Category / international

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.

 

Societal Challenge 6 Call 2019 – Information Days in the UK

UKRO recently announced that the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), in its capacity as the UK National Contact Point (NCP) for Societal Challenge 6 – ‘Europe in changing world’, is organising a series of UK information events discussing SC6 2019 call, as well as wider research funding opportunities for social sciences and humanities (SSH) available in Horizon 2020.

Events will take place in British Academy on 14 January and in Newcastle University on 17 January.

Detailed agenda is available on the ESRC website. Although, less than 10 days remain, registration for these events is still open. For more information, the UK SC6 NCP can be contacted at Challenge6NCP@esrc.ac.uk.

The European Commission’s SC6 information and brokerage event took place on November 2018 and video recording and presentation slides are available. The info day consisted of a number of presentations, during which speakers from the European Commission and the Research Executive Agency presented the 2019 topics and the evaluation process. The second part of the day was dedicated to networking; the list of participants (includes nearly 400 names) may be useful source of information for academics interested to find partners in their research area.

HE Policy update for the w/e 4th January 2019

Happy New Year to all our readers! There was a flurry just before Christmas…some of that is here along with the first news of January

Value for money

To start the new year off on the right foot, as we await the Augur recommendations on the post-18 review, Wonkhe have some analysis of a recent poll.

“A poll conducted by YouGov for The Times, and published on January 2nd, sits very much in the instrumentalist camp. It takes the near universal sticker price of £9,250/year, and then cuts and shuts “the standard of education” and “the wages graduates earn” as the things that either do mean it’s “worth the money”, or don’t “warrant the cost”.”

“Do you think too many children in Britain go to university, not enough go to university or the number is about right

  • Too many go to university (40%)
  • Not enough go to university (19%)
  • The number is about right (21%)
  • Don’t know (19%)

“In England, universities can currently charge tuition fees of up to £9,250 a year. Do you think this is or is not value for money?

  • Is value for money – the standard of education and the increased wages graduates earn mean it is worth the money (17%)
  • Is not value for money – the standard of education and the wages graduates earn are not enough to warrant the cost (64%)
  • Don’t know (19%)”

Wonkhe’s view:

  • Looked at internationally the (world class) QAA judgements would suggest that the UK compares well with other national systems of HE. But if you look at individual student experience, the picture may be mixed – though it is difficult to disentangle personal aspects (did said student actually do any work?) with institutional failings (was the teaching actually up to scratch?)
  • We’ve been over many of the return on investment arguments in our coverage of LEO data and related releases. Suffice it to say that the earnings of those who graduated up to a decade ago are of questionable relevance to those starting their study in 2019. Even if you discount the way that the graduate labour market (and the wider economy) has changed in the past and is likely to change in the future, institutions and courses are almost certainly taught in different ways, by different staff, to students from different backgrounds, than they were a decade ago.

And:

  • We could have guessed most of the above already – it’s why May overruled DfE and called the Post 18 review in the first place. The question is whether the sector has the wherewithal to fill in some of the detail – the absence of which allows sloppy polling to fill in the blanks.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any research that asks whether £9,250 a year for a degree place represents good value for money regardless of the balance of the contribution between student (graduate) and state – surely a missed opportunity for the sector to protect (and justify) the unit of resource?
  • We’re still pretty much in the dark about the true “costs” of HE for most undergrads – rent, food, books and travel. How many students are going to take a positive value for money message into their twenties if they couldn’t afford it in the first place?
  • And as long as we have a repayment system whose subsidies only reveal themselves if you are at the end of your career and economically unsuccessful, we shouldn’t be surprised by a negative reaction to a VFM question.

Our view: given these perspectives, and there is no reason to think that the poll is wrong, even if we could argue with the assumptions behind it and the way that the questions are asked, how likely is it that the government will respond to the £12m deficit hit from the accounting changes to student loans (however illusory it is) by saying “oh well, if we’re in for £12m we may as well do the thing properly, and reintroduce maintenance grants, find extra money for FE and adjust the student loan terms further to benefit WP students”.  Not very likely?  2019 will be fun…..

OfS report –evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions

This OfS report – Understanding the evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions for under-16 year olds was published on 13th December

HEPs generally identified similar challenges and barriers to effective evaluation as those highlighted by earlier work (Crawford et al., 2017a; Harrison and Waller, 2017) – e.g. resources, data availability, senior buy-in and staff skills. The principal distinction was that outreach with the pre-16 age group was felt to be considerably harder to evaluate than outreach with post-16 groups due to the long time-lag between activities and desired outcomes (i.e. application to higher education (HE)), including the following epistemological issues:

  • Concerns about the validity of self-report data on long-range attitudes to HE, especially when collected within or soon after an activity;
  • Difficulties collecting meaningful data from younger age groups, especially in primary and lower secondary phases;
  • A shortage of robust metrics or approaches to identify modest learning gains (e.g. below a whole GCSE grade) and their attribution to specific activities;
  • Disentangling the unique contribution of outreach in the complex social field inhabited by young people, with multiple influences and school-led activities;
  • Understanding how individual outreach activities combine over time to influence young people and whether their effects are genuinely additive.

