in the form of lower loan write-offs.

Research Professional have the story here.

Freedom of speech

The implementation of the new legislation on freedom of speech continues.  A new blog on the OfS website reminds us of where we are and of what is to come.

  • A reminder that we are currently consulting on our new free complaints scheme that we expect to launch on 1 August 2024. Students, staff and visiting speakers will be able to complain to us about restrictions on free speech at a university, college or relevant students’ union where they claim to have suffered adverse consequences. Under our proposals, if we find the complaint justified, we may make recommendations such as changes to policies or processes or payments to the complainant. Our consultation is open until 10 March 2024.
  • We have also been developing our proposed approach to the regulation of students’ unions in relation to their new free speech duties. This will be the first time the OfS directly regulates students’ unions and we expect our new role to take effect from 1 August 2024. We’re consulting on our proposals and this consultation is open until 17 March 2024.
  • In the coming weeks we expect to launch a further freedom of speech consultation. This will cover proposed guidance for universities, colleges and relevant students’ unions on securing free speech within the law and on publishing and maintaining a freedom of speech code of practice. At the same time, we will also consult on proposed revisions to the OfS’s regulatory framework to make reference to our new free speech functions. Finally, we will consult on our proposed approach to the recovery of costs in connection with our regulation in this area.

 

Collaborative midwifery paper cited 40 times

Two days ago ResearchGate informed us that that the paper ‘Midwifery-led antenatal care models: mapping a systematic review to an evidence-based quality framework to identify key components and characteristics of care‘ has reached 40 citations.  This paper, co-authored by Bournemouth University’s Professors Vanora Hundley and Edwin van Teijlingen, was originally published in 2016 in BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth [1]. Both Vanora and Edwin are based in the Centre for Midwifery & Women’s Health (CMWH) in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences.

The same team wrote a separate paper the following year on ‘Antenatal care trial interventions: a systematic scoping review and taxonomy development of care models’ [2].  Interestingly, ResearchGate tells us this paper has been read fewer times and cited ‘only’ 21 times to date.

 

 

 

 

 

Reference:

  1. Symon, A., Pringle, J, Cheyne, H, Downe, S., Hundley, V, Lee, E, Lynn, F., McFadden, A, McNeill, J., Renfrew, M., Ross-Davie, M., van Teijlingen, E., Whitford, H, Alderdice, F. (2016) Midwifery-led antenatal care models: Mapping a systematic review to evidence-based quality framework to identify key components & characteristics of care, BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth 16:168 http://rdcu.be/uifu
  2. Symon, A., Pringle, J., Downe, S, Hundley, V., Lee, E., Lynn, F, McFadden, A, McNeill, J, Renfrew, M., Ross-Davie, M., van Teijlingen, E., Whitford, H., Alderdice, F. (2017) Antenatal care trial interventions: a systematic scoping review & taxonomy development of care models BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth 17:8 http://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-016-1186-3

HE policy update: no 4, 5th February 2024

The update is a bit shorter this week, focussing on the bigger news on research and education.  The next update will be in a couple of weeks.

Research and knowledge exchange

Ref changes: the wheels on the bus go round and round

There’s nothing new in policy and politics.  As the debate rages about research culture and environment, how to measure it and whether we even should, there is a blog on Wonkhe reminiscing about the similar debate in 2009 around impact.

There’s an update from Research England here: Overall, the community has expressed clear support for the principle of an increased emphasis on PCE in the next REF, while outlining concern around the need for careful consideration of the reporting burden on the sector and the potential dangers of metricising culture or prescribing what good looks like.

Plans for taking this forward were confirmed in an update on people, culture and environment from UKRI which said that the extra time used by the postponement of the next REF from 2028 to 2029 would enable them to run a pilot exercise alongside  a project to develop a set of indicators.

  • The PCE indicators project will provide multiple opportunities for the sector to engage with the development of the PCE indicators. Desk-based research will draw on a variety of sources including Environment statements from REF 2021, feedback received through prior engagement and consultations with the sector, and other published reports. The initial consultation during spring 2024 will comprise in-person workshops in each of the four UK nations and a series of online thematic workshops. ….. Once the draft indicators have been developed, and in parallel with the PCE pilot exercise, a second round of consultation with the sector will be conducted gathering feedback through workshops and an open consultation (survey). ..
  • The pilot exercise will focus on a sample of UoAs (we anticipate in the region of 8 UoAs) selected to provide a general insight into the assessment of PCE for similar subject areas and to highlight particular issues or special considerations that may exist for the assessment of PCE. ….
  • Institutions will be invited in March 2024 to apply to participate in the pilot exercise, …. We anticipate selecting around 30 institutions to make submissions to the pilot exercise. …
  • Institutions that take part in the pilot will be expected to produce unit-level submissions for between 1 and 8 UoAs and also an institution-level submission. These submissions will be based on the indicators identified and developed templates emerging from the commissioned work on PCE indicators.
  • Pilot panels will be comprised of academics, research professionals and others with appropriate expertise. Recruitment of pilot panels is anticipated to be in April 2024 and will be through an open process, to a set of tightly defined criteria. …..

Doctoral funding and training

There’s a UKRI update out with a new statement of expectations for Doctoral Training.

Education research areas of interest

You can read about the DfE’s areas of research interest here.  What is this for?

  • In practical terms we hope this ARI document will steer and support researchers in developing relevant evidence and enable them to make stronger funding bids by linking their work to these priorities.

The areas of interest include:

  • Skills: Drive economic growth through improving the skills pipeline, levelling up productivity and supporting people to work. 1a. What are the country’s future skills needs to support growth and prosperity, particularly in STEM and green skills? 1b. What are the organisational challenges and opportunities facing higher education (HE) and further education (FE) institutions? 1c. What are the funding, system and market challenges and opportunities for increasing participation in technical education, apprenticeships and adult training? 1d. What are the drivers of UK and foreign students’ decisions about pathways into and out of FE and HE, including impact of funding, finance and experience
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Technology: Harness the use of AI, technology and data across our sectors to support safe and effective use within education 5a. What are the potential impacts of AI, and how can new technologies be used safely and effectively within education? 5b. How can the impact of digital technology be robustly measured, and implemented in a way that supports teachers and students? 5c. What approaches or innovation are needed to support the efficient handling of data within education settings?

Education

Complaints

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator published its annual report.

  • In 2023 we received 3,137 complaints, our highest ever number. This is 10% more than in 2022, and followed increases in each of the previous six years

They are also consulting on new scheme rules: this consultation closes on 8th March 2024.

The OIA handles individual complaints and deals with complainants and universities quietly, but also publishes anonymised case studies which make interesting reading and a useful reference point.

The latest from January is on complaints relating to accommodation:

  • The case summaries show that students are not always clear about what they have signed up to, or about how to formally raise issues when they have concerns. It is important that providers’ information for students is as clear and easily accessible as possible, keeping in mind that for some students it is the first time they have lived independently away from home, or lived in a different country.
  • Sometimes the issues raised in complaints are about the accommodation itself, and sometimes they involve the student’s behaviour or that of other students in the accommodation. It’s important that the provider investigates the issues, considers the impact on those involved and takes steps to minimise it, and keeps the student informed. ..
  • We encourage early resolution of complaints where possible. In some of the cases we have seen, the provider recognised issues either during its internal processes or in the early stages of the student’s complaint to us and made an offer to the student to put things right. Sometimes complaints to us are settled in this way. Where the student doesn’t accept what we consider to be a reasonable offer, the complaint to us will usually be Not Justified on the basis that a reasonable offer has been made, and the case summaries include some cases with this outcome.

The previous update relates to disciplinary matters.

You can search them all by theme here

Staff/student ratio and student experience

An interesting blog for Wonkhe in Feb 24 demonstrates that there is no correlation between lower SSRs and student experience however you cut the data:

  • Plotting student:staff ratio against NSS fails to show even a non-significant relationship between satisfaction and staff numbers. Looking primarily at NSS question 15 (which relates to the ease of contacting teaching staff and seems most likely to see an impact from staff student ratios) there are no clear relationships between our two variables in any subject area”.

