Category / international

HE policy update for the w/e 1st March 2019

It’s a big week for TEF and new guidance is out on access and participation.  No real news on the post-18 review but it’s apparently coming “in the Spring”.  Policy watchers will remember that these terms are flexible in government circles – optimists enjoying the recent sunshine and the daffodils will think Spring is upon us but officially we’re still in Winter (and all the snow last year was in March)– and Spring could mean June….when Brexit may still be a big distraction….

With that in mind, we’ve saved Brexit for the end – and it’s only a short comment.

Independent Review of the TEF

1st March was the deadline for the call for evidence for the Independent Review of the TEF.  BU submitted a response which you can read here.

The UUK submission was widely covered in the press, mostly because they were very critical of subject level TEF. Their press release says: In this report, UUK – representing 136 university members – states that overall the TEF is having a tangible effect on the sector, but there is still some way to go to improve the system. In particular, UUK calls on the government to reconsider plans for subject-level assessment following the challenges arising from pilots in 89 universities, and to look again at its value for students, universities and taxpayers.  In it, UUK concludes:

  • The TEF is having an impact on the sector, in teaching and learning strategies and the monitoring of outcome measures.
  • It is however hard to gather conclusive evidence of its contribution to teaching and learning experience and outcomes.
  • Its definition of excellence is weighted heavily towards employment outcomes, without full consideration of a student’s overall study experience and the wider benefits of teaching and learning for students and society.
  • Awareness of the TEF is still low among students while gradual and piecemeal changes have made it complicated for them to understand or to use it most effectively.
  • New governance arrangements should be made to ensure the government, the Office for Students, students and providers have a clear stake in strategic decision-making.
  • A year into piloting subject-level assessment, there is considerable doubt over whether this will drive real value for students, while it is adding significant complexity and cost which could divert resource from other student-focused areas.

UUK believes that plans for subject-level TEF should not proceed until the limitations of the methodology, its resource impact, and the actual value of its contribution to student decision-making, have been fully considered.

Estimates from UUK put the cost of taking part in year two of the TEF at £4 million for participating universities, a figure which would increase significantly with a full roll out of subject-level assessment. UUK is calling for further consideration to be given to whether the aims of subject-level assessment could be met through existing or alternative information sources such as Unistats, university websites and league tables. Further work into this area should also look at the risks of the subject-level TEF; including concerns around the quality of the data and metrics, and their ability to support students in important and complex decisions.

William Hammonds of UUK writes about the UUK response on Wonkhe here:

the focus should be on ensuring institutional TEF makes a positive contribution to teaching, learning and student decision-making before significantly increasing the complexity of the exercise. Our concerns are:

  • Subject-level assessment will be large, complex and costly and won’t produce reliable judgements.
  • It won’t support good quality teaching and learning and instead will encourage universities to chase rankings.
  • It won’t help student decision-making, only adding to the volume of information already out there.

David Morris, formerly of Wonkhe and now of the University of Greenwich, writes on Wonkhe about how to rescue the TEF and make it worthwhile

  •  Part of the government’s problem in persuading the sector, students, and wider public of the need for TEF has been its insistence that it is about enabling better student choice. This is clearly complete tosh, and is being borne out by early data we have on students’ general unawareness and indifference about an institution’s TEF rating.
  • Long-time readers of Wonkhe may well remember that the real genesis of TEF (and indeed the entire new regulatory regime) came as much from government officials’ belief that universities were held insufficiently accountable for teaching quality under the old quality assurance regime, particular compared to research, as much as it came from any Tory ideologues’ insistence of creating a market for student choice.…Greater honesty about TEF’s role in asserting the public as well as student interest in university accountability would also better reflect what we have finally acknowledged about higher education funding: ultimately, the taxpayer is footing most of the bill. Acknowledging this fact, as well as the wider limits of marketisation, could lead to an accountability exercise with greater scope for nuance, recognition of diversity, and more conducive towards actually making teaching and learning better.

He defends benchmarking (which we agree with – although we have concerns about forced differentiation)

  • But we shouldn’t overlook the instances where TEF has pointed us in the direction of a more progressive and fairer assessment of the state of the UK university sector. This is most notable in the instance of benchmarking TEF metrics, by far the biggest leap forward in assessing UK universities’ quality of student experience upon their actual merits rather than irrelevant and archaic qualities such as ancientness, research power, or international prestige. Benchmarking is what distinguishes TEF from the traditional media league tables, by acknowledging that different institutions’ student characteristics give them a different starting point from which to be evaluated.
  • I really hope that the Pearce Review does not abandon this approach. If TEF abandons benchmarking and moves in a more qualitative direction, the spectre of the early-nineties teaching quality assessments might begin to emerge, with judgements on the quality of teaching being made almost concurrently with perceptions of prestige and research quality. This would be a huge step backwards.

And urges the review to drop LEO (something we also agree with – it is interesting but the data can’t tell you anything about current courses, if it can tell you anything about courses at all….what it tells you about is the economic and employment situation of students who graduated a number of years ago, which may or may not have much to do with their university studies…)

  • Regular readers of Wonkhe will know that I am far from a LEO cynic. Indeed, I am really enthused about the power that richer data about graduate employment outcomes for better policy making in higher and further education and about the youth labour-market efforts to make society more just.
  • But beyond ideological objections (which are well documented elsewhere), on a practical level, TEF is not the right place for the DfE to play with its sparkly new toy. The piloted inclusion of two new supplementary LEO metrics in TEF appears to have produced bizarre results. Upon brief examination of the national data, the spread of outcomes once benchmarked across providers appears to be very narrow, with few providers securing either a positive or a negative flag. Under the current flagging system, if a new TEF metric does not show a sufficient spread of performance, it is hard for me to see how it will aid panel decision making or provide much value.
  • Then there is the lag effect of LEO’s inclusion in TEF. If TEF 2020-21 goes ahead as planned, it will include assessment of the graduate employment and salary outcomes of students who entered university in 2008 (i.e. my own fresher year). It will also assess those graduates’ employment outcomes in the 2014-15 tax year. This seems nonsensical, both in fairly assessing institutional performance, and in providing information to applicants.

Post-18 review

After we trailed the Augar report it didn’t come out – and we aren’t now sure when it will.  The PM answered a question about it in PMQs this week – “Philip Augar and his panel are working on the report and we will look seriously at the proposals they bring forward”.

The House of Commons library has published a research briefing on the post-18 education and funding review. The covering note:

  • says that the review is due to report I the Spring 2019 – so presumably that is still the plan.
  • confirms that the Review recommendations will be consistent with the Government’s fiscal policies to reduce the deficit
  • says that the recommendations will not place a cap on the number of students who can access post-18 education.
  • This briefing paper discusses the Review process and gives an outline of the post 18 funding system in England.
  • It includes helpful links to some of the mission group and other influential responses to the original call for evidence – ours is here
  • It suggests possible options for reform that the Review may propose, such as the lowering of higher education tuition fees and analyses the impact of these proposals in detail, including looking at the Treasury Committee and House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee reports, which we have reviewed in this update previously.
  • It includes a summary of impact

The BBC have published this story suggesting the reasons for the delay are Brexit plus a disagreement about the outcomes of the review – which may have pushed it back to the drawing board…

  • But it seems increasingly likely that the all-consuming politics and economic uncertainty of Brexit have pushed back the review.
  • There are also claims of significant differences in what 10 Downing Street, the Treasury and the Department for Education want from the shake-up of fees. According to sources, a headline cut in fees is seen as important for the prime minister’s office – described as being the “retail offer” needed to respond to Labour in a general election.
  • The Treasury does not want to commit to extra direct funding while there is such uncertainty about future public finances. But at the same time, the Department for Education is reluctant to go ahead with a cut in students’ fees until it is clear how that income could be replaced.
  • The debate is said to be “stuck on the roundabout” – and even when the Augar review publishes its findings, there could be delays before the government responds with any decision.
  • This might not be until the autumn or later – in a political calendar full of uncertainties about budgets, elections and leaders.
  • However, other senior university figures say the prime minister might want to push ahead with changing fees as soon as Brexit has been achieved, as a way of showing the government still has a grip on domestic policy.
  • There are also arguments that when the review is so strongly linked to Theresa May, any change at the top could see it disappearing into the long grass. Charles Heymann, a higher education consultant who formerly worked at the DfE, says: “It wouldn’t be the first education review to end up gathering dust on Whitehall shelves.”

In the meantime, the lobbying continues.  Shakira Martin, the NUS president, wrote for Wonkhe.

  • I’m still adamant that maintenance grants need to return, so we support working class students and put an end to the obscene situation whereby they graduate with the highest student loan debts. The Diamond Review in Wales shows this can be done in a way that really ensures the poorest students are properly supported, and we know that the Augar has looked at the findings of Diamond in detail. On top of that, just about every voice in the sector, including UUK, the Russell Group and Million Plus argues they should return, so I remain hopeful.
  • We also need to provide better funding for those on part-time or distance learning courses, or otherwise support flexible learning – this should include targeted support like childcare funding for part-time students and travel grants for commuters. The decision to scrap NHS bursaries for nurses, midwives and other healthcare professions needs revisited as it has clearly failed those students and the health service.
  • There are lots of other changes we have suggested that would make a huge difference to students such as monthly student support payments monthly to help students budget or increasing the threshold for maximum support from £25,000 for the first time in over a decade. And all this is not even to start on adult learning – student support is inadequate in HE – but at least it exists. We need to radically improve the offer for those in FE and I think the Augar panel will recognise that too.

And HEPI have a blog by Andy Nicol, Managing Director at QS Enrolment Solution about a student survey about the perspectives of prospective students:

  • This year’s survey (of 1,700 respondents, mostly aged 16-18) sought to unpack what they believe to be the appropriate balance between their individual investment in their degree and that of the state.”
  • 39% of respondents say that the debt they will take on makes them less likely to apply to university than they otherwise would. It is perhaps not surprising then that overwhelmingly (88%) survey respondents believe that Government should be funding at least half of the teaching cost of an undergraduate degree. These prospective students also said that their tuition fees being spent on student accommodation, course facilities, careers support and links to employers would represent a return on their investment.
  • HEPI’s own research last year found that 74% of students want more information on where their fees go. According to university accounts, the research also found that typically only around 45% of each student’s fee goes on the direct costs of teaching – such as staff salaries. The majority of the remainder is also spent on areas that benefit students. After teaching, the next biggest cost is buildings. Then come other high priorities like information technology, student support services (such as counselling and careers advice), widening participation activities and the students’ union. 
  • … Now is the time for Government to work more closely with universities to ensure it communicates how potential new funding arrangements will represent value for money. With political, economic and demographic challenges facing the sector, it is more important than ever that institutions understand how to engage better with potential recruits. That’s why as part of this report we have published an Action Plan for Domestic Student Recruitment in 2019to help universities and Government do just that.

Widening participation

The OfS published guidance for institutions to produce their new Access and Participation plans for 2020/21. Key points include:

  • The removal of the guideline percentage of how much of the higher fee income an institution should spend on widening participation, success and progression activities.
  • The OfS has stated institutions can expect increased scrutiny, rigour and challenge on their plans, in part to kickstart the stagnation of social mobility. Including consideration of whether institutions are at risk of breaching their conditions of registration with the OfS.
  • Focussed, evidenced, analysis of an institution’s current performance will link with the institution’s strategic aims and priorities for rectifying inequalities in access, student performance and attainment, and progression. The OfS will assess the feasibility of an institution’s aims and the appropriateness and challenge within the chosen targets.
  • All targets should be outcomes based, rather than measuring outputs.
  • A greater focus and breakdown on ‘investment’ (spend) is required for access measures. This fits with current Government rhetoric on ensuring widening access spend is effective and focussed towards the most efficient and successful outcomes (supported by robust evidence of impact).
  • Evaluation, impact and research of widening participation interventions remains important.
  • All providers are expected to use the POLAR measure (number of young local population that progress to HE) to provide a level of consistency and comparability. A national Access and Participation dataset is also expected to be published shortly.

The OfS has also set itself national key performance measures which address the inequalities they are most concerned about – the gaps that remain the most challenging to tackle and affect large student groups. In order to meet these measures all institutions are expected to have a target which contributes towards improving outcomes in these KPI areas.

  1. ENTRY GAP – Eliminate the gap in participation at higher-tariff providers between the most and least represented (POLAR) groups, from a ratio of 5:1 to a ratio of 3:1 by 2024-25.
  2. DROP OUT GAP – Reduce the gap in non-continuation between the most and least represented groups (POLAR) – eliminating the unexplained gap by 2024-25, and eliminating the absolute gap (the gap caused by both structural and unexplained factors) by 2030-31.
  3. ATTAINMENT GAP – Reduce the gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between white students and black students, eliminating the unexplained gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between white students and black students by 2024-25, and eliminate the absolute gap by 2030-31.
  4. ATTAINMENT GAP -Reduce the gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between disabled students and non-disabled students by 2024-25.

The OfS acknowledges that other non-KPI measures remain important too – addressing the decline in the number of mature students in higher education and access, success and progression for care leavers.

Sarah attended a parliamentary reception this week at which Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, emphasised the scrutiny and rigour with which the OfS will be examining the new plans, pushing for ambitious (but realistic) progress, and setting out a commitment to tackle underperformance early on. At the reception there was much discussion of the US universities’ Princeton model of admissions with Chris Millward calling for more English universities to step away from grade based entry and make far more use of contextual admissions, including assessing the personal qualities of grit and resilience which he felt were sure indicators of graduate success within disadvantaged students. Chris confirmed that the OfS’ powers didn’t extend to direct interference in an institution’s admission policy and that the Access and Participation targets would be one of their key methods to push the sector to solve the disadvantage gaps.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, gave his first speech on access and participation on the day the guidance was launched. He spoke during a tour of Nottingham Trent University and praise the institution for its work in advancing social mobility. He announced that Nottingham Trent, alongside Kings College London and the Behavioural Insights Team  have been awarded the OfS contact for the WP Evidence and Impact Exchange. The Minister said: I want to use this occasion today to outline my own five-part vision for the access and participation agenda – to help set a strategic direction for the sector and support the OfS in holding providers to account on these vitally important issues.

  • His speech acknowledged the importance of the removal of the student number caps, spoke about the narrowing of the gap with more disadvantaged young student applying to university, whilst acknowledging: All this is good news and a welcome move away from the days when going to university was just for the fortunate few. Yet, we all know that behind the positive headlines lies a much more complex picture of inequality and progress is not as rapid as it should be. And that takes me on to the first point in my plan – namely that we now need a more nuanced approach to ‘access’ and a greater recognition of the true access gaps. Major themes I want to see the sector and the OfS addressing are geographic disparities and widening access for specific groups, including White working-class as well as Black and minority ethnic students.
  • Sam Gyimah, the previous Universities Minister, wanted disadvantaged young people to aspire to and enter the highest tariff institutions. Chris continues this challenge to the high tariff institutions to become more accessible and think beyond entry grades whilst acknowledging that high tariff doesn’t necessarily mean best: I also want to reverse the trend of students from currently under-represented groups being less likely to apply to high-tariff universities. In 2018, 17% of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7% of them enrolled at high-tariff providers. Now, I’m not saying that high-tariff institutions are necessarily the best option for everyone. Plenty of excellent lower-tariff providers offer students a first-rate education with exceptional graduate outcomes, and are the right choice for many. But what worries me is that some people may not be considering high-tariff providers even when they could clearly benefit from them – showing how prior social and educational experiences can all impact on an individual’s life choices. I am genuinely saddened when I hear people hesitating about applying to one of our world-leading providers because they simply don’t believe that going to a university like that is really for people like them… The UK is blessed to have a diverse, multi-cultural society, and it is simply not right that, despite displaying obvious talent, some people still feel a ‘top’ university education is out of reach for them… This is why I also welcome the fact the Duchess of Sussex recently added public prominence to this issue when expressing shock that too few professors in the UK are from diverse backgrounds. She is right – as she herself said, “change is long overdue”, and if we want our student communities to reflect our wider population, then we have to start thinking seriously about the role models and examples we are setting them.
  • Chris spoke about the Secretary of State for Education’s guidance letter to the OfS setting out the Government’s expectations. They called for greater and faster progress in access and participation, including at the most selective providers, as well as for key target groups, including disabled students and care leavers. He also spoke of the Race Disparity Audit initiative when he called for the OfS to hold universities to account for attainment disparities through their Access and Participation plans and, if necessary, to use its powers to challenge any provider failing to support equality of opportunity.
  • Chris was stern on the effective use of WP monies, particularly making better use of evidence to inform spend:  £860 million [the combined planned spend by universities on WP in 2018/19] is not an insignificant sum and, so, I believe it is essential that this money is used well, and that any future spending is underpinned by clear evidence and evaluation. Although some providers already do this, for too long the sector as a whole has been too slow in using evidence to inform its approaches and to understand what really works.
  • He also wants to see more collaboration across the sector: Despite numerous providers undertaking excellent work in the access and participation space, by and large, the sector has been too piecemeal in its approach and too many providers have got used to doing their own thing. I will be the first to admit that this may well be a logical consequence of policy development – with an emphasis on market-style activity, a lack of data-sharing, and too little infrastructure to encourage collaboration. But now is the time for this to change.
  • Finally, he turned to the importance of data and consistent, reliable measures to track progress in tackling disadvantage. When it comes to data, I know there is a saying that ‘what gets measured, gets managed’…higher education providers have focused less on the outcomes of their disadvantaged students than they should…Differing approaches have not helped. The key measure to drive widening participation in higher education has traditionally been POLAR…The POLAR system has many strengths, and the insight it has provided has helped lead to genuine progress in opening up access to university. Yet, it is also known that POLAR doesn’t always overlap well with other measures of disadvantage – such as eligibility for free school meals…the principal measure used in schools and forms the main basis for extra support and funding. He spoke of UCAS’ work to find new and better predictors of disadvantage in higher education that take account of much more than just where someone grew up. It’s also why I welcome the OfS’s commitment in its access and participation strategy to work with providers to look not just at POLAR, but other aspects of disadvantage to ensure this work can really transform the life chances of young people.
  • He also welcomed the Transparency Duty which requires institutions to publish data on the application, offer, acceptance, completion and attainment rates of students, divided by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background: And on this, I further welcome the OfS’s requirement that providers set out their ambitions for improving access and participation for up to five years and report annually – something which I hope will keep everyone’s eye on the ball and prevent us from becoming complacent. He also spoke about the newly announced formation of a Data Advisory Committee stating it would help me ensure we are not only using the right data to shape the access and participation agenda, but are using it in the right way. I therefore look forward to working with the OfS, this Committee and the wider sector to find ways to refine and advance the data we use.
  • Interestingly he also mentions the (delayed) Augar Review and attempts to reassure the sector as a counterpoint to the leaked snippets and speculation of disastrous cuts for HE within the past press: I know many in the sector have been critical about what could emerge from the Review’s recommendations and its potential impacts on access and participation activities. Let me reassure you today that progressing access and successful participation remains a top focus for this government and it will be a key lens for me and others in government as we decide how to take the Review forward. My key outcome for the Review is that we create a truly joined-up system, which is even better at promoting social mobility and countering childhood disadvantage. I also encourage us to view the post-18 Review as an opportunity to think again about how we view disadvantage, to ensure we are putting our energy and investment where it is most needed. Reading between the lines I’m not sure this is quite as reassuring as Chris intended!

Disadvantage starts early – Universities Minister Chris Skidmore is a believer that disadvantage starts at birth and has committed to working with Nadhim Zahawi (Minister for Children and Families) to tackle disadvantage. He has announced they will be working together to improve support for care leavers throughout the whole education system, noting that only 6% of care leaver attend universities and are the most likely student group to drop out. He urged the OfS to do all they could to support care leavers. Nadhim also announced an additional 1,000 health visitors will be trained to support children’s early language and communication needs this week. Noting that children who start school with poor vocabulary are twice as likely to be unemployed as an adult. The health visitors will detect early signs of speech and language delay and take early action when it can have the most benefit.

