Last week was dominated by the Brexit political turmoil and no major HE reports were launched (although there are some coming later this week). The media continued to wring all the coverage they could out of the fee cut speculations and there was news on an American university who is currently registering with the OfS to takeover a London university college. And on Monday there was news for the TEF review and on accelerated degree fees.
The details for the Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) have been announced. The Terms of Reference are here and the 2016 policy paper has also been shared here.
The aims of the TEF are:
- To better inform students’ choices about what and where to study;
- To raise esteem for teaching;
- To recognise and reward excellent teaching; and
- To better meet the needs of employers, business, industry and the professions.
The first TEF awards were conferred in June 2017, with a second round in June 2018. Currently TEF participation has been an institution’s choice and 296 providers have TEF ratings. Most institution’s opted in as originally success in the TEF was expected to lead to favourable higher fee arrangements. In a change, from 2019/20 TEF will now be compulsory for all registered providers with more than 500 students.
During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act through Parliament, to appease the House of Lords and pass the legislation before the 2017 snap election, the Government conceded that there would be an independent review of the TEF covering:
- The process by which ratings are determined under the scheme and the sources of statistical information used in that process;
- Whether that process, and those sources of statistical information, are fit for use for the purpose of determining ratings under the scheme;
- The names of the ratings under the scheme and whether those names are appropriate;
- The impact of the scheme on the ability of higher education providers to which the scheme applies to carry out their functions (including in particular their functions relating to teaching and research);
- An assessment of whether the scheme is in the public interest; and
- Any other matters that the appointed person considers relevant.
The Independent reviewer is expected to have experience ideally as a HE provider and command the confidence of current registered HE institutions. The Secretary of State has appointed Dame Shirley Pearce as the Independent Reviewer (parliamentary announcement here). Dame Shirley is currently Chair of Court and Council at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is a member of the Higher Education Quality Assurance Panel for the Ministry of Education in Singapore, and a Member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. She was the former Vice-Chancellor of Loughborough University and Council member at the University of Cambridge, and the inaugural Chair of the College of Policing. Originally Dame Shirley started out as a clinical psychologist. Her review of the TEF will be supported by a small advisory group comprising relevant experts to provide advice and help inform her Review.
This means the Independent Review will be developing its recommendations at the same time as the second year of pilots for subject-level TEF. The subject pilot findings will be available by summer 2019 and will then influence the design of the final version of subject-level TEF. The recommendations of the Independent Review should also publish at the same time, and influence the TEF’s final design (so influencing future iterations of the TEF from academic year 2019/20 at earliest). The OfS is planning to move to full implementation of subject-level TEF in academic year 2019/20.
Access and Participation
Social Mobility – A series of oral questions on social mobility took place in Parliament this week. Aside from Sam Gyimah’s gaff as he misunderstood and criticised the Scottish system, care leavers got a mention:
- Adam Afriyie: Irrespective of political persuasion or ideology, everyone in this House will agree that the state has a special responsibility towards vulnerable children in care. Only 6% or 7% of them get to university, and 60% of them have behavioural and mental health challenges. We must congratulate the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation and Buttle UK on their work in providing bursaries for university. Does the Minister agree that we must look to expand work in this area?
- Damian Hinds: I do agree with my hon. Friend that we need to expand work in that area, and I commend the charities that he mentioned, including for their work to inform local authorities about how to make placements in boarding schools. It is true that for the right child at the right time and at the right school, boarding can create a life-changing opportunity. Encouragement into university is also vital, of course.
The lack of progress on social mobility:
- Dr Offord: A recent OECD report stated that the children of poor families are likely to take five generations to start to earn an average income, compared with two generations for families in Denmark and three in Sweden. Why has it taken the United Kingdom so long to bridge this gap?
- Damian Hinds: These are big topics and, indeed, stubborn statistics that take quite some time to move. As anybody who has compared the 1970 cohort with the 1958 cohort will attest, it is a problem that goes back through multiple Governments, but we need to keep working on it. The most recent OECD statistics show a more encouraging picture than there was previously thought to be
Lucy Powell (Labour) called for the Government to introduce a social mobility impact assessment for all Government policies and budget plans.
Student number controls:
- Kerry McCarthy: What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect that the reintroduction of higher education student number controls would have on the number of young students from more disadvantaged backgrounds who make it to university?