 In addition, the project team identified several potential concerns within the reported evaluation practices, including (a) an over-reliance on descriptive statistics and low use of inferential and/or multivariate analysis (where appropriate), (b) a continuing emphasis on ‘aspiration raising’ as the guiding purpose of outreach activity despite its questionable role in influencing attainment or HE participation, and (c) a conflation of evaluation, monitoring and tracking data, with an unclear engagement with causality.

Evaluation practice was overall found to be somewhat stronger within the third sector organisations (TSOs). In part, this was due to the more focused portfolio of activities provided by these organisations – often a single activity or year group. However, there were also clear elements of good practice that could readily be adopted by HEPs:

  • A clear prioritisation of evaluation as an integral element of delivery, with a culture in which evaluation is foregrounded: well-resourced, with expert staffing and a clear role in both evidencing impact (summative) and honing practice (formative);
  • The use of ‘theory of change’ as a thinking tool to understand and plan how changes in knowledge, attitudes or behaviours might be achieved through specific activities and to challenge underpinning assumptions;
  • A preference for measuring impact through ‘intermediate steps’ towards HE participation (e.g. increased self-efficacy, confidence or career-planning skills) over a focus on long-range aspirations for HE;
  • A stronger engagement with the research literature, especially in evidencing the value of forms of activity (e.g. mentoring) and the use of validated and cognitively tested inventories to measure psychological or sociological constructs.

The project team recommend that the Office for Students (OfS) should promote the elements discussed in point 5 above to guide the future development of evaluation practice. The team believes that these dovetail well with previous work on standards of evidence (Crawford et al., 2017b) by providing a framework for evaluation practice to achieve stronger forms of evidence.

To this end, a separate report for HEPs includes (a) a development tool to suggest incremental improvements to their current practices, and (b) a brief collection of contextualised thinking tools to extend their critical engagement with evidence of impact. An evaluation self-assessment tool has been developed and delivered to the OfS for further development and piloting. These are not intended to form a ‘final word’ in guidance to HEPs, but rather a resource to help to frame the ongoing discussions that the project team have witnessed within the sector.

Major recommendations for the OFS

  1. The OfS should continue with the second phase of work as outlined in the original invitation to tender, comprising work to determine which ‘intermediate steps’ are most appropriate for HEPs to use to plan and evaluate pre-16 outreach activities.
  2. We recommend that HEPs be encouraged to benchmark their evaluation practices against those of their peers with a similar organisational mission and profile of expenditure on access. A proposal for a self-assessment tool has been put forward to the OfS for further development and piloting.
  3. The OfS should make the following changes to its guidance to HEPs about their future Access and Participation Plans:
  4. HEPs should be required to provide separate details through the OfS regulatory processes, covering both pre-16 outreach activities and how they are evaluated;
  5. A minimum expectation of evaluation practice should be made of HEPs based on their overall access spending – this might be based around the 10 per cent ‘rule of thumb’ used more generally in the field of evaluation;
  6. Data on HEPs’ spending on evaluation should be collected, whether or not a minimum expectation is established.
  7. The OfS should encourage HEPs to engage with the tools provided in the accompanying document and especially to promote the use of a ‘theory of change’ approach for planning and evaluating pre-16 outreach.
  8. The OfS should consider working with an HEP to develop a postgraduate certificate (or similar) in outreach evaluation that becomes an expected standard for staff working in HEP outreach teams.

Apprenticeships

The Government have published their response to the Education Select Committee Inquiry report into the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. The Education Committee’s report made a series of recommendations to boost apprenticeships and deliver high quality skills training, including an expanded role for Ofsted inspections and a training cap on new providers. The report also called for more support for apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds, through measures such as the creation of bursaries and help with travel costs.

There were 27 recommendations so we have picked out a few here:

Quality

  • Recommendation 1: Government should monitor bodies responsible for quality and ensure they have requisite resources.

Response: To reflect the growth in the apprenticeships provider market, we agreed additional funding of £5.4 million for Ofsted to undertake monitoring visits of new apprenticeship training providers within their inspection remit (Levels 2 – 5), within 24 months of the provider’s funding start date.

  • Recommendation 6: The Institute should make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority.

Response: We disagree that the growth of degree apprenticeships should be treated as a strategic priority in isolation. We do not prioritise degree apprenticeships over other apprenticeships because the reforms are employer-led, so the apprenticeships developed are those that employers have said they want. This makes sure that the apprenticeships we offer are responsive to the needs of business.

  • Recommendation 9: The Government should conduct pilots with apprentices and businesses to explore the effect of introducing greater flexibility in the amount of off-the-job training required by each apprenticeship standard.

Response: Although some employers would like more flexibility on this, many employers are supportive of the 20 per cent minimum requirement. The 20 per cent minimum requirement is in line with international best practice.

  • Recommendation 10: The transition from apprenticeship frameworks to standards has been mismanaged by successive Governments. Employers have been let down.

Response: Standards are being taken up with enthusiasm by employers across a wide range of sectors, and we are already hearing from employers, providers and apprentices how they are creating a real step up in the quality of apprenticeships across the country.

  • Recommendation 12: The Government should increase the top funding band to better match the full cost of delivery for some apprenticeships. It should also double the time employers have to spend their funds to 48 months and allow them to transfer more of these funds to firms in their supply chain.