Level 4-5 Qualifications Review Outcomes

The DfE have published a research report on the Level 4-5 Qualifications Review. Key points:

  • L4-5 qualifications support a diverse mix of students. The qualifications are undertaken by a slightly higher proportion of ethnic minority and male students than other HE and FE programmes, and there is also a relatively high proportion of older learners and learners with disabilities
  • Nearly all FE colleges (97%) and most HEIs (88%) provide L4-5 qualifications. Nearly 200 private and adult community learning providers deliver L4-5 providers, which includes 48 alternative providers in HE that are not FE colleges.
  • The L4-5 market is diverse. There were 3,368 different L4-5 qualifications that were available to learners in 2016/17, of which 2,633 were developed by HEIs and delivered by FE and HE providers.
  • The size of the L4-5 market is relatively small, compared to HEIs and FE providers’ overall offer. There were 111,420 learners that studied an accredited L4-5 qualification in 2016/17, which comprises only 2% of all vocational qualifications awarded. In HE, there were 75,632 learners that undertook L4-5 qualifications in 2016/17, which accounted for 3% of all HE learners.
  • L4-5 programmes not delivered through apprenticeships are most commonly taken for subjects in health, public services and care (composing 23% of all L4-5 learners); business administration and law (17%); and Engineering and manufacturing technologies (12%).
  • Just under 40% of learners on HE-accredited L4-5 programmes progressed to full-time employment and 26% progressed to full-time further learning. This reflects the dual aims of L4-5 qualifications. The proportion of learners that progress to employment does, however, vary significantly by subject area and qualification type

Recommendations:

  • Support the promotion to providers and learners of L4-5 qualifications that provide direct entry to the labour market, by being actual or de facto licences to practise. Awareness of these qualifications can be low among learners, which reduces take-up.
  • Incentivising HEIs to recognise L4-5 qualifications as providing exemptions from the first or the first and second year of a degree programme and encouraging joint working with HEIs and AOs to harmonise content with degrees and L4-5 provision.
  • Stimulating FE providers and HEIs to expand their L5 provision, as this appears to be provided less comprehensively than L4, despite having higher learner take-up.

Apprenticeships

The DfE have published Apprenticeship and Levy Statistics for February 2019

  • As at 31 January 2019, 122,700 commitments had been recorded for the 2018/19 academic year (114,000 fully agreed and 8,700 pending approval). This compares to 98,000 commitments recorded for the 2017/18 academic year at the equivalent point last year
  • Of the 122,700 commitments recorded so far for 2018/19, 60,800 commitments were for apprentices aged 25 and over. 38,200 commitments were intermediate apprenticeships, and 52,000 were advanced apprenticeships.
  • In 2017/18, there were 48,150 higher level (level 4+) apprenticeship starts, compared to just 3,700 in 2011/12.
    • Between 2015/16 and 2016/17 higher level starts increased 34.7per cent from 27,160 to 36,570.
    • Between 2016/17 and 2017/18 the higher level starts rose 31.7 per cent to 48,150.
  • In contrast, both intermediate (level 2) apprenticeships and advanced (level 3) decreased between 2016/17 and 2017/18 by 38.1 per cent and 15.9 per cent, respectively.

The DfE have published an Apprenticeships Study on non-completion. This is NOT about degree apprenticeships but FE learners and apprentices – but still interesting

  • Non-completers commonly lacked information about the content of their course and how it would be delivered before they began.  Whilst motivated, a lack of upfront information before they started the course meant that expectations tended to be limited to an expectation that the course would be organised, run smoothly, and enable them to work to pass. 
  • Non-completers reported mixed experiences of their courses and apprenticeships. However, they had commonly experienced challenges such as a lack of sufficient flexibility, loss of child care, and employers not allowing them enough time to do their coursework.
  • Non-completers dropped out when one or more of three key areas were not satisfied. They dropped out when core personal issues took priority over learning; with family, health, and finances commonly taking priority. Drop out occurred when learners did not see their course as valuable, meaning the content and level were not appropriate to enable them to pursue their career goals. Finally, learners dropped out when their course or apprenticeship failed to meet their expectations for functional delivery.

This is interesting because of course many of the same issues arise with university non-completions.  Non-completion (or continuation as the TEF calls it) is a key metric for TEF, precisely because the DfE believe that the value of the programme and the functional delivery of it, to use the terms above, are key indicators of the quality of a programme and so continuation is a proxy measure for quality.  Of course that ignores the personal issues.  The report says: “Although learners were generally tipped into non-completion by an issue aligned to one of these areas, they tended to be facing multifaceted issues which overlapped across two or more layers”.  So it’s not that simple.

Key Recommendations:

  • More comprehensive and accurate information up front about the content, structure and expectations for a course
  • Proactive and holistic support and flexibility to ensure they can continue to manage their course alongside their personal priorities
  • Improvements to course delivery so that courses and apprenticeships are more consistently delivered across the country.

The Sutton Trust have conducted a survey of parents with children aged 5-16 on degree level apprenticeships.

  • 75% of parents said they would be confident offering children help and advice were they to apply to a degree-level apprenticeship
  • 27% said they would advise their child to take a degree level apprenticeship over a universities degree course, with 31% indicating they would make the opposite recommendation
  • Of those parents who would advise their children to undertake a university degree course, 68% intimated that this was because they believed it offered better career prospects, whilst 29% said it was because they lacked knowledge about apprenticeships in general

Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)

The DfE and ONS have published statistics on the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training.

  • For quarter four (i.e. October to December) 2018, 11.3% of 16-24 year olds were NEET, a slight increase of 0.2 percentage points from quarter  four of 2017.
  • The age 16-17 NEET rate was 4.2%, an increase of 0.6 percentage points. The 18-24 NEET rate was 13.1%, increasing  by 0.2 percentage points.
  • However, none of these annual changes to the NEET rates were statistically significant

Brexit

It now looks increasingly likely that there will be a short delay to Brexit unless the deal, perhaps amended in some way with concessions from the EU, is passed on 12th March in the newly scheduled meaningful vote.

Resignations and the formation of the Independent Group of MPs don’t really change the arithmetic yet. The shift of the Labour party’s position on a second referendum also does not make much difference either while the vast majority of MPs continue to vote along party political lines.

There will need to be many more resignations or radical changes of position on the deal if it is to pass in March.  That is still possible, but a good number of Conservatives, from both the remain and the leave side, will need to find a way to support it, supported by a good number of Labour Brexiteers seeking to avoid a second vote.  Remember that more than 100 MPs need to change their view on the deal for it to go through.

However, UK citizens worrying about their plans for travel to the EU may therefore find that they don’t need an International Driving Licence or private health insurance for an Easter trip.  No deal is still, however, firmly on the table, so you may need them for the summer.  The overwhelming flood of information from the government has included reissuances for EU colleagues and EU students about travel to the UK after a no deal Brexit – but of course the continued uncertainty is unhelpful. And it’s sobering to note that whatever the result of the current flurry, even if the deal is signed we will have to go through it all again before the end of the transition period in December 2020.  There won’t be proper certainty about anything for a long time.

A delay beyond June still seems impossible – although it might seem a lot more possible by the time we get there.

Consultations

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

Other news

OfS Student Panel: The Office for Students (OfS) has announced five new members of its student panel, which advises the OfS board to ensure student interests are reflected in OfS’ work. Georgia Bell is President of the students’ union at the Northern School of Art; Rose Bennett is Student Experience officer (postgraduate) at the University of Birmingham; Samuel Dedman is vice-president education at the University of Southampton students’ union; Joshua Sanderson-Kirk is president of the student association at the University of Law and Sabrina Mundtazir is a student nurse at the University of Huddersfield.

University enterprise zones:  The Treasury and BEIS have announced a £10 million fund to help develop proposals for up to 10 new university enterprise zones in England. Treasury Minister Robert Jenrick and Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore launched the fund during a visit to Nottingham University, which has piloted a University Enterprise Zone that is supporting start-ups and enterprises in the East Midlands. Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, stated:

Our universities are among the best in the world, and when they join forces with our ambitious and innovative small businesses, they have the potential to meet the grand challenges of the future.

HESA have published stats on staff employed in HE providers for 2017/18

Student sexual harassment/violence: Dig-In have published an infographic on sexual harassment and violence experienced by students based on a survey.

They say:

  • 56% of students have experienced unwanted sexual behaviours (such as inappropriate touching, explicit messages, being cat called, followed and/or being forced into sex or sexual acts)
  • Only 15% of students believe that they are the victims of sexual harassment
  • And only 8% have reported an offence.
  • Only 25% of students who were forced into having sex reported it
  • 53% of incidents were perpetrated by another students and 30% took place on campus

They also say that only 52% of students understand that it is not possible to give consent if you are drunk

Dr. Aryal funded to attend international workshop on migration & health

Congratulations to Dr. Nirmal Aryal in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences has been selected to participate in an international workshop targeting early career researchers (ECRs) on ‘Engendering research and reframing policy debate on migration & health and intersectional rights’ to be held in Kathmandu (Nepal) from 25th to 28th April 2019.

This workshop is jointly organized by several universities in the UK, India as well as the International Organisation for Migration, as well as the Migration Health and Development Research Initiative(MHADRI). There will be 18 ECRs from South Asia and South East Asia and Nirmal is one for the six from the UK.  The organizers will fund flight to and accommodation in Nepal.

Congratulations!

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

CMMPH

 

HE Policy Update for the w/e 15th February 2019

We expect that Philip Augar will publish the report of his independent panel shortly.  The Panel is advising the Department for Education on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and the Augar report has been badged by the DfE as an “interim” report.  Although the Augar report will no doubt grab headlines, after much speculation and many alleged leaks over the last few months, it is only an interim report, and we will need to see what the DfE’s final report says.  The Review itself was originally expected to report in March 2019- but may be delayed for other priorities.  The government is expected to consult before implementing any changes, and had previously announced that any significant changes would take at least two years to implement.

Sadly both your resident policy wonks will be out of circulation next week but you can expect a bumper edition including the reaction from across the sector when we return.

You’ll find a link to the report here when it is published.

Brexit

So another string of meaningless votes this week – the next voting the fun will apparently take place in the last week of February.  Having had their half term holiday cancelled next week the focus in Parliament will be on the secondary legislation required for Brexit rather than on the deal itself.  The BBC has this useful explainer on the timing of all of this

The Lords European Union Committee has published their inquiry report on Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon Programmes.  You will recall that the government have confirmed that in a no deal scenario there is no back up plan for Erasmus, and that while students and staff already receiving funding will be protected, there is likely to be a gap before any new arrangements can be finalised.

The conclusions are set out below:

  • The UK is a respected and important partner in both the Erasmus and Horizon programmes. It is a popular destination for mobility placements and a world leader in research with an exceptionally strong science base. The UK receives substantial amounts of funding from EU programmes, and other less tangible benefits built on decades of international cooperation with European partners. We strongly believe—and it was the unanimous view of our witnesses—that it is in the UK and the EU’s mutual interest to preserve current close levels of cooperation on research and innovation and educational mobility. We are encouraged by positive indications in the Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship that this will be possible.

Educational exchanges

  • The Erasmus programme has played a significant role in facilitating the international mobility of people studying and working in the fields of education, training, youth, and sport in the UK. The programme offers unparalleled financial support and flexibility to enable people from lower income backgrounds, and those with medical needs or disabilities, to take part in educational exchanges. The Government should seek to ensure the UK remains part of this important initiative by seeking full association to the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme.
  • The cost of participating in the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme is likely to be higher than for Erasmus+, as it will have double the overall budget. Nevertheless, we consider this a worthwhile investment to maintain access to Erasmus and the partnerships the UK has built within Europe through the programme over the past 30 years. It is clear, as the Minister himself noted, that the value of Erasmus cannot be measured simply in terms of financial contributions and receipts.
  • As an associated third country the UK would be able to attend Erasmus programme committees but would lose its voting rights, reducing the UK’s strategic influence over the programme. We are reassured, however, that these meetings operate mainly on a collaborative basis and non-EU programme countries are regarded as “valued partners”.
  • As a non-associated third country, the UK would not even have a seat at the table in Erasmus programme committees, and UK participants would have access to less funding and fewer exchange opportunities. We do not consider this to be an attractive option.
  • If association to Erasmus cannot be negotiated, it will be essential to establish an alternative UK mobility scheme. ….Even with comparative financial investment, however, it will be impossible to replicate aspects of Erasmus which are key to facilitating international exchanges, namely, the programme’s strong brand, trusted reputation, common rulebook and framework for partnership agreements, and its established network of potential partners.
  • Launching a new UK mobility scheme—or increasing investment in existing schemes—to extend mobility opportunities beyond Europe would be welcome in addition to continued participation in Erasmus….

Research

  • We note the Government’s commitment to increase spending on research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and look forward to an ambitious new International Research and Innovation Strategy which affirms the centrality of research and innovation to technological progress and the future economic prosperity of the UK.
  • A key part of this strategy should be to prioritise continued access to EU research framework programmes by securing association to Horizon Europe. The Government should ensure UK universities retain full access to EU funding opportunities and can participate in, and lead, collaborative research projects.
  • We note that the UK’s access to Horizon Europe will be commensurate with the financial contribution it is willing to make to the programme. Given the anticipated increase in the budget for Horizon Europe, this is likely to be larger than the UK’s contribution to Horizon 2020. The financial rebalancing mechanism set out in the draft Horizon Europe Regulation would also prevent the UK from being a net beneficiary of EU research funding, as is currently the case. Nonetheless, an increased programme budget means that Horizon Europe will be able to support more grants and collaborative research projects than its predecessor. We urge the Government to agree an appropriate level of financial contributions to ensure the UK can access these opportunities.
  • As an associated third country, the UK would have observer status in Horizon Europe programme committees but no vote and so would not have the same influence over the strategic direction of the programme as an EU Member State. Even so, given the strength of the UK’s science base and the significant role played by scientists in shaping research programmes, witnesses were confident that the UK can still remain an influential player in European research and innovation. We note that it will be important for the UK to “strike the right tone” in this regard, by seeking to ensure appropriate accountability for UK funds spent via Horizon Europe rather than by exercising overt political influence.
  • If the UK participated in Horizon Europe on a ‘non-associated’ third country basis, it would lose access to key funding opportunities—notably European Research Council grants and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions—and would be left without any credible means of influencing the future development and funding priorities of the programme. While limited participation in Horizon Europe would still provide the UK with unique opportunities for collaboration which could not be replicated at the national level, it is clear that full association is the most desirable outcome for UK research and innovation.
  • Additional UK research programmes will be needed to replace EU funding opportunities, if the Government is not willing or able to secure association to Horizon Europe. These programmes should maintain the breadth of funding across different subject areas and institutions provided by EU research programmes, and support advanced scientific research and international collaboration. The Government should work with the research community to determine what key features of EU funding should be retained in UK replacement programmes, such as the excellence-based funding criteria of the European Research Council.
  • We commend UKRI’s willingness to work to develop prestigious domestic alternatives to EU schemes, if the UK loses access to them after Brexit. However, we note that it would take many years to emulate the tried and tested mechanism for international research collaboration provided by the EU framework programmes, the established research partnerships they support, and the EU’s joint infrastructure capabilities.

Cross-cutting issues

  • The ongoing lack of clarity over the future availability of EU funds for mobility and research is causing considerable concern among students and researchers in the UK. Although association cannot be secured until negotiations on the draft 2021–2027 Horizon and Erasmus Regulations are complete, the Government should confirm its intentions regarding future UK participation in these programmes as soon as possible to maximise certainty and stability for potential participants, and enable them to plan for any changes.
  • Whether the UK continues to participate in EU programmes or not, it will be important to ensure the UK’s immigration policy facilitates the frictionless exchange of students and researchers across borders. We welcome the Government’s confirmation in its recent Immigration White Paper that the UK will continue to welcome talented international scientists and researchers. The Government should work closely with the research community to ensure the UK visa system accommodates this ambition. Given the significant positive benefits international students bring to the UK, we also support the Government’s decision not to impose a cap on international student numbers.

Migration

From Dods: Universities UK have called on the Government to lower the proposed salary requirement for EEA workers to obtain a high-skilled visa to £21,000. Giving evidence at the Public Bill Committee on the Immigration Bill, this lays out for the first time the university sector’s specific feedback on the Migration Advisory Committee’s proposals.

Vivienne Stern, Director of UUKi, said: “While we recognise that migration checks and controls are necessary, they must not be at the cost of losing talent and leaving ourselves with a skills shortage at a time when focusing on productivity and growth is more important than ever. The Home Secretary himself has given our sector as an example of one where the higher threshold could be harmful. If the government works towards a threshold of £21,000, we feel this would allow recruitment for most technician and language assistant roles in the HE sector.”

Also from Dods: Migration Watch UK have published a paper arguing that, total net migration to the UK would increase by just over half to about 380,000/year if the proposals in the white paper become the basis of the future immigration system.

  • The inflow of EU workers will continue at two-thirds of the average of the last five years.  In total, therefore, we estimate that EU inflows will be approximately 160,000/year once the new immigration system comes into effect following the end of the transition period.
  • We expect to see a total inflow of about 550,000/year from outside the EU following the end of the transition period. This is an increase of over 20% on the latest five-year period.
  • In effect, EU migrants would be replaced – and more – by migrants from the rest of the world. The Government claim that their policy will restore sovereign control of our borders. In reality it will lead to higher levels of immigration

Civic Universities

From Dods: The UPP Foundation has published a report on strengthening the connection between universities and their places. This argues that the industrial strategy and devolution agenda have presented an opening for universities to pursue a more place based approach.

Recommendations:

  • The Civic University Agreement – Civic Universities should enshrine their analysis and strategy in a Civic University Agreement that is co-created and signed by other key civic partners. .We think that the starting point for Civic University Agreements has to be:
    • Understanding local populations, and asking them what they want.
    • Understanding themselves,
    • Working with other local anchor institutions, businesses and community organisations
    • A clear set of priorities.
  • Measuring and incentivising the success of the civic university. There should be a three-part approach to measuring – and therefore incentivising – the success of the civic university
    • Local measurement
    • Removing perverse measurement. It is clear that some of the current measures of teaching and research – which are often designed by government, rather than universities – mitigate against civic activity. Removing those is vital and in particular:
      • Reducing the reliance of measures such as LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes) in high stakes metrics such as TEF, that penalises universities for releasing graduates into regional labour markets with lower employment outcomes, or into self-employment which often involves a period of low / no wages.
      • Any suggestion – linguistic or otherwise – in things like the REF that ‘local research’ is by definition inferior to international research
    • National measurement. …In particular the KEF (Knowledge Exchange Framework) must be a broad measure of civic impact not purely research innovation
  • Funding the civic
    • A new fund – the Civic University Fund. A new fund should be created that allows universities to bid for resources that will allow them to implement their strategies. We think that the fund should be worth around £500m over a 5 year period, with universities bidding on a competitive basis for multi-year projects
    • Doubling the Strength in Places Fund, As announced in the Industrial Strategy White Paper and run by UKRI. The Fund offers £10m-£50m investments for a small number of place-based consortia to work together on innovative projects that build on existing research and innovation capabilities, with the goal of tackling regional disparities by improving the local economy in specific areas. The Government announced in the Autumn 2018 Budget that there would be another £120m for a second round of SIPF. We recommend that this second wave of funding is doubled.
    • Widening Participation/attainment fund.
  • Spreading good civic practice
    • We recommend that a Network for the Civic University is established.

Lord Kerslake said: The importance of this civic role is also growing. As the United Kingdom grapples with the challenges of low growth, low productivity, the impact of austerity and widening spatial inequalities, universities can be (alongside local authorities and the heath sector), significant ‘anchor institutions’, able to make an enormous impact on the success of their places.

Financial sustainability

There was a debate in the House of Commons on 12th February on the financial sustainability of the sector.  Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner asked the Minister to make an urgent statement on the financial statement of universities in the UK.  You can read the whole debate on Hansard here

Responding for the Department of Education, Universities Minister Chris Skidmore expressed concern but said: “This Government recognises the importance of the higher education sector and the massive contribution it makes to this country. We recognise the multiple challenges the sector is facing and that these will require institutions to adapt to a more competitive and uncertain environment […] But ultimately, as autonomous bodies, the financial viability of universities is a matter for the leadership of the HE providers themselves.”

