Category / international

BU Professor gives keynote address on authorial careers at Milan Conference

This Monday and Tuesday Professor Hywel Dix travelled to the University of the Sacred Heart in Milan to give the keynote at a conference entitled ‘Auctor in Fabula: Autofiction and Authorial Traces in Literature, Drama and Audiovisual Drama.’ This bilingual English and Italian event with simultaneous translation explored ways in which artists and writers in a range of different media have drawn on their own life stories in their creative work, and with what effects. Dix’s keynote ‘Fictions of Self-retrospect: Constructing the Narratives of Authorial Careers’ contributes to theoretical research into ideas of ‘the author’ by arguing that our understanding of authorial careers has the potential to be enhanced by Career Construction Theory, a form of vocational guidance counselling that uses storytelling to enable people to construct narratives of their vocational lives. The central tenet of this practice is that at moments of transition people write their career narrative, becoming in the process both its author and lead protagonist. Since people turn to vocational guidance during periods of uncertainty or change, this uncertainty has been compared to the experience of writer’s block. Narrating their life story allows them to see themselves in their story in order to plot the next chapter in it and therefore overcome that block. The paper explored what happens when these ideas are applied to the work of people who are not just metaphorically but also literally authors of their life stories, i.e. empirical authors. It suggests that Career Construction Theory can be seen as a new theory of authorship when it is applied in this way and that as such, it supplies a conceptual paradigm for identifying the different components that compose an overall authorial career in the changing cultural conditions of today’s world.

Editorial accepted by Frontiers in Public Health

As part of the special issue in Frontiers in Public Health on ‘Evidence-based approaches in Aging and Public Health’ the guest editors included 15 academic papers.  These 15 contributions to the Special Issue were introduced in placed in perspective in our editorial ‘Editorial: Evidence-based approaches in Aging and Public Health[1] which was accepted for publication two days ago.   The guest editors included two Visiting Faculty to FHSS: Prof. Padam Simkhada and Dr. Brijesh Sathian.

 

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery & Women’s Health (CMWH)

Reference:

  1. Sathian, B., van Teijlingen, E., Simkhada, P., Kabir, R., Al Hamad, H. (2024) Editorial: Evidence-based approaches in Aging and Public Health, Frontier in Public Health 12 2024 https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2024.1391432

International midwifery collaboration on early labour

Academics from the Centre for Midwifery and Women’s Health (CMWH) traveled to Winterhur, Switzerland with the Swiss European Mobility Programme.

The education and research programme, organised by the team at Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften (Zurich University of Applied Sciences), involved a workshop with midwives from across Europe ( Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Germany) discussing midwife-led care.

Professor Vanora Hundley and Dr Dominique Mylod were also invited to give a lecture on the latent phase / early labour as part of the final Gebstart conference. They presented recently published research that was included in thespecial issue in Women & Birth at the end of last year.

This meeting and collaboration with colleagues from across Europe builds on the work of the International Early Labour Research Group.

 

Relevant papers:

Mylod DC,  Hundley V, Way S, Clark C (2023) Can a birth ball reduce pain perception for women at low obstetric risk in the latent phase of labour? The Ball Assisted Latent Labour (BALL) randomised controlled trial. Women & Birth https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2023.11.008 

Grylka-Baeschlin S, Hundley V, Cheyne H et al (2023) Early labour: an under-recognised opportunity for improving the experiences of women, families and maternity professionals Women & Birth https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2023.09.004  

HE policy update no 8 25th March 2024

Some more optimistic takes on what might be in the party manifestos for HE: the sort of commitments being asked for seem somewhat optimistic: later in this update I look at some detailed proposals on maintenance finance, a call to scrap the REF (which might have more take-up in the manifestos), the KEF via a HE- BCI survey (might someone suggest scrapping the KEP?), apprenticeship results are out and numbers on international education.  Amongst all that I also look at a speech from Susan Lapworth.

Manifesto for HE

You’ve seen the UUK one, here is the one from MillionPlus. (Policy update from February: 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.)

Scrap REF and save money

Iain Mansfield says that Labour should ‘scrap REF and save half a billion’, Research Professional reports.  Not because there is any problem with a metric for research: just a strong feeling that it shouldn’t include a metric for environment and culture. RP add: Speaking at Research Professional News live last week, Labour’s shadow science minister, Chi Onwurah, said she was “concerned about some of the bureaucracy associated with the REF” and stopped short of committing to retaining it in its current form. I don’t think that means stopping the culture and environment part, but it is hard to know.  These debates will run for a while.

HE-BCI review

The HE-BCI survey is used in the Knowledge Exchange Framework.  Just how much difference the KEF makes to anything and how interested anyone except the sector really is in it, is still, for me, an open question that I have asked since KEF was just a glint in Jo Johnson’s eye (the third leg of the HE stool etc…).  Of course if they started using KEF to allocate HEIF it would matter a lot more, but the KEF data doesn’t really lend itself to that.  As a reminder, it uses a different comparison group (clusters) to everything else, three of its “perspectives” are self-assessed and all it tells you is whether engagement with the perspective is deemed to be low, medium or high.  In a highly technical presentation format.

But as the (only real) metrics behind the (incomprehensible) KEF wheels (just take a look here and see what you learn), HE-BCI data does have some influence.  And HESA did a survey on some bits of it which closed in January.  There will be another consultation at some point.

The regulator speaks

It is always interesting to hear or read a speech by the head of the OfS, so here is one.

After a friendly introduction telling the Association of Colleges what good work their members do, it is straight in on quality:

  • Although, of course, not every college higher education student is in that position, the college sector should collectively be very proud that so many who are get the guidance and support they need in further education settings.
  • But, sadly, we know that in too many parts of the system, students’ interests are not always being well-served
  • …[Students] have serious questions about:
    • the amount of teaching they receive,
    • the frequency and usefulness of feedback provided to them, and
    • the level of support, both academic and pastoral, they can access.

Talking about the ongoing quality assessments, there are some changes coming:

  • Updating some of the language we use. So we might talk more about assessments or compliance assessments, rather than investigations.
  • We think there’s scope for additional training for assessment teams, for example, focusing on welfare to ensure staff are appropriately supported during visits and the wider process.
  • And we know the sector would like us to publish more information about how institutions are selected for assessment and how the process unfolds from there

A defensive approach to the big effort on freedom of speech?  You decide

  • Defining more clearly and coherently the student interest will also support another area where our regulation is developing: freedom of speech and academic freedom.
  • As that work has progressed, we have sometimes been told, including by some students, that students do not consider this a priority. But we know that the National Student Survey found that one in seven students in England felt unable to freely express their views.
  • … the collective act of debate and dissection of ideas, old and new, is what allows us to be confident that what and how students are learning represents the best knowledge we currently have. If students don’t recognise this, we need to understand why. Is it an artefact of who speaks loudest in our current systems? Or that cost-of-living worries and the associated challenges have reduced the scope for considering these broader issues? Or that students today have a fundamentally different conception of what freedom of speech and academic freedom ought to entail?