A common narrative when this is discussed is that SSR data is distorted by research only staff, but the Wonkhe data excludes them.

Generative AI and assessments

There’s a new HEPI/Kortext policy note out: Provide or punish? Students’ views on generative AI in higher education.  There are some interesting findings including:

  • More than half of students (53%) have used generative AI to help them with assessments. The most common use is as an ‘AI private tutor’ (36%), helping to explain concepts.
  • More than one-in-eight students (13%) use generative AI to generate text for assessments, but they typically edit the content before submitting it. Only 5% of students put AI-generated text into assessments without editing it personally.
  • More than a third of students who have used generative AI (35%) do not know how often it produces made-up facts, statistics or citations (‘hallucinations’).
  • A ‘digital divide’ in AI use may be emerging. Nearly three-fifths of students from the most privileged backgrounds (58%) use generative AI for assessments, compared with just half (51%) from the least privileged backgrounds. Those with Asian ethnic backgrounds are also much more likely to have used generative AI than White or Black students and male students use it more than female students

Based on these findings, the authors recommend:

  • Institutions should develop clear policies on what AI use is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
  • Where AI has benefits, institutions should teach students how to use it effectively and how to check whether the content it produces is of high quality.
  • To prevent the ‘digital divide’ from growing, institutions should provide AI tools for those who cannot afford them when they have been identified as benefitting learning.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) and devolved administrations should urgently commission reviews to explore how academic assessment will be affected by AI

There’s a Wonkhe article by Jim Dickinson here.

Quality assessments

The Office for Students have published two more quality assessment reports: concerns were found in both of these, to add to the two previous ones where concerns were found.  Most of the reports published so far relate to business and management, the one published so far for computing  confirmed that there were no concerns.  There are a few more expected.

It is helpful to look at some of the themes picked out in the four reports so far that identified regulatory concerns:

Theme Finding
Teaching quality, delivery and learning resources ·       The teaching and learning resources used to teach disciplinary knowledge were not consistently up-to-date.

·       The manner of teaching delivery meant that courses were not consistently effectively delivered.

·       Delivered content was not consistently informed by up-to-date, discipline specific academic theory and research. This meant that courses did not consistently require students to develop relevant skills.

·       The cohort of students recruited by the university required high quality resources to support their independent learning. However, the quality of the virtual learning environment (VLE) was not consistent, with some modules having inadequate learning materials to facilitate the cohort of students’ learning

Course delivery: format and timetable Not enough flexibility in course delivery to support the cohort of students recruited, namely not providing sufficient flexibility when students had to work to finance their studies or have caring responsibilities, having recognised that this was a specific feature of their intake.
Academic support Student academic support needs were not consistently identified, limiting the opportunity for senior and academic staff to enhance the quality of poor-performing modules and improve the academic experience of students.
Monitoring and management of attendance and engagement Inadequate central monitoring and pro-active management of engagement and attendance and over-reliance on individual academic staff to follow up.  Recommendations included:

·       Clear lines of responsibility at faculty and university level regarding who the lead for continuation is, and further channelling of university-level resource, expertise and effort towards the continuation problem in the Business School.

·       Systematic analysis of student failures on modules and historical withdrawals, to provide a more detailed picture and understanding of why students do not continue their studies at the university.

·       Better real-time monitoring of engagement and a university-level set of criteria that can be used to identify a student who may be at risk of dropping out, combined with systematic analysis of student behaviour and non-attendance so that proactive additional support can be offered

Assessment and feedback ·       The format for providing formative feedback on assessments may not have been sufficient for some students across a number of modules reviewed. … the assessment team considered that ensuring consistent access to formative feedback is a step that could have been taken to ensure students have sufficient academic support to succeed

·       A review of examination board processes and module performance criteria to ensure that under-performing modules are being picked up and addressed through the quality assurance and enhancement system.

Allowing up to six attempts to pass an assessment (for those students that resit a module) without a clear underpinning pedagogic rationale, brought into question the rigour of the assessment and diluted the challenge provided that was relevant to the level of the course. The team considered that because those students were permitted to attempt an assessment that was lacking in rigour and challenge, it meant that those students were not assessed effectively
Academic misconduct Support for avoiding potential academic misconduct was not consistently provided in assessment feedback via the online assessment platform at Level 4
Foundation year students Insufficient academic support for foundation year students once they progressed onto the main programme – support should have continued at higher levels
Staffing Insufficient staff to provide adequate support, impacting personal tutoring, assessment and feedback and academic support
There was considerable variability between the pedagogical and teaching skills of different academic staff across business and management courses including an overreliance on PTHP which had an impact on learning and outcomes
Leadership and governance A lack of adequate educational leadership and academic governance was affecting the overall academic experience of students: this included gaps in key leadership roles and no plans or arrangements to cover, and inadequate noting and oversight of key data and action plans

There’s a Wonkhe blog on the latest two reports here.

Why do these matter?  Here is a reminder of the relevant licence conditions invoked by the OfS in relation to these issues

Apprenticeships

It’s National Apprenticeship Week and so a new standard has been announced: this time for teachers.  You can read the Secretary of State’s announcement here.

  • With a TDA, you’ll work in a school while you gain qualified teacher status (QTS), which you need in order to teach in most schools in England. At the same time, you’ll be studying for a degree.
  • It means trainees won’t take on student debt and will earn while they learn, supporting those who may not have the financial means to do a traditional university-based teacher training programme.
  • It will be available for people to train as both primary and secondary teachers.
  • Subject to final approval, schools will be able to start recruiting apprentices from autumn 2024, with the first trainees beginning the programme in 2025.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

The Office for Students have announced that they will launch before the end of the academic year a competitive process to allocate £2m towards projects to “seed new practices and test new ideas” supporting equality of opportunity.

Mental health and duty of care

Wonkhe have the story about a recent coroner’s report.

There is a first report from the Department for Education’s HE Mental Health Implementation Taskforce.  Wonkhe are critical in a blog here.

As a reminder what this was for and a summary of the progress made so far:

Objective: adoption of common principles and baselines for approaches across providers, such as through sector led charters

  • The Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education wrote to all HEPs in June 2023 asking for ownership of mental health at an executive level to drive adoption of best practice. A target was also set for all universities to join the UMHC Programme by September 2024. In October 2023 Student Minds confirmed significant progress had been made, with 96 members now signed up across the UK, representing a greater than 50% increase in membership. Of those, 83 are English members, over two thirds of the cohort in scope of the UMHC Programme target.
  • Student Minds intends to undertake a light-touch review of the Charter and award process to begin early in 2024.
  • Next steps: Understand the means by which HEPs construct their mental health strategies and engage with the sector to understand where additional work may be impactful (particularly with regards to the formulation and oversight of HEP mental health strategies) by May 2024.

Objective: better identification of students in need of support and a clear user journey for accessing that support

Workshops have been held and three broad approaches considered:

  • Staff training and competence
  • Mental health analytics
  • Encouraging early disclosures

Next steps: It is proposed that the following work take place prior to the second stage Taskforce report:

  • Consider the evidence for the effectiveness of different training programmes to raise awareness for non-specialist staff, identify examples of good practice, and share these within HEPs as well as sector agencies which may design and deliver staff accreditation processes (e.g. Advance HE);
  • Work with the sector, and potentially Jisc and system suppliers, to develop and promote guidance for HEPs looking to implement student analytics or other related data systems, paying particular attention to supporting HEPs to improve their data governance; and
  • Work with UCAS to support their developing work around student surveys and references, facilitating discussions between UCAS, HEPs, FECs and schools to understand what additional information might be collected, the means to do so, and how this might be shared with HEPs. Feed into the work of the HE Student Support Champion on understanding and establishing methods of addressing barriers to schools and FECs sharing information with HEPs on students’ previous educational records, including their mental health needs.