Angela Rayner asked:

  • The Minister said that he is working with the Office for Students towards establishing student protection plans. Can he clarify how many universities do not have plans in place? When will he ensure that they all do? What will it mean in practice? Will students be left with a refund but no qualification after years of study? HEFCE had a list of universities of financial concern. Can the Minister tell us whether the new regulator has such a list and how many providers are currently of concern? Last year, it granted at least one £1 million emergency loan. Can he tell the House how many others have been issued? The new regulator has now said that “The OfS will not bail out providers in financial difficulty.” Is that Government policy and from when does it apply?
  • Can the Minister confirm that his Government have also handed universities a £200 million pensions bill but no new funding to meet those costs? Is he lobbying the Treasury to change that? The Office for National Statistics has demanded that the Government end the “fiscal illusion” of pretending that all loans for fees are repaid. When will the Government follow that ruling? Given the uncertainty that universities now face, can he tell the House whether the Augar review will be published this year? Will he guarantee that any proposals on tuition fees will not lead to cutting universities’ funding?

And the Minister responded: Ultimately, these are autonomous bodies and leaders of HE providers are responsible for ensuring their institutions’ financial viability. They are not part of the public sector; they are autonomous institutions. During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, a key point voted on by Labour Members was that universities would remain independent and autonomous. The OfS will therefore work closely with providers in financial difficulty, but neither the OfS nor the Department for Education will prop up failing providers. The OfS may enhance its monitoring or impose a specific condition of registration, requiring a provider to improve its financial performance, but we need providers at risk of any financial difficulties to come forward, so that we and the OfS can work with them on improving those registration conditions, which may require a provider to strengthen its student protection plan.

When asked about student number caps, the Minister said: I am proud to be a member of the Government who reduced the student number cap between 2012 and 2015, and eventually abolished it in 2016, allowing a record number of students to access higher education. We know that, going into the 2020s, we will need a knowledge-based economy, so it is right that we allow more people the opportunity to succeed in their ambition to achieve a degree. Abolishing student finance by looking at fee levels would simply give away a fee freeze to the children of millionaires while capping the number of students who could attend university.

When asked about international student recruitment, the Minister said: When it comes to international students, the Government are absolutely determined to press forward and look internationally at what we can do. Our universities are world-class and world-leading organisations. We have had roughly 460,000 applications from the EU and internationally this year—the highest level of applications ever seen. We will be publishing an international education strategy in the spring. We are clear that we have removed the cap on international student numbers, and we want to do more to ensure that we can increase our ability to compete not just nationally but internationally with other countries that also recognise the value of higher education at the international level.

Widening participation

NEON have published a report about white working class participation. Dr. Graeme Atherton, Director of NEON and co-author of the report states:

  • ‘This report shows that while there is some innovative work being undertaken in the HE sector to address the low levels of participation of this group of students, big variability exists in their chances of participating in HE across providers. We need to know more about why this variability exists and do more to eliminate it’.
  • The report argues that action on a number of fronts is needed. This includes more explicit targets for improvement across HE providers, looking again at the data used to define who is in this group of learners and securing longer term funding commitments to activities to support participation in HE or these students. It also argues for a national initiative to address the educational performance of white learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds which brings together schools, colleges and the HE sector.

From the report:

  • White young people in receipt of free school meals (FSM) are the least likely, next to those from Gypsy/Roma backgrounds, of any group to enter HE. White students make up the majority of those in areas where HE attendance is the lowest.
  • There is huge variability in the participation of the group across higher education providers in England. Exciting work is being undertaken to address this challenge but the strategic commitment to it also appears variable.
  • Most white students from LPN attend larger ‘post 1992’ universities – over 70% of all white students from LPN backgrounds attend these universities
  • But white students are found in the highest percentages in further education colleges – the number of white students from LPN is approaching 50% of the whole student body in some colleges.
  • Big differences in levels of participation for white students from LPN exist by HE provider – In over 50% of university providers less than 5% of their students are white and from LPN backgrounds. If these providers raised the level of participation of HE in their institutions to 5% there would be nearly 10,000 more white students from LPN backgrounds studying in HE.
  • Big differences in the chances of white students from LPN being accepted exist by HE provider – of all applications to HE by students from this background, only 22% are accepted. The chances of being accepted differ greatly by provider, with over 50% of universities accepting less than 20% of the applications they receive from these students
  • Strategic commitment to supporting participation for this group is low – despite many universities only admitting a very small number of these students (and some admitting none at all), less than 20% of HEIs have targets in their Access and Participation Plans (APP) related to white students from LPN.
  • More are trying to address the needs of the group than 3 years ago, but there are limitations in what access work alone can achieve
  • Most HE providers do not target outreach work explicitly at this group. Over 70% of those who responded to the survey are trying to ensure that existing projects reach students from this background. Less than 40% were doing work specifically with male students and less than 12% with female students.

Recommendations

  • Recommendation 1: Set specific targets for white students from lower SEG entering HE
  • Recommendation 2: Re-define widening participation target groups
  • Recommendation 3: Ensure National of Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) investment continues after 2020-21
  • Recommendation 4: Focus equally on working class male and female students
  • Recommendation 5: A national initiative to address the educational performance of white learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds

Dr Graeme Atherton writes on Research Professional here

And in a related story, The Bridge Group have published a report on geographical isolation and progression to Higher Education. This argues that,

  • In the context of thinking about the influence of geographical remoteness, the concentration of policy on ‘fair access’ and ‘widening access’ has taken precedence over more material matters regarding physical access to educational opportunities and the even distribution of resources across the further and higher education sector”.

Professor Danny Dorling (University of Oxford and author of report Foreword): The recommendations in this report will help to initiate the changes required to begin to mitigate some of the worst effects of the opportunity landscape we have created.

Dr Sarah Dauncey (Head of Policy, Bridge Group and lead author of the report): “This report gathers together an array of perspectives and data to identify the barriers to progression faced by young people experiencing financial hardship who live in remote areas. We give voice to the needs and interests of this group of young people who have been overlooked by policymakers, and establish implementable solutions to transform their educational outcomes.”

Key findings

  • The prevailing model of social mobility is widely regarded as unhelpful for remote communities. It places too much emphasis on supporting young people to achieve highly in school in order to leave their local area for higher education and training and secure a graduate job. This means that communities in remote areas are depleted of highly talented young people who have a vital part to play in energising local cultures and economies. …
  • There is a weak evidence base on the relationship between geographical isolation, socio-economic deprivation, school-level attainment, and progression. We have encountered numerous obstacles in trying to redress this deficiency through quantitative data collection and analyses. …
  • Pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds in rural areas have lower levels of attainment compared to their peers in urban schools…
  • A pupil’s distance from school can impact on their capacity to engage in after school enrichment activity; and a school’s isolation from other schools, employers, charities, colleges, and higher education institutions may affect their capacity to offer a diverse range of additional high quality provision. The pressures on resourcing are more keenly felt without the support of external providers.
  • Educational and widening participation interventions are predominantly focused on deprived areas rather than on the location of deprived individuals, often disregarding the dispersed nature of rural poverty. This has a negative effect on those from lower socio-economic backgrounds living in remote areas.
  • Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds living at a distance from higher education institutions, who do not have the option to commute, are faced with more complex decision-making around participation.
  • Deprivation indices have been consistently shown to be dominated by the characteristics of urban populations and are less able to describe rural deprivation.
  • The higher education sector lacks hard evidence on the spatial distribution of outreach activity and there is no imperative for institutions to consider place in their approach to targeting.

There is a long list of recommendations but some are here

  • Social mobility policy – Government and policymakers should weaken the link between geographical mobility and social mobility and recognise the attraction of place. For too long, there has been a connection between ‘moving on’ and ‘moving up’ which involves treating people as ‘a-spatial’ and assumes a narrow, economic idea of mobility. The economic domination of London and large urban centres has meant that the greatest career rewards, in economic terms, are received by those who are mobile and willing to move to large, ‘escalator’ cities. This yoking of social mobility with geographical mobility has a negative impact on those who have a strong attachment to place and choose to remain in more remote areas.
  • Strengthening the evidence base – Government departments must work collaboratively to improve access to the evidence base ….
  • Schools – Schools with average or below average levels of Pupil Premium pupils should work cooperatively to pool expertise and resources to narrow the gap in attainment. Clusters of schools need to be established with shared strategic objectives to develop and offer a range of interventions to better support pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds and ensure on-going professional development. …Schools should monitor participation in ‘enrichment’ activities and make provision to ensure accessibility and inclusivity…. Schools serving sparsely populated areas should have additional, ring-fenced funding to recognise the increased costs associated with supporting progression to further and higher education.
  • Further and higher education –
    • Improve understanding of the geographical distribution of outreach activities, particularly those to raise attainment and promote progression. We need to better understand the way that each higher education institution spends its widening participation budget in terms of place.
    • Increased investment in further education and the creation of a national qualification structure at level 4 and 5. For many young people living in isolated areas who choose to remain at home, the lack of choice, quality, and funding available for sub-degree qualifications has a huge impact on their employment outcomes. Increased funding and status needs to be awarded to further education colleges to recognise the vital role they play in remote parts of the country in providing opportunities for learners of all ages.
  • Third sector – Greater flexibility towards measures of deprivation by grant-awarding bodies and increased recognition of the influence of geographical isolation on educational outcomes. Grant-awarding bodies need to adjust their measures of deprivation to recognise the influence of geographical isolation on attainment and progression to higher education and scrutinise their reliance on Free School Meals (FSM) and POLAR as proxies for economic deprivation. This would encourage more charitable organisations to intervene to narrow the gap in attainment and promote progression in remote areas.
  • Increased recognition should be given to the role that the third sector is already playing in identifying remote areas and working with higher education institutions to deliver impactful outreach programmes. The Office for Students (OfS) could do more to identify organisations with particular expertise in working in remote areas to help higher education institutions to develop new creative partnerships.

Sarah Dauncey also wrote on Wonkhe

Technical Education

From Dods: The DfE and Institute for Apprenticeships have awarded Pearson and NCFE contracts to deliver the first three T-levels from 2020.

  • Awarding Organisation NCFE has been awarded a contract to deliver the Education and Childcare T Level
  • Pearson has been awarded contracts to deliver T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning as well Digital Production, Design and Development.

Around 50 further education and post-16 providers will teach these T Level programmes from September 2020.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: This is a major step forward in our work to upgrade technical education in this country. T Levels are a once in a generation opportunity to create high-quality technical education courses on a par with the best in the world, so that young people gain the skills and experience they need to secure a good job, an apprenticeship or progress into further training.

Lord Sainsbury, Chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, said: I am delighted that we have reached this milestone in the roll-out of the T Levels programme. With the first schools and colleges to offer T Levels in 2020 well advanced in their preparations, and now confirmation of these initial awarding organisations, I am confident that we remain on track to deliver the transformation to technical education that this country so desperately needs

To support the further education sector to deliver the new T Level programmes, the government will provide an additional half a billion pounds every year once they are all fully rolled out.

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, delivered a speech focussing on creating, “an education and training system that genuinely nurtures the talent we need for the future and creates a ladder of opportunity long and strong enough for each and every young person to climb”.

The speech was delivered at The Edge Foundation on 11th February 2019 and you can read more here

  • Replace GCSEs at 16 with a holistic Baccalaureate at 18 which reflects a young person’s academic and creative achievements, alongside skills and personal development
  • Recognise the value of Further Education colleges and ensure they are properly funded
  • Give teachers back autonomy in the classroom; more high quality CPD; enable them to develop projects in partnership with local businesses and community organisations, to bring learning to life
  • Measure schools by completion of the baccalaureate at 18 and the destinations of their pupils in the years after leaving; make apprenticeships a gold standard destination
  • Question the effectiveness and value for money provided by the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) “who are spraying money around like confetti”
  • Despite skills shortage vacancies doubling since 2011 to 226,000, in 2017, latest figure from ONS show in the first quarter of 2018, there were 320,000 young people aged 16-14 who were NEET and unemployed.

There’s a BBC story about it here

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Descent or dissent? Social work education in post-Brexit UK

Congratulations to Prof. Jonathan Parker on the publication of his article ‘Descent or dissent? A future of social work education in the UK post-Brexit‘ in the European Journal of Social Work. In true European style the journal also gives the title in Italian: Discesa o dissenso? Il futuro dell’istruzione nel settore dei servizi sociali nel Regno Unito dopo la Brexit.

 

HE Policy update for the w/e 8th February 2018

Brexit – UUK fights back on Erasmus

UUK has launched a national campaign to encourage the UK government to commit to funding study abroad programmes in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

#SupportStudyAbroad is in response to a technical note on the Erasmus+ programme issued by government on 28 January 2019. The government has said that in the case of a no-deal Brexit, students on current placements will receive funding to their end, and that it would like to stay in the Erasmus+ programme for future calls. However, it is now clear that in the event of a no-deal Brexit there will be no national alternative to enable students to go abroad if continued Erasmus+ membership cannot be negotiated with the European Union.

Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK Chief Executive, said:

  • “The benefits of study abroad are well documented. Not only does study abroad have clear employability benefits for students, it helps them to develop the language, communication and intercultural skills that will be so essential to building a truly global Britain. An investment in international experience for our students now is an investment in the future of our economy. Without the international opportunities offered through schemes like Erasmus, the UK’s workforce will not be equipped to meet the changing needs of the economy post-Brexit.
  • “In the case of a no-deal Brexit, I strongly urge the government to commit to continue funding study abroad opportunities for UK students, even if the UK cannot negotiate continued participation in Erasmus+ programme.”

Key facts and stats

1)  Study abroad supports social mobility. Students who study abroad outperform their peers academically and professionally. They are:

  • 19% more likely to gain a 1st class degree
  • 20% less likely to be unemployed
  • 10% more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation

For those from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups the benefits are even more pronounced:

  • BME students who studied abroad are 17% more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation
  • Mature students who participated in these programmes earn 10% more than their peers

2) International opportunities help students develop skills that UK businesses need. Research by the CBI has found that:

  • Seven out of 10 small and medium size enterprises believe that future executives will need foreign language skills and international experience
  • 39% of employers are dissatisfied with graduates’ intercultural awareness
  • 49% of employers are dissatisfied with graduates’ language skills

Widening Particpation performance indicators

On 7th February, HESA issued performance measures for WP.

Chris Millward of the OfS commented:

  • ‘Today’s release points to incremental progress in improving equality of opportunity in higher education. The reforms we have recently announced are intended to secure a step change in the next five years, both through pressure on universities to enhance the plans they submit to us, and support to enable them to work in the most effective ways. We want universities to understand how they are performing using sophisticated measures, looking across different characteristics to understand disadvantage in their own context and targeting their activity and investment so that it really works.’

David Kernohan has analysed the data for Wonkhe:

  • The HESA Performance Indicator data for 2017-18 is more about proportions than raw numbers. The headline figures see England and the UK enjoy a 0.2 percentage point rise (from 11.4% to 11.6%) in  young entrants to HE from low participation neighbourhoods. ….
  • There is also data on state school entry rates.  In the UK and in England 89.8% of young full time first degree entrants attended state school, down 0.2 percentage points from last year. ..To put this latter paragraph in context, the Independent Schools Commission estimates that around 14% of 16 year old pupils attended an independent school.

One widening participation marker that is rarely discussed concerns the participation rate of students with disabilities. 6.6% of UK-domiciled full-time first degree students are in receipt of the Disabled Students’ Allowance in 2017-18 – the same as last year.

Application data for 2019

UCAS have issued data for applications for the 2019 cycle to date

They issued a summary report:

  • Applicant numbers from within the UK decrease but numbers increase internationally

Overall, UK domiciled applicants have decreased by 0.7 per cent, while applicants from outside the UK have increased to their highest levels on record for both EU and non-EU countries. EU applicants increased by 0.9 per cent to 43,890, and non-EU applicants increased by 9.0 per cent to 63,695. Although EU applicant numbers have increased by 0.9 percent overall, they have decreased in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with the only increase being in England, where they increased by 1.9 per cent to 37,595 (the second highest number on record after 2016).

  • The overall fall in the UK can be attributed to the demographic dip

The number of 18 year olds in the UK has fallen each year since 2015 (falling by 2.0 per cent this year compared to last), and overall figures as reported above are affected by the falling number of school leavers (roughly 80 per cent of UK applicants are 18 – 19 year olds)…The application rate in England has risen every year since 2012 and is now at its highest on record (38.8 per cent), with this year having the biggest percentage point increase since 2014.

  • Applicant numbers from China increase by one third

The number of applicants from China has increased by 33.3 per cent this year – rising from 11,915 to 15,880. This follows an increase of 20.6 per cent last year, and brings Chinese applicant numbers to almost the same level as those from Wales and Northern Ireland (18,855 and 17,910 respectively). Other countries with large percentage increases in applicant numbers include Romania (+260, 10 per cent), Slovakia (+180, 26 per cent), and Saudi Arabia (+150, 24 per cent).

  • Application rates have increased in every English region

The order of regions by application rate is broadly similar to 2018, with London still having a considerably higher rate (49.9 per cent), and the North East having the lowest rate (32.9 per cent) for the second consecutive year. With the London rate increasing by 2.4 percentage points this year, 18 year olds in London are now 36 per cent more likely than 18 year olds in the rest of England to have applied to higher education (up from 33 per cent more likely last year). This is the first year since 2016 that application rates have increased in every English region

  • The gap in application rates between advantaged and disadvantaged applicants decreases

Application rates have increased for all quintiles. The application rate for Q1 increased by 1.3 percentage points to 23.2 per cent, which is its biggest increase since 2014. The Q5 rate increased by 1.0 percentage points to 53.5 per cent, causing the Q5:Q1 application rate ratio to decrease from 2.40 to 2.30, meaning that the gap in application rates between advantaged and disadvantaged applicants has narrowed slightly

Free Speech Guidance

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have developed new guidance on freedom of expression at universities. The guidance aims to coherently definite legal rights and obligations around free speech with a view to empowering student unions and individuals. It also details the limited occasions where free speech can lawfully be limited. It has been produced with input from the National Union of Students, Universities UK, Charity Commission for England and Wales, Office for Students, Independent HE, Guild HE, Commission for Countering Extremism and Home Office.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

Free speech is a value integral to the independence and innovation that embodies the higher education sector in the UK, fuelling academic thought and challenging injustice. This guidance is a symbol of the commitment from across the sector to protecting freedom of speech.

David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

The free expression and exchange of different views without persecution or interference goes straight to the heart of our democracy and is a vital part of higher education. Holding open, challenging debates rather than silencing the views of those we don’t agree with helps to build tolerance and address prejudice and discrimination. Our guidance makes clear that freedom of speech in higher education should be upheld at every opportunity.

Key points

  • Everyone has the right to express and receive views and opinions, including those that may ‘offend, shock or disturb others’.
  • Protecting freedom of expression is a legal requirement for most higher education providers. Students’ unions also have a role to play, although their legal duties are different (see section 2).
  • Higher education providers need to have a code that sets out their policies and procedures relating to external speakers, and make sure their procedures don’t create unnecessary barriers to free speech. They also need to make sure all students are aware of the code (see section 2.2).
  • There are some circumstances where UK law limits the right to freedom of expression, for example, to protect national security or to prevent crime (see section 3).
  • Most higher education providers and students’ unions are registered charities and have a charitable purpose to further students’ education for the public benefit. Free speech is an important part of meeting this purpose (see section 3.3).
  • The starting point should be that any event can go ahead, but higher education providers have to consider all their legal duties carefully (see section 6).

It has been criticised because it clarifies, but does not resolve, some of the contradictions and competing responsibilities for institutions and students’ unions.