And some new areas of focus:

  • For example, although access to accommodation appears in our Equality of Opportunity Risk Register, we’ve been cautious about stepping into that arena in regulatory terms. But it is clear that students are increasingly concerned about the cost, quality and uneven availability of accommodation for their studies. It’s the most frequently mentioned issue in discussions with students in my visits to institutions.
  • Likewise, while we’ve taken steps to encourage stronger working links between those we regulate and the organisations that provide health services to students, particularly to support their mental health, we’re not the regulator of those services, and much of the most critical care can’t be provided by universities and colleges directly…. we are open to the view that, as a regulator framed and formed in relation to the interests of students, it may fall to us to take action, or to seek to better co-ordinate the activity of others, or to just talk about them because they matter to students.

And there is a new strategy consultation coming for the OfS.

Apprenticeships

Achievements rate update: a update published by the DfE. The Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon has written an open letter to the apprenticeship sector celebrating the latest achievement rates and setting out some developments.

While the government are very keen to encourage more apprenticeships, there is a stern approach to providers here: not dissimilar to the rhetoric on HE, there will be student number controls linked to quality as defined by outcomes.  While “training not being as good as hoped” is a factor in the list above, as is “poor organisation” of the programme, that is in the context of all the other reasons linked to employers and jobs.  However, the government can’t do much about those, and is not in the business of discouraging employers from participating.  But this will put more pressure on providers who are already finding apprenticeships bureaucratic and hard and expensive to deliver.

It’s not putting them off just yet, though.  This update from the OfS on the second wave of funding for apprenticeships highlights how many providers are really going for it.  Degree apprenticeships funding competition: Funding allocated to wave 2 projects (officeforstudents.org.uk)

Anyway, the ideas for future development in the Minister’s letter are:

  • Apprenticeship Standards. IfATE will be looking closely at apprenticeship standards that are not producing good outcomes for employers or the economy – especially where they are underused or too many learners are dropping out without completing – and speed up action to either improve them or remove them where it is clear the apprenticeship standard is not working.
  • Quality of Training. We know that the quality of training is a major factor in whether apprentices complete. Through the apprenticeship accountability framework, we have assessed provider performance against a range of measures to give an overall picture of their quality of delivery. ….. In future performance assessments, we will not hesitate to robustly challenge providers showing insufficient improvement. We will deploy appropriate support, where providers demonstrate a capacity to improve in a timely manner, and we will continue to consider factors outside of providers’ control, where these can be evidenced. However, we will also use contractual measures including potential limitations on growth, stopping delivery of standards with low apprenticeship achievement rates and removal from the market where this is necessary to protect apprentices and employers and ensure they have access to high quality training. Concurrently we will also seek to enrich the market by making it easier to enter for providers that can deliver to our priorities – for example to increase participation from SMEs and young people.
  • Employer improvement. We now want to give employers better access to information and data to help manage their own apprenticeship programme and benchmark against others to help drive up improvements across the programme. We will test options for the information we could use to support this and work with Top 100 employers to identify how to make the information available. This will be in addition to the support offered to employers through resources, best practice sharing, and events to support self-improvement.
  • End-Point Assessment. We continually review the assessment process for apprenticeships to make sure it is proportionate, supports achievement and is fit for the future. Working with IfATE, the providers engaged with the Expert Provider pilot and the FE Funding Simplification pilot, we will identify further options to improve the assessment model, making it more efficient for the whole sector…
  • Expert Provider Pilot and SME engagement. … As a result of the pilot we are developing a new, simple one step approval for SMEs engaging with apprenticeships for the first time. This new flexibility is being developed with colleges and training providers and will be available later this year. …

Student finance

Oh dear, another negative story about student debt that will discourage potential applicants (and as always, their parents).  This time it is the BBC who revealed that the UK’s highest student debt was £231k.  Quite how they managed to rack up that much is unclear: by doing lots of courses, it seems (although surely there are limits on that – apparently there are exceptions to those rules).  The highest level of interest accumulated was around £54,050.  The student interviewed is a doctor: the length of medical programmes means that, along with vets and dentists, doctors tend to accumulate the highest student loans.

The Sutton Trust have published a report on reforming student maintenance ahead of the general election.

There are suggestions about how to address the challenges.

  • The analysis covers three potential systems, all of which would increase the amount of maintenance students would have available to them day to day, rising from the current level of £9,978 to £11,400. This is the level that recent Sutton Trust research has found is the median spending on essentials for students living away from home outside of London for 9 months of the year,… This would also set maintenance support at a similar level to what they would receive if paid the National Living Wage while studying, a method the Diamond Review in Wales used to set maintenance levels.

Scenarios include

  • Scenario 1 – Increasing overall maintenance levels, with equal loans for all students and maintenance grants making up the difference.
  • Scenario 2 – Increasing overall maintenance levels, with variable loans and with maintenance grants focused on the poorest students.
  • Scenario 3 – Increasing overall maintenance levels by means-tested loans only.

The value of international education

The government has issued 2021 data on UK revenue from education related exports and transnational education activity.

David Kernohan from Wonkhe has some analysis, always worth checking out for the nuances, including:

  • 2021 was a long time ago
  • It’s also notable that all these figures are based on exports only – there is no adjustment at all for costs incurred in delivering a service overseas.
  • pathway provider income (programmes that help to prepare overseas students for study at a UK university) is estimated based on a survey of six large providers (CEG, INTO, Kaplan, Navitas, Oxford International, Study Group) conducted by one of the participants (Kaplan)

Research Professional also has an article.

 

It’s only a name…

Yesterday my co-author Dr. Orlanda Harvey received an email from a sociology journal informing her that “The below co-author name is not matching with the separate title page provided and in the submission. If Van is the middle name please update the name in the author’s account.  Name in separate title page appears as Prof Edwin van Teijlingen….Name in site appears as vanTeijlingen, EdwinPlease address the above issue before resubmitting the manuscript.”

If you have an odd name in English you will have to get used to this kind of misunderstanding.  This is the second time this is happening when submitting a paper this month!   Interestingly with a different variant of my name.  A migration and health journal  argued to me co-author that my name on ORCID was ‘Edwin van Teijlingen’ but on Scopus ‘van Teijlingen, Edwin Roland’.  the journal then asked that we change it.

To add more example on the inflexibility of online systems, my greatest surprise a few years ago was that I could not add my Dutch family name ‘van Teijlingen’ with a small ‘v’ on the online booking web pages of the Dutch airline KLM.

What’s In A Name? A name is but a name, and to quote Shakespeare: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

 

HE policy update No 7: 18th March 2024

This week’s update looks at some ministerial statements, what the OfS has learned from its funded project son mental health and wellbeing, employability and what works, a look at foundation years, who does them, and the outcomes, more on international students and the review of the post-graduate work visa, and the OfS are taking a fresh look at grant funding for universities.

The outlook for research at UK universities

Research Professional held an event recently and had some interesting speakers.  They report on a speech by Jessica Corner, the executive chair of Research England:

  • “It may be that our research and innovation system is beginning to contract a little bit,” Corner told delegates, having spoken about expectations that the sector is likely to be “entering into a more financially constrained few years”.
  • She said that analysis by UK Research and Innovation, the parent agency of Research England, had shown that the higher education sector is contributing around £5 billion a year to UK research, “which makes universities actually one of the biggest funders of research overall”.
  • With data suggesting falling numbers of international students, whose fees provide crucial financial support for universities, “there will be less to cover research”, Corner suggested….
  • Corner suggested that if the UK’s research sector does contract in scale, “that doesn’t mean to say it’s necessarily contracting in what it delivers”. She said that the opportunity offered by artificial intelligence to boost productivity is “huge”. “We need to carry on with the investment that we’ve got, but we’re going to have to be very smart with it,” she said.