Response: There is little evidence to suggest that the maximum funding limit is restricting starts, and while we currently have no plans to change the limit, we will keep funding bands under review. The Committee will welcome the fact that we have already announced an increase to the level of funds an employer can transfer to organisations including those in their supply chain.

  • Recommendation 15: The Government should tighten the requirements on providers who subcontract their provision.

Response: The accountability for outcomes and delivery against the funding contract lies with the main contractor and that is who needs to be held to account. That is why Ofsted cover quality and management of subcontracted provision when they inspect directly funded providers.

Social Justice

  • Recommendation 16: The Government should increase incentive funding for small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises who recruit young and disadvantaged apprentices

Response: We believe that the current model of funding for disadvantaged apprentices provides the most effective means to achieve the recruitment of young and disadvantaged people.

  • Recommendation 18: The Government should introduce bursaries for other disadvantaged groups modelled on the care leavers’ bursary.

Response: We will keep all aspects of apprenticeship funding policy under review to ensure that those from disadvantaged groups are not deterred from starting an apprenticeship for financial reasons, or because their employer is concerned about the cost. Funding alone cannot tackle the disparities in apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 19: The Government should create a social justice fund, using money from the apprentice levy, to support organisations that help disadvantaged people become apprentices.

Response: The apprenticeship levy has been set at a level that raises sufficient funds to support apprenticeship starts; widening its scope would risk our delivery of the target of 3 million high-quality apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 20: The Government should continue to raise the apprentice minimum wage at a rate significantly above inflation. In the long term, it should move towards its abolition.

Response: It is important that the level of the apprentice rate, which applies to those aged under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship, does not dissuade employers from investing in skills training and realising the benefits of apprenticeships for their businesses.

  • Recommendation 22: The Government should strongly support existing measures to establish a kitemark for good apprentice employers.

Response: Work is ongoing to develop a kitemark indicating a signal of quality for apprentice employers. Using existing quality measures and working with stakeholders, criteria will be developed and, if met, employers will be able to showcase the kitemark.

  • Recommendation 23: The Social Mobility Commission should conduct an immediate study into how the benefits system helps or hinders apprentices. The Government should act on its findings.

Response: Government would welcome the views of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) on how we can continue to develop our policy in this area, though any decision on whether to conduct a review remains a joint decision for the Department’s ministers and the Chair of the SMC.

  • Recommendation 24: The Government must stop dragging its feet over apprentice transport costs. It must set out how it plans to reduce apprentice travel costs.

Response: The Departments for Transport and Education will continue to work together to support discounted travel for apprentices, including through existing apprenticeship funding mechanisms, but given the additional cost to the taxpayer, the focus of this work will now turn to preparing proposals for consideration at the forthcoming spending review.

  • Recommendation 25: The Equality and Human Rights Commission should conduct a monitoring review of apprenticeship participation by gender, ethnicity and by people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities every three years.

Response: The Department is carrying out broader activity to encourage more young people to recognise the value of a STEM career path. To support the Government’s commitment to increase apprenticeship starts by learners from BAME backgrounds by 20 per cent by 2020, we launched the ‘5 Cities Diversity Hubs’ project in February 2018.

  • Recommendation 26: The Government should introduce a proper UCAS-style portal for technical education to simplify the application process and encourage progression to further training at higher levels.

Response: We have carried out extensive research to explore how we could introduce a UCAS-style portal for technical education that works for employers and apprentices alike. While the research indicated that young people would value a central source of information as they make decisions about their next steps, it did not show that they found the current application process challenging.

  • Recommendation 27: Too many students are still not receiving independent and impartial careers advice and guidance about the routes open to them, including apprenticeships. We recommend that the Government, with Ofsted’s support, properly enforces the Baker clause.

Response: Following the introduction of the clause in January 2018, we issued statutory guidance to schools, clearly setting out what is expected of them. A review in the summer of 2018 showed mixed compliance with this guidance by schools. The Department is prepared to intervene in cases of serious non-compliance.

The Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP has commented on the Government’s response:

  • While we welcome the direction of travel from the Government, clearly much more needs to be done. We need to get tough on subcontractors and poor provision. The Government insists its priorities are to ensure more funding makes it to the front line and to improve transparency. But to achieve this, they must strengthen the rules on subcontracting and ensure a more prominent role for Ofsted in inspections to safeguard training quality.
  • We’re not convinced that the Government recognises that degree apprenticeships are special and different to other apprenticeships. They bring together technical and higher education when the two are too often entirely different worlds. We cannot rely on employers alone to drive this forward given the key role which degree apprenticeships can play in fighting social injustice and taking the best from technical and academic education.   
  • Ensuring proper support for apprentices is crucial to delivering social justice. But there are no firm proposals from Government on how to break down the barriers faced by too many young people who would like to take the apprenticeship route. The Government continues to drag its feet on how it will reduce the cost of transport and it must now act on its manifesto commitment and deliver on the promise of significantly discounted bus and train fares.
  • It is not enough to say evading paying the apprenticeship minimum wage is ‘unacceptable’. The Business Secretary has said that the Government has doubled the enforcement budget, but clearly there is more to do to ensure employers comply. Until there are stronger sanctions and tougher enforcement, companies will get away with the mistreatment of apprentices who are making significant financial sacrifices to better themselves.