Objective: development of more sensitive policies, procedures, and communications within a proposed HE Student Commitment

Sector engagement has uncovered challenges faced by HEPs when endeavouring to make improvements in this area:

  • the need for a broader range of good practice exemplars, in particular compassionate policies;
  • the requirement to adapt existing and emerging practice to the precise requirements of each individual provider;
  • the centrality of creating a consistent, whole institutional approach, where many sources of communications and interactions become mutually reinforcing;
  • the vital role of senior leaders in setting the tone for a compassionate culture;
  • the volume of material to be revised, in the context of resource constraints and competing priorities; and
  • the balance between compassion and the need to be clear about requirements and potential consequences of non-observance.

Next steps It is proposed that the following work take place prior to the publication of the second stage report:

  • Consult with the wider sector and students on the agreed principles;
  • Continue to engage with the sector to identify further examples of embedding compassionate principles into policies, procedures, and communications;
  • Develop material that can be utilised by the OIA;
  • Continue to promote the importance of this area with senior leaders with responsibility for overseeing policies, procedures, and communications, and more broadly with HEPs and their professional bodies; and
  • Deliver a national event to promote the Commitment

Objective: Effective local case reviews and engagement with the National Review of HE Suicides, including generation of insights into mental health services on offer by HEPs, and exploration of the methods for achieving greater timeliness and transparency on suicide data

  • In November 2023 DfE appointed the University of Manchester’s National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH) to conduct the National Review.
  • In scope of the National Review will be suspected suicides and attempted suicides with an initial focus on those that have occurred in the Academic Year 2023/24. HEPs will be encouraged to submit their reviews to NCISH. Guidance to support HEPs to engage with this activity will be shared with the sector in early 2024.
  • HEPs will be able to make use of the template for serious incident reviews set out in the UUK Postvention guidance, published in December 2022, though this template is not mandatory. The National Review’s final report will be published by spring 2025 and will outline lessons around good practice and areas for improvement, drawn out from submitted reviews.

International

International student admissions

Immigration, including the impact of international students, remains a hot political topic.

The big story in the Sunday times on 28th Jan was about international students taking the place of better qualified home students.  The paper is behind a paywall, but the Guardian report is here.  There has been a lot of pushback on the original story which seemed to compare admissions requirements for foundation courses with degree courses.

There’s a UUK update on the story here.

UUK also published on 2nd Feb a statement about what they are going to do in response:

  1. Review the Agent Quality Framework (AQF) and make recommendations to enhance the system. We will:
  • Work with our members and partners to ensure adoption of the AQF across the sector.
  • Make recommendations on how the AQF and wider UK data infrastructure can be enhanced to identify and address bad practice and improve resilience.
  1. Review of quality and comparability of International Foundation Programmes (IFPs) and Foundation Programmes for Home (UK) students. We will: commission the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) to undertake a rapid review of IFPs. The review will compare requirements of International and Home Foundation Programmes, including entry requirements.
  2. Update the Admissions Code of Practice to clearly state its applicability to international recruitment. We will: review the Admissions Code of Practice to signpost where the Code is expected to apply to international recruitment and update the Code if appropriate.

The DfE are also looking recruitment practices: see this Research Professional article.

International student outcomes

This report in the FT talks about data from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.

  • The number of overseas graduates staying on in the UK to work in care rose more than six-fold last year, according to research that puts a spotlight on unintended consequences of the government’s migration policy.
  • More than half of all foreign students who switched from graduate visas to skilled worker visas in the year ending June 2023 went into care work, the Migration Observatory think-tank at Oxford university found via freedom of information requests.
  • Some 26,200 overseas graduates were recruited into the care sector, from 3,900 in the year to June 2022, the data showed.
  • “Most international students graduate from masters programmes in subjects like business, engineering and computer science, so it is striking to see so many take roles in care, which requires few formal qualifications,” Ben Brindle, researcher at the Migration Observatory and co-author of the report, said.
  • Brindle noted that while some graduates taking care roles may want to work in the sector, others will have taken on the work, despite being heavily overqualified, “because it provides a route to stay in the UK”.

There’s a response here on Wonkhe from a former international student.

Of course similar stories appear frequently about the number of home graduates taking less highly skilled work, usually linked to the outcomes and quality discussion, such as this one from July when the government confirmed their approach to student number controls linked to the OfS quality assessments (see above under Education for some context for these).

Health Promotion article is being read

Our article ‘Understanding health education, health promotion & public health’ [1] is getting read according to ResearchGate.  This conceptual/ theoretical paper was published open access in late 2021 in the Journal of Health Promotion and it reached 4,500 reads yesterday. Whilst the web side of the journal suggests today that the PDF of the paper has been downloaded 8,511 times.

 

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery & Women’s Health (CMWH)

 

 

Reference:

  1. van Teijlingen, K. R., Devkota, B., Douglas, F., Simkhada, P.,  van Teijlingen, E. R. (2021). Understanding health education, health promotion and public health. Journal of Health Promotion, 9(1): 1–7. https://doi.org/10.3126/jhp.v9i01.40957

New paper by FHSS PhD student Abier Hamidi

This morning the journal Discover Social Science & Health informed us that Abier Hamidi’s latest paper ‘Islamic Perspectives on HIV: A Scoping Review’ has been accepted for publication [1]Discover Social Science & Health is an Open Access journal publishing research across the full range of disciplines at the intersection of health, social and biomedical sciences.  This latest review is part of Abier’s PhD research project and it follows several earlier related publications [2-7].

Abier is supervised by Dr. Pramod Regmi, Principal Academic-International Health  and the Global Engagement Lead in the Department of Nursing Sciences, and Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen in the Centre for Midwifery & Women’s Health (CMWH).

Congratulations!

References:

  1. Hamidi, A., Regmi, P., van Teijlingen, E. (2024) Islamic Perspectives on HIV: A Scoping Review,  Discover Social Science & Health 4:6  https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s44155-024-00063-7.pdf
  2. Hamidi, A. (2023) Social media now trumps traditional family networks in Libya – my Facebook survey reached 446,000 womenThe Conversation published: April 24.
  3. Hamidi, A., Regmi, P., van Teijlingen, E. (2023) Facilitators and barriers to condom use in Middle East and North Africa: a systematic review, Journal of Public Health, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10389-023-01923-3 
  4. Hamidi, A. (2023) Book Review: Fatma Müge Göçek and Gamze Evcimen, The I.B. Tauris Handbook of Sociology and The Middle EastSociologial Research Online 28(4)
  5. Hamidi A. (2022) HIV prevention – Challenges in reaching Libyan women: A narrative review. Women’s Health. 18: doi:10.1177/17455057221080832
  6. Hamidi, A., van Teijlingen, E., Regmi, P. (2021) Facilitators and barriers to condom use in Middle East and North Africa: a systematic review. PROSPERO CRD42021297160
  7. Hamidi, A., Regmi, P., van Teijlingen, E. (2021) HIV epidemic in Libya: Identifying gaps, Journal of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care, 20 :1-5 https://doi.org/10.1177/23259582211053964 .

 

Media coverage in Nepal

Last week Mr. Yogesh Dhakal, who is Deputy Editor at Shilapatra, an online newspaper in Nepal, interviewed three UK professors: Julie Balen (Canterbury Christ Church University), Simon Rushton (the University of Sheffield) and Edwin van Teijlingen (Bournemouth University).  The focus of the interview (see interview online here) was our recently completed interdisciplinary study ‘The impact of federalisation on Nepal’s health system: a longitudinal analysis’.

In this Nepal Federal Health System Project we studied the consequences for the health system of Nepal’s move from a centralised political system to a more federal structure of government.  This three-year project is UK-funded by the MRC, Wellcome Trust and FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office; formerly DFID) under the Health Systems Research Initiative.  This joint project is led by the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Bournemouth University, the University of Huddersfield, Canterbury Christ Church University and two  institutions in Nepal, namely MMIHS (Manmohan Memorial Institute of Health Sciences) and PHASE Nepal. 

Today (23rd January) the article appeared online in Nepali.  We have seen the transcript in English of the actual interviews with the three of us, but I have no idea how the journalist has edited, selected and translated the relevant text.