At the same event the Science Minister, Andrew Griffith, spoke and amongst other things he addressed the funding point and also suggested that the new UKRI head, when Ottoline Leyser stands down in June 2025, may be from industry rather than the sector

  • Griffith said he wanted “true diversity, meaning the widest range of backgrounds and experiences”. He said new leadership “could well be from inside the sector, but also they could be from the top of the business world, or someone who has come from a professional services organisation”.
  • Griffith’s predecessor as science minister, George Freeman, has also recently told Research Professional News that new UKRI leadership “cannot just be traditional academic administration” and that there should be “a more business-like, more focused, accountable, output-orientated delivery culture in UKRI”…
  • The science minister was also asked about comments made by Donelan at the Lords committee that ministers do not think there is a crisis in university funding. Griffith said “we overuse the word crisis” and that universities are not alone in facing a period of “really intense macro change” affecting many countries. “We should expect that we are going to have some challenges to work through some of that,” he said.
  • Griffith was vocal about the importance of the UK higher education sector and that the “recipe for success must begin with our universities”, which are an “absolute magnet for the very best in global talent”. “We are, as far as I can possibly tell, the most open and diverse country on the planet in that respect,” he said.
  • Asked about how the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is engaging with the Home Office about widespread sector concerns about changes to the UK immigration system, Griffith said this was being done “diligently”. He also said the UK must not “talk ourselves down” in terms of attractiveness to international talent, in order to prevent a “self-fulfilling prophecy, which would help nobody”.

Employability

Wonkhe has a blog on work-related experiences that is worth a read with some ideas that can sit alongside placements as a way of building work-relevant experience into courses, especially given the practical difficulties with placements that arise for some students and some sectors.  Ideas include:

  • More integration between employers and universities throughout the curriculum
  • Using university technical services to develop hands on learning on campus
  • Ensuring “work-like experience” in the curriculum and finding a different way of talking about what we already do in terms of employment and employer based learning so that students realise what they are getting and its value
  • Recognising the wider benefits beyond employability through projects in partnership with employers
  • Acknowledging the practical issues and supporting access to opportunities
  • Leaning into virtual experiences
  • Putting the resources in to support delivery

And while we are on the theme of placements, the OIA has published some notes on cases they have heard.  There are a lot of good points in here, some are summarised here.

  • Whatever the context of the placement, it’s important that students are given clear and accurate information about it. Students need to know what’s expected of them and where and how to access support while they’re on placement. It’s also important that providers have processes in place to respond when things go wrong.
  • Providers will sometimes need to work with placement organisations outside of the local area.
    • It’s important to manage students’ expectations about the possible location of their placement, for example by explaining what the provider considers to be a reasonable time and/or distance to travel.
    • For some students there will be considerations to take into account when deciding where to place them, for example accessibility needs, caring responsibilities or transport considerations that might make commuting to a placement more difficult.
    • Providers can usefully signpost students to any sources of financial support, either at the provider or elsewhere, that may be available to help with any costs associated with the placement. Where it’s not possible to offer a placement within the expected area, the provider may want to consider whether it would be reasonable to support the student with any additional expenses they may incur as a result of being offered an out of area placement.
    • It’s also important to tell students in good time what placement they have been allocated so that they have time to make any arrangements they may need to.
  • It’s important that students know in advance where they can go for advice and support whilst on placement.
    • It is good practice for providers to ensure that students have a named staff member at the provider that they can liaise with, as well as a named mentor at the placement organisation.
    • Some students may need additional support during the placement, for example because they are disabled or have caring responsibilities. The provider should explore in advance how those support needs might be met, and whether the provider or the placement organisation will be responsible for meeting them. …

And much more…

Mental health and wellbeing

The OfS funded a set of projects and they have now been evaluated.  There’s a report and all sorts of analysis, but the one page summary sets out a set of effective practice for addressing barriers to support for a set of target groups and also some conclusions:

  • Co-creation with students is critical for support to strongly align to need.
  • Tailored outreach was the most effective method to reach targeted groups supplemented through ‘snowball’ techniques with students.
  • Describing services with positive framing and avoiding over medicalised descriptions in language tailored to targeted audiences was vital.
  • Developing strategic, multi-agency partnerships internal and external to lead institutions is a key enabler of delivery success.
  • Evaluation of delivery should be embedded across all project activities using clear logic model and mixed method approaches to ensure data collected accounted for failure. A designated evaluation lead is key.

Foundation years

The government and the OfS have some concerns about foundation years.  One of the recently published quality assessments by the OfS referred to a provider not ensuring insufficient academic support for foundation year students once they progressed onto the main programme – support should have continued for these students at higher levels.  This article from Wonkhe in October noted that:

  • To be fair, you would imagine that students that struggled at level 3 for reasons other than ability (and thus would be likely FY candidates) would continue to struggle when in higher education for the same reasons – poverty, lack of social capital, other responsibilities – that they had faced previously.

foundation year is not the same as a foundation degree. A foundation year is integrated with an undergraduate course, whereas a foundation degree is a standalone qualification.   We all get a bit confused about how the regulatory conditions apply: continuation is defined as year 1 to year 2: in this case that means foundation year to year 1 undergraduate.  Completion means completion of the undergraduate programme (for foundation year students that means 4 years, without a placement year, 5 with a placement).

You will recall that the government is worried about the cost and value add of foundation years.  The House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 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.

International

After the fuss earlier this year about international students allegedly accessing foundation year courses with lower grades than UK students and in the context of the government priorities on reducing migration, the Home Secretary has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the post-study work visa.

Although the report is not due until May, and recommendations may not be implemented for the start of the 24/25 academic year, this is likely to have a further chilling effect on international recruitment in September.  It is possible though that the government want steps to be taken before the election, the timetable means there will be no time for a call for evidence.

  • Initial data from the MAC annual report shows that the proportion of international students studying at lower tariff institutions has risen to 32% in 2021/22, while the number of [international] postgraduate students attending institutions with the lowest UCAS tariff quartiles has increased by over 250% between 2018 and 2022.
  • We are keen to understand the drivers behind this, including whether it is because people are using these courses as a long-term route to work in the UK. An international student can spend relatively little on fees for a one-year course and gain access to two years with no job requirement on the Graduate route, followed by four years access to a discounted salary threshold on the Skilled Worker route. This means international graduates are able to access the UK labour market with salaries significantly below the requirement imposed on the majority of migrant skilled workers. The Government is already taking steps to change the general salary threshold for the Skilled Worker Visa from £26,200 to £38,700, which will increase the requisite salary in order to switch routes, including with the applied discount.
  • Early data suggests that only 23% of students switching from the Graduate route to the Skilled Worker route in 2023 went into graduate level jobs. In 2023, 32% of international graduates switching into work routes earned a salary above the general threshold at the time (£26,200), with just 16% earning over £30,000 – meaning that the vast majority of those completing the Graduate route go into work earning less than the median wage of other graduates. Initial data shows that the majority of international students switching from the Graduate route into the Skilled Worker route go into care work. This is clearly not what the Government intended in the 2019 Manifesto when it pledged to establish the Graduate route to attract the best and brightest students to study in the UK.

Wonkhe has a piece.

In this context, the QAA has also announced a review of pre-entry courses for international students.