On Academic Freedom:

  • Freedom of expression is relevant to, but should not be confused with, the important principle of academic freedom. Academic freedom relates to the intellectual independence of academics in respect of their work, including the freedom to undertake research activities, express their views, organise conferences and determine course content without interference.
  • As part of their duties under Article 10 and the s.43 duty, HEPs must protect the freedom of expression of academics and staff. Student complaints and protests should not result in HEPs imposing limits on course content or speaker events organised by lecturers. HEPs should also take steps, such as providing support to their staff, where necessary to make sure that the pressure of student complaints does not lead to self-censorship of academic work. They must also ensure that internal policies (for example, policies to comply with the Prevent duty) do not unduly inhibit academic freedom.

On visiting speakers

  • The s.43 duty does not mean that any group or speaker has a right to be invited to speak to students on HEP premises or at SUs. What it does mean is that a speaker who has been invited to speak at a meeting or other event should not be stopped from doing so unless:
  • they are likely to express unlawful speech, or
  • their attendance would lead the host organisation to breach other legal obligations and no reasonably practicable steps can be taken to reduce these risks.

That is interesting given the view that Peter Hitchen expressed on Radio 4 that being “uninvited” to an SU event was censorship.  The way I read the paragraph above, uninviting him isn’t but preventing him speaking once he arrived would be…but that is not what the guidance says:

  • SUs are entitled – and required, to the extent that the speech may break the law – to consider ‘harm’ that someone’s views may cause to some of their members, when deciding whether to invite a speaker to an event they are organising. However, if a speaker has already been invited by an SU society or group and the speech will be lawful, the SU will need to consider their obligations under their HEP’s s.43 code of practice. If an SU cancels a speaker in these circumstances, their HEP has a duty to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the speaker event can proceed.

The guidance is 54 pages long and each set of circumstances will need to be worked through by each SU and institution in each case, and the outcomes will always be reliant on interpretation of the guidance and the judgement of those making the decision.  This is one issue that, being about politics as well as being a political issue, has dominated the news on a regular basis since Jo Johnson started to make a song and dance about it, and will no doubt continue to run and run.

Ethnic Disparities

On Monday the DfE published a Written Ministerial Statement on Race Disparity Audit which aims to push the HE sector to drive change in tackling inequalities between ethnic groups. The acute sector issues are levels of non-continuation, degree class achieved compared to non-ethnic minority peers, and progression to good quality employment. The statement goes on to remind that in tackling ethnic disparities the Government has established the OfS and legislated for greater transparency and scrutiny through the Higher Education and Research Act.

The statement continues with the actions the Government expect (very similar to those trailed in the speech reported in last week’s policy update):

  • Asking the Office for Students to ensure higher education providers demonstrate how they are tackling differences in access and successful participation for students from ethnic minorities – the Office for Students will be expected to hold providers to account, in particular through Access and Participation plans, which set out how higher education providers will improve equality of opportunity for under-represented groups, to access, succeed in and progress from higher education. The Office for Students will be expected to use its new powers to challenge providers failing to make progress.
  • Asking league table compilers to consider performance on tackling inequalities between ethnic groups in university rankings – working with a wide range of experts, stakeholders and league table compilers.
  • Encouraging higher education providers to eliminate ethnic disparities in their workforce – using tools such as the Race at Work Charter and Race Equality Charter.
  • Supporting student choice through better information, advice and guidance- by reforming the Unistats website using evidence from research with students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.
  • Building the evidence base on ‘what works’ for improving ethnic minority access and successful participation – encouraging the winning bidder of the newly established Evidence and Impact Exchange to make improving the evidence around addressing ethnic disparities a priority.

These actions will be supported by the Office for Students in their role as the regulator, Advance HE who will launch a review of their Race Equality Charter, and UKRI who will signal their support for reducing ethnic disparities in research and innovation funding.

Debbie McVitty from Wonkhe did some analysis of the position, looking at the OFS report issued alongside the and the recent UCU report on the experience of Black female professors:

  • These reports demonstrate the complex and pernicious ways that higher education cultures can enable behaviours that marginalise and exclude. Rollock’s respondents, for example, detail incidents of “passive aggressive acts, avoidance, undermining and exclusion”. These sorts of incidents create an exhausting double bind – to process one’s own emotional response so as to avoid being labelled angry or irrational, and to redouble one’s efforts to perform to prove oneself worthy of one’s position in the teeth of the covert scepticism of one’s peers.
  • The authors of the OfS report record concerns over a lack of discussion of racism and discrimination, insufficient Black or minority ethnic leaders and/or leaders with the critical perspective to drive action in this area, the perpetuation of deficit models, with interventions based on racist stereotypes. Also noted was the failure to involve Black and minority ethnic students in the design and delivery of targeted interventions, as well as a lack of diversity in the curriculum.

The OfS commissioned report has a series of recommendations

  • Providers should improve their institutional data systems so that they can consistently capture good quality data; this will ensure that activities can be effectively targeted and interventions effectively evaluated.
  • This may require the aggregation of data across multiple years to ensure that more nuanced patterns of disadvantage can be identified and addressed.
  • Whilst course level data can be helpful in mobilising course leaders to effect change, presenting statistical data as proportions or percentages can be unhelpful where numbers are low. Rather, the focus should be on numbers of individual students. This also helps to personify students with inequitable outcomes and can serve as a useful counter to increasingly abstract discussions.
  • Providers should make their BAME access, retention, success and progression data public to all students and staff. This includes making it readily available internally (including at departmental/course level data) and externally (for example through a dedicated institutional website with both data and plans to tackle inequalities).
  • Providers should ensure that data is contextualised for students and accompanied by a clear action plan which indicates what action the provider is taking to ensure that the gap is reduced and then eradicated.
  • Providers should take a holistic approach to addressing inequalities for specific minority ethnic groups ensuring a balance of interventions across the full student lifecycle.
  • Providers should demonstrate in their access and participation plans how they will balance the focus of ‘inclusive’ and ‘targeted/exclusive’ interventions across the student lifecycle.
  • HE providers should summarise, on an annual basis, their annual spend on targeted interventions–across each aspect of the student lifecycle (access, retention, attainment, progression). This should include ways in which additional fee income is being used as well how interventions are being funded from as other sources, such as from the Addressing Barriers to Student Success (ABSS) programme funded by the Office for Students.

REF2021

Sarah Foxen of the UK Parliament’s Knowledge Exchange Unit, part of POST, has written for Wonkhe on policy impact (a question that you know is close to our hearts).

We have been working with Research England for over a year to help ensure a shared understanding of what parliamentary impact is and how it can be evidenced in REF 2021. Last spring, those involved in the delivery of REF 2021 asked us to produce a briefing for them explaining both what is useful and impactful for legislatures, and how engagement and impact can be evidenced. The briefing proved useful and fed directly into the drafting of guidelines and panel criteria.

Research England and panel members have taken onboard a number of the points we made in our briefing, which now feature in the final Panel Criteria and Working Methods. These points are found in Annex A: Examples of impacts and indicators.

As for what constitutes parliamentary impact, we all agree that:

  • Research is used by parliamentarians to develop proposals for new legislation through Private Members’ Bills, or to assist scrutiny of legislation and inform amendments to other bills such as those introduced by government.
  • Research helps to highlight issues of concern to parliamentarians and contributes to new analysis of existing issues.
  • Research helps parliamentarians and staff to identify inquiry topics, shape the focus of inquiries, inform questioning of witnesses, and underpin recommendations.
  • Research equips parliamentarians, their staff, and legislative staff with new analytical or technical skills, or refreshes existing ones.

As for indicators of reach and significance, there is a shared understanding that this can be evidenced through:

  • Direct citations of research in parliamentary publications such as Hansard, committee reports, evidence submissions, or briefings.
  • Acknowledgements to researchers on webpages, in reports or briefings.
  • Quantitative indicators or statistics on the numbers of attendees or participants at a research event, or website analytics for online briefings.
  • Qualitative feedback from participants or attendees at research events.
  • Data to show close working relationships with Members or staff, for example, the number of meetings held, minutes from these meetings, membership of working groups, co-authoring of publications.
  • Testimonials from members, committees or officials, where available.
  • Analysis by third-party organisations of parliamentary proceedings or processes, for example studies of the passage of particular pieces of legislation.

We are also delighted to see that those administering REF 2021 took on our suggestion (and perhaps that of others too) that certain kinds of impact only acknowledged in panel C in the draft guidelines will now be valued by all panels:

  • The panels acknowledge that there may be impacts arising from research which take forms such as holding public or private bodies to account or subjecting proposed changes in society, public policy, business practices, and so on to public scrutiny. Such holding to account or public scrutiny may have had the effect of a proposed change not taking place; there may be circumstances in which this of itself is claimed as an impact. There may also be examples of research findings having been communicated to, but not necessarily acted upon, by the intended audience, but which nevertheless make a contribution to critical public debate around policy, social or business issues. The panels also recognise that research findings may generate critique or dissent, which itself leads to impact(s). For example, research may find that a government approach to a particular social, health, food-/ biosecurity or economic issue is not delivering its objectives, which leads to the approach being questioned or modified.

Brexit – Update from the Home Office on the EU Settlement Scheme

The Home Office has been piloting the EU Settlement Scheme application process. There will be difference between the pilots and the full launch of the scheme. This includes the current testing of an app which checks an individual’s identity document.

  • However, when the scheme is fully live at the end of March, use of the app will be optional and people will be able to send their identity document in the post or get their passport checked in over 50 locations.
  •  The scheme will be fully live by 30 March 2019, and under the draft Withdrawal Agreement applicants will have until 30 June 2021 to apply via a computer or any mobile device.

Following the January announcement that fees for the scheme will be waived the Government has confirmed that “anyone who has applied already, or who applies and pays a fee during the test phases, will have their fee refunded. Applicants should make payment using the card they want to be refunded on. Further details of the refunds process will be published shortly.”

Research

The Government published the second independent report on Open Access research compiled by Professor Adam Tickell who is the Chair of the UK Open Access Co-ordination Group. It presents a refreshed evidence base, and addresses specific questions raised by Jo Johnson back when he was Universities Minister in November 2017.

The Government have also published Chris Skidmore’s (current HE Minister) response letter:

  • In supporting the UK research endeavour, we are seeking to increase knowledge, enhance public life, expand our economy, and transform public services. For us to realise these benefits and more, research needs to be openly available.
  • It is therefore right that students, researchers, businesses and anyone with an interest should be able to access, without additional cost, the publicly-funded research findings of our great universities and research institutes.
  • Your advice demonstrates that the UK is at the forefront of the global movement towards Open Access to research. Over half of the publications arising from publicly funded research can now be read online and without payment, one year after publication. It is a significant achievement to have reached the current rate of Open Access adoption and I look forward to UKRI pursuing routes which allow us to reach our 100% target in an affordable way.
  • Progress in Open Access has been achieved as a result of cooperation between research funders, universities, learned societies and publishers: I am grateful for their continued participation.

One of Professor Tickell’s earlier recommendations was to establish an Open Research Data Task Force. Their final report has been published here. The report is an overview of open research data policy and infrastructure landscape in the UK.

Other news

Pensions:  HEPI have published a new report on the USS pension scheme, noting its growth from a small scale operation into the largest private pension scheme in the UK. It discusses the scars left by the recent pension strikes and sees failure to learn from past successful pension reforms as a cause with parties becoming bogged down in technical discussion losing the bigger picture – such as the relationship between pay and pensions. It describes three possible ways forward and concludes: Despite the recent turmoil, we should not lose sight of the deep commitment by universities, over many decades, to ensure their staff have secure retirement incomes. In the midst of a strike, it can be easy to forget your opponents may be well intentioned too.’ HEPI have also published a response by UCU.

Extra curricular activities: The education secretary Damian Hinds has launched an “activity passport” aimed at encouraging school pupils to pursue new experiences and activities, including searching for butterflies, taking part in a Roman banquet and flying a kite.

Apprenticeships (from Wonkhe): TES reports that more than 80% of employers who pay the apprenticeship levy have hired no apprentices.

Appointments: Sutton Trust CEO Lee Elliot Major is leaving the Sutton Trust to take up a post as Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter. Here is his (short) reflective blog upon leaving.

Mental health in schools: Up to 370 schools will join one of the largest trials in the world to boost the evidence about what works to support mental health and wellbeing.  The pilot is expected to include a range of new techniques including mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques and breathing exercise.  The trials will test five different approaches including two trials in secondary schools of short information sessions either led by a specialist instructor or by trained teachers and three trials in primary and secondary schools that focus on exercises drawn from mindfulness practice, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques and recognising the importance of support networks including among their own peers. Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

As a society, we are much more open about our mental health than ever before, but the modern world has brought new pressures for children, while potentially making others worse. Schools and teachers don’t have all the answers, nor could they, but we know they can play a special role which is why we have launched one of the biggest mental health trials in schools. These trials are key to improving our understanding of how practical, simple advice can help young people cope with the pressures they face.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

Follow: @PolicyBU on Twitter                   |                       policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

HE Policy Update for the w/e 1st February 2019

This week we bring you the latest on unconditional offers, Parliament give the nod to accelerated degree funding, the wonk-press frenzy in dissecting Chris Skidmore’s first formal speech, and a little on the B-word.

Universities Minister speaks out

Chris Skidmore gave his inaugural formal speech as Universities Minister on Thursday which set out his vision for the higher education sector. He began by raising the uncertainties of Brexit and the knock on effect on recruitment, staffing and funding. He acknowledged the Post 18 HE Review added to this uncertainty and strove to reassure:

  • I hear your concerns and I am keen to work with you during this difficult period.
  • My vision for our universities and colleges is a positive one. I’m not going to be a Minister who comes in and beats up or needlessly berates the sector. Instead, I want to restate my commitment to you today to work in partnership with you to ensure our higher education sector remains one that works for everyone and of which we can be proud in generations to come.
  • Given the extent of recent regulatory changes, I understand the prospect of increased government intervention may raise alarm bells in the sector. But let me reassure you today that, as a former academic myself, I fully appreciate the concept of institutional autonomy. And I believe so much of what is good about our universities today has come about because of the freedom they have been able to exercise.

He continued on to talk of the TEF and the independent review which is “an important opportunity to take stock of the TEF from a constructively critical perspective”. On accelerated degrees he acknowledged they weren’t for everyone but were “just one way that the sector can expand its offerings for those who are looking for something different from their higher education experience”.

Value for money, the LEO data, and student mental health got a mention and there were hints in there that Skidmore feels passionately about students who drop out of university.

  • On LEO: I also realise the LEO data could be developed further. So I am keen to engage with the sector to explore how to make the most of this data going forwards. For one, I want to look at ways of making this data more readily available to the academic research community to allow for more in-depth analysis. I also intend to set up a Data Advisory Committee to help me ensure, as Minister, that we are making the most of the opportunities thrown up by these rich new datasets and that they are being used in the best way possible – to ensure they are reaching those who could benefit from them; that they are being used in context; and that their insights and implications are being fully understood. 

And perhaps positive thoughts for a balanced sector amid the differential fees rumours of late:

  • As much as I see the value of more data, I am also aware of concerns it has given rise to about the value for money of certain courses, disciplines and institutions. On this, I believe we need to take a step back and ask what exactly value for money means in the context of higher education. Successful outcomes for students and graduates are about much more than salary: if we are to define value purely in economic terms, based on salary levels or tax contributions, then we risk overlooking the vital contribution of degrees of social value, such as Nursing or Social Care, not to mention overlooking the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – the very disciplines that make our lives worth living.
  • How you define value for money depends heavily on how you envisage the kind of world you want to live in. For my part, a society without people to care for each other; to support each other; to teach the next generation; or to step in selflessly in times of crisis is a very sad society indeed. Equally, although I am officially Minister for Science, I take great pride in wanting to be Minister for the Arts and Humanities as well – disciplines which enrich our culture and society, and have an immeasurable impact on our health and wellbeing.
  • As we move forwards into the future, the last thing I want to see is value judgements emerging which falsely divide the Sciences and Engineering from the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. To do so would be a travesty. Our future success depends on all these disciplines being completely intertwined.  

Although perhaps celebrations should be tempered by the fact Chris gave his speech at the Royal Academic of Dramatic Arts.

He concluded: In my vision for the sector, people should be free to embark on higher education at any time that is right for them. We should build bridges to make this happen. By 2030, I want us to have built a post-18 education system that gives people the flexibility they need – so that no-one who has quit higher education, for whatever reason or circumstance, has to feel they have dropped out with no routes back in later in their lives.

However, Wonkhe were not convinced by the Minister, they say:

  • Talk was that RADA auditions were being held on the day a nervous Chris Skidmore took to a small stage in the bar to address a critical audience of wonks and journalists. But did he pass?
  • I’d have to say….no. Not on the lack of strength in his own performance, but on the blandness of his material. It was a crop of sector pleasing bromides that failed to hold attention and gave him little to work with. There were no popular press-pleasing pot shots at universities – so that’s the good news. He’s pitching himself more as late Sam Gymiah, less as Jo Johnson. But as a former history lecturer and pop-punk agitator, you expect the well-struck aside and the fascinating digression to be a part of Skidmore’s armoury – first time out he played it straight. I sat there for 30 minutes, and my abiding memory was him repeatedly hedging statements with the world “overwhelmingly”.
  • But there was little chance of the select audience being overwhelmed – the most interesting thing we learned was that Skidmore had already visited ten universities (naming most of them in the speech), and enjoyed responding to Radio 4 tweet prompts. There were no questions, and no huddle afterwards for journalists – though THE apparently has an exclusive interview. Good luck to them.

Research Professional said: Chris Skidmore may not be in office for long, but his choice of setting and conciliatory tone in yesterday’s inaugural speech suggest there will be changes from the Johnson/Gyimah era. Not since David Willetts in 2010 has a universities minister arrived in post waving an olive branch rather than a brickbat.

They continue:

  • Inaugural speeches from ministers also need to be looked at for what they do not contain. In the case of Skidmore’s outing yesterday, there was little about science, engineering or research. The phrase “world leading” cropped up many times as you would expect, but there was also no mention of the Russell Group, although Oxford and Cambridge did get a line.
  • There was the ritual nod to his predecessors—and every sign that the emphasis on mental health under Sam Gyimah will continue—but in other respects, we should expect some clearing out.
  • One of the most revealing sections of the speech was on the TEF. Skidmore began by appreciating that there is disquiet over the TEF but then added that “no university should shy away from it”. He mentioned that Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review “provides an important opportunity to take stock of the TEF from a constructively critical perspective”. And then came the killer line: “Dame Shirley has commissioned the Office for National Statistics to carry out an analysis of the statistical information used in TEF assessments and its suitability for generating TEF ratings.”
  • Thanks to evidence from the Royal Statistical Society and the views of the Department for Education’s own office of the chief scientist, we already know that statisticians are singularly unimpressed with the TEF’s lack of statistical rigour. It is not beyond possibility that the Pearce review might precipitate the beginning of the end for the TEF. Skidmore ended with a call for universities to help twist the knife: “I hope that you will take the opportunity to make your views known to Dame Shirley over the consultation period ahead.”
  • Skidmore also went out of his way to praise the UK’s modern universities, something that ministers rarely do.

Here’s the link if you want to read more of Research Professional’s take on the Minister’s speech.

Post-18 review

This from Research Professional: Augar leaks have substance, says Sussex vice-chancellor who claims that many of the rumours about the Review of post-18 Education and Funding are true (lower fees, barring lower grades from accessing loans, higher fees for medicine and science).

The House of Commons library has produced a briefing overview on the state of part time undergraduate education in England, discussing the decline in numbers and the impact this has on the HE sector. Traditionally the view has been that part time student numbers have dropped because of the introduction of higher tuition fees, the lack of viable loan funding and the influence of not funding a second degree for a student who has previously studied at the same level. The timing of the Commons briefing release this week coincides with an announcement from the Welsh Government of a 35% increase in part time undergraduates from Wales. Welsh post-grads have been were eligible for dedicated bursaries and support from Welsh universities since 2018/19.  With means-tested grants and loans to be introduced from September 2019. The news story attributes the success through increased numbers to the new Welsh student support system. Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said:

  • “This is fantastic news and a real vote of confidence in our student support package, the first of its kind in the UK or Europe.
  • We have always said that high living costs are the main barrier for students when thinking about university. Our package of support was specifically designed to address these concerns, making it easier for people to study part-time, especially if they have work or family commitments.
  • Our radical approach to supporting part-time study is essential to improving social mobility, employment outcomes, access to the professions and delivering on our commitment to lifelong learning.”