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

CMWH (Centre for Midwifery & Women’s Health)

HE policy update 22nd January 2024

This seemed like a good moment to explain what the Lifelong Learning Entitlement is really about and what it means for universities (spoiler: a lot of administrative work and not much else, in the short term), and this update also includes some horizon scanning by UKRI, some data on staff numbers and applications and a bit more on financial sustainability, as hard to get away from in stories about the sector this month.  And there is more besides.

Politics and Parliament

Lots of time spent this week on the Rwanda bill, with work for local MP Michael Tomlinson in his new role as Illegal Immigration Minister. The two deputy chairs of the Conservative Party resigned their roles yesterday along with a PPS but the Rwanda bill was passed unamended and has gone to the Lords where there will be more challenges.

Meanwhile it isn’t a manifesto but there is a campaign brochure from the Labour Party.   It says “we will be able to seize the opportunities of advances in AI, digital, life sciences and technology as drivers of economic growth”.  It presents again the 5 missions we discussed in issue 1 of this update. On education: this is the closest to a reference to HE: there simply aren’t enough high-quality pathways onto apprenticeships, and technical education. So we will have to keep waiting for the detail.

And if you missed it, constituency boundaries change for this election.  There were originally going to be major changes locally but those were dropped in the last round of reviews, so not much is changing here.  However, there might be implications elsewhere: there is a BBC article here.  One point to note is that Chris Skidmore stood down on environmental issues and there is a by-election planned in February: but his constituency is one of those disappearing.

Ongoing legislation

Research and knowledge exchange

Business and innovation

UKRI have published a position statement on their “commitment to improve the research and innovation environment for businesses seeking to scale up, through enhancing the support that we offer alongside private capital to help them invest, innovate and grow”.

As well as confirming some of the things they already do they will be:

  • launching a new digital guide to help businesses, along with investors and researchers, to make the most of UKRI products and services to commercialise research
  • launching new £20 million proof-of-concept funding in 2024 to support researchers to spin out scientific discoveries into exciting new products and services
  • ensuring that UKRI’s core offer of training to new doctoral research students improves awareness and experience of commercialisation and entrepreneurship, building on existing opportunities that allow students to work with businesses
  • creating a joined-up funding pathway over 2024, working with the British Business Bank and UK Export Finance, to enhance access to finance for scaling businesses

The Science Minister, Michelle Donelan, gave a speech about “scaleups” on 16th January.  It has unicorns, silver bullets, powder kegs and goldmines.  There is a lot in in it apart from those theme park elements, but this bit caught my eye:

  • Regulate to innovate is not just some slogan that I happen to use – I think it is a commitment I make to businesses across the country. 
  • And that is why I am backing the Regulatory Horizons Council report, published today, and committing to reviewing the recommendations to become unapologetically ambitious in our regulatory approach. 
  • And that is also why this year, I will develop a regulatory support service specifically designed to help science and tech companies to navigate rules and regulations.  Because we know that regulation isn’t just about dry ink on the statute books. I believe the behaviour of our regulators and regulatory simplicity is absolutely key.  

What is the Regulatory Horizons Council?  The Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC) is an independent expert committee that identifies the implications of technological innovation, and provides government with impartial, expert advice on the regulatory reform required to support its rapid and safe introduction. Find the membership etc at the link.

Here is the report and its recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: DSIT, working with the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) .. should ensure that regulators are empowered with the tools and resources to better support innovative startups and scaleups.
  • Recommendation 2: DSIT should work with relevant partners to embed a greater understanding of regulation, and earlier engagement with regulatory issues, within the early-stage business community.
  • Recommendation 3: Government and regulators should continue to build the knowledge base on pro-innovation regulation, and particularly the impacts on start-ups and scaleups.

Emerging technologies horizon scan

In December, UKRI published an insights report on Innovate UK’s 50 emerging technologies that could be part of our everyday lives in 2040 and beyond.

Although there are 50, the report is only 39 pages: the list is in the contents page (and it does briefly explain what they all are).  The world has been very focussed on the risks of new technology, AI in particular, in recent months, but this is a very hopeful list, focusing on the problems that can be solved rather than disruption and destruction.  The report does note the ethical challenges (in the context of AI in particular) and sets our five questions to consider:

  • As technology is more embedded in our bodies, will humans turn into something new and different? What makes us human will be increasingly questioned.
  • Should AI be allowed to make decisions on our behalf? All aspects of business and society will be transformed through AI and computing.
  • If humans can expect a century of good health, what does this mean for employment, pensions or housing? The quality and length of our lives will be greater than ever before.
  • Will a shift towards cleaner, affordable energy change the way we live and work? A transformed energy system could help new industries to thrive.
  • What will a vast expansion of our understanding of the world mean for the UK economy? The UK’s ability to draw on its research and business strengths will help us solve big problems and seize opportunities.

Quantum missions

In the context of the above, the government announced 5 “quantum missions” in November: there are likely to be more funding rounds for research and projects in these areas.

  • By 2035, there will be accessible, UK-based quantum computers capable of running 1 trillion operations and supporting applications that provide benefits well in excess of classical supercomputers across key sectors of the economy. 
  • By 2035, the UK will have deployed the world’s most advanced quantum network at scale, pioneering the future quantum internet. 
  • By 2030, every NHS Trust will benefit from quantum sensing-enabled solutions, helping those with chronic illness live healthier, longer lives through early diagnosis and treatment. 
  • By 2030, quantum navigation systems, including clocks, will be deployed on aircraft, providing next-generation accuracy for resilience that is independent of satellite signals. 
  • By 2030, mobile, networked quantum sensors will have unlocked new situational awareness capabilities, exploited across critical infrastructure in the transport, telecoms, energy, and defence sectors. 

And the other Horizon (Europe)

You can’t have missed it, but the UK is now an associate member of Horizon Europe from the start of 2024.  You can read more on the UKRI website here.  The Horizon Europe work programmes are listed here.

Small but beautiful

Research England have also announced the results of the second round of the “expanding excellence in England” fund. Research England is investing £156 million to support 18 universities across England to expand their small, but outstanding research units. The list of projects funded in round two (and round one from 2019) is here.

Regulation

These policy updates so far this year have included a lot of regulatory content, focussing on the OfS, but did you know that many other regulators may have an interest in aspects of education at universities, and this makes for a challenging and potentially burdensome situation.

Research Professional reports on an event sponsored by the Higher Education Policy Institute and AdvanceHE, which Keith attended this week, at which the VC of London South Bank University raised this issue:

  • Phoenix pointed out that if a level 4 or 5 course is taught as part of a degree, then it is regulated by the Office for Students, but if it is a standalone qualification such as a higher national certificate and taught in a college, it is overseen by Ofsted.
  • Similarly, if higher technical qualifications are taught in higher education, they are quality-assured by the OfS in universities but by Ofsted or Ofqual in further education, while level 4 apprenticeships are overseen by Ofsted regardless of where they are offered.

Of course it is even more complicated than that, as apprenticeship funding is overseen by the ESFA (the Education and Skills Funding Agency, part of the Department for Education), making them an important regulator for HE too.  If you haven’t heard of the ESFA, then here is what they do: it isn’t obvious from this that it includes degree apprentices delivered at universities; but it does.

As an executive agency of the Department for Education, and on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education, ESFA is responsible for administering funding to deliver education and skills, from early years through to adulthood.  

ESFA funds education and skills providers, including: 

  • maintained schools and early years institutions, through local authorities 
  • academy trusts 
  • special schools 
  • colleges 
  • independent training providers (ITPs) 
  • high needs institutions 

ESFA is responsible for: 

  • £67 billion of funding for the education and training sector, ensuring timely and accurate allocations and payment to education and training providers 
  • providing assurance to Parliament that public funds are spent properly, achieving value for money for the taxpayer and delivers the policies and priorities set out by the Secretary of State 
  • provides, where necessary, financial support for providers

Outstanding OfS consultations

Just a reminder of the ones that are ongoing or we are expecting outcomes on from the OfS:

  • Consultation on a new free speech complaints scheme: open until 10th March: BU is considering a response
  • Consultation on the approach to regulating students’ unions on free speech matters: open until 17th March
  • Consultation on the inclusion of higher technical qualifications in student outcome measures: closed November 2023
  • Consultation on a new approach to regulating harassment and sexual harassment-this one has been closed since May 23 so there should be an outcome soon

And two Department for Education ones:

Apprenticeships

In the last couple of updates I have mentioned the government focus on apprenticeships, which is being supported by funding provided by the OfS to support the development of new L6 apprenticeships.   On 17th January the outcome of the latest funding competition was announced, with £12 million being allocated.  The list is here (BU is on it).