  • This review will compare the admissions requirements between foundation programmes for domestic students and international students, assess the standards of the courses being offered to international students as both foundation programmes and international year one programmes, and assess whether these standards are being achieved and maintained in practice.
  • QAA will publish the findings of this review by the end of Spring 2024.

And if you are not sure what these pathways for international students are or how much they are used, the Nous Group have a report out.

  • In-person delivery at a relevant university campus: this is the most common mode in the UK where many UK universities host a pathway provider building on one of their campuses.
  • In-person delivery at a pathway provider campus in the destination country: some pathway providers have study centres in the country in which students wish to study that are independent of a university campus.
  • In-person delivery at a partner university in the source country: foundation programmes offered by destination universities are often delivered via a partnership with an in-market university.
  • In-person delivery at a study centre partner of a pathway provider in the source country: not all pathway providers deliver education directly. Some partner with study centres across source countries to deliver pathway programmes designed and assessed by the provider.
  • Online delivery via the pathway provider learning platform: the expansion of providers into online delivery was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now multiple providers offer fully online foundation courses with guaranteed progression to a partner university on successful completion.

OfS funding review

The OfS has announced a consultation on how they fund the sector – not tuition fee funding but grant funding.  It closes on 23rd June and we will be considering a BU response.

Our current model of recurrent funding for higher education providers is based on assumptions that some activities cost more to deliver than others. This could relate to particular subjects; to supporting particular groups of students to achieve success; or to reflect the operating models of some types of providers. The two primary types of funding the OfS distributes are:

  • Course-based: This is a high-cost subject funding allocation – for example, for courses in medicine, or physics – and includes targeted allocations to address specific priority areas – for example degree apprenticeships, and skills at Levels 4 and 5. We do not provide funding for courses in subject areas, such as law and humanities, that are classroom-based and that do not need the same level of specialist facilities to teach.
  • Student-based: This is a funding allocation to recognise additional support needs of students from disadvantaged groups or groups historically less likely to participate in higher education. Student-based funding also includes funding for Uni Connect.

We want to hear views on the effectiveness of the two primary types of funding the OfS distributes: course-based funding and student-based funding.

First three questions by way of illustration

Question 1: What are your views on OfS course-based funding? We are interested in any views, and below are some prompts for respondents to consider:

•         Should the distribution of funding continue to primarily reflect the courses and subjects students are studying? Should we also consider additional factors and/or approaches for course-based funding?

•         What should we seek to achieve with course-based funding?

•         What activity is currently supported in providers by this funding?

•         Are there any areas of important provision that are currently not supported by our funding allocations?

•         How should our approach adapt in the future?

•         What assessment is currently made by providers of the impact of this funding

 

Question 2: What are your views on OfS student-based funding? We are interested in any views, and below are some prompts for respondents to consider:

•         Should the distribution of funding continue to reflect the characteristics of the student population at individual providers? Should we also consider alternative factors and/or characteristics and/or approaches for student-based funding?

•         What should we seek to achieve with student-based funding?

•         What activity is currently supported in providers by this funding?

•         How best can the OfS use this funding to support access, success and progress for students?

•         How should it be targeted?

•         What assessment is currently made by providers of the impact of this funding

 

Question 3: What are your views on OfS capital funding? We are interested in any views, and below are some prompts for respondents to consider:

•         What assessment is currently made by providers of the impact of this funding?

•         How should we strike an appropriate balance between formula funding and competitive bidding to allocate capital funding?

Is this good, normal practice to review this as it was last reviewed in 2012, or deeply worrying?  The suggestion that they might use quality data to determine funding is interesting. And there is no new money, it is just the way it is distributed that it is up for discussion.

Wonkhe have a view:

  • This is a very broad call for evidence – in section A for each of the streams detailed above OfS wants to hear what activity is currently supported, what value is added, and whether what OfS tries to achieve with these allocations is the right thing to be aiming at.
  • .. And then you get to section B, in which OfS suggests that we scrap HESES…. The new proposal (actually an old idea familiar to anyone who has been involved in this debate historically) is to scrap the December allocation entirely and use two year-old data (so the 2021-22 year end data informs the 2023-24 allocation), thus reducing burden for providers in submission and reconciliation…. My suspicion is that rapid changes in student numbers year-on-year (and, increasingly, in year) will make this idea quite a hard sell strategically. But in terms of practicalities, the crashing failure of Data Futures – it genuinely blows my mind that we still (in March 2024) don’t have official 2022-23 student number data – might mean that people are reluctant to let go of the various checks and balances in the current system.
  • …OfS has been clear that there are no “proposals” in this document, just a starting point for conversation. It’s just an odd time to start the conversation.
  • The other (tuition fee) end of the funding system is set up to use information on teaching quality and equality of opportunity – your TEF grade is meant to determine the extent of an annual inflationary uplift in the higher level fee cap, and access to this higher level is still predicated on the existence of a credible plan on access and participation. Building these factors into the old (largely atrophied) teaching grant end too feels like double counting – though there could be a case to link access to grant funding to a minimum level of teaching quality there would need to be a far more robust and widely supported method of determining this to keep OfS out of court.

Wonkhe have a graph of what everyone gets (BU gets nearly £7m). Nottingham University is the top with £49million.  There are all sorts of pots in here though, including capital, special projects, student premium, high cost courses, etc.  Nottingham’s was nearly all high cost subject funding, as was ours, although we had a relatively large chunk of student premium money too.

You’ll recall that capital allocations recently switched to competitive bidding from an allocation mechanism.

Apprenticeships

The PM is set to announce new funding for apprenticeships.

  • Rishi Sunak is promising to create up to 20,000 more apprenticeships with a series of reforms including fully funding training for young people and cutting red tape for small businesses.
  • The government will pay the full cost of apprenticeships for people aged 21 or under at small firms from 1 April. To enable this, it is pledging £60m of new investment for next year.
  • …In a speech to a conference for small businesses in Warwickshire, the prime minister will set out a package of reforms he says will “unlock a tidal wave of opportunity”. As well as funding the cost of apprenticeships, ministers will also raise the amount of funding companies who are paying the apprenticeship levy can pass on to other businesses.

The press release gives a bit more detail.

Lifelong learning entitlement

You will recall a deep dive into this in a recent policy update using the DFE’s concept paper.  The house of commons library has now issued a briefing paper.  It’s a good read, especially if you click through to the full paper, going back over all the history and context.  The LLE stuff starts on page 20.

There is a lot more consultation to come

  • In spring 2024, the Department for Education will launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding and lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in Parliament.
  • In autumn 2024, it will lay the secondary legislation that will set out the rest of the LLE funding system in Parliament.
  • In spring 2025, the LLE personal account will be launched for learners.
  • In autumn 2025, the Department for Education will launch the qualification gateway.
  • The Office for Students (OfS) will consult “in due course” on the development and introduction of a new third registration category for providers offering LLE-funded course and modules.

Free speech

The OfS consultation on free speech complaints panels has  now closed and we look forward to the outcomes.

As previously announced, the OfS has confirmed that there will be another consultation before the end of March, on the guidance for the sector and changes to the regulatory guidance.

  • We expect the proposed guidance to cover two broad areas: 
    • Examples where a provider, constituent institution or students’ union may not have taken steps to secure free speech; and
    • A non-exhaustive list of steps that it may be reasonably practicable for providers, constituent institutions and students’ unions to take to secure free speech within the law. This includes steps relating to the free speech code of practice.