Brexit update

If you missed them (and who could blame you) the BBC have a useful summary of New Year’s messages from Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable and Nicola Sturgeon

The next few weeks are critical, of course, with a “meaningful vote” in Parliament due in the week commencing 14th January.

So if the government wins the meaningful vote, and Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before 29th March, we leave with a deal and a transition period. If the government wins the meaningful vote and Parliament doesn’t approve the Bill then we leave without a deal.  This is possible but unlikely – although there will be a fight about the Bill, and attempts to amend it, if the government wins the meaningful vote they are likely to get the Bill through eventually.

If the government loses the meaningful vote, then they have to make a statement about their intentions within 21 days 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.  Or this could be the moment to ask for an extension to article 50.

If the motion (whatever it says) is not supported, it is then too late for any other major step (such as a second referendum) before we leave without a deal in March.  Everyone has said that the EU takes negotiations to the wire – there may be last minute concessions after the meaningful vote, if the government loses, in which case the government can just try Parliament again.  Or even without EU concessions, as no-deal panic rises, they may try Parliament again.  Or Parliament could revoke Article 50, as was discussed extensively before the holidays.  That seems unlikely – an extension is far more likely.  And presumably the EU would agree to that.  But remember that the withdrawal date is built into UK law so as well as agreeing to an extension, Parliament would also have to approve regulations to amend that legislation – another opportunity for arguments, amendments and disagreements.

The existing EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018:

  • exit day” means 29 March 2019 at 11.00 p.m. (and see subsections (2) to (5));
  • (2) In this Act references to before, after or on exit day, or to beginning with exit day, are to be read as references to before, after or at 11.00 p.m. on 29 March 2019 or (as the case may be) to beginning with 11.00 p.m. on that day.
  • (3)Subsection (4) applies if the day or time on or at which the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union is different from that specified in the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1).
  • (4)A Minister of the Crown may by regulations—
  • (a)amend the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1) to ensure that the day and time specified in the definition are the day and time that the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom, and
  • (b)amend subsection (2) in consequence of any such amendment.

Change of government

Labour have been threatening a no confidence motion “when the time is right”. Before Christmas there was talk of a no confidence vote in the PM – which is not at all the same thing.  In the Independent on 28th December 2018 Jeremy Corbyn was talking about “when, not if” and “signalling” it will be after the meaningful vote.

So what does happen if Parliament pass a motion of no confidence in the Government?  The Parliament website says:

“A motion of no confidence, or censure motion, is a motion moved in the House of Commons with the wording: ‘That this House has no confidence in HM Government’. If such a motion is agreed to, and a new government with the support of a majority of MPs cannot be formed within a period of 14 calendar days, Parliament is dissolved and an early General Election is triggered. A motion of no confidence is one of only two ways in which an early General Election may be triggered under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011”

The Labour party believe that they could form a minority government, and presumably would then hope to persuade Parliament to vote for an extension to give them time to renegotiate.

As we wrote in December, if they fail to form a minority government, we are then in a difficult position, because we could be left with no Parliament to vote for an extension or approve the regulations to the Withdrawal Act, leading back to a no-deal Brexit on 29th March with a general election to follow.  Of course at least some of those potentially voting for the no confidence motion might actually want to leave with no deal….

So, we could leave with the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal, and then hopefully progress will be made on turning the political declaration into a formal agreement.  That won’t be much fun either and it needs to be sorted by the end of the transition period (due to end December 31st 2020 unless it is itself extended – on this see the actual draft Withdrawal Agreement, pages 195 and 206). There are some conditions for an extension, including a contribution to the EU budget to be established by the committee.

Article 126: There shall be a transition or implementation period, which shall start on the date of entry into force of this Agreement and end on 31 December 2020.

Article 132: …the Joint Committee may, before 1 July 2020, adopt a single decision extending the transition period for up to one or two years

Or we leave without a deal.  There has been a huge amount of discussion about this, and we shared the Home Office guidance on mobility in our policy update on 21st December 2018. The official government website is here.  It includes things (many published on or around 21st December) including:

  • Studying in the EU after Brexit
    • The draft EU Withdrawal Agreement means that students in UK-based organisations will be able to continue to participate in Erasmus+ exchanges and placements post-exit until the end of the current Erasmus+ programme in December 2020.
    • In the event of ‘no deal’, the government underwrite guarantee already made(13 August 2016) still stands and successful Erasmus+ bids that are submitted and approved while the UK is still a Member State will continue beyond the point of exit.
  • Preparing for changes at the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit
  • Health and care system operational readiness guidance
  • Providing services as a qualified professional
    • EEA lawyers will be able to practise in England and Wales under the regulatory arrangements and rules that apply to lawyers from other third countries. However, this change will mean:
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to provide legal activities normally reserved to advocates, barristers or solicitor under their home state professional title in England/Wales and Northern Ireland. (Reserved activities are: the exercise of a right of audience, the conduct of litigation, reserved instrument activities (conveyancing), probate activities, notarial activities and the administration of oaths)
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to seek admittance to the English/Welsh or Northern Irish profession based on experience
    • Guidance for UK nationals
    • Clinical trials
    • Environmental standards
    • Workplace rights
    • Data protection
      • The EU has an established mechanism to allow the free flow of personal data to countries outside the EU, namely an adequacy decision. The European Commission has stated that if it deems the UK’s level of personal data protection essentially equivalent to that of the EU, it would make an adequacy decision allowing the transfer of personal data to the UK without restrictions. While we have made it clear we are ready to begin preliminary discussions on an adequacy assessment now, the European Commission has not yet indicated a timetable for this and have stated that the decision on adequacy cannot be taken until we are a third country.
    • More guidance here

Of course the big argument by Brexiteers is that no deal would not be so bad.