Applications and admissions

UCAS have published the end of cycle 2023 data.

Sector:

  • Overall applicants fell in 2023, the peak was 2022
  • 18 year olds had grown (slowly in some years) since 2014 when this data starts until 2023 when the number fell back
  • More females than males applied in every age group

As well as the more general picture there is also data for nursing, which shows tor UK applicants there is a fall in application numbers for most age groups since 2021 but applications for 18 year olds and over 35s remain higher than they were in 2019, and the over 35s are now the biggest group, as they were in 2020 (and almost were in 2021).  The proportion of male applicants over 35 is also higher than the other groups.

Midwifery applications have also fallen since 2021 but remain higher than 2019 for 18 years olds and the over 35s, 18 year olds being by far the largest group with the over 35s just squeaking in at second.  The gender data is interesting: tiny numbers of male applicants.

Wonhke have an article and analysis: there are a little over a thousand more English domiciled applicants who have accepted a place at a Russell Group provider this year than last. Everyone else (excluding alternative providers) has lost accepted applicants over 2022, but (as UCAS is always keen to remind us) the “last regular year” comparison to 2019 looks a bit rosier. There are loads of charts and even a map.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

Cost of living: This year’s updates have covered this ongoing issue; the Russell Group published a briefing this week on the impact of inflation on the maintenance loan and what their members are doing to help. The briefing also points out: The shortfall is compounded by the freeze on the parental earnings threshold used to calculate maintenance loans in England. Students with a household income of less than £25,000 are eligible for the maximum loan, but this figure has been frozen in cash terms since 2008. It is estimated that had this threshold increased with earnings, it would now sit at £35,000, making many more students eligible for the maximum support.

Lifelong loan entitlement

This has been a long running story and we have reported for several years on the various legislative changes and consultations but it all still seems a bit remote and confusing: the new funding system will be in place for entrants to HE from September 2025.

This is about two things, really:

  • putting funding arrangements for university degrees and other post 18 higher level courses on an equal footing; and
  • the “lifelong” bit: enabling flexible and modular learning including to support returning or mature learners

The real change is in the mechanics of funding for universities.  In preparation for modules and to support the “LLE personal accounts” the funding basis is switching to a system based on credits, not academic years.

Last week I talked about the OfS funded short course trial that had a microscopic take up.  I wonder if the public accounts committee will be interested in the cost/benefit of that £2m investment?

There’s a blog here that the OfS wrote in October 2024 on the changes for HE that the LLE will bring:

Over time, we think this will lead to some or all of the following changes:

  • Universities and colleges will offer standalone modules from existing courses
  • Students will be able to build a full qualification by completing different modules, across different courses, from different universities or colleges
  • Students could end up studying at several universities or colleges at the same time, or across multiple departments in a single higher education provider
  • Students will be able to study modules that will give them the skills or knowledge they need to progress their career without the intention of building or completing a full qualification.

If there is a growth in LLE funded modular study, we also think there might be a shift to:

  • Universities and colleges changing existing …courses to an LLE fundable modular format
  • …An increase in modular study overall, not only LLE fundable modules
  • A decrease in the number of employers paying for continuing professional development (CPD) related courses as individuals will receive funding for standalone modules; [and] an increase in employers encouraging employees to take up CPD related modules as they will not need to fund them.

But if you are still puzzled about what it is all really about, and what it means in practice for universities, the Department for Education have published a guide in the form of a policy paper this week. sorry this is a bit wordy!

The summary: so far not very revolutionary.

From the 2025 to 2026 academic year, the LLE loan will be available for:

·       full courses at level 4 to 6, such as a degree or technical qualifications

·       modules of high-value technical courses at level 4 to 5

Under the LLE, eligible learners will be able to access:

·       a tuition fees loan, with new learners able to access up to the full entitlement of £37,000, equal to 4 years of study in today’s fees

·       a maintenance loan to cover living costs

Targeted maintenance grants will also be available for some groups such as learners with disabilities, or for support with childcare.

An additional entitlement may be available in certain cases – for example, for some priority subjects or longer courses such as medicine.

Learners will be able to see their loan balance through their own LLE personal account. This will help them make choices about the courses and learning pathways available.

So the devil, as always, must be in the detail.  What is covered, see below, again, fairly straightforward, except the bit about modules. 

But that isn’t coming straight away “The government will take a phased approach to provide modular funding. We expect to expand modular funding to more courses from the 2027 to 2028 academic year.”

Eligibility:

·       The LLE will be available to new and returning learners.

·       For returning learners, the amount they can borrow will be reduced depending on the funding they have previously received to support study.

·       LLE tuition loans will be available for people up to the age of 60. Learners who are over 60 may still qualify for maintenance support, though not a tuition fee loan.

·       Eligibility criteria for the LLE will track existing higher education (HE) student finance nationality and residency rules.

Courses: the LLE will be available for:

·       full years of study at higher technical and degree levels (levels 4 to 6)

·       modules of technical courses of clear value to employers

From the 2025 to 2026 academic year, the LLE will fund:

·       full years of study on courses currently funded by HE student finance including:

o   traditional degrees

o   postgraduate certificates in education (PGCE)

o   integrated master’s degrees (a 4-year programme that awards a master’s degree on top of a bachelor’s degree)

o   the foundation year available before some degree courses start

·       all HTQs, including both full courses and modules of those courses

·       qualifications currently funded by advanced learner loans where there is clear learner demand and employer endorsement

·       modules of some technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5 currently funded through advanced learner loans with a clear line of sight to an occupational map and evidence of employer demand

So what does this mean for students?  The main change is that tuition fee and maintenance loans will be available for a wider range of courses.

The entitlement

New learners (those who have not yet received government support to undertake higher-level learning) will be able to access a full entitlement equal to 4 years of full-time tuition. This is currently equal to £37,000 across 4 years, based on today’s maximum fee limit of £9,250 per year.

This means a student could use their £37,000 to pay for more than 480 credits of learning, depending on the per-credit cost of the course. For example, if a student can borrow £37,000 and they use £7,000 for a 120-credit course, they would have £30,000 of the LLE left for other courses, regardless of the size or duration of the original programme.

Returning learners …who have not used it all will have access to a residual entitlement. For example, a typical graduate who completed a 3-year degree worth £27,750 in today’s fees will have a £9,250 residual entitlement.

An additional entitlement above the core 4-year entitlement will be available for some priority subjects and longer courses such as medicine.

Maintenance loans

Maintenance loans are designed to help learners with living costs while they study. There is a maximum claim amount based on a student’s course, location and personal circumstances.

Under the LLE, the maintenance loan for living costs and targeted support grants, such as the Disabled Students’ Allowance and the Childcare Grant, will be made available for all designated courses and modules that require in-person attendance. Maintenance support will be subject to personal criteria such as income. This will broadly remain the same as the current criteria.

Repayments

The latest repayment arrangements apply as for students who started university this year.

And what does it mean for universities?

There will be a maximum financial amount per credit and a maximum number of credits that can be charged for in each course year, which will be set by the government.

We will treat certain course types under the LLE as ‘non-credit-bearing’. This means that different rules will apply. Non-credit-bearing courses include courses such as medicine and PGCEs, and courses where the provider has not assigned a qualifying credit value.

To support the LLE, the government will introduce a standardised transcript template to ensure a learner’s assessed achievements are always captured under the new modular, credit-based system.