This is a complex area and an 8 week consultation period is fairly tight.

BU Policy update 2024: no 6, 6th March 2024

Politics and Parliament

Budget

All the budget papers will be here as they are released.

BBC stories:

Politics Home has a summary

And what does the budget paper actually say about education and research?

  • Committing £14 million for public sector research and innovation infrastructure. This includes funding to develop the next generation of health and security technologies, unlocking productivity improvements in the public and private sector alike. (page 36). Otherwise the section on science and innovation on page 55 only refers to things already announced.
  • Something on life sciences (page 60): £45 million of additional funding for medical charities doing life-saving research

News story from the Treasury on an investment package in life sciences and R&D

Ahead of the Spring Budget this week, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has today (Monday 4 March) announced a significant investment package in the UK’s life sciences and manufacturing sectors, as part of the government’s plan to grow the economy, boost health resilience and support jobs across the UK. The funding will go towards several companies and projects who are making cutting edge technology in sectors key to economic growth and part of wider government support to ensure the UK is the best place to start, grow and invest in manufacturing.

  • Chancellor to announce significant funding package for R&D and manufacturing projects across the life sciences, automotive and aerospace sectors.
  • £92 million joint government and industry investment to expand facilities to manufacture life-saving medicines and diagnostics products.
  • £200 million joint investment in zero-carbon aircraft technology to develop a more sustainable aviation sector and almost £73 million in automotive technology.

New apprenticeships: From FE Week. The ministerial statement is here

  • Thirteen specially selected apprenticeships will receive a £3,000 per-apprentice funding boost from April, the Treasury has announced. 
  • The extra cash will come on top of usual funding bands but training providers will need to deliver a minimum of 15 starts to access it.

There is one level 5 in there: nuclear technician.

And the NHS?

  • the government will invest £3.4 billion to reform the way the NHS works. …
  • This investment in NHS technology will be central to a wider NHS productivity plan including workforce productivity improvements set out in the long term workforce plan. ….
  • £430 million will be invested to transform access and services for patients, giving them more choice and the ability to manage and attend appointments virtually, and enabling £2.5 billion savings over five years. …. These transformations include:
    • Making the NHS App the single front door through which patients can access NHS services and manage their care….
    • Digitally-enabled prevention and early intervention services, through the NHS App, introducing a new digital health check ….
    • Delivering a radically improved online experience for patients, giving citizens a single digital access point for information about NHS services…..
  • £1 billion will be invested to transform the use of data to reduce time spent on unproductive administrative tasks by NHS staff, enabling more than £3 billion of savings over five years. …. This includes:
    • Pilots to test the ability of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to automate back office functions. By automating the writing and clinical coding of notes, discharge summaries and GP letters, clinicians will be able to spend more time with patients at more appointments. ….
    • Providing all NHS staff with digital passports and access to a new NHS Staff App. …..
    • An acceleration of the Federated Data Platform (FDP) to bring together operational and ICS data currently stored on separate systems to every trust in the country by the end of 2026-27 ….
  • £2 billion will be invested to update fragmented and outdated IT systems across the NHS….This will also lay the groundwork for cutting-edge technologies such as AI, enabling the NHS to become a world leader in using technology. These steps include:
    • Upgrading IT systems, scaling up existing use of AI and ensuring all NHS staff are equipped with modern computing technology.
    • Ensuring all NHS Trusts have Electronic Patient Records by March 2026….
    • Upgrading over one hundred MRI scanners with AI, enabling scans to be delivered up to 35% more quickly…
    • Digitising transfers of care. …
  • The government and NHS England will convene an external expert advisory panel to ensure that the programme has the support and challenge to deliver its goals, including making the best use of new and emerging technologies.
  • A step change in the timeliness of data and reporting will also enable the NHS to identify and adapt the best policies for improving productivity more quickly. NHS England will start reporting against new productivity metrics regularly from the second half of 2024-25, at a national, Integrated Card Board (ICB) and Trust level. New incentives will be introduced to reward providers that deliver productivity improvement at a local level, including through effective investment helping to deliver better outcomes. Further detail will be set out in the summer.
  • Building on the progress already made, the government will work with NHS England to reduce the costs of agency staffing, including ending the use of expensive “off-framework” agency staffing from July 2024, while ensuring that emergency cover can continue.
  • Alongside this, the NHS will introduce a wider set of measures to review agency price caps, tighten controls and rules around agency staffing, and improve support and transparency. Further details will be set out in the NHS’ Planning Guidance, which will be published shortly.
  • Maternity safety: The government and NHS England are investing £35 million over three years to improve maternity safety across England, with specialist training for staff, additional midwives and support to ensure maternity services act on women’s experiences to improve care…including:
    • We will train an additional 6,000 midwives in neonatal resuscitation and nearly double the number of clinical staff who have received specialist training in obstetric medicine in England.
    • Increasing the number of midwives by funding 160 new posts over three years

Britain’s mood, measured weekly

YouGov measure the mood of the country weekly, you can find it here.  They also measure government approval.

Politics Home have an updated list of MPs standing down at the next election.

  • So far, 95 MPs have announced their intention to stand down as MPs at the next general election. At the last general election in 2019, a total of 74 MPs announced that they would not stand again…
  • Conservative: 59 Conservative MPs and 4 independent MPs (Matt Hancock, Julian Knight, Lisa Cameron. Bob Stewart no longer hold the Tory whip)
  • Labour: 17 Labour MPs and 2 independent MPs (Nick Brown and Conor McGinn no longer hold the Labour whip)
  • 13 other party MPs (9 SNP, 2 Sinn Féin, 1 Green, 1 Plaid Cymru)

What is perhaps more telling is the fact that many of those stepping back from frontline politics are relatively young, in their 30s and 40s. While the Tory MPs stepping down have an average age of 56 years, Labour MPs stepping down have an average age of 69, mostly made up of veteran MPs retiring from long professional lives in Parliament.

Research and knowledge exchange: war on woke

You will recall the huge fuss in October 2023 about Michelle Donelan’s somewhat intemperate intervention in UKRI governance when she called out members of the Research England Expert Advisory Group on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for expressing allegedly “extremist views” on social media.  The Minister demanded that the group be disbanded and people sacked. UKRI launched an investigation.  One of the people implicated, Professor Kate Sang, took legal action against the Minister.

On 5th March, several things happened:

  • UKRI reported that the investigation had exonerated all the advisory board members involved and reinstated them to the panel
  • It is reported that the Minister has paid damages and costs (or rather that the department has on her behalf).  Bindmans, the law firm who represented Professor Sang,  issued a statement.
  • The Liberal Democrats demand an inquiry into why the taxpayer is funding the payments.
  • Michelle Donelan issued a statement on X confirming she has withdrawn her concerns expressed in the tweet.

Poppy Wood, from the I newspaper, has it all set out in a thread on X. Research Professional has a timeline of what happened.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

Student experience: the Student Futures commission

This report from the UPP Student Futures Foundation includes new polling about student experiences.  Some of the splits by demographic are very interesting.