The DfE published analysis on the importance of financial factors in decisions about higher education.

Key Findings:

  • Some groups do express greater debt aversion than others, especially:
    •  those planning to live at home whilst studying (35%),
    •  those of a non-white ethnicity (30%), and
    • those from lower socio-economic group (26%).
  • 63% of applicants expected to use parents or 62% savings as a source of income whilst at university (particularly applicants from higher socio-economic groups (75% and 70% respectively).
  • University was the only option considered by the majority of applicants (75%), (this increases to 78% for Russell group applicants). This was consistent across socio-economic backgrounds. Getting a job and travelling were the main alternatives considered by applicants
  • The course offered (82%), university reputation (58%), and potential for high future earnings (41%) were the most commonly cited major influences on applicants’ choices about where to study.
  • Around half of applicants (54%) said they were ‘put off’ to some extent by the costs associated with university.

Accelerated Degrees

This week the Lords approved the statutory instrument which makes provision for the elevated fee level (and accompanying loan arrangements) to facilitate and prompt more universities to offer faster intensive degree programmes. The BBC reports on the decision. Ex-Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, pushed for the accelerated degrees calling on universities to shake up their offer and provide more flexibility, included accelerated provision, to meet the needs of a wider range of students and businesses. While there can be inertia inherent within large, established organisations who know their recruitment draw well the sector did not offer opposition to the push for accelerated degrees. The welcome to the new arrangements has been similar to that for degree apprenticeships, perhaps slower uptake overall than the Government wanted and often for good reason – the devil is in the delivery detail. Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, sums it up:

  • “Greater choice for students is always good but I would caution ministers against ‘over-promising’. The government’s own projection for the likely take-up of these degrees is modest and we actually hear many students calling for four-year degrees, for example, to spend a year on a work placement or studying abroad. I wouldn’t want disadvantaged students to rule out a traditional three-year course because they didn’t believe they could afford it. Doing a more compressed degree also reduces the opportunity for part-time work, potentially increasing short-term financial pressure.”

It will be interesting to watch how many programmes are actually launched and the eventual outcomes for students.

Unconditional Offers

UCAS published data on unconditional offers on Thursday detailing the significant rise in unconditional offers nationally. There were no new messages and we’ve already shared the details with you in the recent policy updates. The only change is that the OfS now have an ‘independent’ and reliable national data set from which to push for the sector to reduce its overuse of unconditional offers to support recruitment requirements. With the threat of sanctions from the Competition and Markets Authority as a harbinger of doom for any institutions who fail to heed warnings and curb their excessive overuse. Smita Jamdar dissects the threat below.

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

  • ‘I welcome the publication of this data by UCAS, and the increased transparency it brings around the use of unconditional offers.
  • ‘We are especially concerned about ‘conditional unconditional offers’. These are offers where a student has to commit to making a particular university their first choice before the offer becomes unconditional. The risk is that this places undue pressure on students to reach a decision which may not be in their best interests.
  • ‘As we made clear when we published our insight brief on this topic last week, there are some good reasons why universities might make unconditional offers. However, for a number of universities this data will make uncomfortable reading – where they cannot justify the offers they make they should reconsider their approach.’

The OfS also issued a news story warning universities against indiscriminate use of unconditional offers stating it ‘is akin to pressure selling and could put them in breach of consumer law’. The statement accompanies the launch of a new series of Insight briefs on ‘priority policy issues’ you can read the first research paper on unconditional offers here.

Wonkhe ran an article by Smita Jamdar of Shakespeare Martineau, on the OFS’s allegations that some practices in offer making could amount to “pressure selling”.  Smita says that there are several ways that unconditional offers could be relevant to consumer law:

  • The first is falsely stating that an offer will only be open for acceptance for a particular time, or will only remain available on certain terms for a certain time. The second is providing distorted information about market conditions to get a consumer to purchase the service on terms that are less favourable than market conditions. So cases where students are put under pressure to accept quickly, or to accept because they won’t get a better offer elsewhere, might amount to a banned practice.
  • Depending on the facts and circumstances, there may be other features of unconditional offers that constitute “aggressive practices”. A practice is aggressive if it significantly impairs a consumer’s freedom of choice through coercion or undue influence and it leads to the consumer entering into a transaction where he or she would not otherwise have done so. Persistence, and exploiting any vulnerability on the part of the consumer, are examples of factors that could lead to a practice being regarded as aggressive.
  • Finally, the regulations also make unlawful a broader range of “unfair practices”. A practice is unfair if it contravenes the requirements of professional diligence and materially distorts or is likely to distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer (average in the context of the regulations means taking into account any particular vulnerabilities of the consumer group targeted, so in the case of many prospective students, their youth and inexperience).

Of course, any case will depend on its particular facts.  Action might be taken in court for a criminal offence, by the Competition and Markets Authority seeking assurances about compliance, or by a student seeking redress – including withdrawing from their programme and getting their course fees back.

Here are some press links: The GuardianThe TelegraphDaily MailThe TimesTESFinancial Times and the Belfast Telegraph highlights Northern Ireland’s two universities who between them only made 10 unconditional offers for the last cycle.

Prior to the UCAS data release Dean Machin from Portsmouth wrote a thought provoking HEPI blog on UCAS as the gate keeper of admissions data and how their previous reluctance to release data may actually have implications for the Competitions and Market Authority too.

This story will run and run and we can expect more from the OfS in the coming months.

Admissions  – and access to HE

Meanwhile a new blog on Wonkhe rounds up the end of the 2018 application cycle to give a national comparative perspective. Wonkhe also comment: For the 2018 cycle overall, the relentless rise of the Russell Group seems to have slowed, with post-92 institutions the big winners in terms of year on year growth in acceptances. There’s also some surprises in those seeing large year-on-year shrinkage

Lastly, the HESA 2017/2018 release reports that the number of students in higher education in 2017/18 is at a five year high (2,343,095 students), and reflects a steady increase since 2012/13. The increased numbers also reflect increased diversity within the student body with a growing proportion of black, Asian, and mixed background students, as well as those from other ethnicities, and increased levels of students with a disability.

However, David Lidington MP, is not encouraged by the increased diversity within the HESA statistics and spoke out via a Government news story on Friday. The story announces measures to improve outcomes for ethnic minority students in higher education… [which are] part of a bold cross-government effort to “explain or change” ethnic disparities highlighted by the Prime Minister’s Race Disparity Audit website, so people can achieve their true potential, whatever their background and circumstances.

The figures from the Race Disparity Audit and OfS show that while record numbers of ethnic minorities are attending university, only 56% of black students achieved a First or 2:1 compared to 80% of their white peers in 2016/2017, and black students are the most likely to drop out of university. In the workforce, only 2% of academic staff are black. White British low-income males remain the least likely to attend higher education.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, said he expected universities’ access and participation plans: to contain ambitious and significant actions to make sure we are seeing material progress in this space in the next few years…It is one of my key priorities as the Universities Minister to ensure… we redouble our efforts to tackle student dropout rates. It cannot be right that ethnic minority students are disproportionately dropping out of university and I want to do more to focus on student experience to help ethnic minority students succeed at university.

The carrot and stick measures include:

  • Holding universities to account through their Access and Participation plans – with the OfS using their powers to tackle institutions who do not fulfil their promises
  • Including progress in tackling access and attainment disparities within league tables to pressurise institutions to make better progress
  • OfS to develop a new website replacing Unistats with a particular mindset to ensuring the needs of disadvantaged students are taken into account. The website will provide better information to students so they can make informed choices.
  • Reducing ethnic disparities in research and innovation funding – UK Research and Innovation is commissioning evidence reviews on challenges for equality and diversity and how they can be addressed.
  • Gathering evidence on what works to improve ethnic minority access and success – through the OfS Evidence and Impact Exchange
  • Reviewing the Race Equality Charter. Advance HE will look at how the sector charter can best support better outcomes for both ethnic minority staff and students.
  • Encouragement for institutions to address race disparities in their workforce – using tools such as the Race at Work Charter and Race Equality Charter.
  • Scrutiny of each universities published data on admissions and attainment broken down by ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic background with a focus on all institutions to make progress, not just providers who have the poorest records.

The OfS have also published their commissioned research into Understanding and overcoming the challenges of targeting students from under-represented and disadvantage ethnic backgrounds. WP Wonks will recognise some familiar names from the sector within the authors of the report. There are also guidance and case studies available on the OfS page.

The OfS have published a case study of a successful academic study skills support service programme implemented in three northern FE colleges for non-traditional HE learners to support their transition and success at HE level. The study found engineering and IT students the hardest to reach with few self-accessing the service. The case study describes changes made to scheduling, flexibility in approach and embedding core elements within the programme induction. The programme’s success was partly measured using the Duckworth’s GRIT questionnaire. Which looks at confidence levels and the ability to sustain interest in and effort towards long-term goals, such as academic study.

In other WP news the Social Mobility Commission expect to issue their regular publication State of the Nation updated for the 2018 year in the spring.

Preparing and supporting students in the transition to University

Here is our regular student feature from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield…

On Wednesday 23rd January I attended a Westminster Briefing on behalf of SUBU, on supporting students into Higher Education (HE) which focused on how to prepare students with realistic expectations to help them transition into University life. The current generation (Z) is the most likely to go into Higher Education with almost half going to University, but student expectations aren’t always an accurate picture of reality and this is a problem for transitions. Unrealistic student expectations of Higher Education can be linked to access for widening participation students; student mental health; retention; progression and success. Alongside the importance of helping students to have realistic expectations of University, a key theme identified by each speaker was the significance of students developing a sense of belonging to help them transition into HE. Below are a few key thoughts from the day.

The briefing began with a presentation from Dominic Kingaby, the Student Experience Policy lead at the Department for Education (DfE), who emphasised the way that mental health affects incoming and current students. The Office for National Statistics’ work around Measuring National Wellbeing shows that prospective and current students have lower mental health than the general population. The 2017 ‘Reality Check’ report from HEPI and Unite Students found that around 1 in 8 applicants to University have pre-existing mental health conditions, which they often won’t disclose to their University. Mental Health can be exacerbated by a number of pressures which are part of University life, for example money issues, accommodation issues, assignment pressures etc. The report also found that when facing issues, 85% of prospective students would feel most comfortable talking to their friends/course-mates and flatmates about it, showing the importance of peer support and students establishing good friendships whilst at University.

It was reflected by the group that the pressures of going to University and the academic workload itself hasn’t necessarily changed that much in the last ten years however the mind sets of students have. Of course class sizes are bigger; students have more information at their fingertips and financing a degree is at the forefront of most students’ minds, which is intensified by social media and the news. Yet more than ever before, students are coming to University suffering with ideals of ‘perfectionism’ cultivated through years of their educational progress being monitoring and tracked from a very early age. (Dominic noted that he was feeding these unintended consequences of monitoring into the DfE). This ‘perfectionism’ then deepens a mantra of University just being for “a degree” and students having a sense that they don’t “have time” to take part in and be transformed by the whole experience. Consequently they are missing out on the vital extra-curricular elements which foster skills for progression and success. Students are also increasingly suffering with ‘Imposter Syndrome’ leading to sentiments of not belonging at University which impacts retention.

Students who aren’t prepared for HE will have very different expectations to the reality as FE is very different. The Government’s work on a strategy for tackling loneliness notes that “Students and those in higher education can be at risk of loneliness, especially when starting their course, and this can lead to greater feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and poor mental health.” On the academic side of things alone they will be challenged by the difference in student-staff ratios and going from fixed curriculums to independent self-study. It was agreed in the briefing that more needs to be done for students before they are even old enough to apply to University but there is also a lot that can be done in the period between an offer being given and coming to campus. There were a whole range of good practices from different institutions; from linking up incoming students with current students for peer support; to providing a portal for incoming students with all the information they would need on life at University (not just the academic side of things); and also a trial at Plymouth University of the whole of the first year being a transitionary period.

Other noteworthy aspects of the briefing include the impact that going to an Insurance choice rather than a 1st choice can have on delaying the ‘sense of belonging’ that a student has. It was also discussed that with a diverse student body with many different identities, transition needs to be a whole institutional and partnership approach. Universities need to work alongside their Students’ Unions to offer a diverse package of support and activities for students. An example of how this can help is; one student may speak to their academic advisor because they know them from one of their units and therefore feel comfortable seeking support on an issue with them, whereas another student facing the same issue may instead get the support and information they need when speaking to their peers at their academic society. Both students have the same support needs but their identities and ‘sense of belonging’ are different, therefore they get this support from different places. This shows how a whole institution-collaborative approach is needed for transitions and student support.

Brexit

From Research Professional:

  • Tuesday night’s vote on Graham Brady’s amendment to require the government to reopen negotiations with the European Union over the withdrawal agreement was one of the more bizarre moments of theatre in the Brexit process, with the prime minister voting for a backbencher’s amendment against the deal she had spent two years negotiating.
  • You may be wondering how the cavalcade of MPs with a significant interest in higher education voted. Former science ministers and second-referendum advocates Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah both abstained from the vote. Universities minister Chris Skidmore and his boss Damian Hinds voted with (sorry, against, but really with) the government. Gordon Marsden and Chi Onwurah of Labour voted against the amendment, naturally. Greg Clark and other business ministers voted for the amendment.
  • Eight Conservative MPs voted against the amendment but not Johnson and Gyimah, which is curious.

From Dods: On Monday morning the Exiting the European Union Committee have published their twelfth report of session 2017-2019 on ‘Assessing the Options.’ The report is the first published since the defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement and covers a number of outcomes and assessments:

  • No deal: The report says that there is deep concern about the readiness of business for a no-deal exit and that the “Government’s belated efforts to engage with business and provide some form of guidance is unlikely to be sufficient to mitigate the worst effects of a no-deal exit.” It also highlights that the Government’s no-deal technical notices “place significant weight on assumptions about how the EU will respond in the event of no-deal”,  and that the maintenance of goodwill depends on a settlement of financial obligations and a generous guarantee of the rights of EU citizens.
  • Renegotiation of the deal: The report argues that a renegotiation of the Political Declaration would, most likely, require a limited extension of the Article 50 process; a deal that would enable frictionless trade to continue is not possible under a CETA-style free trade agreement with the EU and under such rules N Ireland would have to trade under different rules from the rest of the UK as set out in the backstop; A Norway Plus relationship between the UK and the EU would enable frictionless trade on the condition that the UK continued to adhere to EU rules – including the Single Market and remain in a UK-EU customs union.
  • A second referendum: The report acknowledges that a second referendum would be logistically and politically complex, but not unobtainable if the will existed in UK Parliament. However, there is now insufficient time to hold a referendum before 29 March 2019 and so if the will for one did exist then Article 50 would have to request an extension to Article 50.  The report highlights that under the Wightman Judgement there is a possibility of the UK unilaterally revoking the notification to leave under Article 50 but makes the distinction that this would not be a mechanism to buy time and would instead bring the withdrawal process to an end.
  • Conclusion: The report says there is no majority in the House for the Prime Minister’s deal in its current form and repeats the recommendation of the eleventh report that “it is vital that the House of Commons is now given the opportunity to identify an option that might secure a majority.” It says that there does not appear to be a majority for no deal exit but acknowledges that this remains the default outcome if the House is unable to approve the deal or pass legislation required to implement it in domestic law. It concludes that the final options remaining are for re-negotiation, legislate for a referendum, or the revoking or extension of Article 50.

Process – from the BBCThe next steps and the various alternative scenarios are set out nicely here with an exploration of each of the different possibilities

 From HEPI:

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has worked with polling company YouthSight to survey  FT UG students’ attitudes towards Brexit. Students are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the European Union:

  • 76% opt for remaining in the EU
  • 6% back Theresa May’s recently rebuffed deal
  • 7% for no deal
  • 11% undecided.

However, opinion divides further when the option to remain is removed:

  • 37% opt for Theresa May’s deal
  • 36% ‘don’t know’
  • 27% choose no deal

Student opinion is interesting because only 43% were eligible to vote in the 2016 referendum (93% are eligible now). Some facts:

  • 69% want a second referendum
  • 21% are willing to work through their MP to demonstrate their voice within the Parliamentary voting
  • 8% of students who did vote in the referendum said they would change the way they voted if there was another referendum. With Leave voters more likely to change the way they voted in a second referendum (34%) than Remain voters (2%).
  • If students were given the choice between remaining in the EU and no deal:
  • 80% of them would choose to remain
  • 10% no deal
  • 10% unsure
  • 75% of students believe Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU (14% believe it was right to vote to leave, 12% unsure).

And separately:

  • 74% believe the Government is doing badly at listening and engaging effectively with young people over Brexit.
  • 77% of students believe their future prospects will be worsened by the decision to leave the European Union (13%  expect improved prospects, 11% believe it makes no difference).

Student opinion on the political parties: support for Labour is strongest but has dropped 10% since the previous HEPI poll, Theresa May as a leader is unpopular amongst students while student’s choosing to vote Conservative or for the Liberal Democrats remains relatively stable. You can read more on student party opinions in the full blog here.

Students say they would turn out to vote in high numbers should there be a General Election (81% would vote). HEPI note this supports recent trends, as it was estimated that 64% of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2017 election, the highest turnout for this age group since the 1992 election.

Science Salaries

The Minister also gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee this week noting concern that the recommended minimum salary thresholds for EU workers after Brexit would be detrimental to science.

Temporary leave to remain

The Government have updated their policy issuing details of Temporary leave to remain as a Brexit no deal stopgap solution.  This relates to new arrivals after March if there is no deal – students and staff already in Britain should be fine as long as they can demonstrate their residency prior to Brexit. There is a three year limit on the temporary leave to remain which may have implications for students on 4 year courses, who may need to apply for a visa mid-course to complete their programme.

Here is the detail from Dods:

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 received its Second Reading on 28 January and has passed into Committee stage. On the same day, the Secretary of State for the Home Office, Sajid Javid, announced a new ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain in the UK’ as part of the Government’s no-deal Brexit planning.

The Government plans to implement the Immigration Bill and end free movement from 30 March 2019 in the event of a no-deal Brexit.  This means that for the most part, EU citizens and their family members who come to the UK from 30 March 2019 will require immigration permission to enter the UK. The Government and the Home Office will need rules in place to grant immigration leave to enter and remain to EU citizens.

However the Government has said that the new immigration rules, as set out in the White Paper, will “take some time to implement.” This means there will be a gap in immigration law and policy between the end of free movement and the implementation of the new immigration rules for EU citizens. To fill this gap, the Home Office has announced it will implement the new ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain in the UK,’ subject to parliamentary approval.

The main features of European Temporary Leave to Remain

EU citizens (including EFTA citizens) will be able to enter the UK as they do now (i.e. without the need for a visa/immigration permission) for a period of up to three months. During this time EU citizens will have the right to work and study in the UK.

EU citizens who wish to remain in the UK for more than the initial three months will need to apply for ‘European Temporary Leave’. The Home Office has explained that this will be done through an online application where the applicant will need to prove their identity and declare any criminal convictions. This sounds similar to the application process for ‘settled status’.

European Temporary Leave will allow the holder to remain in the UK for 36 months from the date of their application. EU citizens with this type of leave will have the right to work and study in the UK. It will be temporary and cannot be extended, nor will it lead to settlement in the UK. Holders of this type of leave would be required to apply for further leave to remain under the UK’s new immigration rules when implemented in the future. As the Home Office explains: “there may be some who do not qualify under the new arrangements and who will need to leave the UK when their leave expires.”