It would certainly involve “some” burden on businesses and individuals – if you look at some of the links above especially on those importing or exporting goods and services.  There have been warnings about gridlock in port towns (including Poole) with a knock on impact on services), shortages of medicines and food.  The government’s planning includes fridges and ferries.

The Week says:

  • There are many senior Leave supporters who think that no deal “would be perfectly acceptable as long as sufficient preparations have been made”, according to the BBC’s Chris Morris.
  • Backbench Brexiteers have sought to present a so-called “cliff edge” Brexit as an opportunity rather than a threat and dismissed criticism as Remainer scaremongering.
  • “It’s Project Fear mark two,” one MP told The Guardian. “Do they think we can’t see that they’re trying to alarm people?”
  • Liz Bilney, CEO of Leave.EU, argues that a no-deal Brexit should be seen as a positive. “It is at worst, benign, at best, a fabulous opportunity for a fairer, more prosperous Britain,” she claims.
  • David Davis even claims there could be advantages if the pound were to fall sharply in value following a no-deal Brexit. 
  • “[The Pound falling] is not a bad thing. The pound’s always been too high from the point of view of industry because of the effect of the City. So, our competitive position with vis-a-vis Europe would be dramatically better even if there are tariffs,” the former Brexit secretary told parliamentary magazine The House in a recent interview.

Or there is an extension to article 50 and we don’t leave in March.  Then what happens?  The current government would be attempting a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and possibly some advance negotiation of the final trade deal based on the political declaration with a view to getting a version of the withdrawal agreement through before whatever deadline would have been agreed.  As noted above, Parliament would also have had to approve regulations to amend the exit day consistently with whatever the EU had agreed on article 50.

And what could that year or so be used for?

  • A Tory leadership election – only if the PM chooses to stand down as she is now safe from challenge for a year. She might do a David Cameron and fall on her sword if “her” deal is finally voted down in favour of an extension.   Then someone else could try and renegotiate, leading up to a rerun of the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A Labour minority government having another go at the negotiations? As described above, following a no confidence vote in the government, the PM could resign and Jeremy Corbyn could be invited to form a minority government.   He would then try and renegotiate and re-run the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (again, unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A general election? We wrote about this in our policy update on 14th December 2018
    • Remember that the fixed term Parliament legislation requires a 2/3rds majority for an early election. It is very unlikely that Conservative MPs will vote for that unless they think they would win a strong overall majority (and look what happened last time they tried). They will be pressing for a renegotiation. But it will happen automatically if a minority government cannot be formed, or falls, after a no- confidence vote as described above.
  • Go straight to another referendum. This requires Parliamentary support.  The big question that would need to be resolved is what the question on the referendum would be, and whether it would actually need to include a set of different scenarios, transferable votes, a requirement for a super majority etc.  The problem is that many people oppose the current proposal for many different reasons, and so getting all those who don’t want a no-deal Brexit to agree on the alternative would be very difficult.  Options for a referendum question include combinations of the following:
    • The PM’s deal (with whatever changes might have been agreed in the meantime)
    • Remain on current terms (a possibility from an EU perspective, as noted above, if we just revoke article 50)
    • Leave without a deal
    • A different deal? It is hard to ask people to vote for something that is not on the table.  Canada/Norway style deals would have to be negotiated with the EU.  So to get these on the table there are some steps that would need to happen first – postpone article 50, change of leadership/government/approach, attempt to negotiate a completely different deal with the EU and THEN have a referendum.

What is really interesting about this is the discussions about choices and bias.  You’ll remember the debate about the question the first time around.  For more on this:

In a Guardian opinion piece, David Van Reybrouk proposes a “preferednum”

  • The Eurovision song contest uses a similar procedure: rather than picking out the best song, juries are invited to give points to a range of artists, so that the cumulative effect of individual voting gives a final ranking of competing candidates.
  • This procedure could be applied successfully to the UK. In the polling station people would not just receive the classical yes/no question, but a list of 30 proposals on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. They might include ideas such as: “The status of Northern Ireland and the UK should be the same, even if that implies a harder border with the Republic of Ireland”; “Only Britain should be able to regulate who enters the country”; “Migration can only be tackled if Britain works with its European partners”; “Travelling to the EU should not require a passport.” Et cetera.
  • In the run-up to the preferendum every voter would receive a brochure with the arguments for and against each proposal, as is already common practice in Switzerland. In the voting booth citizens would be invited to rate the proposals (to show how strongly they agree or disagree) and rank them (pick a top three).