  • 79% of students agreed that their university had given them all the support they needed to prepare for the start of term. The splits here suggest that different support is needed by the “low socio-economic status” students
  • 74% of students were working at or above the academic level they expected to be.
  • 74% of students agreed with the statement “I feel happy at university”, and 63% agreed with the statement “I feel I belong at my university”  In the original report, findings highlight that students are more likely to feel a connection with their course (55%) than with their university (39%). This gap has widened: now, 56% of students feel a sense of attachment to their course, and only 17% to their university overall.

Mental health

  • 57% agreed that university had had a positive impact on their mental health overall (though over 1/5th (22%) of students felt it had had a negative impact overall).
  • Over a quarter (27%) of students would be uncomfortable contacting their university for support if they were struggling with their mental health.
  • 60% of students were confident that if they contact their university for support when they were struggling with their mental health, that the university would be able to help them.

Teaching and learning: while 57% report having fully in person learning, only 42% think that is ideal.  Most of the rest want a mix: fully or mostly online are not the popular choices.

Social and engagement:

  • 44% of students were less engaged with extracurricular activities than they were expecting to be, and a quarter (25%) had never engaged at all.
  • 50% of students had not had any specific conversations or guidance about future careers with staff at their university;
  • 72% felt there was more their university could do to integrate workplace skills into the curriculum

Disabled students

The update a few weeks ago talked about getting to know our students.  Here we have a focus on some of the challenges and outcomes for students with disabilities.  Wonkhe’s take on the UPP report discussed above is here: Disabled students need more than support plans and “fixing” | Wonkhe: looking at the polling behind the report in more detail highlights the challenges with belonging that some groups experience, focusing on disability in particular as the largest group

Shaw Trust launched a report, ‘The disability employment gap for graduates’.  It’s an interesting read.

And the challenges are real: AGCAS launched the ‘What happens next in challenging times?’ report, analysing 2020 and 2021 Graduate Outcomes data for disabled graduates:

  • The total employment of disabled graduates at all levels of qualification was lower than the total employment of graduates with no known disability in both 2019/20 and 2020/21.
  • In both years, for first degree and postgraduate taught, autistic graduates reported the lowest proportion of highly skilled employment, followed by graduates with mental health conditions
  • In 2019/20 and 2020/21, the majority of first degree disabled graduates were more likely than graduates with no known disability to work in roles that did not require their qualification.

The recommendations are:

•         Maintain focus on the total employment gap for disabled graduates, to ensure that positive progress in outcomes for the wider graduate population does not obscure continued inequality of employment opportunities and outcomes for disabled graduates. Within data on disabled graduate outcomes, further breakdown by disability type is needed to highlight variance amongst the outcomes of disabled graduates.

•         Higher education institutions and employers should adopt the relevant recommendations in the 2023 Disabled Student Commitment. All stakeholders should consider how to effectively support and resource appropriate higher education careers and employability activity, to work towards reducing, and ultimately eliminating, the total employment gap for disabled graduates.

•         All bodies collecting quantitative data on graduate outcomes should look to ensure parity of data between disabled graduates and graduates with no known disability, as well as providing a breakdown of data by disability type to highlight variance amongst the outcomes of disabled graduates. Alongside this, there is a need for more qualitative data on disability disclosure during and after higher education participation.

•         Further research and data on the experiences and outcomes of autistic graduates are urgently needed. A collaborative approach from sector bodies, higher education institutions and employers is vital, and all work must centre the voices of autistic students and graduates.

•         Higher education institutions should review their long-term employability support for recent graduates to help mitigate any additional barriers to successful graduate transition and prioritise support for disabled graduates to prevent the compounding of existing inequalities of outcome.

Wonkhe have a blog from the authors: There is still an unacceptable gap in employment outcomes for disabled graduates | Wonkhe:

  • The pipeline is not so much leaky as blocked, to the detriment of our society. The barriers that disabled graduates, and the wider disabled population, experience in seeking, securing and maintaining good work are significant, varied and complex. Disabled people are often actively excluded from employment, directly or indirectly, as illustrated by the overall disability employment gap.
  • It is also worth remembering that our new research projects only focus on accessing work. Once in work, disabled people continue to experience inequality, with the disability pay gap currently standing at 13.8 per cent. There is a long way to go here.

Loan forgiveness for nursing students

As covered in the last update, there is a challenge with recruitment to nursing courses.

MillionPlus and the Royal College of Nursing have written to the Chancellor ahead of the budget

  • To fulfil the ambitious goals outlined in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, the annual intake of nursing students needs to average 29,000 between 2023 and 2031, solely to meet the NHS’s staffing requirements. Universities, and in particular modern universities who train around 70% of new nurses, stand ready to meet this challenge. However, the current pipeline, represented by the 2023/24 nursing student cohort, stands at only 22,470, highlighting a significant shortfall. To further complicate matters, current recruitment efforts primarily rely on overseas professionals, posing long-term sustainability challenges for the NHS. Further compounding this critical situation, university admission figures reveal a worrying 26% decline in nursing applications over the past two years, making a bad situation worse.
  • The burden of student debt coupled with real terms cuts in maintenance grants for nursing students act as significant disincentives for talented individuals to pursue this vital career path. These financial pressures are part of a vicious cycle of understaffing, ultimately jeopardising the quality of care delivered by our NHS.
  • To address this critical challenge, we urge you to seize the opportunity presented by the Spring Budget and invest in a loan forgiveness model for nursing graduates working in public services

Research Professional have the story.

And it seems there is public support for this: A YouGov poll: MillionPlus has a blog:

  • MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, has today commented (5 March) on polling by YouGov which shows overwhelming public backing for a fee loan forgiveness scheme for nurses.
  • In total, three quarters (76%) of the public backed the measure in polling conducted by YouGov ahead of Wednesday’s budget. Support for the policy was shown by all age groups, with those 65+ most in favour (78%). The scheme received majority support from the voters of all three main parties (Con, 73%, Lab, 89%, Lib Dem, 79%).

International: Falling international recruitment

Government data published on 29th February includes numbers of sponsored study visas.

These students are expected to leave the UK: Analysis from the Migrant journey: 2022 reportshows that most foreign students do not remain in the UK indefinitely. Around 4 in 5 of those arriving on study routes had expired leave 5 years later. Since 2007, fewer than 10% of people who came to study in the UK had indefinite leave to remain 10 years later (compared to over 20% who came for work and over 80% for family reasons). The recent introduction of the Graduate route and other factors may change the proportion of students who stay on in the UK, which will be monitored in due course through the annual migrant journey reports.

This Wonkhe blog predicts this decline will continue: the change of rules on dependants will be part of it, but so also is cost of living for all these students, especially dramatically for Nigeran applicants given the changes in the value of the Nigerian currency which have made the UK a very expensive place to be.

And this one makes very worrying reading in terms of the impact of all this.: Will international recruitment fall even further? | Wonkhe.