There will be an application fee and family permits will be required for non-EEA ‘close family members’. The Home Office explains in further detail:

  • “European Temporary Leave to Remain will allow EEA citizens arriving in the UK after 29 March 2019 to live, work and study in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal.
  • “EEA citizens who are granted European Temporary Leave to Remain will be able to stay in the UK for 36 months from the date of their application. European Temporary Leave to Remain will be a temporary, non-extendable immigration status. It will not give indefinite leave to remain (ILR), lead to status under the EU Settlement Scheme or make EEA citizens eligible to stay in the UK indefinitely. If EEA citizens want to stay in the UK for more than 36 months, they will need to apply for an immigration status under the new immigration system, which will come into effect from 1 January 2021. Those who do not qualify will need to leave the UK when their European Temporary Leave to Remain expires.”

Those who don’t need to apply

The following people will not be required to apply for European Temporary Leave:

  • EU citizens and their family members with settled or pre-settled status.
  • Irish citizens.

Those who are a “serious or persistent criminal or a threat to national security” will not be eligible and the UK’s deportation threshold will apply.

EU citizens can enter the UK with either their passport or a valid nationality identity card.

The Home Office explains that employers and landlords conducting right to work and rent checks for EU citizens will not be required “to start distinguishing between EU citizens who were resident before exit and post-exit arrivals.” Until 2021, EU citizens can continue to rely on their passports or national identity cards.

Settled status and no-deal

The introduction of European Temporary Leave does not affect those eligible for the settled status scheme. EU citizens living in the UK prior to 29 March 2019 can still apply for settled status in a no-deal Brexit, as European Temporary Leave is a status for those who arrive after 29 March 2019. For more information on this, see the Library’s Insight ‘What does the Withdrawal Agreement say about citizens’ rights?’.

The settled status scheme has completed its restricted pilot testing phases and is now open for applications from all eligible EU citizens. The Prime Minister Theresa May announced on 21 January 2019 that the £65 fee for settled status will be abolished. People who have already applied and paid the fee will be refunded.

The Home Office has further said that EEA citizens who arrive in the UK after 29 March 2019, but who had lived in the UK prior to 29 March 2019, will be eligible to apply for settled status. It is not clear what the specific eligibility requirements will be for people with these circumstances who wish to apply for settled status.

Further reading

Erasmus & Brexit

Erasmus+ and EU Solidarity Corps in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, funding is available from the government to underwrite all successful bids for UK applicants submitted to the Erasmus+ programme and EU Solidarity Corps while we are still in the EU, where planned projects can continue. The DfE have updated guidance.

The Government continue to recommend that applications are submitted to the European Commission or UK National Agency for the 2019 Erasmus+ and ESC Call for Proposals as normal. In the event that the UK leaves the EU with a withdrawal agreement in place, the UK will participate in Erasmus+ and the ESC until the end of the current cycle in 2020.

In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK will engage with the European Commission with the aim of securing the UK’s continued full participation in Erasmus+ and ESC until 2020. There are a range of options for the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus+ and ESC, including programme country status, partner country status or another arrangement. Partner country access to Erasmus+ varies between different regional groups.  In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the government’s underwrite guarantee will cover the payment of awards to UK applicants for all successful Erasmus+ and ESC bids.

The European Commission have also adopted a final set of contingency proposals in the area of the Erasmus+ programme.

Today’s measures would ensure that in the event of a “no-deal” scenario:

  • Young people from the EU and the UK who are participating in the Erasmus+ programme on 30 March 2019 can complete their stay without interruption;
  • EU Member State authorities will continue to take into account periods of insurance, (self) employment or residence in the United Kingdom before withdrawal, when calculating social security benefits, such as pensions;
  • UK beneficiaries of EU funding would continue to receive payments under their current contracts, provided that the United Kingdom continues to honour its financial obligations under the EU budget. This issue is separate from the financial settlement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Research

Research England have published the final guidance for the REF 2021.

Timeline:

  • In early 2020, the four UK higher education (HE) funding bodies will invite UK HEIs to make submissions to REF 2021.
  • Each submission in each UOA will contain a common set of data comprising information on all staff in post with significant responsibility for research on the census date, 31 July 2020; and information about former staff to whom submitted outputs are attributed
  • The deadline for submissions is 27 November 2020.
  • Submissions will be assessed by the REF panels during the course of 2021. Results will be published in December 2021, and will be used by the HE funding bodies to inform research funding from the academic year 2022–23.

Wonkhe discuss the key changes:

  • Some of the key changes in REF 2021 includes identifying more clearly staff who have significant responsibility for research in institutions and providing a consistent approach to interdisciplinary research. The guidance distinguishes between identifying staff who have significant responsibility for research from selecting those staff whose work is to be submitted for expert review.
  • Additionally, Dianne Berry, the chair of the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel has released a statement to address the concern that “measures put in place to promote inclusion and support equality and diversity might be used by institutions as a mechanism for excluding staff in order to concentrate quality in their submission,” and pressures on researchers to disclose sensitive information. The revised guidance references the importance of voluntary declaration of individual circumstances and decoupling staff circumstances from research output.

Catriona Firth writes the following blog for Wonkhe:, Head of Policy at Research England highlights the key features of REF 2021 and the REF Steering Group’s ongoing quest for injecting clarity in the review process.

Consultations & Inquiries

Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. There are lots of new updates to past inquiries and consultations, links to reports issued and Government responses to the reports. Currently we are working on:

  • Proposed changes to the degree classification system
  • EHRC inquiry into Racial harassment in HE
  • The TEF review
  • Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) proposals

We have recently submitted responses to:

  • Institutional cost of the current Tier 4 processing system
  • OfS’ approach to IAG

Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Insolvent FE providers: The Government has published guidance on changes to the statutory regulation of insolvency and interventions regimes for FE colleges. It aims to ensure that there is legal clarity about what will happen in the exceptional event of an FE or sixth-form college becoming insolvent. It will also aim to ensure that in the event of insolvency current students are protected – it includes a special administration regime for the sector called education administration, with the objective of avoiding or minimising disruption to the studies of the existing students of the FE body as a whole.  In March 2019, the DfE will publish full details setting out what is changing within the FE college intervention regime, ahead of the new insolvency regime coming into operational effect on 1 April 2019.

Apprenticeships: The CBI have published the first in a series of reports in 2019 on the apprenticeship and skills system. Getting Apprenticeships Right: Next Steps recommends that the Government gives the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) the independence and clout it needs to reform and regulate the English skills system. It calls for a new wave of Government action to ensure apprenticeships lead to high-skilled, high-paid jobs, which fit firms’ needs now and in the future. The Financial Times reported that the CBI has called for the creation of an independent apprenticeship body to “fix the failings” of the government’s reforms to workplace training. It goes on to say that CBI said:

the apprenticeship levy, which was introduced in April 2017 and forces organisations to set aside money for workplace training, had proved frustrating for many employers, which would like to train more staff but feel prevented from doing so by the system’s rules. The CBI argue that more independence should be given to the Institute for Apprenticeships, which oversees all workplace training schemes, adding that businesses had complained that the system gave too little time to spend the money.

The CBI’s report’s key recommendations include:

  • The Government must make clear that the Institute is the principal body for vocational skills in England with the clout to hold policymakers and the skills sector to account.
  • The Institute must take further steps to speed up the apprenticeship standards approval process so that businesses can start using them.
  • Given employer levy funds are due to start expiring from April 2019, the Government must urgently set up an appeals system that gives employers longer to spend their money where apprenticeship standards remain in development.
  • With the IfA assuming responsibility for T-levels and higher T-levels, they must set out how these routes will work in practice to give employers and the public confidence in them.

NEON report on Policy Connect’s/HE Commission Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard? report, stating: Findings are released by the Higher Education Commission which show that degree apprenticeships may be good in theory but they’re not delivering for small employers or disadvantaged students. The new report ‘Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard?’ reveals that of 51 approved degree apprenticeship standards, 43% have no providers that are delivering to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME), this is despite over 99% of UK businesses being SMEs.

Engineering: Education for Engineering has published a report arguing that the UK education system cannot produce enough engineers to support the economy, especially with increasing reliance on home grown talent post-Brexit. The report concludes that if the industrial strategy is to achieve its aims, government must nurture and grow its skilled engineering workforce to improve productivity and economic growth. Since the original Perkins Review, the report found that scant progress in addressing the UK’s chronic engineering skills gap has been made and calls on government and the engineering community to take urgent action. Report recommendations:

  • Government should review the issues affecting recruitment and retention of teachers and go beyond plans announced this week by introducing a requirement for 40 hours of subject-specific continuing professional development for all teachers of STEM subjects, not just new recruits, every year.
  • An urgent review of post-16 academic education pathways for England is needed. Young people should have the opportunity to study mathematics, science and technology subjects along with arts and humanities up to the age of 18, to attract a broader range of young people into engineering.
  • Government must ensure engineering courses are adequately funded with increased top-up grants for engineering departments if tuition fees are to be reduced.
  • Government should give employers greater control and flexibility in how they spend the Apprenticeship Levy, including to support other high-quality training provision in the workplace, such as improving the digital skills of the workforce.
  • Professional engineering organisations and employers should address the need to up-skill engineers and technicians to prepare for the introduction of disruptive digital technologies into industry.
  • Employers should take an evidence-based and data driven approach to improve recruitment and increase retention and progression of underrepresented groups within organisations, including by introducing recruitment targets for underrepresented groups.

Dame Judith Hackitt, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Chair of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: In particular, there is a need to radically reform technical education – creating an Apprenticeship Levy system that is fit for the future and genuinely meets employers’ needs. We also need to ensure T Levels do not face the same fate as the Levy but are employer-led and driven and, sufficiently funded in disciplines such as manufacturing and engineering.

Videoing lectures: A Research Professional article looks at the use and misuse of recorded lectures and the ethical and legal position surrounding this.

Finding the right disability support: The Guardian ran a thought provoking article by Ellie Drewry on the hurdles she faces at her university because of her disability.

Mental health: A relevant parliamentary question was answered this week –

Q – Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support the mental health and well-being of postgraduate students in universities.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • Mental health is a priority for this government, which is why the government is working closely with Universities UK on embedding the Step Change programme within the sector. Step Change calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority. Step Change also advocates a whole-institution approach to transform cultures and embed mental health initiatives beyond student services teams.
  • The former Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund also provided £1.5 million for 17 projects to improve the mental health of postgraduate research students. The Office for Students (OfS) is working with Research England to deliver this scheme.
  • This investment and the ongoing work of the OfS will support a range of activities. It will develop new practice for the pastoral support of postgraduate research students, and enhance training for their supervisors and other staff. Postgraduate research has different expectations and working practices to undergraduate work, so it will also help students adjust to the change.

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Expanding BU’s India links

Dr. Pramod Regmi and Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen (both in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences) have been invited to join the scientific committee of the International Conference on Mixed Methods Research [ICMMR-2019].  This year’s ICMMR conference will be held in the School of Behavioural Sciences at the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam (India) on February 22-24, 2019.  The two BU academics will run an online panel discussion session on academic publishing under the heading “Meet the editors.”  The advantage of such online session is that BU academic don’t have to travel to India saving time and money as well as the environment.  This has benefits for their own work-live balance as well as their carbon footprint. 

BU focuses its global collaborations on three geographical areas, one of these is the Indian sub-continent.  Connect India is BU’s strategic Hub of Practice for the Indian sub-continent, bringing together a community of researchers, educators, practitioners and students at Bournemouth University to collaborate with colleagues in India and Nepal.

 

HE policy update for the w/e 25th January 2019

We have made the policy update an almost Brexit-free zone this week. Of course we are all looking forward to the excitement on Tuesday, described by the Chancellor Philip Hammond, on radio 4 as not being “high noon” – we’ve got lots more to get through before we get to high noon, apparently.

Brexit

Keeping it dry today, no politics here…if you are interested in all the amendments to the motion so far tabled for Tuesday, you can find descriptions of them on the BBC here.  Parliament will publish the order of business nearer the time but as at Friday lunchtime the latest is here, which sets out the text of the amendments as tabled so far.  It is very unlikely that all of these will be debated or voted on.

Dods have given us a very handy summary:

  • Amendment (a) in the name of Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn: Calls for Parliament to have a vote on staying in the customs union, and a second referendum with the aim of preventing the UK from leaving without a deal.
  • Amendment (b) in the name of Yvette Cooper: It provides for the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 3) Bill to be heard and passed on 5 February in a single day.  The Bill, if passed, would mean that if the Prime Minister could not pass a withdrawal agreement by February 26 then the Commons would have an immediately vote on whether to request an extension of Article 50 from the EU which would end on 31 December 2019.
  • Amendment (e) in the name of Andrew Murrison and Sir Graham Brady: states that the EU withdrawal agreement would be amended so that the backstop shall expire on 31 December 2021.
  • Amendment (f) in the name of Hilary Benn: Calls on the Government to hold a series of indicative votes on the options setting out Exiting the European Union.
  • Amendment (g) in the name of Dominic Grieve: The Government’s powers under Standing Order No.14 which allows them to set government business would not apply. A motion entitled: “That this House has considered the United Kingdom’s departure from, and future relationship with, the European Union” would then become the first item of business.
  • Amendment (n) in the name of Andrew Murrison and Sir Graham Brady: amends the withdrawal agreement to include “and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.”. *There is no suggestion of what the alternative arrangement would be.

Chief Political Commentator, John Rentoul has done a tally on likely outcomes from the amendment. Based on his calculations (very susceptible to change) Amendment B would pass by 320-317.[Ed: of course this one is a “long grass” amendment – it puts off the decision (as long as the EU agree) but who knows what Parliament would use the time for – the Bill to amend the leaving date and deliver the second part of the amendment is set out below]

And there are still some separate draft bills making their way through Parliamentary processes:

  • Geraint Davies (this one has been around since June 2018) – will have its second reading on 8th Feb: A Bill to require the holding of a referendum to endorse the United Kingdom and Gibraltar exit package proposed by HM Government for withdrawal from the EU, or to decide to remain a member, following the completion of formal exit negotiations; and for connected purposes.
  • And his second one (first presented in December 2018) also gets its second reading on 8th Feb: A Bill to require the Prime Minister to revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union unless two conditions are met; to establish as the first condition for non-revocation that a withdrawal agreement has been approved by Parliament by 21 January 2019 or during an extension period agreed by that date under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union; to establish as the second condition for non-revocation that a majority of participating voters have voted in favour of that agreement in a referendum in which the United Kingdom remaining as a member of the European Union was the other option; and for connected purposes.
  • The Grieve bills have still not been published
  • The Yvette Cooper one has – but no second reading date has been announced

And possibly connected, or possibly not, this is interesting (but not yet published) – Peter Bone “the Prime Minister (Temporary Replacement) Bill 2017-19” – this one was first tabled in Feb 2017 so probably not related.  A Bill to make provision for the carrying out of the functions of the Prime Minister in the event that a Prime Minister, or a person temporarily carrying out the functions of the Prime Minister, is incapacitated; and for connected purposes.

And that is enough for now…

TEF Review

The independent review of the TEF kicked off this week with a call to HE providers to share their views on the TEF. The review is being chaired by Dame Shirley Pearce and will contemplate the adequacy of the metrics on which judgements are based, the rating categories (Gold, Silver, Bronze) and the impact these have on providers, and whether TEF is fair, worth it, and in the public interest. The review will conclude and report in summer 2019.

  • The Minister said:“As Universities Minister I want you, the experts, to take part in Dame Shirley’s call for views and to give your thoughts so the TEF can work as well as it possibly can. It is important that we maximise the potential of this system and can only do that by getting invaluable insights from the sector.”

BU is compiling a response – please let us know if you want to input into this.

To coincide with the launch of the TEF review the DfE published their evaluation research into the TEF’s impact at year 2 (2016-17).  They state it has driven providers to make improvements with positive changes in teaching quality and a focus on student employability. It also considers how widely prospective students used the TEF to determine their choice of institution.

  • A large majority considered that the TEF was either having a ‘positive’ or ‘neutral’ impact on their institutions. A small minority considered that the TEF had impacted their provider or the sector in a negative way.
  • Respondents reported that the TEF had contributed to an increased emphasis on student outcomes in the last two years (37%) and 29% noted that the TEF had contributed to an increased emphasis on teaching quality and the learning environment (rising to 45% among academic staff responding).
    • A slightly lower proportion reported that the TEF had contributed to a change in course content (22%), or enhanced interventions for improving student retention (21%).
    • With the exception of teaching quality/learning environment, HE providers which received a Bronze TEF award 2017 (Year 2) were more likely to report that the TEF had contributed to change over the last two years: 71% reported an increased emphasis on student outcomes, 38% noted change in course content, while 51% reported interventions for improving student retention.
  • They report a considerable amount of change in student employability over the last two years, attributing some of this change to the TEF.
    • The most common impact attributed (at least in part) to the TEF was an increase in student exposure to employability opportunities (21%).
    • A further 17% reported that communications with students about their careers had started sooner (rising to 37% among academic staff responding)
    • 17% reported developments in the careers services as a result of the TEF. Only 11% reported that the TEF had enhanced employer partnerships.
  • 28% of respondents reported an increased demand on staff to support students, at least in part as a result of the TEF (rising to 44% among academic staff responding)
  • A higher proportion of respondents noted that the TEF had contributed to a decrease in teaching morale (15%) than an increase (10%)
  • Recruitment
    • Among Gold providers, 43% said that the TEF had, at least in part, impacted on an improved institutional reputation among potential applicants.
    • Bronze award providers were more likely to attribute the TEF in a decline in reputation (25%).
    • Page 14 considers the level of influence the TEF rating had on applications and choice of a HE provider
  • Respondents reported that at least partly as a result of the TEF:
    • new initiatives were being developed to improve teaching standards (24%)
    • there was an increase in teaching qualifications or training schemes (24%)
    • staff were provided more support to deliver positive student experiences (23%)
    • there was an increase in sharing best practice across departments (21%, rising to 37% among academic staff responding)
  • TEF brought a focus to some areas:
    • increased investment in the monitoring of TEF-related metrics: 61% of TEF Contacts reported that the TEF – at least in part – contributed to increased monitoring of metrics such as NSS scores, continuation rates and employment data)
    • This rose to 79% among Bronze providers.
    • The qualitative interviews revealed a particular emphasis for some HE providers on monitoring retention rates, in part due to the financial implications of high retention rates.

This chart on page 34 shows a mapping of the perceptions of the impact that TEF has had: As Figure 3.2 shows, there are some clear patterns by broad category:

  • Student Experience – TEF Contacts reported a high amount of change in the last two years for all items, relative to other categories, and a moderate (average) amount of this was considered to be as a result of the TEF.
  • Student Employability – For four items, this followed a similar pattern to student experience, although generally both the amount of change and extent of TEF influence reported was slightly lower. Two items showed low change and low TEF impact.
  • Teaching Staff – With one exception, there had been low change in the last two years, and TEF influence was also primarily low.
  • Teaching Practices – Similar to student employability, with a higher level of change reported overall, and mostly a low amount of this was attributed to the TEF.
  • Prospective Students – All four items showed low or average levels of change in the last two years; with one exception TEF influence was also low.
  • Wider impacts – The extent of change in this category varied from very high to low, and in all instances where change had occurred, a high amount was attributed to the TEF, relative to other categories

Conclusions can be read at pages 120-123. One of the final points is that awareness and understanding of the TEF within the applicant population needs to increase for the TEF to fulfil its original purpose to better inform students’ choices about what and where to study.

The call for views is only the first step: “In addition to the call for views I will be holding a programme of listening sessions and commissioning specific assessments of specialist questions. These will include an independent analysis of the statistical base of the TEF process and an assessment of its international impact. See more on the workstreams here.“

Unconditional Offers

The Student Room ran a survey with TSR research to obtain prospective students’ views on unconditional offers.

  • 46% agreed the Government should regulate unconditional offers (33% didn’t, 22% unsure)
  • However, 70% would be happy to receive an unconditional offer and 58% felt they would feel positive about a university that gave them an unconditional offer believing it is offered as recognition of achievement (especially when from a high rank university or competitive course)
  • In keeping with the above theme of unconditional offer as recognition the survey found ‘for the most part’ the prospective students felt universities should be selective in who receives an unconditional offers
  • The prospective students felt these were genuine reasons to receive an unconditional offer:
    • Already have the grades (62% agreed)
    • An impressive personal statement (40%)
    • Successful interview (31%)
    • Very high predicted grades (31%)
    • Student is from a disadvantaged background (30%)

However, 10% felt that unconditional offers should never be made.