There will be a new process for new providers and new qualifications.  This is properly new stuff and the subject of a lot of the ongoing work listed below, but probably not a lot of interest to readers of this update!

There is a separate paper on how tuition fees will work, from November 2023. This bit is confusing and implementing it will be tricky: lots of new reporting and forms likely to achieve this!

In the LLE system, we’ll set fee limits per credit. Credits are a measurement used by colleges and universities to identify how much learning is in a period of study. One credit generally equals 10 hours of learning by the student. This includes all tuition, assessment and any self-guided study in the student’s own time.

The credit-based system means that providers will only be able to charge for as much learning as they offer. A course containing 60 credits will have half the fee limit of a course containing 120 credits at the same provider.

The LLE system will have different fee limit rates. The limit-per-credit will depend on the type of study. There will be different limits for work placement, study abroad, and foundation years in certain subjects. Each of these limits may be lower if the provider does not have:

·       a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) award

·       an approved access and participation plan (APP).

There will no longer be different limits for part-time study. Instead, each course or module will have a fee limit based on the number of credits it contains. This is subject to a course year maximum and a course maximum. This means that if a course contains 360 credits, its overall fee limit will be the same regardless of how many years it takes to complete.

Some courses will be non-credit-bearing. For these courses, we’ll allocate a default number of credits. For example, we’ll allocate a PGCE course 120 default credits. This is because currently providers do not always allocate the same number of credits to these courses, but the amount of content is always very similar.

Under the LLE system, we’ll calculate fee limits according to the number of credits in a course year, multiplied by a limit-per-credit. For example, if a year of a course contained 120 credits, and its limit-per-credit was £50, its fee limit would be £6,000.

The LLE system will no longer have different fee limits for accelerated study. Instead, the overall fee limit for an accelerated degree will be the same as the overall fee limit for the same degree (full-time or part-time).

There will be a cap on the number of credits for which providers can charge in each type of course. This ensures that credits are not added on to courses simply to increase tuition fees. Providers may offer additional credits beyond the maximum, but are not allowed to charge for them.

If a student repeats part of their course, the repeat study is not counted towards the course cap. For example, if a student on a 360-credit degree fails a 30-credit module and repeats it, the provider can charge them for 390 credits overall.

And those modules?

There are no restrictions on the number of chargeable credits in a module. However, a module must have the same number of credits as it does when it is offered as part of the full course.

Modules offered separately from full courses must contain at least 30 credits. This can include multiple smaller modules bundled together.

So what is next?

In spring 2024, we will:

·       launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding

·       lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in parliament

·       communicate the details on the benefits of the third registration category

In summer 2024, we will: publish further information about the qualification gateway

In autumn 2024, we will: lay the secondary legislation that will set out the rest of the LLE funding system in parliament

In spring 2025, we will: launch the LLE personal account, where users can track their loan entitlement and apply for designated courses and modules

In autumn 2025, we will: launch the qualification gateway, an approval process that allows qualifications to access LLE funding (as noted above, not directly relevant to us)

Who are the staff at UK universities?

HESA published a bulletin about UK HE staff statistics as at 1st December 2022, on 16th January 2023.

  • Research Professional article here.
  • Wonkhe article here

The data shows an increase in the number of academic staff and non-academic staff employed in the sector since the previous year and a small decrease in the number of a-typical academic staff employed.

  • In 2022/23, 103,005 or 43% of academic staff were employed on contracts described as having a teaching and research function. The total for 2021/22 was 100,170 or 43%.
  • A further 36% of academic staff were on teaching only contracts. This percentage has steadily increased year-on-year since 2015/16, when it was 26%.
  • Among academic staff, 71,420, or 30% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2022/23. Of full-time academic staff, 22% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2022/23. In contrast, 43% of part-time academic staff were employed on fixed-term contracts, marking an eight percentage point decrease from 2021/22.
  • Of academic staff with known ethnicity, 22% were from ethnic minority backgrounds in 2022/23. This has increased from 16% in 2017/18.
  • Of the 22,345 professors with known ethnicity, 2,865 or 13% were from ethnic minority backgrounds. The majority of professors from ethnic minority backgrounds were Asian.
  • From 2021/22 to 2022/23 there was an increase of 40 Black professors.
  • The number of staff known to have a disability increased by 1,100 compared to 2021/22

Financial sustainability: Scotland

Last week’s update mentioned student number caps, which may soon be applied in specific cases (by provider, by subject) based on quality reviews by the OfS.  The government recently ruled out reintroducing more widespread caps in England after a consultation.  There have caps in Scotland, though, and they are about to be reduced.  Wonkhe reported this week on remarks in the Scottish Parliament:

  • Scottish finance secretary Shona Robison confirmed that at least 1,200 funded university places for Scottish-domiciled students will be cut following the Scottish government’s 2024–25 budget. Her remarks were made a scrutiny session with the Scottish finance committee – Robison told MSPs that the funding for additional places, instituted due to increased demand during the pandemic, was no longer sustainable.

The Scottish caps on home students have had a direct impact on the finances of Scottish institutions and they have turned increasingly to the international market to make up the income as, like in the rest of the UK, the real value of domestic tuition fees falls.   The financial challenges for Scottish universities are described in this recent report from the Scottish Funding Council (4th Jan 24).

You will recall that there is a reason for these caps: the Scottish government funds tuition fees directly in Scotland for Scottish students, there is no tuition fee loan. The actual amount received was £7,610 for each Scottish student this academic year year (see a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies from December 2023), significantly less than the £9,250 capped fee in England.

Institutional failure

Last week I talked about the OfS licence conditions in place to protect students in the context of a university closing down, perhaps as a result of financial issues.

Wonkhe have several blogs this week.

There is one from two members of Public First on what would happen if a large university ran out of money:

  • The DfE (rightly) puts in place lots of warning measures for schools in difficulty, and if a school or group of schools start to find themselves in real trouble, a lot of things kick into place. They can mandate that schools have cost cutters come in; they can prescribe significant changes to operating models; and they can both demand that the school or school group takes an advance from the state, whilst placing (pretty onerous) conditions that are attached to repaying that advance. And given that financial trouble often goes hand in hand with performance trouble, the government has pretty carte blanche to change leadership and management when a poor performance judgement is made….
  • Universities are, of course, not big schools. And it is their fiercely guarded autonomy – as safeguarded in HERA – which means we don’t have a clear set of state interventions. When the Westminster government made its various moves to extend a more market based HE system in England in the early 2010s, it was explicitly envisaged that some providers could exit the market – and that government wouldn’t step in. This was not a bug, but instead a positive virtue of the system…
  • There is no power in today’s legislation for the government to give “extraordinary support” to a particular institution. In a major failure scenario, they could theoretically want to support (or even force) a merger or acquisition. They could also want to support specific institutions financially to keep them open at least for an interim period. But both would likely require new legislation, potentially at speed, and all of this tells against a story of autonomy
  • …. This issue all relies on some very big P political questions. Which institutions might be allowed to fail – and which won’t? What does increased government intervention mean for institutional autonomy, an idea already much eroded in political and policy circles? What does it mean for the status of universities, and could they be reclassified as FE colleges as public sector bodies if the state gains more control over funding or governance? And how much is the sector as a whole willing to trade to save a small, but potentially significant number of institutions?

There is one is from two members of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) talking about what will really happen if a provider fails.

They point out the regime that applies to FE, for which there is no equivalent for universities:

  • the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 established an insolvency regime that applies to further education and sixth form colleges in England and Wales. This introduced a special education administration regime, which protects learner provision for existing students at insolvent colleges with the overarching duty to the learner

They conclude:

  • We have talked before about insurance schemes or a “pot of money” to help students in these situations. We often hear that many providers would not be willing to pay into a system as they do not think such a situation really impacts them.
  • But the impact on the wider sector, students and the reputation of HE must be worth further serious discussion, and we are increasingly finding that there is an understanding that this situation needs to be addressed. …..
  • Whatever the answer, students should not be the collateral damage. A provider closure can leave students significantly disadvantaged, with their experience of and faith in higher education ruined. The potential impact on some students’ mental health cannot be underestimated. The financial impact, in a system where students are at the end of a long list of unsecured creditors, could create significant hardship and may make it unsustainable for a student to complete their studies.
  • We cannot just wait for a large-scale disorderly exit to happen before we engage in a serious discussion.