HE sector sustainability and change

Outreach work

For a long time the sector has been pushed to do more with schools, not to support recruitment but to improve attainment for students in those schools.  At one point there was a suggestion that all universities should be required to sponsor schools.  A policy update from November 2017 has this:

  • At the UUK Access and Student Success summit on Tuesday a Government representative made clear that broader (and effective) forms of partnership working are welcome but that they expect more universities to be involved in a school sponsorship style model.
  • Background: In December 2016 the Government made clear that they expected universities to be more interventionist proposing that all universities sponsor or set up a school in exchange for charging higher HE tuition fees. The Schools that work for everyone consultation garnered responses to the Government’s aim to harness universities’ expertise and resources to drive up attainment through direct involvement. When the snap election was announced the school sponsorship agenda featured in the Conservative’s manifesto. However, recently there has been little additional push from Government.
  • Working quietly in the wings throughout this period, OFFA have been urging institutions to make progress against a more diluted version of the Government’s aim – that universities take measures to support school pupils’ attainment and increase school collaboration through the Fair Access Agreements

The analysis of responses to the consultation showed that the sector did not universally welcome this approach:

  • The consultation received a wide range of suggestions for how universities can best support school level attainment. This included support for students, support for teachers and support for schools in primary, secondary and further education. However, while the idea of school support was broadly welcomed, not all agreed that traditional, formal, academy sponsorship arrangements should be prioritised over other forms of school engagement.…
  • In addition to the specific questions asked in the consultation, some respondents raised concerns about higher education institutions being required to sponsor schools and support attainment in schools. These included some uncertainty about the extent to which universities’ sponsorship will guarantee improvements in attainment, caution about the impact the policy would have on other methods of engagement, and opposition to tuition fees in general. …
  • … the consultation received over 2,600 suggestions for how academic expertise at universities could help improve school-level attainment. Suggestions could be categorised into three broad areas: support for pupils; support for schools; and support for teachers. These respondents said that universities had a role to play in supporting primary, secondary and further education, and often cited multiple types of support suggesting that it is important that universities make a contribution across a number of different fronts simultaneously. However, higher education institutions and their representative bodies were opposed to a prescriptive approach – for example school sponsorship – due to concerns that this would limit the number of schools that are supported, and the number of pupils reached, compared to the diverse approaches currently taken.

The outcome from the consultation from 2016 referred to above was published in 2018.  On this question it concluded: The Government endorses this guidance [from the Office for Students, about Access and Participation plans] and expects more universities to come forward to be involved in school sponsorship and establishing free schools, although support need not be limited to those means. What is important is that institutions can clearly demonstrate the impact their support is having on schools and pupils.

Since then the guidance on access and participation has changed several times as has the Director for Fair Access.  In this Insight Brief from April 2022 we were told:

  • The government has signalled that it expects ‘to see the whole higher education sector stepping up and taking a greater role in continuing to raise aspirations and standards in education’. Money spent by universities on access and participation should be ‘used effectively and in line with evidence to deliver real social mobility’…
  • In the next phase of the Uni Connect programme, we are expecting partnerships to develop evidence-informed collaborative approaches to raise attainment in local state secondary schools, acting as a broker, drawing on the resources and input of local higher education providers. We expect them to continue to engage schools and colleges to deliver higher education outreach with the aim of supporting young people to make informed choices about their options in relation to the full range of routes into and through higher education, including through apprenticeships.

So now we hear from Public First, commissioned by the OfS to review UniConnect.  The report is here.

•         There is a strong underlying case for some form of centrally funded programme to encourage and deliver high quality collaborative outreach.

o   Collaborative outreach has been a feature of the system in England for more than two decades. Uni Connect is the latest of five (or depending on how we count it, six) centrally funded collaborative outreach programmes in that time.

o   The literature review conducted as part of this review reveals a strong case in principle for collaborative outreach over and above action which might be taken by individual HEIs.

§  Because HEIs have incentive to focus outreach activity on recruiting students to their own institution, especially students who are statistically more likely to attend and perform well throughout and beyond their courses. This would damage equality of opportunity for students that are currently underrepresented.

§  Because regulatory requirements to address this risk through Access and Participation Plans are still likely to incentivise individual action by universities, and thus lead to inefficacy, duplication of effort and gaps in outreach for some places and groups of students.

§  Because such collective action is likely to require additional funding since it is unlikely to be offered voluntarily at scale.

•         At their best, collaborative outreach programmes can be transformative for individuals and provide the ‘connective tissue’ that strengthens higher education access within regions and nationally.

•         Uni Connect could be more consistently effective and impactful.

o   National gaps in access to higher education between the most and least advantaged students have not narrowed during the lifetime of Uni Connect – and there is little evidence at a macro level of a reduction in the participation gap between Uni Connect target areas and the rest of the country

•         There is evidence of several reasons for Uni Connect not consistently delivering to its potential.

Research Professional have the story.

  • The reports find that “for many in higher education, and in Uni Connect partnerships themselves, the new focus on attainment-raising represents a further dilution of Uni Connect’s mission and an expansion into work that sits outside partnerships’ core competencies”.
  • For schools, this new direction “has been a poorly explained (and even outright unwelcome) incursion into work they view as their own core competency”, the consultancy adds.
  • John Blake, director of fair access and participation at the OfS, said: “As you can imagine, that was pretty hard reading for me, but I’ve spent two years telling people that you can’t just have the evidence you like—you have to pay attention to the evidence you don’t,” he said.
  • Blake added that he wasn’t about to “surrender my belief that what happens in earlier phases of education makes a difference to higher education, because that seems to be unarguable”. However, he did say that today’s reports had given him pause for thought about the best approach to that issue.

So maybe there will be a change in approach?

Franchising investigation

I explained last week the background to the public accounts committee investigation into franchised provision and specifically into student loan fraud linked to franchisees. I listened to some of the oral hearing session with the OfS and others and the transcript is here.  I’ve set out quite a lot because it is interesting, not specifically in relation to the particular fraud problem at the relevant institutions, but because of the perspective on the system and the sector as a whole.  Fascinating.

The committee started with an explanation of how student loan finance works and a focus on how much it costs the student (this set the tone for some of what came later): the Chair asked: “What assessment have you made of the affordability of student loan debt—for example, in the context of the cost of living or the affordability of housing –when setting repayment terms such as the interest rates and the length of loans? This is a huge burden that we are saddling youngsters with. I know from one of my employees that it makes a huge difference, when you are applying for a mortgage later on in life, if you are still saddled with this huge debt.”  Then there was a long discussion about defining the question, which was really what the actual debt is (i.e. over the lifetime of the loan with interest) and what is repaid and Susan Acland-Hood of the DfE had to agree to provide the data separately.

Then they went straight in with “what assurance can you give us that you are taking the fraud and abuse of student funding seriously?”.   The answer from Susan Acland-Hood was that the DfE are doing a lot, of course, but for this purpose the definition of “abuse” given was broad.

  • There are three risks that are different but related to each other.
    • There is an individual fraud risk, where somebody is trying to defraud the taxpayer of money that could be paid out in, typically, student maintenance payments—individuals who claim to be studying when they are not or who are trying to defraud the system.
    • You then have a related set of risks around something that is a bit more like misuse or mis-selling—people trying to persuade students, who themselves are more genuine than the fraudulent ones at this end, that they should engage in higher education, but where the principal aim is about gathering tuition fee payments. There may be less curiosity and interest, to put it mildly, from providers in whether what they are delivering is of really good quality.
    • Then you have a set of concerns around poor quality provision, which might not be from any bad intent, but is not serving students as well as it should be.

There was a long discussion about failures of the OfS. DfE and the SLC to talk to each other about the actual fraud case that is discussed in the NAO report on the fraud.  They all said that they are now sharing information more effectively.  The OfS spoke about the work they have done to impose additional reporting requirements on some providers and the formal investigation that was published last week.