  • When asked if universities make unconditional offers to fill places rather than because of student aptitude or characteristics the opinion of unconditional offers became negative:
    • 59% would perceive the university negatively if they believed they weren’t discerning and made too many unconditional offers (6% weren’t bothered about this)
    • Conditional unconditional offers (when the university makes a conditional offer unconditional after the application selects them as their firm choice) received mixed responses with 47% perceiving this negatively and 20% who approved of it.
      However, the prospective students commented that the practice is manipulative. And while half said a conditional unconditional would not make them change their decision 27% said it would sway their choice to the unconditional university over the one they really wanted to attend. This was one of Sam Gyimah’s key criticisms on unconditional offers whilst he was HE Minister.
  • 43% recognised that the unconditional offer was a boon to mental health – reducing the pressure of exams and allowing them to do better. Although others felt it would negatively impact motivation to perform well (39%) and that such students wouldn’t be sufficiently prepared for university study and exams.
  • Other students (without unconditional offers) were resentful and didn’t want to study alongside those with an unconditional offer that may not have worked as hard or achieved the required grades. One quote implied only the top universities should be allowed to make unconditional offers: “Ultimately I just think unconditional offers shouldn’t be handed out on a plate, and more regulation of less prestigious unis handing them out should be enforced.”

All in all the students back up Government concerns that unconditional offers sway capable students away from more prestigious universities, that they undermine the sector’s reputation, and that is it more about bums on seats within the crowded HE recruitment market. However, there is enough balancing student opinion to show the other side of the coin – young people value unconditional offers when they perceive they are a reward for aptitude, a reasoned boon to social mobility, and a balm to improve mental health. A large proportion were in favour of Government regulation, which the HE sector is keen to avoid.

And the OfS have responded with a press release, a briefing and interviews.

Some extracts from the briefing are here:

The growth of unconditional offers appears to be a consequence of increasing competition between universities. The OfS has a legal duty to have regard to the need to encourage competition where it is in the interests of students and employers. The question is whether the sorts of unconditional offer practices arising from this competition are in the interests of students

…The OfS is concerned about the rapid rise in unconditional offers, particularly those that require students to commit to a particular course. We will take action where they are not in students’ interests.

  • While some are seeking to justify unconditional offers as a tool to support fair access for disadvantaged students, contextual offer-making is a more effective way of achieving this.
  • We will make clear where ‘pressure selling’ practices are at risk of breaching consumer protection law, and empower students to challenge this as well as taking regulatory action if appropriate.
  • We will bring together a range of education, employer and other organisations to explore whether the admissions system serves the interests of students. We will work with the Department for Education, students, UCAS and others on a consultation on principles for how the admissions system can best achieve this goal.

….Are unconditional offers a good or bad thing? This is probably the wrong question. Most commentators agree that, used appropriately, unconditional offers have a legitimate and useful place in the university admissions system. The right question is probably more complex: what does an ‘appropriate’ unconditional offer look like?

Risk of reduced attainment

  • The most recent UCAS report, and our own analysis, support this concern. UCAS estimates that the proportion of applicants placed in higher education through unconditional offers who miss their predicted grades by two or more grades is around five percentage points higher than would be expected compared with those holding a conditional offer. UCAS’s modelling controls for different attainment at GCSE, background characteristics of the student and the course where they hold their firm offer to ensure that this estimate is not influenced by the group of applicants who hold unconditional offers. This proportion has remained fairly stable throughout the increase in unconditional offer-making. This means that as unconditional offers increase, more young people are attaining slightly weaker A-level results than expected each year.
  • ….The rapid increase in unconditional offers means that it’s too early to assess with any certainty their effect on continuation rates, student satisfaction and degree attainment. The limited evidence we have on non-continuation rates is set out in Figure 3, which shows non-continuation rates by entry qualifications. Because of the timescale we have only been able to look at entrants in 2015-16, when the numbers of unconditional offers were much lower than in 2018, and the differences are not statistically significant. We will continue our analysis as more data becomes available.

Impact on disadvantaged students

  • There are particular concerns about the effect of unconditional offers on students from disadvantaged groups. Critics highlight the particular vulnerability of applicants who are the first in their family to attend university, and of those who lack parental support. These applicants may be more likely to accept an unconditional offer with limited information about their options and the potential drawbacks.UCAS analysis shows that more unconditional offers are being made to applicants from the areas with the lowest rates of participation in higher education: these applicants are more likely to receive an unconditional offer than applicants from areas with higher participation. This is illustrated in Figure 4.
  • …Our own analysis demonstrates that some of this difference may be attributable to types of university rather than to student characteristics. In other words, universities and colleges may not, in general, be directing their unconditional offers towards disadvantaged students; rather, those that take a greater proportion of disadvantaged students tend to use more unconditional offers. This is an important distinction. It suggests that unconditional offer-making to disadvantaged students may be driven more by the circumstances of universities and colleges than the needs of the students. This contrasts with the practice of contextual offer-making, which takes into account the circumstances in which academic results are achieved.

 Constraining choice?

  • A concern is that applicants may choose an unconditional offer because they see it as a safer option than a conditional offer. In particular, students accepting a conditional unconditional offer are depriving themselves of the chance to
  • consider other universities and colleges. This can result in students making sub-optimal choices, without information on alternative options which may be more suitable for their career plans or may better reflect their abilities and talents. In other words, they may not necessarily be opting for the course and university or college that would be best for them overall.
  • Since they can have the effect of reducing attainment, unconditional offers may also limit students’ ability to choose a different higher education course, whether by changing their mind before starting, ‘trading up’ during adjustment or clearing, or transferring courses at a later stage. A connected concern centres on a perceived lack of transparency about how unconditional offers work. There is limited understanding of the criteria universities apply in selecting applicants to receive unconditional offers.

The OfS is taking action in relation to unconditional offers on a number of fronts:

  • We will continue to monitor and assess the way unconditional offers are being used across the sector.
  • We will ensure that provider-level data on unconditional offers is published on a regular basis, starting in 2019, including their impact at all stages of the student lifecycle where this can be monitored.
  • We will identify any cases where the evidence suggests that students with unconditional (or very low) offers are particularly at risk of poor outcomes, or not being properly supported. We will challenge the universities or colleges concerned, and intervene where necessary.
  • We will make clear our expectations that the governing bodies of universities and colleges are fully sighted on their institution’s admissions policy and its implications for the interests of individual students.
  • We will make clear where ‘pressure selling’ practices are at risk of breaching consumer law, and empower students to challenge this as well as taking regulatory action ourselves if appropriate.
  • We will work with UCAS and other bodies providing information, advice and guidance to improve students’ ability to make informed choices about unconditional offers.

The OFS research paper is here:

  1. We are currently unable to include conditional unconditional offers (type B) which have not been recorded as unconditional (typically because the applicant has not made the offer their firm choice). The UCAS report includes an assessment of the conditional unconditional offers (type B) including those that are not recorded as unconditional. It suggests that the proportion of offers being made that have an unconditional component could be as much as 70 per cent higher than the unconditional offers reported here. Where possible we have shown the UCAS estimates of offers that contain an unconditional component alongside our estimates, for context.

Research

On Thursday the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, announced £100 million investment for research and technology to future-proof the UK economy for the fourth industrial revolution and to boost UK innovation. The funding has been earmarked for the creation of 1,000 new PhD places across the UK for the next generation of Artificial Intelligence; to fund research into life-saving technology to be used in NHS hospitals; to address pollution hotspots within cities and develop an early warning system; and to improve voice-recognition software for business and consumers. Despite the rhetoric it’s not completely new money – it is part of the £7 billion that was promised for science and innovation in announcements since 2016. The Chancellor said:

  • Britain is a great place to do business. And we are determined, as we leave the EU, to make sure it remains that way. We are leading the way in the tech revolution. The UK digital sector is now worth over £130 billion with jobs growing at twice the rate of those in the wider economy .I want to ensure we remain the standard bearer, so we must invest in our new economy so that it can adapt and remain competitive. We are backing British innovation to help create growth, more jobs and higher living standards.”

Accelerated Degrees

Last week we informed you that the regulations aiming to change the HE funding regime to facilitate accelerated degrees were presented in Parliament amid concerns from Labour. Labour feel that working throughout the summer break rules out lower income students who rely on holiday jobs to fund their study and living costs. This week the Commons voted and have passed the regulations authorising the 20% increase  on yearly fees for accelerated students. While the vote wasn’t close there was substantial opposition with all Labour MPs voting against the increase. Other criticisms levied at the accelerated degree was the loss of the university experience and less time for students to settle into university life.

Chris Skidmore, Universities Minister, said the legislation was: “One of the great modern-day milestones for students and breaks the mould of a one-size-fits all system for people wanting to study in higher education.”

Next hurdle for the regulations is the House of Lords vote which will take place next Tuesday 29 January.

International students

Encouraging International Students (link)

Q – Jo Stevens: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to ensure that the number of international students choosing to study in the UK grows over the next 10 years.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • The government fully recognises the important economic and cultural contribution that EU and international students make to the UK’s higher education sector. The government welcomes international students and there continues to be no limit on the number who can come here to study, and there are no plans to limit any institution’s ability to recruit them.
  • The UK remains a highly attractive destination for non-EU students with their numbers remaining at record highs, with over 170,000 non-EU entrants to UK higher education institutions for the seventh year running. The UK is a world-leading destination for study, with four universities in the world’s top 10 and 16 in the top 100 – second only to the USA. The government actively promotes study in the UK through the GREAT Campaign and to over 100 countries through the British Council.
  • In the Immigration White Paper, published on 19 December 2018, the government proposed to increase the post-study leave period for international students following completion of studies to 12 months for those completing a PhD, and to six months for all full-time postgraduate students and undergraduate students at institutions with degree awarding powers. Going beyond the recommendations set out by the Migration Advisory Committee, these proposals will benefit tens of thousands of international students.

Q – Catherine West: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether there will be an independent review of credibility interviews within the student immigration system to ensure the system is (a) fit for purpose, (b) cost effective relative to current risk and (c) does not hinder universities’ ability to recruit a diverse range of students.

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • An internal review of point of application credibility interviews for international students was conducted in 2018 to ensure that interviews are adding value to the case consideration process and not unnecessarily inconveniencing customers.
  • Up to date risk information was factored in to this review. Regular engagement with universities and other educational institutions ensures that feedback is collected in relation to the application process.

Q – Wes Streeting: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether EU students starting courses in England in the 2019-20 academic year will be eligible for home fee status in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

A: Chris Skidmore:

  • The department is aware that students, staff and providers are concerned about what EU Exit means for study and collaboration opportunities. To help give certainty, in July 2018, the department announced guarantees on student finance for EU nationals.
  • These guarantees are not altered if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. EU nationals (and their family members) who start a course in England in the 2019/20 academic year or before, will continue to be eligible for ‘home fee’ status and student finance support from Student Finance England for the duration of their course, provided they meet the residency requirement.

The House of Commons library also released an international and EU student briefing paper. You can download the pdf paper from the link at the very bottom of this page.

Q – Jo Stevens: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether he plans to review the option of introducing a post-study work visa allowing up to two years of work experience for international students in the UK.

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The independent Migration Advisory Committee’s report on international students, published in September 2018, recommended against the introduction of a separate post-study work visa. The report also made several positive recommendations with regard to the current post-study work offer. (Link.)
  • … As set out in the Immigration White Paper, published last month, under the new student route all students studying at a Masters’ level, or at Bachelors’ level at an institution with degree awarding powers, will be eligible for a six-month post study leave period. Doctoral students will be eligible for a 12-month post study leave period. This will benefit tens of thousands of international students by providing them with more time to gain valuable experience or find employment in the UK in accordance with the skilled work migration routes.

Post-18 review

The rumours and leaks surrounding Augar’s Review of Post-18 education and funding have been a weekly affair over the last month with mass speculation over how degree tuition fees may change in the future. This week the BBC ran an article suggesting that Justine Greening planned to axe tuition fees in favour of graduate tax contributions before she was reshuffled out of office. The article says:

  • She [Justine] says she had been working on a radically different system which would have removed fees – but instead the prime minister launched a review of student finance, chaired by financier Philip Augar. Ms Greening is scathing about the review, which is expected to report back next month… She says its public remit is confused – without any “clear objectives of the problem it was trying to fix”. And she says its private purpose was to buy time and only “tweak” a few of the most politically toxic aspects of the current system.

Other news

Extremism:

On Monday the Henry Jackson Society published Extreme Speakers and Events: In the 2017-18 Academic Year. It claims that in 2017/18 there were 435 student focussed events which had extremist content and creates a league table of the institutions most regularly hosting events which contain such content. The Society garnered media attention in claiming such universities were failing in their Prevent duties. They also criticised the Office for Students (OfS) monitoring and questioned the OfS figure that 97% of universities are compliant with Prevent. Wonkhe highlighted that the report doesn’t consider the risk assessment and mitigation that may have been put in place by the host institutions. Responding to the report Queen Mary University replied that their speakers were subject to “stringent checks” and Birmingham University said “none of the speakers appear on any government list of proscribed organisations or individuals”. Nevertheless, The Times report that Robert Halfon, Chair of the Commons Education select committee, said:  “This is incredibly distressing. We seem to be going backwards. There needs to be an urgent inquiry.”

By Wednesday the Home Office Minister of State for Security, Ben Wallace, announced a public independent review of the Prevent counter-radicalisation programme stating it was in response to an amendment by peers seeking such a move during scrutiny of the government’s counter-terrorism and border security bill. He continued:

“This review should expect those critics of Prevent, who often use distortions and spin, to produce solid evidence of their allegations.” On the timing he said: “The review of part 5 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which provides the legislative foundation for the Prevent programme, is in any event due to take place early in 2020, just 12 months away. Given that, I have decided that the time is now right to initiate a review of Prevent. Communities across the country are behind the policy and are contributing to it because, like us, they want to protect their young people from being groomed and exploited by extremists.”

The Financial Times also reports Parliament’s joint committee on human rights, comprising both MPs and peers, has also called for the scheme to be scrutinised.

Civic Engagement: Narratives on HE: slumming it on civic engagement is a new blog on Wonkhe covering the social good that students do within a community.

International Education Strategy: Education Minister, Damian Hinds, announced the intention to develop a cross-Government international education strategy stressing that education is “a big part of our diplomacy”. The strategy will address and encourage incoming international students to the HE sector as well as supporting the expansion of UK universities abroad, Damian said:

Inbound international students is a really important part of [the strategy], both for the earnings reason – it’s an important part of business – but also, just as important, because of the role it plays in our place in the world and because it makes sure we have diverse, vibrant student communities where everyone is learning from each other.”

UUK International Director, Vivienne Stern, said:

“We’re delighted to hear the Secretary of State for Education speaking publicly about the new governmental international education strategy and we are looking forward to its launch. The sector has long called for an ambitious strategy, backed up by meaningful policy, to encourage international students to choose UK universities. International students are vital to our universities.”
The speech was also covered by The Financial Times.

Disadvantaged pupils:

The DfE have released data showing rising standards in secondary schools with disadvantaged pupils in multi-academy trusts making more progress than the equivalent national average. School Standards Minister, Nick Gibb, said:

  • Making sure that all pupils, regardless of their background, are able to fulfil their potential is one of this Government’s key priorities and these results show that more pupils across the country are doing just that.It’s been clear for some time that standards are rising in our schools and today’s data underlines the role academies and free schools are playing in that improvement, with progress above the national average and impressive outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

A level and other 16-18 results have also been published highlighting lower attainment for disadvantaged students compared to non-disadvantaged students across all qualification types.

Meanwhile the Public Account Committee have published a report on school academies accounts and performance. It concludes that a number of high profile academy failures have been costly to the taxpayer and damaging to children’s education, and recommends that the governance and oversight of academy trusts needs to be more rigorous. Furthermore that Academy trusts do not make enough information available to help parents and local communities understand what is happening in individual academy schools. And when things go wrong it is not clear who parents can turn to, to escalate concerns about the running of academy schools and academy trusts.

Contact Sarah if you would like a more in depth summary of any of the above three reports.

EDM: An interesting cross-section of MPs have signed the following Early Day Motion within Parliament which pushes back against the recent ‘let them fall’ mindset to Universities in financial difficulty:

  • That this House recognises the crucial role of our higher education sector in meeting the nation’s skills needs and supporting local economies; notes with concern the recent comments by Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, which suggest that the new regulator will not support universities experiencing financial difficulties; further notes that allowing a higher education institution to fail would cause significant harm to its students, graduates and local area; awaits with interest the findings of Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education and funding which represents an opportunity to overhaul the current system predicated on student debt; and calls on the Government to introduce a fair and sustainable funding system which protects both student interests, institutional funding, and which recognises higher education is not a private commodity but an essential public good.

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New textbook for medical students

Experts from universities across the UK have contributed to a new edition of a best-selling textbook which is out this month.  This is the fourth edition of Psychology and Sociology Applied to Medicine which is a jargon-free 179-page introduction to psychology and sociology for medical students (and other health care students). The book is published by one of the largest academic publishers in the world, Elsevier in its series of Illustrated Colour Texts.

Seventy-three academics contributed chapters to the book which was edited by psychologist Prof. Gerry Humphris (University of St. Andrews) and sociologist Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen (Bournemouth University). The contributors are discipline and topic experts and come mainly from the UK but some are from further afield such as Ireland and Australia.   Compared to the third edition this latest edition has 45 new authors, who contribute the most up-to-date knowledge on classical psychological and sociological concepts and issues.  All chapters have been updated and several have been renamed and revamped to reflect changes in society, and three new ones have been added.  The editors are very grateful to Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, for writing the Foreword.

Teaching behavioural and social sciences to students is of vital importance for good health care in the future. This textbook covers topics across the life cycle from birth to death. A range of concepts and issues such as health screening, personality & health, quality of life, self-care, and anxiety are explained in an easy to understand fashion. This makes the textbook excellent introductory text as well as an essential revision tool for students. This textbook for medical students is Bournemouth University’s latest contribution to medical training.

 

Reference:

van Teijlingen, E. & Humphris, G. (Eds.) (2019)Psychology & Sociology Applied to Medicine: An Illustrated Colour Text (4th Edn), Edinburgh: Elsevier  The book is available as eBook [ISBN: 9780702062995] and as paperback [ISBN: 9780702062988].

HE Policy Update for the w/e 17th January 2019

Post-18 review

As we all look forward to the outcome of the Augar review in mid February, and speculation continues, Research Professional have an interview with Bill Rammell, VC at the University of Bedfordshire:

“To cut the headline fee…would certainly hit universities hard but what that means is it would hit the student experience hard,” Rammell said. “The merit of the current system is that we have better staff-student ratios, better facilities, better support services, we have the best ever student satisfaction ratings, and the best graduate employability. And I think we risk, by cutting the income to universities, cutting the support to students and moving backwards.”

There have been many stories about a but in fee caps at least for some courses.  Over the weekend a less dramatic story emerged, of a cut in tuition fee loans but a government top up for universities.

  • “The review is also likely to recommend maintaining the £9,250 currently paid to universities for each student, while reducing the proportion paid for through loans. It is considering ways to top up the difference by direct funding from government. This would ensure that universities received their current levels of funding per head while helping to cut the overall burden of debt incurred by students. The change would give the government more discretion to modify the level of funding top-ups depending on the cost of particular university courses or those seen as strategic priorities, such as science and technology programmes.”

The other part of the FT story was about loans for FE as well as HE: “the move is designed to encourage more people to pursue vocational and professional training — including those seeking a “second chance” later in life — and to better fill England’s significant skills gap.”