- Damian Hinds: We believe that any young person who has the potential to benefit from university should be able to do so, and the existing system helps to facilitate exactly that. More than £800 million is being spent on access encouragement from universities. We need to make sure that that is spent as well as it can be, to make sure that any young person from any background has an equal opportunity to benefit.
- Justine Greening: An independent review of higher education funding is under way. Does the Secretary of State agree that any proposals in that review that are regressive in nature, that would reintroduce a student number cap or that would act in effect as a brake on social mobility are not recommendations that this Government should accept?
- Damian Hinds: It goes without saying that my right hon. Friend has very considerable expertise in this area and I take what she says extremely seriously. The review that she mentions is informed by an independent panel. That independent panel has not yet completed its work and the Government have not yet considered what recommendations may come forward, but, of course, social mobility must be at the heart.
The above questions, and more on the social mobility debate, can be found here.
BME Delivery – In June the NUS and Universities UK (UUK) teamed up in a call for nationwide evidence to identify best practice to close the BME attainment gap alongside evidence sessions and surveying students. The outcome of this initiative is expected in December.
Meanwhile UUK have published a blog reporting on content from a BME evidence session at UWE: this is an area where the sector is doing ‘stuff’ without cutting through in a way that delivers results. This is seen in the individual student stories, and through the data that institutions collect.
The blog describes UWE’s Equity student programme as an exemplar. It provides BME students with leadership development, access to role models, and opportunities to network with leading employers – with positive feedback from the students.
Other points from the evidence session described by UUK:
- We know that BME students experience greater financial challenges at university than other groups.
- We are aware that university leadership teams are not representative of the student body and that some curriculums do not reflect minority groups’ experiences. These areas need to be prioritised and addressed if the attainment gap is to be tackled.
- Suggestions for training staff and ‘those who study with us’, plus setting cultural standards with challenges to language and behaviour expected if standards aren’t met
- Commitment from the top within the university is essential
OfS Fines – The OfS shows is teeth in its first ever fine to a HE provider. Hertfordshire University have been fined £66,000 for breaching its Access Agreement in a mistake whereby a partner college overcharged a franchised course fee. Research Professional report:
- The OfS said that breaches by Hertfordshire were recorded by Offa in 2014-15 and 2015-16, as well as by the OfS in 2016-17. The university has been “seriously negligent in breaching its access agreement over three consecutive years” it said.
- As a result, the OfS has withheld £66,000 from the university’s grant in 2018-19. Students affected by the breach have been reimbursed by the university, which will have to pay back a total of £132,000 plus interest. The decision to fine the university was taken in May but the OfS made its decision public last week.
- Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has plans to respond to the recommendations of the project on flexible learning published by the CBI and Universities UK on 26 October 2018.
- A – Sam Gyimah: The Review of Post-18 Education and Funding is considering how to further encourage learning that is more flexible, like part-time, distance learning and commuter study options. We do not plan to respond specifically to the recommendations of the CBI and Universities UK project. We know that studying part-time and later in life can bring considerable benefits for individuals, employers and the wider economy. We have already adopted a number of measures to support part-time students. This academic year, for example, part-time students will – for the first time ever – be able to access full-time equivalent maintenance loans. The Office for Students also targets an element of the Teaching Grant to recognise the additional costs of part-time study. In 2017/18 £72 million was made available, and the same amount was allocated in 2018/19 for this purpose. The government launched a review of Level 4–5 education in October 2017 to examine how classroom-based level 4 and 5 education, particularly technical education, meets the needs of learners and employers. The Level 4–5 review and the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding will work closely together to ensure a coherent vision for Further and Higher Education.
New research released by the mental health anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change, reveals that 88% of 16-24-year-olds would tell friends and family they are ‘fine’, even if they are currently struggling with a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety. When asked why, responses suggest young people doubt whether those around them really want to hear the honest answer.
The top concerns were:
- I don’t want to burden people (59%)
- Just because people ask how you are, doesn’t mean they really want to know (52%)
- I’d only talk if I was confident my friend or family member really wanted to listen (45%)
The research launches Time to Change’s campaign to ‘Ask Twice’ if you think someone may be struggling with their mental health. The campaign says the simple act of asking again, with interest, is a simple, effective way to show that you’re asking for real and ready to talk and listen. Alongside the growth (or increased recognition) of student mental health issues Time to Change suggest that 75% of all mental health problems are established by the age of 24.