The Chair asked another straightforward question “Why are the course outcomes poorer for those franchised higher education providers?”.  The OfS explained the B3 licence conditions on student outcomes and how they are benchmarked according to student demographics and the subjects that they are studying.

And, as we know:

  • We have been escalating our casework on those student outcomes cases over the past year. That work has covered some of these providers, but, as colleagues have said, for the next cycle, we are going to prioritise looking at the outcomes for students who are studying through those franchised arrangements, to make sure that we are having a really good look at what is happening for them and at the detail of the outcomes in particular partnerships for particular providers.

There was a conversation about guidelines for the use of agents and financial incentives.  Susan Acland-Hood confirmed:

  • We have been talking to the sector about agents. Universities UK has worked to introduce the UK agent quality framework, which is designed to make sure that agents are being well used in the system. Agents have a positive role to play but need to be operating responsibly and acting in a way that is genuinely in students’ interests. On the back of more recent reports, we have also started a rapid investigation into the use of agents, both domestically and internationally, in order to protect students’ interests. Alongside that, Universities UK has committed to reviewing the agent quality framework and updating the admissions code of practice to make clear how that applies, particularly to students studying foundation degrees, which is one of the focuses of recent attention. There have also been commitments from others in the sector that they will make sure that they abide by the updated agent quality framework when it is produced

And Susan Lapworth for the OfS said:

  • We have seen, for instance, weaknesses in the internal control environment for the lead providers, suggesting that they do not have the grip that we would expect over the recruitment activity of those delivery partners, including where agents are used. We have monitored the actions that those lead providers are taking to resolve those internal control issues. More broadly, we are always clear for these sorts of providers, as well as for all providers that we regulate, that they are subject to consumer protection law. …More recently, we have entered into a partnership with National Trading Standards, which is able to enforce consumer law. We are referring cases to them to show that we are serious when we say that compliance is not optional in this sector.

There was a discussion about the financial sustainability of the sector.

Then a really interesting point about the funding arrangements for franchise provision:

  • Chair: …When I and other members of the Committee read this, it made our blood absolutely boil. It is the bit that clearly you know only too well. It is about the amount of deductions that can take place when lead providers have franchise arrangements. You pay the student loan to the lead provider, but the lead provider, as the report says, can deduct between 12.5% and 30%. 30% can be deducted. The poor student who is taking out the loan does not even know anything about it. That is completely unacceptable, is it not? Even the worst credit cards only take 19%. That is completely unacceptable. They do not know the deduction even exists.
  • Susan Acland-Hood: Just to be clear, that is a deduction from the tuition fee amount, not from maintenance or other loans that would otherwise go into the student’s pocket. In a sense, it represents the value that the lead provider should be adding in making sure that the provision is of good quality. I would agree with you. Amounts at the upper end of that are interesting.
  • Chair: It is not interesting. I would put it to you that it is unacceptable. It is particularly unacceptable that the student is not being made aware of this. If I take out a mortgage, my financial provider has to provide every piece of information under the sun, including how much the introductory agent is being paid and how much that is worth over the term of the mortgage. Why are we not having more transparency in this area of student loans?
  • …Julia Kinniburgh from the DFE: At the moment, it is for the lead provider to think about the arrangement that they want to have with their franchisee, but it is questionable for that not to be transparent and open. That is one of the things where we want to think about whether we should take further action in that space
  • Chair: I put it to you that it is not questionable; it is egregious and it is wrong. I wonder what you can do to put it right.
  • …. Susan Lapworth: Yes, some of these figures have become visible to us as we have done the work that we talked about earlier. I agree that some of those numbers are quite shocking. Interestingly, there is also quite a range. Some are less shocking than others. Like DfE colleagues, we are concerned about what this might be telling us about the amount of that tuition fee payment, the £9,250 a year, that is being spent on making sure the courses are high quality as they are delivered to students. Those are the sharp questions that we have been posing for vice-chancellors. If the lead provider is taking that kind of percentage from the fee and the delivery provider is generating a profit or surplus from the enterprise, that squeezes down the amount of money that is being spent on students. That is of concern to us. ….
  • Chair: I hear all of that. Ms Acland-Hood, should this information be in the public domain so that every student applying for every course in the country can see what these deductions are? Sunlight is the best form of disinfectant; so is transparency. There is too much secrecy involved here. Why can we not make these arrangements fully transparent?
  • Susan Acland-Hood: As you are hearing, a lot of us think that would be a very sensible thing to do. It is under discussion with Ministers now.

Then there was a discussion about how to improve controls, mandatory registration of franchise providers etc.

A question was asked about providers who had been refused registration then becoming franchise providers: Susan Lapworth said that 20 providers have been refused registration and she was aware of 2 that had become franchise providers.

There was a discussion about monitoring attendance and engagement.

There is some published written evidence.  The UUK evidence refers to this last point about attendance and engagement:

  • We recommend that in following the NAO’s suggestion, if the Department for Education (DfE) is to develop further guidance on what constitutes meaningful engagement, that the DfE first consult with the sector to understand where there might be gaps in current approaches and where further guidance is necessary. We also recommend consideration is given to whether the OfS should lead this process, and how the regulator and government can work together with the sector on this issue to avoid the complexity of similar yet distinct expectations being created.

Congratulations to Prof. Sara Ashencaen Crabtree

Congratulations to Sara Ashencaen Crabtree, Professor of Social and Cultural Diversity, on the publication of her latest book An Historiography of Women’s Missionary Nursing Through the Lives of Two Sisters: Doing the Lord’s work in Kenya and South India (published by Routledge).

This book employs both ethnographic and secondary, archival data, drawing on a rich, fascinating trove of original material from the pre-1940s to the present day.  It offers a unique historiographic study of twentieth century Methodist missionary work and women’s active expression of faith, practised at the critical confluence of historical and global changes. The study focuses on two English Methodist missionary nursing Sisters and siblings, Audrey and Muriel Chalkely, whose words and experiences are captured in detail, foregrounding tumultuous socio-political changes of the end of Empire and post-Independence in twentieth century Kenya and South India.

This work presents a timely revision to prevailing postcolonial critiques in placing the fundamental importance of human relationships centre stage. Offering a detailed (auto)biographical and reflective narrative, this ‘herstory’ pivots on three main thematic strands relating to peopleplace and passion, where socio-cultural details are vividly explored. 

This book pays tribute to our former colleague, Professor Fran Biley.  As part of a wider oral history project entitled “Memories of Nursing” Fran Biley interviewed two British sisters who had retired to the South of England.  The two sisters, Muriel and Audrey, followed very similar missionary career paths in two different former British colonies.  Two sisters spent a total of 54 years working as Methodist missionaries in India and Kenya, one as a nurse, the other as a midwife.  Fran collected over 10 hours of interview data, as well as old videos, a suitcase of 35mm slides, albums full of old photographs, letters and personal papers from the two sisters.   Unfortunately, Fran died far too young in November 2012, before the rich data could be analysed.  Sara conducted further extensive interviews with Muriel and others who knew them, as well as undertaking a huge detective hunt to find a considerable amount of secondary data pertaining to the sisters and other Methodist missionaries across UK archives.  I am glad to be able to report that  Dr Muriel Chalkley, whose life is portrayed in the book, received an Honorary Doctorate from Bournemouth University in recognition of her services to nursing.

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery & Women’ Health (CMWH)

 

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).