Peter Kellner in Prospect Magazine in early December offered 7 options focusing less on the possible outcome and more on the question of democratic legitimacy of the process.

So while we can’t see much further than a few days into the future on this one and predictions have been hard this last year or so, here are, we think, the two most likely scenarios.  We are being massively cynical here – this is based on an assumption that no-one (remainder or leaver, left or right) actually really believes that they can do a better deal than the PM has with the EU, or wants to be the person who tries and fails.  Or enough Brexiteers believe that if there is a delay, there might ultimately be a vote for remain.

  • Politicians return from the break having been thoroughly scared by the no-deal guidance and harangued by their local businesses etc, and/or the EU come up with some weasel wording on the backstop at the 11th hour, and Parliament approves the deal.

OR

  • Chaos continues, Labour doesn’t make up its mind and the UK leaves with no deal, leading in the short-ish term to a vote of no confidence and a general election, perhaps in 2020 if no deal turns out to be as bad as people think it might be.

And the university perspective?

On 4th January, the news was that UUK, the Russell Group, GuildHE, Million plus and University Alliance had sent an open letter to all MPs.

Dame Nancy Rothwell was on Radio 4. 

Professor Janet Beer wrote in the Guardian.

  • We have just weeks for the UK government and parliament to find a way to avoid a no-deal scenario. Without this, it is no exaggeration to suggest that this would be an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take our universities and our country decades to recover.

The BBC have some of the inevitable backlash:

  • But the journalist and educationalist Toby Young, who says he backs a “clean Brexit”, dismissed the warning as “the usual ultra-Remainer hysteria”, accusing vice-chancellors of “fear-mongering”.
  • “In the event of a no-deal Brexit, I’m sure the government will use some of that £49bn windfall to compensate British universities for any short-term losses,” said Mr Young, associate editor of the Spectator magazine

And while the coverage seems to focus on research funding, Wonkhe cover the student recruitment story with data from the Russell Group:

  • On average, this data shows a 3% decrease in enrolment, which is the first time a decrease in the overall number of EU students starting courses at Russell Group universities has been reported since 2012-13, when tuition fees increased. And while it’s important to note that this is aggregate data and growth will vary between institution and level of study, it indicates a worrying downturn in appetite from the EU to study in the UK – and will be a concern for the sector.
  • When we performed this data collection exercise across Russell Group universities last year, we saw marginal growth of 1% in EU enrolment between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Before that, HESA data shows that growth in the number of first year EU students at Russell Group universities grew by 5%, 4%, 4% and 7% in each consecutive year between 2012-13 and 2016-17 (latest available data).
  • For us, what was striking about the data on enrolments this year was the decrease seen at postgraduate level: while there was a marginal increase of 1% at the undergraduate level, there was a 5% drop in the number of EU postgraduate taught students and a 9% decrease in the number of EU postgraduate research students.
  • The 9% decline in postgraduate research students enrolling at Russell Group universities this year follows a 9% drop reported by our universities in 2017-18. This means there has been a significant decrease in EU postgraduate research students enrolling on courses at Russell Group universities since the referendum.

The Independent led with the financial risk:

  • A predicted fall in EU student numbers and a potential loss of research funding due to a no-deal Brexit could hit universities’ finances.
  • It is understood some institutions could be forced to seek a government bailout to stay open.
  • …. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) think tank, said he was concerned about the financial future of the university sector because of the negative impact of Brexit, as well as a fall in the number of 18-year-olds and the government’s review into tuition fees.   
  • “A no-deal Brexit would mean even more upheaval than other forms of Brexit for the sector,” he said. Analysis for the think tank has predicted a 57 per cent drop-off in incoming EU students. 
  • … Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chair of the Education Committee, said: “With the UK leaving the EU, there is all the more reason to ensure that our universities are fit for the future and focused on meeting the country’s skills needs. “Our committee’s report on value for money in higher education outlined how they can play a significant role in filling skills gaps and boosting productivity by promoting degree apprenticeships and improving access for disadvantaged students. “By focusing on a more skills-based future, our universities can ensure they remain among the world’s best performing institutions.”

Taking a longer view

It is easy to be dragged by current uncertainties into taking a short term view of all of this.  But assuming at some point we stop going round in circles on Brexit, what might a future deal with the EU look like for research? Whether there is a deal or  no deal by March, eventually there will have to be at least an attempt to form a future relationship of some sort on research.  We’ve gone taken the circular analogy a bit further back in time to look forward to what might happen next.

There’s an article (by a European) on Research Professional here:  [from November 2017]  In its September 2017 Future Partnership paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation, [the UK government] stated: “Given the UK’s unique relationship with European science and innovation, the UK would also like to explore forging a more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country.”