HE policy update 15th January 2024

Politics and Parliament

The PM has confirmed that 2 by-elections will be held in February. (from the FT)

  • The Conservatives on Thursday moved the writ for by-elections to be held in Wellingborough in the east Midlands and Kingswood, near Bristol, both of which were held by Tory MPs. Peter Bone won Wellingborough in 2019 with a majority of 18,540 over Labour but was forced out of the House of Commons after an inquiry upheld claims of bullying and sexual misconduct against a staff member. … The Wellingborough contest has been given additional interest by the decision of local Conservatives to choose Bone’s partner, Tory councillor Helen Harrison, as their candidate.
  • The Kingswood contest was triggered by the resignation of former energy minister Chris Skidmore in protest at Sunak’s plan to promote North Sea oil and gas drilling. Skidmore secured an 11,220 majority over Labour in 2019.
  • The moving of the writs means the contests must be held within 21 and 27 working days; polling in both constituencies is therefore expected to take place on Thursday February 15.

Education

Lifelong learning

All this is coming soon, including changes to the way that fees are calculated and paid to providers so that they are not based on years but on credits.  This means that there will be no more special arrangements for accelerated programmes.

But will there be any demand for modular programmes?  The OfS ran a big trial:

  • In autumn 2021 the Office for Students (OfS) launched the ‘Higher Education Short Course trial’ Challenge Competition, through which higher education (HE) providers bid for funding to develop short courses of 30 or 40 credits at Levels 4-6 in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), education, digital innovation and healthcare subjects and to help meet skills needs for Net Zero. Employers were to be closely involved in designing and developing the provision.
  • Through this competition, 22 providers received a total of £2 million to develop new short courses. Over 100 new courses were proposed in total, most to commence delivery in autumn 2022, with projections that over 2000 students in total would participate in 2022-23.

And the takeup for loans for the short courses was very small.  Out of 96 courses offered, only 17 were launched by 10 of the 22 providers, and instead of the 2000 participants planned, there were 240 applicants and 125 enrolments; with only 41 taking up the new student loan product.

The paper includes a lot of recommendations.  Wonkhe article here.

Apprenticeships

The government have pledged to increase apprenticeships at the cost, perhaps of “traditional” degrees.

In practice, apart from a lot of bigging them up in speeches and so on, this means that the OfS have been told to fund development of apprenticeships and they have been doing so:

  • The OfS will distribute up to £40 million through a competitive bidding exercise, which is now open for applications from OfS-registered higher education providers. Of the £40 million, up to £16 million will be allocated to projects that will complete before 31 July 2024 and up to £24 million is available for projects that will complete before 31 July 2025.
  • The funding competition aims to:
    • Expand course provision at higher education providers already offering Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Increase the number of students on Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Expand course provision at higher education providers who are new to offering Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Increase equality of opportunity within Level 6 degree apprenticeships

Note the focus on L6.  The government have made noises in the past about being unhappy with the volume of L7 apprentices being funded through the levy, especially where these are already senior employees, and this is something that may be addressed through policy changes in the future, e.g. restricting the use of the levy to L6 and below.  As noted last week, Labour have suggested repurposing the levy for apprenticeships and skills, which would also probably result in a reduction of the proportion of levy available for L7 apprenticeships, depending on how the changes were implemented, unless the amount available under the levy was increased.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

We talked about cost of living in last week’s report, there was a December Sutton Trust analysis which makes grim reading.

  • Polling by Savanta for the Trust shows that 62% spend less than £37 a week on food, which is the minimum needed for a single person to buy essential food items, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust.
  • Overall, students living at university in England outside of London have median costs of £11,400 a year on essential spending. These essential costs include accommodation (on average 52% of their spending), groceries (12%), and bills (6%). However, the median total loan in England outside of London of £7,000, equivalent to 61% of spend, does not come near to covering these basic needs.
  • And although the median loan in London is higher at £8,500, this is drastically less than the median spending of £17,287 by students in the capital.
  • To make ends meet, two thirds of students reported taking on paid work, with 20% working 16-30 hours per week. 49% have missed classes as a result, and 23% reported that they had missed a deadline or asked for an extension in order to work.
  • The maintenance package in England is now at its lowest value in real terms for seven years, as maximum loan amounts have not kept pace with inflation. Furthermore, fewer students are eligible for maximum loans as the parental earnings threshold has also been frozen since 2008. To secure the maximum loan, a student’s household must earn under £25,000 per year, which captures far fewer households than it did 15 years ago.

Here is the December Wonkhe story.

What are the characteristics of students?

Alongside the TEF outcomes published last year (and updated with most of the pending awards just before Christmas, were summaries of the characteristics data for students in the UK for the 4 years to 2020-21. This is interesting to consider, and although some of this might seem obvious, does it hold true for our own cohorts and it is that obvious really?

We tend to talk a lot in the sector about student outcomes in the context of student characteristics, achievement gaps and so on.  But the other aspect, which I have been discussing with Shelley recently, is what this means for education practice.  A couple of examples – there is more to think about here and BU’s numbers are different from the sector in some ways:

  • Only 52% of full time undergraduate students come in to HE with only A levels: while that is still a lot, 48% is a lot of students with different learning experiences.
  • 40% of full time PGT students are over 25, which suggests that they have had work or other experience since they completed their UG programmes.

Age on entry:

Part-time students and apprentices are generally older.  In particular there is a much higher proportion of apprentices who are over 31, which is not surprising given that many degree level apprentices at L6 and L7 will be people already in work who are being asked by their employers to upskill via an apprenticeship, and this is consistent with the lifelong learning/skills agenda

Disability:

  • A higher proportion of part-time students have declared disabilities than full time -this may be one of the reasons for students choosing to study part-time.
  • A smaller proportion of PG students, full-time and part-time, have declared a disability.
  • A smaller proportion of apprentices have a disability than full time students (for both UG and PG).
  • Cognitive or learning difficulties is the biggest category of disabilities

Ethnicity:

  • There are large proportions of “unknown” ethnicity for full-time PG students; this may reflect the high proportion of PG international students and makes any comparison between full-time UG and PG unreliable.
  • Part-time students and apprentices are much more likely to be white.

Qualifications on entry (UG only):

  • There is a smaller proportion of part-time students with A levels or BTECs, and a larger proportion of part-time students from access or foundation courses or with no, or unknown qualifications. There is also a large proportion (34%) with HE level qualifications undertaking part-time programmes.
  • 52% of full-time UG students have 3 A levels, and 16% have a BTEC or a combination.
  • There is a larger proportion of apprentices with HE qualifications, and also with no, or unknown qualifications.

HE sector sustainability and change

You will have seen from the policy updates over the last year the negative rhetoric around “poor quality” courses: of course we all agree that we don’t want those.  Some noses were put out of joint by the Autumn Statement’s only reference to HE: “Proposals will be implemented to decrease the number of people studying poor-quality degrees, and to increase take-up of apprenticeships”.

As noted last week, as far as we can tell, this does not mean new measures but continuing to instruct the OfS to use its existing powers of regulation plus a continued focus on funding and promoting apprenticeships.

This House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 is an interesting read.

Here are some extracts from the press release from July 2023 when the final bit of the Augar changes (no sector wide student number caps or minimum entry levels):

  • The UK has some of the world’s leading universities, but a minority of the courses on offer leave students saddled with debt, low earnings and faced with poor job prospects. The government wants to make the system fairer for them, but also for taxpayers – who make a huge investment in higher education and are liable for billions of pounds in unrecovered tuition fees if graduate earnings are low.
  • Figures from the Office for Students show that nearly three in ten graduates do not progress into highly skilled jobs or further study 15 months after graduating. The Institute for Fiscal Studies also estimates that one in five graduates would be better off financially if they hadn’t gone to university. [more on those figures below]

And none of this is helped by the increasing cost to the government of funding the HE system.  The IfS published a report on 9th January: ”higher long-term inters rates and the cost of student loans”.