The other big recent story was about controlling numbers by stopping loans to students who did not get the equivalent of three Ds at A level.  In the RP interview: “[this] would disproportionally affect teaching-led universities and represent “a really retrograde step”, Rammell said. “The proposal that really concerns me beyond [lowering fees] is the notion that you would stop students at three Ds and below at A level having access to loan finance to go to university. I think that would be extraordinarily discriminating.”

Professor Dave Phoenix, VC of London South Bank University, wrote about this on Wonkhe last week:

  • “An analysis of the UCAS data on level 3 qualifications and acceptances into university shows that in 2018, a greater proportion of BAME students were accepted onto a university course with A level grades of DDD or below than compared to white students. This is particularly acute for black A level students, with over 10% of those accepted onto a university course with a grade profile of DDD or lower. So pulling up the drawbridge for those students with lower attainment will affect BAME groups disproportionately, with black students being particularly badly affected.
  • “A blanket all-England minimum grade threshold would differentially hit localities and regions with lower average school or college attainment. We know from Office for Students research on the geography of prior academic attainment that this varies quite significantly by region. At a stroke, then, a grade threshold would hit regions beyond London and the South East of England with lower average attainment, disproportionately reducing the total numbers of prospective students eligible to go to university from areas like the North East or the East Midlands. This does not seem to be a wise (or fair) policy response to the concerns about communities and regions being ‘left behind’ following the Brexit debate.”

What could the Augar review recommendations look like?  we’ve been thinking about it and have some ideas (not that we are endorsing any of them):

  • A mass switch to apprenticeships and employer-sponsored degrees for “vocational” courses
    • nursing, teaching, social work, police – mainly public sector apprenticeships
    • business and management degrees, accounting and finance, fashion, many media and communications courses – private sector sponsorship required (i.e. you can’t do these courses unless you have an employer lined up, unless you pay for it yourself (or with a commercial loan))
  • Headline cut in fee cap/loan amount but accompanied by some or all of the things below:
    • Government teaching grant for strategically important subjects – mainly STEM
    • Nursing, teaching also subsidised (or they might all switch to apprenticeships)
    • Some subsidy to be earned by achieving more stretching access and participation targets – like the arrangement we have now but small carrot and more stick. The funding could follow the (WP) student and be conditional (retrospectively) on success.
    • Top up fees for highly prestigious universities/courses (perhaps those with big graduate salaries) funded by extra student loans
    • Some teaching subsidy also available for “low value/low return” courses if they meet stringent requirements on graduate outcomes (perhaps measured broadly, i.e. not just absolute salary but also relative outcomes for WP students).
    • Additional student loans available for “low value” courses or courses at less prestigious or successful universities but on an arm’s length commercial basis
    • Employers providing top up teaching grant – perhaps individually following the student (e.g. employer sponsored degrees) or perhaps linked to the course – may be like the apprenticeship levy, or a fund that is spent according to criteria
    • Loans or teaching grant linked to student performance – would be retrospective, may be learning gain measure or outcomes based on relative starting position, or just simply linked to tariff points on entry.
  • Rebranding and changing the terms of student loans but how: could include some of all of these:
    • More variable payment thresholds and rates, different interest rates so that overall higher earners pay more and more quickly, thresholds and rates could vary according to your WP status when you start and then later your salary
    • Change to the optics of the loan – rename it, collect it differently
    • Graduate tax – applicable to all graduates not just those who had loans?
  • Maintenance grants – may be reintroduced but means tested and limited.
  • Life-time learning accounts – total nominal amount of subsidy for learning, can be spent on a-levels, T-levels, apprenticeship, degree, further degree, part-time, mature etc. It’s nominal – and different types of support count in different ways according to the cost to the taxpayer. Apprenticeships don’t use much of your total because the employer pays. Tuition fees burn through it much faster….
  • Headline increase in fees for some courses supported by a tweaked loan model, perhaps top up grant not bigger loans.
  • No change at all for PGT or PGR funding but a promised review?

Admissions

The University and College Union and National Education Opportunities Network have co-authored a report on a student centred model for HE admissions, arguing students should apply to university once their results are known and commence their first year of study in November. They offer it as a solution to the recent proliferation of unconditional offers.

UCU head of policy, Matt Waddup, stated: The current admissions process based on predicted grades is failing students and needs an urgent overhaul. The time has come for the government to grasp the nettle on this issue and commission an independent review of higher education admissions to take forward the agenda.

Wonkhe have an article by Graeme Atherton of NEON, who co-authored the report:

  • The current process was designed at a time when less than five percent of young people entered HE. The consequence of this is that anomalies, such as clearing and increasing use of unconditional offers, become built into the system. Moreover the requirement to make grade predictions, once a minority sport, becomes another unpaid part of the job description of teachers and lecturers in post-16 education.
  • The new system would have three phases. The first phase would run from year 10 to up to and after the final examinations prior to HE application. It would include a mandatory minimum of ten hours per year of HE-related information advice and guidance for students over each of years 10 to 13, and a Student Futures Week at the end of year 12 (i.e. the first year of level 3 study).
  • The second phase would focus on application with students applying after examinations. This does require reducing the period for providers to make decisions about applicants, but we argue that some of these pressures can be alleviated by moving back the start of the academic year for first year students to the beginning of November.
  • …The third and final phase would be after application and where a later start to the academic year becomes a real strength, enabling a greater focus on transition, preparation and entry for first year students. Problems with retention, especially for widening participation students, often stem from induction. This induction phase could also be seen as a pre-reading period for all students to ensure that learning time is not overly disrupted by this change.

Debbie McVitty responded on Wonkhe with a review of the context and the data:

  • Predicting grades is an inexact science at best, with potential for bias to creep into the judgements. Research conducted for UCU by Gill Wyness at the UCL Institute of Education in 2016 found that 75% of students between 2013-15 were predicted to do better at A level than they actually did and only 16% of students’ grades were predicted correctly. That said, the majority of those incorrectly predicted were accurate within one grade – for example, the difference between BBB and BBC which you could argue in most cases is well within an acceptable tolerance band.
  • Moreover, at the level of the entire sample grades of students from state schools and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be over-predicted. However, among the highest performing students – those expecting As and Bs – grades of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be under-predicted. Research on the same topic published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2011 told a broadly similar story – although the rates of accuracy of grade prediction seem to have declined in the interim.

She looks at what happened last time this was seriously discussed in 2011: The sector listened politely and then firmly rejected the idea….The inertia of the HE sector was not the sole culprit. The secondary education sector, which had previously been open to the possibility of post-qualification admissions, also came out against the proposals. A killer argument was that a post-results application system would mean providing applicants with additional support and guidance over the summer, at a time where schools and colleges were not geared up to deliver this – an issue that would only compound the barriers for disadvantaged applicants.

On unconditional offers: The question of unconditional offers is at present unresolved – UCU offers evidence of the exponential growth of unconditional offers as an unambiguous negative. A more balanced view is presented by a UUK 2018 paper on admissions, which observes that unconditional offers are still a minority of all offers, but urges institutions to monitor carefully their impact on subsequent exam performance and retention. As things stand the only evidence of negative impact is anecdotal.

And concludes:

  • Even if the sector could be brought to agree to, for example, delay the start of the university term for a few weeks (a process that sounds simple but wouldn’t be) no advocate of PQA has ever been able to explain how to prevent autonomous institutions from informally accepting or rejecting applicants at any time they like. The central application system is used for efficiency; no institution is required to use it and students can still apply directly to their institution of choice outside the UCAS system.
  • There is no doubt that PQA advocates are acting on principle – certainly that UCU could only be in favour of the policy on a principled basis, given the level of upheaval any PQA system would cause to its own members. But this could be a case where principles get in the way of good policymaking. Increasingly PQA feels like a solution in search of a problem. Meanwhile, a number of thoughtful proposals focused on substantially enhancing the support for applicants to make effective choices may never get air time, because PQA is sucking all the oxygen from the debate.

Grade Inflation

Wonkhe have an article by Phil Pilkington, an Honorary Teaching Fellow at Coventry and Deputy Chair at Middlesex University SU with a different perspective on the headlines:

  • In the articles, a first is an entrée to the high table. In reality it is more likely to lead to another two years on an MPhil, five years on a doctorate and a couple of years of post doc fellowship on poverty wages. In the articles, to achieve a first is to achieve the highest cognitive ability – but it is a strange claim that an assessment discovers cognitive ability (whatever that might be) rather than a competence or understanding in a discipline.
  • Underpinning it is the idea that there is a natural order of those who are naturally gifted in getting first class awards. This assumes that cognitive performance is natural and not identified with or tied to an academic subject. It assumes that high quality teaching will not improve cognitive abilities so an increase must have been obtained fraudulently because there is a natural order of and limited number of first class minds. This is just a circularity.
  • The notion of IQ as a generic measure of smarts has long been discredited, with multiple intelligences taking over as an alternative model. Social context also matters. The historical construction of disciplines have created measures of discipline intelligence. How the levels of these discipline-bounded intelligences are measured is not at issue, it is that there is a determinism (of a loose sort) of what counts as smart related to the overall discourse of the discipline. Such smarts are not, unlike the other essentialism of employability, necessarily transferable. Paul Dirac would have been bewildered by cognitive behavioural therapy, and Samuel Beckett was rather dim about modern painting but in neither case does it matter to their enduring brilliance in physics or drama.

Brexit – just because…

As widely predicted, the government lost the meaningful vote (part 1) and won the vote of no confidence (also part 1). We are pretty much where we were a week ago except more harsh things have been said on all sides and the UK is no nearer a consensus on the way forward. And the EU is just waiting, which is fine, because they wouldn’t concede anything until the last minute anyway and there is still time for the UK to ask for an extension or even decide to revoke article 50…..So what might  happen now? Skip this and move onto the next heading if you can’t bear it!

As they lost the meaningful vote, the government has to make a statement about their intentions within 3 days [was 21 but this was changed – now Monday 21st Jan] and then there is another vote by Parliament. What could the government propose in this statement?

  • It is another opportunity to persuade people to support the original deal with some more concessions or reassurance. There is unlikely to be anything from the EU by Monday but could be UK government assurances on things on workers’ rights and the environment, this was tried a bit before the meaningful vote.
  • Or this could be the moment to ask for an extension to article 50 but it would need an earthquake in No 10 for this to happen by Monday. Mass ministerial resignations over the weekend, for example?

We think it is most likely that the statement it will outline a UK consultation with parliamentarians (already announced) and then going back to Brussels. It seems (to us) that the only EU concession that might result in a change of result on the deal is a hard end or get-out clause for the UK on the backstop. That would get the DUP, a few Brexiteers and maybe some remainers over the line including maybe some Labour ones, but whether it would be enough to get it over the line is unclear – quite probably not.  Only three labour MPs voted for the deal this week.  But more might in a future attempt, especially if they are disenchanted with the Labour leadership.  But maybe not next week, maybe only nearer the deadline.

Other EU concessions that leave the deal largely intact (and so are doable in the time) seem unlikely to move enough people – e.g. on the divorce bill.

Apparently, the motion will be tabled on 21st and then a full day of debate (and a vote) will be on 22nd January.  It’s not clear what will happen in the meantime.  The vote on 22nd is apparently not a re-run of the meaningful vote, although there could be amendments to the motion and another interesting set of debates on Parliamentary procedure.  If the motion (whatever it says) is not supported on 22nd January, there is no next step set out formally in the process.  According to the process maps, we leave with no deal.  But in practice there is time for several more tries at getting the deal approved, or a vote on an extension to article 50.  And more opportunities for confidence votes too.

Anyone who wants a second referendum has to ensure that we get an extension to article 50 first.  It is still much more likely (we think) that our politicians will spend the next few weeks arguing, and that we simply end up falling out of the EU by default on 29th March without a deal.  It seems that only a few politicians (but maybe more of the population) actually want a no deal Brexit – but the lack of consensus about an alternative will get us there anyway.  What would avoid it?  The EU blinking on the backstop or a delay.

A delay to Brexit would need to be put to Parliament. Not necessarily by the government – amid all the talk of Parliament taking back control, the charge may be led by backbenchers (see below). And the EU would need to agree (which they would do  – they say if they thought it would lead to a change of attitude and approach, but probably even without that they would agree to it).  What might get us to that point?  A clear consensus in Parliament around something.

  • Most of the options seem so far away from the current deal as to be almost inconceivable without a change in government – e.g. softer Brexit options such as Norway style EEA membership, staying in the Customs Union on a permanent basis (Labour policy). Even proposing it might bring down the government if Brexiteers and the DUP vote with Labour in a confidence vote. Surely the only way these ideas will move forward is if there is either an election or a second referendum.
  • The Canada option is what the future political declaration might turn into. We floated the idea two weeks ago that there could be a longer extension to article 50 to negotiate the longer term deal before we leave – but the EU elections in the summer (inauguration of the new European parliament on July 2nd) make that look unlikely, apart from the fact that the EU have always said that they don’t want to negotiate the long term deal until we are out. This is an option in a no deal scenario too – leave and then negotiate. Tricky, and will take longer because there will be short term messy things to sort out first.
  • There could be a last minute delay just because there is no consensus. And then the arguments would continue for a bit longer but probably not with much substantial change.

The House of Commons library said on Wednesday:

Yesterday, Nick Boles presented a Bill before the House in connection with EU withdrawal, while today Dominic Grieve is expected to present two Bills in connection with provision for an EU referendum. Since these are not Government Bills, there are limited opportunities for MPs to debate and vote on them. The House’s own Standing Orders, which give priority to Government business, are therefore likely to be the subject of close scrutiny by those seeking to influence the Government’s next steps.  

The Nick Boles bill says that if the House of Commons haven’t passed the withdrawal agreement by 11th Feb then

“the Secretary of State must invite the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons to prepare and publish by 5 March 2019 a plan of action setting out a proposed process in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union”

We haven’t seen the Grieve ones yet, but this from the iNews “One bill seeks to launch preparations for a referendum while the other seeks to carry out the vote”.  You can follow them here as they will be  published here when ready.  As Private Members’ Bills as noted above, they may not get much further although we live in interesting times for Parliamentary procedures….

We also found this one – the EU (Revocation of Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, laid by Geraint Davies MP in December, which gets its second reading on 25th January:

“A Bill to….Require the Prime Minister to revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union unless two conditions are met;

  • to establish as the first condition for non-revocation that a withdrawal agreement has been approved by Parliament by 21 January 2019 or during an extension period agreed by that date under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union;
  • to establish as the second condition for non-revocation that a majority of participating voters have voted in favour of that agreement in a referendum in which the United Kingdom remaining as a member of the European Union was the other option;

 

and for connected purposes.”.

So we stick with our predictions from two weeks ago that either:

  • Politicians get some sort of comfort from somewhere and/or the EU come up with some weasel wording on the backstop at the 11th hour, and Parliament approves the deal – either by March 29th or by the end of June under a short extension.

OR

  • Chaos continues, and the UK leaves with no deal in March or June, leading in the short-ish term to a[nother] vote of no confidence and a general election, perhaps in 2020 if no deal turns out to be as bad as many people think it might be.

Accelerated Degrees

The regulations which will change the funding regime to allow accelerated degrees to charge different fees were considered in Parliament this week.

The Government’s intention is to allow provider to charge a 20% uplift above the usual annual fee caps for accelerated degrees. For students, this will result in a total overall fee saving of 20% for their degree.  Students would also save on living costs but it would be hard to work during their course.  “Accelerated degrees” include any first undergraduate degree delivered in a period at least one year shorter than the equivalent standard degree.  This can include degrees with work placements or overseas placement years. The government were intending to have the regulations in place for the 2019/20 academic year.

MPs from the House of Commons legislative committee raised concerns on the new limits, of £11,100 a year.

Research Professional say:

  • Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for higher education, further education and skills, warned that the two-year courses might be hard for disadvantaged students to access as there would be no opportunity to fund their studies by working during the holidays.  
  • “We would like a situation with fees in which students did not have to work part time as much as they do, but given that that is the case, perhaps the minister will admit that the giveaway in the accelerated degree proposals is that they are not focused on those sorts of people [disadvantaged students], but in many cases on richer or employer-funded applicants,” he said, later adding that higher annual fees  would “nudge people away from participating [in higher education], rather than nudging them towards it”.
  • …Marsden said that accelerated degrees could increase pressure on staff workloads and squeeze time traditionally set aside for research.
  • “The government have given little thought to the impact on staff workloads of accelerated degrees,” Marsden said. “There is a risk that the move to accelerated degrees will compromise time currently allocated by such teachers to research, and fuel—of necessity, if they are not prepared to do the relevant work—the use of even more casualised teaching staff to deliver provision during the summer months.” 
  • ..Skidmore said the government would assess the effectiveness of accelerated degree funding and access spending compared with traditional three-year degree courses, three years after the legislation has been put in place.

Apprenticeships

Research Professional report that the Commons education committee has raised concerns that institutions are “re-badging” courses in order to allow employers to pay for them using apprenticeship levy funds.

  • At a hearing on 16 January, the chair of the committee, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, said that some institutions were “re-badging expensive courses as apprenticeships” in order to attract students. He suggested this could be considered as “gaming” the apprenticeship system.
  • In one example, Halfon said that Cranfield University’s School of Management had “redesigned” its executive master of business administration (MBA) course, which costs £32,000 and is “pitched at middle managers wanting to move into a senior management role”, as an apprenticeship. “Was [the levy] supposed to be a vehicle for upskilling senior employees…or should it focus more than it does on those coming through school?” Halfon asked, saying the practice risked “depleting a crucial source of funding for those most in need”.
  • Education minister Damian Hinds said that the levy “as designed, covers all levels of apprenticeships”, and that there was a role for management education. “It is a pretty small minority [of apprenticeships that are] above level six,” he said. Asked whether the Department for Education was looking at “the potential gaming” of the apprenticeship system, Hinds said that there was to be a review after 2020 of how the levy works, which would take into account such concerns.
  • A spokeswoman for Cranfield School of Management said the “significant interest shown by UK businesses in management-focused apprenticeships” was indicative of “a latent need for better management practice”. “Through the apprenticeship levy, access to our leading postgraduate education has been opened up to people who would not otherwise have felt it was for them,” she said. “One in six of our applicants comes from a non-traditional education background and is accessing university education for the first time, a fact the committee should be joining us in celebrating.
  • “At Cranfield, we are proud of the role we are playing in creating the next generation of leaders and the role we are helping play in boosting future UK productivity.”

Other news

Former universities and science minister Sam Gyimah has been elected to the House of Commons science and technology committee.

The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill goes to Committee state in the House of Commons on 23rd January.

The Trade Bill continues to work its way through the House of Lords starting its HL Committee stage on 21st January– this is aimed at setting things up for after Brexit.  It started in the Lords (you can see why!):

Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements; to make provision establishing the Trade Remedies Authority and conferring functions on it; and to make provision about the collection and disclosure of information relating to trade.

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2019 MSCA Research and Innovation Staff Exchange Action UK Information Event – Registration Open

The UK Research Office (UKRO), in its capacity as UK National Contact Point for the Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), is holding an information event for organisations interested in applying to the 2019 MSCA Research and Innovation Staff Exchange Action (RISE) call, which opened on 4 December 2019 and will close on 2 April 2019.

The event will take place on 8 February 2019 at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Conference Centre, 1 Kemble Street, London WC2B 4AN. It will be run by the UKRO representative with contributions from successful applicants.

Aim of the Research and Innovation Staff Exchange Action

RISE supports projects which promote international and/or inter-sectoral collaboration through staff exchanges and the sharing of knowledge and best practice. The scheme involves organisations from the academic and non-academic sectors and organisations based in Europe (EU Member States and Associated Countries) and outside of Europe (Third Countries).

Aim of the event

The event aims to provide participants with an overview of the RISE scheme. Participants should gain a clear understanding of the proposal format and the key considerations related to planning, writing and submitting proposals.

Who should attend?

The event is aimed at staff at UK academic and non-academic organisations, including industry, who are planning to submit a proposal to the RISE 2018 call. Attendance is free of charge, but registration is mandatory. Places will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Registration

If you would like to attend, please visit the events page and register for the event. Please note that tea and coffee will be available at the event, but lunch will not be provided, though participants will be informed of local lunch options.