Assuming we don’t end up in EFTA or staying in the EU, the article suggests the obvious options for the UK were either associated status or third country status.  The government of course has always said it wanted a custom deal. The article therefore suggests something different:

  • A possible solution for this dilemma was mooted by the League of European Research Universities and picked up more explicitly by Pascal Lamy’s High Level Group, which recommended in its report that international cooperation be made “a trademark of EU research and innovation”. It suggested that the EU should “open up the R&I programme to association by the best and participation by all, based on reciprocal co-funding or access to co-funding in the partner country”.
  • The official narrative is to bring strong research countries such as Canada and Australia on board for the Framework programme, but it is clear that this also opens the door for a global research power such as the UK. So instead of trying to fit the UK into one of the three categories that would give it associated access, let’s change the rules to ‘association by the best and participation by all’.
  • Obviously, this will lead to a financial contribution from the UK to the EU budget, the use of European Commission contracts, the authority of the European Court of Justice and the decision-making power of the EU 27 concerning research policy. Suggesting a kind of “association +”, whereby strong research countries from outside the EU also have a formal say in EU policy development and decision-making processes, will probably be a bridge too far for the EU 27, but it certainly could have added value in the case of the UK.
  • Anyway, last Friday’s agreement [the one that meant we moved on to the next phase of negotiations in autumn 2017, remember that…] clearly states: “the UK states that it may wish to participate in some Union budgetary programmes of the new MFF post-2020 as a non-Member State.” So we can be hopeful for FP9, although we must remain aware of two basic premises of the negations: no cherry picking and no deal on anything if no deal on everything.

So maybe there is scope for a special deal, one that isn’t just special for the UK but also for Canada and Australia and others too?

The end of the article provokes a wry smile, in the light of current news, though: Surely, UK vice-chancellors, with the explicit support of their continental colleagues, must increase the pressure in the following days, weeks and months to reach an acceptable Brexit deal by autumn 2018. After all, they are one of the few societal forces left that can speak up and guide the country in these extremely challenging times. I guess the news stories this week suggest the sector is still working on that….

That was in November 2017.  What has happened since then?

An article on RP in May 2018 said that our participation in FP9 was dead in the water

  • The UK government needs to make clear that the default position is at least associate membership of EU R&D programmes. It must then reach agreement with the EU over the size of the UK’s financial contribution and level of influence. Researchers should be lobbying strongly on these issues, on which little progress has been made since the referendum in June 2016.
  • Instead, science and universities minister Sam Gyimah has argued that the UK will not participate in the next EU Framework programme, dubbed Horizon Europe, “at any price”. According to the minister, the government’s position paper published in March simply outlines its views on how any future programme could be improved.
  • The European Parliament’s Brexit steering group believes the UK cannot be a net beneficiary from EU research funds post-Brexit, and is unwilling to give the UK a decision-making role in Horizon Europe. Coming from what is arguably the EU’s most democratically representative institution, this is bad but not irreversible news.
  • The government needs to make a move and offer something substantial to the EU in return for the UK’s participation. An attractive financial offer could still make the UK an appealing partner in Horizon Europe. However, with the Commission proposing a €20 billion budget increase compared with Horizon 2020, the UK might need to increase its contribution accordingly.
  • This would mean paying more to participate than it does at present—with no say on the programme’s direction, and no guarantee that it would see a return on its investment. Such a commitment would also have to compete with other post-Brexit spending priorities.

Of course we then had a change of Minister. Vivienne Stern of UUK International was quoted on RP in December urging the new Minister to do something about it:

  • “Deal or no deal, the UK should seek full association to [the EU’s next Framework programme for research and innovation] Horizon Europe as swiftly as possible, to end uncertainty in academic communities across Europe as well as in the UK,” said Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International. “If there is no deal, the minister will need to prioritise planning to mitigate the impact on universities, and press ministers across Europe and the European Commission to decide how they will act to preserve collaboration and student exchange.”

And the Government’s Chief Scientist also intervened (also from Research Professional in December 2018):

  • Appearing in front of a committee of MPs, Patrick Vallance said the government’s desire “is to be fully associated with the European programmes going forward, that’s obviously dependent on a deal”. …EU leaders have repeatedly stressed that a withdrawal agreement must be approved before the EU and the UK can start negotiating their future relationship—to the frustration of the former science minister Sam Gyimah, who told Research Fortnight in October that he wanted to reach a deal on research and innovation at the very beginning of the Brexit negotiations.

And then the European Parliament on 12th December 2018 agreed its position on Horizon Europe (also from Research Professional) – but this didn’t include a position on openness. See this article from 4th December 2018 which suggests it doesn’t look good or that the proposal above will be adopted:

  • The Council agreed on a “partial general approach” to the 2021-27 programme on 30 November, with “promote scientific excellence” listed first in a set of objectives for the programme.
  • Another major issue to be resolved is the budget for the massive research programme. The European Commission originally proposed a budget of €83.5 billion in 2018 prices for Horizon Europe, but the Parliament is seeking €120bn. The Council’s stance has yet to be determined by finance ministers and national leaders.
  • …The Council has also not taken a stance on the participation of non-EU countries, which it says will be part of its budget negotiations. This has added to the fears of Norwegian and Swiss researchers, who were already worried about the position adopted by the Commission on limiting access to parts of the programme, and by MEPs, who want to put greater emphasis on restrictions. Both countries can participate fully at present.
  • …Gunnar Bovim, rector of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told Research Europe that Norwegian researchers are afraid they will be shut out, and that this could fire up Eurosceptic sentiments.  “We look upon ourselves as inside that fence,” he said. “Some voices have been raised saying why do we send this money to Brussels and leave some of it there, why not just divide it in the Research Council of Norway. To me that would be a very bad decision.”
  • Swiss participation could be limited even more, as the country is not in the European Economic Area. Martin Müller, head of Switzerland’s Brussels R&D liaison office SwissCore, says he hopes politicians do not forget that his country has close economic ties with the EU.