The debate around funding student loans has largely focused on what share of student loans will be repaid, and what share of the cost will need to be picked up by the taxpayer. Much less attention has been paid to the government cost of financing student loans that do get repaid. In this report, we investigate how the cost of student loans including these financing costs has changed as a result of increases in government borrowing costs over the past two years.

  • The cost of government borrowing as measured by the 15-year gilt yield has risen from 1.2% to 4.0% over the past two years. Relative to expected RPI inflation, this is a 3 percentage point increase. As the interest rate on student loans is now the rate of RPI inflation, this means that the government can expect to pay 1.6 percentage points more in interest on its debt than the interest rate it charges on student loans. Two years ago, just before the most recent student loans reform, it could expect to pay 1.4 percentage points less than the rate of RPI inflation.
  • This increase in government borrowing costs translates to an increase in the expected cost of student loans including financing costs of more than £10 billion per year. With borrowing costs as at the end of 2021, the government could have expected to earn a total net profit of £3.2 billion on student loans to the 2023 university entry cohort, arising from the positive spread between the interest it charged on student loans and the interest it paid on its debt. With today’s borrowing costs, this interest rate spread is negative, and the government can expect to make a loss of £7.3 billion. 
  • Concerningly, this extra cost is not reflected in either of the government’s official measures of the cost of student loans. The ONS measure does not take the cost of government borrowing into account at all. The DfE measure that underlies the so-called RAB charge uses a backward-looking measure of borrowing costs, which does not yet capture the sharp rise in gilt yields over the last two years.

Quality

This crackdown on perceived low quality has so far consisted of several waves of OfS quality assessments, last week I highlighted the first published outcomes of the first waves of assessments in business and management and computing: the regulatory consequences of these assessments are yet to be announced (with concerns only confirmed at 2 of the 6), but where problems are found the OfS can do lots of things including a combination of these:

  • launch a formal investigation;
  • apply more frequent or intensive monitoring;
  • impose specific licence conditions on a provider (i.e. specific action that the provider must take (or not take): to note specifically this could include recruitment limits or student number controls for a provider in general or linked to specific subjects;
  • impose a fine;
  • refuse to renew an access and participation plan (note that has consequences for fee caps);
  • suspend aspects of a providers registration, including access to student support funding or OfS grant funding;
  • vary or revoke degree awarding powers or permission to call itself a university; and/or
  • deregister a provider.

Another interesting point to note: providers have to pay fees to cover the cost of the investigation if they are subject to a regulatory investigation by the OfS unless they are completely exonerated.

This Wonhke article from July 23 describes when the OfS has already imposed licence conditions relating to B3: most of these required improvement plans and most (other than 2) related to colleges or alternative providers rather than universities.

It is worth reading the article which includes a response from Burton and South Derbyshire College.  Their main point is that the OfS is using very old data: the latest OfS dashboard data is for continuation for students starting in 2020-21, and of course graduate outcomes and completion data is by definition for students who started much longer ago than that; and who are following a programme which is likely to have change quite a lot since they started.  Just as a counter-balance to that, for existing providers (rather than newly registered providers) sanctions will usually follow an investigation, so although the outcomes data may be old, the practice and actions taken by the provider that the OfS are reviewing is current.  Before imposing a restriction, the OfS would need to form a view that those current actions and other steps were not likely to be adequate on their own to address the issues flagged by the (old) data.

The latest quality assessments have focussed on two subjects, and have looked at a wide range of student outcomes and experience in the context of the B licence conditions.  Often discussions of the B conditions focus on B3 (minimum absolute levels of student outcomes), but there is a lot more to the B conditions than those.

These were covered extensively when the consultations about these new conditions were ongoing several years ago, but as a lot has happened since then, here is a reminder.

I’ll talk more about the TEF and some of these conditions and other licence conditions in future updates.

Student numbers and admissions

This from Wonkhe in the daily update on Friday 12th January makes interesting reading in the light of all the concerns from the OfS about risky dependence on international student numbers

  • International student recruitment from Pakistan has overtaken the “languishing” Nigerian market for the January 2024 intake, according to the latest data from recruitment platform Enroly – which suggests that deposits are down 37 per cent compared to the same period last year, with a similar fall in the number of Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) issued.
  • The data, based on a sample of 68,000 international students from the firm’s partner institutions, also shows that CAS issuance for students from India looks to have fallen by over 34 per cent, accompanied by a drop of more than 70 per cent in the Nigerian market – survey data suggests “unfriendly government policies” are playing a role in the decrease. But for students from Pakistan, deposits are up by 22.5 per cent, and CAS issuance by 14.2 per cent.

Financial sustainability

There has been a lot of press about financial sustainability and a lot of providers have been in the press for their efforts to manage financial gaps, arising from a whole range of issues as discussed last week.

To add to the doom and gloom here are some articles on the topic:

FT article 11th Jan 24: Senior leaders at four English universities told the FT in December they were experiencing a slowdown in international recruitment, driven in part by renewed competition from the US and Australia, which closed their borders during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data collected by the Enroly web platform that helps international students through the bureaucratic process of joining universities has indicated a sharp drop-off in enrolments from Nigeria and India. The company said a representative sample from more than 68,000 applicants to small and large UK universities found that overall deposit payments were down by 37 per cent for the January 2024 intake when compared with the previous year.

Research Professional article 5th Jan 24: universities at risk of insolvency in 2024

  • “These issues affect individual institutions in different ways and many universities remain financially secure, but we have a big and diverse higher education sector and a minority of universities are undoubtedly under the cosh financially at the moment,” Hillman said.
  • There are very few recent examples of UK higher education institutions closing down. In July 2019, the private provider GSM London—formerly known as the Greenwich School of Management—went into administration, and earlier that year Heythrop College, formerly part of the University of London, closed permanently. There have also been a number of mergers between providers.

ITV news: November 2023 Higher education sector in ‘existential crisis’ as one in four universities make losses

  • Data seen by ITV News paints a bleak picture of the higher education sector, which experts have described as being in an “existential crisis”.
  • One-quarter of universities are currently making a loss and total losses over the entire sector sits at a staggering £2 billion, a huge increase from the £200 million from the year before.
  • Professor Jenny Higham, from Universities UK, the umbrella body which represents 142 universities across the country, told ITV News an urgent solution was needed or the consequences would be severe.
  • “If [universities] continue not to be able to make up that deficit the end result will be universities will close,” Professor Higham said. “We need to work with everybody who has a vested interest in universities and their output to come up to solution for this problem.”

Universities UK report: sustainable university funding, September 2023

  • While it is not true that international students are displacing home students, it is the case that income from international students mitigates losses in teaching domestic students, and in turn helps grow, and make viable, domestic student capacity. Compared with a £1 billion loss in teaching domestic students, teaching international students brings in a £3 billion surplus. Given losses incurred in teaching domestic students, growth in international student income is needed to help grow domestic student capacity, which is needed as there is an increasing number of 18-year-olds projected in the UK population. It is debatable whether further growth in international student income is feasible, given increased competition from other countries, potential geopolitical risks to this income stream and recent government actions. Without this growth, and no further funding for teaching, it is likely that the chance of entering university for future cohorts will be more restricted than for previous cohorts.

The House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 referred to above also describes the upcoming cap on fees for some foundation years from the 2025/26 academic year: we are awaiting a consultation on the detail of this

It’s not easy in Wales or Scotland either, see recent articles from Wonkhe at the links.

There are OfS licence conditions about financial sustainability too: OFS licence conditions: financial sustainability and student protection in the case of a risk of market exit.

Minimum service levels

Something you may have missed in the run up to the holiday was the announcement of a consultation on minimum service levels in education (consultation closes 30th January 2024):

  • Any minimum service levels regulations we might implement following the consultation would apply on days when strike action is taking place in education services, and help minimise disruption to children and learners across education settings.

In the consultation document the section on HE starts on page 27