- Q – Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many British students have left the country to study at universities in (a) the EU and (b) the rest of the world in each of the last 10 years; and if he will make a statement.
- A – Sam Gyimah: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) collect and publish the number of British students studying wholly overseas. Tertiary education is defined as International Standard Classification of Education levels 5-8. This information can be found in the attached table. [Here.] In addition ERASMUS collect and publish further information on the number of students studying overseas as part of their studies at their UK university [here].
On Sunday the Government broke a news story announcing the expansion of accelerated university degrees to encourage new providers into the HE market and to support students who wish to fast track through a degree to move into the workforce more quickly. This includes an increased fee level (up to 20% more) for the (usually) two year course justified by the year round teaching. However, the new fee limit is subject to parliamentary approval.
The press release says:
- Hundreds of thousands of prospective students will be handed more choice than ever before over what they can study at university…. Today’s announcement will build upon our world-class system by widening choice and creating more diversity for all students choosing to study at one of our institutions – part of the government’s drive to provide greater value for money for students.
- The move will not just enable students on all such courses to graduate one year faster compared to standard degrees, but it will come as a welcome boost for businesses who will be able to access talented graduates a year earlier – most notably, but not limited to, subjects such as accountancy, financial management and law where accrediting bodies are developing accelerated courses for rapid graduate employment. Accelerated degrees are also expected to be made available for the vast majority of other courses too.
- Accelerated degrees meet exactly the same quality assurance measures as standard degrees and will provide exactly the same level of qualification. For example, a two-year accelerated degree will condense 3-year degrees with 30 weeks teaching into 2 years with 45 weeks teaching
- Students who opt for a two-year degree will save at least 20 per cent (£5,500) in total tuition costs compared to a standard three-year course… For the taxpayer, it means significantly lower tuition loan outlay, higher rates of repayment and therefore a lower cost to the public purse of higher education. A higher proportion of students on accelerated degrees will also repay their loans in full.
Sam Gyimah said:
- “Accelerated degrees not only make it possible for the next generation of students to access higher education and the undeniable financial, academic and personal benefits it has to offer, but drives the sector to offer dynamic choices that serve students’ needs… Providers will be able to tap into a new market of students, particularly mature students, who were previously locked out of higher education. This provision creates a new arena of competition that delivers for students, taxpayers and employers.”
The ink isn’t dry on the detail yet. There is the need for parliament to ratify the fee changes. Further detail is needed to understand how the acceleration can fit a wider range of degree models. So far it has been stated that the accelerated provision should be delivered in a timespan at least one year shorter than the equivalent standard degree. So in theory it doesn’t rule out placement periods or an overseas placement year but whether a workable model can be achieved will require more thought. And while the timespan statement appears to suggest any course will be suitable for accelerated fees the documentation says:
- DfE will continue to work with OfS and SLC to establish mechanisms and produce guidance helping providers to identify courses as ‘accelerated’ for higher fee cap purposes, or to seek our help where they are uncertain.
So perhaps the courses the Government is less keen on – perhaps those with lower graduate earnings – may not be included within the deal. However, it is stated that within the fee provisions there will be mechanisms for students to speed up and slow down by transferring between accelerated and standard degree models, meaning universities will need to think carefully about the viability of running both models in tandem. It has been confirmed that the access, quality assurance and financial safeguard measures will remain as per current degree models. Also that the Government will review the impact of these changes three years after implementation. The Government have said they are committed to developing a programme of direct engagement, raising awareness of accelerated degree provision and addressing concerns raised to facilitate the widespread offer of accelerated provision.
The sector has been talking about accelerated provision for some time now. The Government held a consultation on accelerated degree provision which closed in February. The Government’s reaction to the consultation responses took longer than expected as has only been published today, Monday 19th, after their announcement. Sam Gyimah also published a written student finance update on accelerated fees (stating the same points as above) here.
Responses from the sector have been both positive and negative, and focus on money:
- Nicola Dandridge, Chief Exec, OfS: “Accelerated degrees offer students from all backgrounds the possibility of studying over a shorter period of time, at a lower overall cost compared with a standard three-year course. For many, they are likely to be an attractive option.”
- Verity Davidge, Head of Education and Skills Policy at EEF, The Manufacturers’ Organisation: “For manufacturers facing acute skills shortages, accelerated degrees widen the graduate talent pool, they are faster and also ensure sought after STEM graduates are able to enter the labour market more quickly. These degrees will also be attractive to learners, who will find themselves with less student debt – resulting in a much needed boost in supply to industry.”
- Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Exec of the Russell Group: “Greater choice for students is always good but I would caution ministers against ‘overpromising’. I wouldn’t want disadvantaged students to rule out a traditional three-year course because they didn’t believe they could afford it. Doing a more compressed degree also reduces the opportunity for part-time work, potentially increasing short-term financial pressure.”
- Matt Waddup, Head of Policy and Campaigns, University and College Union: “This is not about increasing real choice for students, it’s about allowing for-profit companies to access more public cash through the student loans system. Accelerated degrees will quickly become devalued but the government shows no signs that it understands this. Instead of gimmicks which risk undermining the international reputation of our higher education sector, the Government should focus on fixing the underlying problems with our current student finance system, which piles debts on students.”
It has been noted that the recent Education Select Committee inquiry report, Value for Money in HE, supported the expansion of accelerated degrees but cautioned against disadvantaged students being pressured to undertake them on the basis of cost.
The Government’s spokesperson in the House of Lords, Viscount Younger, said: “Our intention is to also bring forward Regulations providing for increased loan amounts for accelerated degree courses. This announcement will give providers confidence that the arrangements for accelerated courses are here to stay, and are consistent with all types of current non-accelerated fee levels and caps. The higher annual fee cap for accelerated degrees will drive up provision of accelerated courses across a far greater range of providers. Wider provision will in turn offer many more students the choice of applying for an accelerated course in their preferred subject and provider.”
Knowledge Exchange Framework
Research England published documentation relating to the upcoming consultation on the future Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF). Summary of KEF call for evidence responses summarises the key points from the evidence submitted to Research England on suitable approaches to the KEF (including the data metrics). The aim of the call for evidence was to ensure the KEF compares HEIs in a fair and meaningful way, explore what data could be used to inform the KEF, and how KEF metrics should be visualised in an accessible and useful way.
The second report, KEF Cluster Analysis Report, is a technical report analysing the English HE providers to find similarities in the structure of how they approach knowledge exchange to better compare relative performance. Research England report that they will further develop this analysis and manually assigning some universities to different clusters ahead of the consultation where necessary.
There is also a technical note, KEF Technical Note, which describes the role of other sources of UK Research and Innovation data in the development of the KEF.
- Research England’s Director of Knowledge Exchange, Alice Frost, said: ‘There has been a great deal of work going on behind the scenes at Research England and in collaboration with our stakeholders…to develop the KEF since the call for evidence in December 2017. It’s essential we get a broad range of views to ensure the KEF is a useful tool for universities and users. We hope this information will give an indication of the direction of travel and help HEIs prepare for the consultation.’
The Guardian reports the new research from Universities UK and Britain Thinks: Public perceptions of UK universities. The research aimed to understand the public view to better inform UUK’s communications and campaigning work.
Their report says the majority of people rarely think about universities and largely find the sector irrelevant. People particularly struggled to articulate the impact of a university on their local community. This fits with calls from the current Civic University Commission for universities to reinvigorate and engage more with their local communities. The Commission is keen for universities to do more to enable mature people from the local community to access HE in a flexible way that suits their personal and employment commitments.
The report describes how current students and recent graduates are the most positive about the benefits of university. Particularly:
- Price in the sector for being one of the ‘best in the world’
- Universities as a helping hand for people to ‘get on in life’ and get better jobs
- Soft benefits from the university experience (see page 17 for detail)
- Positive impacts for local areas and communities
For research messaging see page 21.
Pages 31 onwards highlight the communications strategies that are likely to be successful.
- Sharing information
- Public want to hear about:
- beneficial medical or product research,
- affordable university experience,
- jobs created,
- personal benefit of university and support for people to retrain,
- careers success stories from young people,
- the university’s impact on local areas,
- the global reputation and status of UK universities.
The Guardian article sifts through the percentages of positive feeling towards universities noting nearly half of those surveyed thought the cost of university outweighs the benefits.
It also explores the influence of ethnicity: the polling showed that black and minority ethnic adults feel more positively towards universities than their white counterparts. They are much more likely to say that universities have a positive impact on their family than white adults (60% compared to 43%), as well as on the UK as a whole (68% compared to 57%).