Although there is still hope – see this from 4th December:

  • Moedas had a working lunch meeting in Brussels on 3 December with ambassadors and other representatives from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. He said on Twitter that they discussed future international cooperation in Horizon Europe, and that there was a strong commitment that the programme would be “open to the world”.
  • The European Commission has proposed a new way for countries outside the EU to join the programme as associate members, which would give more countries the opportunity to participate substantially. This would be based on them having qualities such as “a good capacity” in R&D, and policies to promote social wellbeing.
  • However, the Commission has proposed caveats, such as that the countries would have to pay in what they take out. Countries that associate via the new route are also likely be excluded from parts of the programme.
  • The European Parliament looks set to demand a further tightening of these proposed restrictions, after its research committee backed a report in November that called for association via the new route to be “based on an assessment of the benefits for the EU”.

So in conclusion, something could be done, but the UK will need to ask, and pay, and the EU will, as they have through all the negotiations so far, put their own interests first.  And it is not all about the UK.  If more openness in research programmes suits the EU, then they will agree to it, not just for the UK but more widely, but expect conditions including contribution to budgets.  Whether the UK can negotiate concessions that put it in a better position than others, or can join with other countries around the world to negotiate on these conditions for everyone’s benefit, remains to be seen.

We might expect that leaving with no deal would put us in a more difficult position for these discussions, although it shouldn’t rule anything out, especially if we end up paying the divorce bill anyway….Just on that:

We think all that suggests that we will end up paying it…if not as part of a withdrawal deal, then as part of a future deal that seeks to sort out some of the mess.  Because why would the EU not insist on that as part of a future arrangement?

You might have missed

Our update from 21st December, covering the Immigration White Paper, grade inflation, accounting for student loans and more.

Consultation on the cost of the Teacher’s Pension Scheme

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State in the Department of Education, announced in a written response on 27th December 2018 that “The Department for Education is launching a consultation in early 2019 to seek views on the impact of the changes to employer contribution costs on state-funded schools, independent schools, further education (FE) colleges and other public-funded training organisations, and universities and other Higher Education institutions (HEI) in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, including which sectors should receive additional funding from the Government. Once the consultation has closed, the Department will make an assessment on the viability of the scheme and the number of institutions participating in the scheme.”

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.

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Successful Away Day for the Centre for Midwifery, Maternal and Perinatal Health

CMMPH held its annual away day on the 12th December and was led by the Centre leads, Professors Edwin van Teijlingen and Susan Way. It is an opportunity for BU staff, PGR students and Visiting Faculty to come together and share their research development and impact over the previous year. Time is also given to thinking ahead to ensure the Centre is meeting its aims of promoting the health and wellbeing of women, babies and their families by enhancing practice through education, research and scholarship.

The morning started with an update about EDGE, an NHS IT platform that provides a governance framework for tracking NHS research studies. Doctoral students whose studies require NHS ethics approval will have their research tracked through this system. Other discussions included an update on REF and BU2025, developing a publications strategy and match-funded PhD studentships.

  

Luisa Cescutti-Butler                            Malika Felton

Several PGR students presented their work to date, ranging from rising caesarean section rates in hospitals in Nepal (Sulochana Dhakal working towards Probationary Review); acute and chronic effects of slow and deep breathing upon women who have pregnancy-induced hypertension (Malika Felton working towards Major Review); updating the understanding perineal practice at the time of birth by midwives (Sara Stride working towards Probationary Review) and women’s experiences of caring for their late preterm babies (Dr Luisa Cescutti-Butler recently awarded doctorate). The presentations were all excellent and produced a lot of questions and discussion. Well done to all those who presented.

 

Sulochana Dhakal                                                 Sara Stride

The afternoon was used as an opportunity to think ahead about future collaborative research, how this fits in with the Centre aims and objectives as well as meeting the university’s ambitions to be a world class organisation.

The day was really enjoyable with a lot of positive feedback.

 

Edwin and Sue

HE Policy update for the w/e 14th December 2018

A busy week in politics, and for policy too.  Not looking any quieter as we approach the end of the year, either.  We will do a short update next week because the ONS report on student loan accounting is due and there are likely to be interesting reflections on that through the week.

Student loans and accounting

Ahead of the big ONS announcement on Monday about accounting for student loans, there is a House of Commons library report: Student loans and the Government’s deficit

Following concerns from parliamentary committees, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is re-examining how student loans are recorded in the Government’s deficit (which is the difference between the Government’s spending and its revenues from tax receipts and other sources). The ONS will announce its decision on 17 December 2018. (more…)

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

VIRTUAL ROUNDTABLE (FACEBOOK LIVESTREAM):
Digital media and the Syrian Crisis. How development organisations leverage digital technologies to support Syrian refugees & Internally Displaced People.

December 13, 3pm-5pm (GMT)

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

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

The event will be live-streamed on the e-Voices: Redressing Marginality facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BUevoices/

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