Amid all the talk in the last two weeks about financially strapped universities on the brink of collapse the potential for a takeover by other institutions has been a priority on the OfS’ list. It would provide security for students to finish their programmes, wouldn’t require spending taxpayer’s cash on propping up institutions, and provides a management and efficiency turnaround through the merger. Enter America from stage left. Northeastern University is in talks with the OfS to acquire and run London based New College of the Humanities within the OfS register. Josepth Aoun, President of Northeastern University, says:
- It will also pave the way for Northeastern to become the first U.S. university with a college in its global network that can confer undergraduate and graduate degrees in the U.K. The new entity will be known as NCH at Northeastern.
- …an alliance between two distinct and complementary institutions. Known for its rigorous one-to-one tutorial method, NCH is a leader in humanities education. Combined with Northeastern’s preeminence in experiential learning—and our comprehensive portfolio of academic disciplines—we will create unmatched opportunities for learners on both sides of the Atlantic, and around the world.
- Students at both institutions will have access to new academic offerings, joint degrees, preferred and accelerated pathways into master’s degree and certificate programs. The partnership will also facilitate student and faculty mobility throughout Northeastern’s network of campuses across North America.
- Our academic plan, Northeastern 2025, is based on the premise that learning and discovery are made more powerful through global networks. By joining forces with NCH, we will further extend our teaching and research mission, and multiply the positive impact we can have on people and societies around the world.
The Times describes the New College of Humanities as the elite privately funded liberal arts university…dubbed the “Oxbridge of London”, with original fees of £54,000, and a 2018 roll of just 90 students, and degrees validated by Southampton Solent. Both the OfS and the American regulator have to approve the takeover before it can go ahead. The Times also notes that Northeastern is currently the fifth most popular American university for UK students.
There is further coverage of the story in THE and Research Professional.
Research & Immigration
The UK’s four higher education funding bodies have awarded Clarivate Analytics’ Institute for Scientific Information a contract to provide REF 2021 assessment panels with citation information. This information includes data about the number of times a scholarly publication has been cited in other scholarly publications – called citation counts. Eleven of REF 2021’s 34 expert panels have said they plan to use citation data to inform the peer review process during the assessment phase of REF 2021. More detail is available here. The news piece says:
- institutions submitting during REF 2021 will be able to view the citation counts for items they plan to submit to the REF in the relevant units of assessment and confirm that a correct match has been obtained.
- Further information about the provision of citation data will be provided to HEIs in 2019.
Research Professional notes calls for student mobility and Horizon Europe to have closer ties moving forward in a position paper published this week. Research Professional report:
- “Students could take part in Horizon Europe projects through traineeships,” the guild said. It suggested that links between Erasmus and the R&D programme’s Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions grants for researcher mobility could be created “by using short-term grants for PhD students to participate in training courses for early-career researchers”.
- Other suggestions in the paper include setting up programmes promoting entrepreneurial skills, developed in cooperation with the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, and making Erasmus more inclusive and better able to support the development of transferable skills.
Q – Martyn Day: Large-scale collaborative research projects take up to about two years to plan, so universities already need to be thinking beyond 2020. What assurance can the Minister give them today about funding levels after this date, and where will such funding come from?
- A – Sam Gyimah: I assume the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Horizon 2020 research programme. The UK has made it very clear that we want to fully associate with the successor programme to Horizon 2020—Horizon Europe—to ensure that our researchers can continue to collaborate with the brightest and the best in Europe.
On overseas academics being denied access to Britain:
Q – Carol Monaghan: Despite spending nearly £2,000 on visa fees, Dr Mohamed Alnor, a professor from the Sudan International University, was denied entry to the UK to attend a conference in Glasgow last month. This is becoming a common situation for academics from the Middle East, Africa and India. What assurances can the Minister give our academic community that this issue will be addressed immediately?
- A – Sam Gyimah: The Prime Minister made it clear in her Jodrell Bank speech earlier this year that we welcome all international researchers. In fact, at least 30% of the researchers in the UK are from abroad. On the new immigration system that is being considered, we will make sure that we facilitate the brightest and the best being able to come here, work here and collaborate with our researchers.
Carol Monaghan: But the Glasgow conference is not unique. In Liverpool last month, 10 delegates were refused entry, including one from India whose research has been sponsored by the UK Government. Professor McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has said: “Academic collaboration is yet another consequence of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, denying visas to those working on the ground to improve the health of some of the poorest people in the world”. How will the Minister ensure that the UK continues to be open for international collaborations and conferences?
- Sam Gyimah: The hon. Lady is referring to a specific case, and I cannot comment in detail about it. Needless to say, we are open and welcoming. Just in July, the Government introduced the new tier 5 visa regime to allow academics to come here on short-term visas to collaborate with researchers here. We are genuinely open to sectoral research and sectoral collaboration. If there is a specific instance where someone was disappointed, I would be happy to look at it.
Q – Martyn Day: What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the effect of immigration law on the ability of higher education establishments to engage effectively in work with their counterparts overseas.
- A – Sam Gyimah: I have had conversations with the Home Secretary about the Migration Advisory Committee review and its implications for the higher education sector. We of course want to ensure that academics and researchers can come to the UK and collaborate with the brightest and the best.
Differential Fees & Tuition Fee cuts
Portsmouth’s VC, Graham Galbraith, writes for HEPI in The ‘unbundling’ of the university experience – a shot across the bows. It argues against differential fees and the associated access to standard services that a student may feel entitled to due to paying differential fees. He suggests that should the ‘leaked’ contemplation of lower fees for humanities students be recommended by the post-18 review that universities may have to start ‘unbundling’ and asking students to pay for certain services. The blog highlights how this is a regressive policy and exhorts the sector to start campaigning against the possibility of differentiated fees now.
There is a new blog on Wonkhe which argues against some subjects (usually non STEMM) being seen as less worthwhile.
A parliamentary question on the ‘leaked’ lower fee levels for certain subjects:
- Q – Wes Streeting: I was not happy with the Minister’s answer earlier, so maybe the Secretary of State can do better. Will the Government rule out charging higher tuition fees for STEM than for non-STEM subjects once the Augar review is complete?
- A – Sam Gyimah: I am afraid to disappoint the hon. Gentleman; as I said in my earlier answer, I cannot comment on leaks of a review that has not been published, and my answer has not changed.
The media has continued stories and comment on the tuition fee cuts throughout the week The Times took the stance that Tuition fee cut ‘will hurt poor students’ highlighting the fee cut, a potential vote booster for the Conservatives is socially regressive because only the wealthiest students benefit. Whereas less cash in universities means ‘fewer grants for poorer students’. The article goes on to reiterate familiar messages that it is the cost of living students feel the bite of more than future loan repayments:
- “The ideas being floated do nothing to address the cost of living while studying. We know that this is a more significant concern to undergraduates than tuition fees because poorer students come out with higher debt because they have to borrow to live, whereas more middle-class students benefit from family support.”
The BBC ran Untangling the tuition fee knot covering the forthcoming (December) decision by the Office for National Statistics about whether the written off tuition fees that are never repayed should be accounted for as current spending – and whether this might prompt a lowering of tuition fees for some courses because the Government will not want to foot such a write off bill. The article says:
- Some university vice-chancellors have worried that lower headline fees for students on some courses might also signal a potential return to a cap on numbers of places but government sources have ruled this out.
- The funding review won’t report now until sometime early in 2019 when it’s had a chance to chew over the complicated finances.
- But also some of the other big problems in the system that many people think need fixing, like how better support study on a technical or vocational route and those who want to study part-time.
A further article from the BBC on Wednesday Are students overpaying for tuition fees? questions why the majority of undergraduate fees are set at the £9,250 maximum compared to post graduate fees which vary widely in cost but are often offered at a lower tuition rate. They do note the effect that regulation has had on the undergraduate price and that competition for post graduates has kept prices competitive even though they can be 47% more expensive to deliver. The article suggests the sector has responded by explaining it is a ‘university fee’ rather than a teaching fee, and so covers a myriad of other services the university delivers around the teaching package.
The Times covers the current row in Scotland whereby EU students commencing their course after Brexit (in 2019/20) will not have to pay fees. Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith highlights the unfairness of the system because students from other parts of the UK and outside the EU pay for tuition, and because the Scottish capping system is limiting numbers of Scottish students. And Wales have a fee waiver scheme for part time students in receipt of certain benefits. Research Professional has a comedic piece, Scotch myth, detailing a debate blunder from Sam Gyimah who reportedly misunderstood the Scottish funding system (the record of his responses is available here).
The Guardian ran Tuition fees: who benefits, who pays? which covers correspondence received from three members of the public commenting on the premise that students who benefit should rightfully contribute to the cost of their degrees – and talking of their differing personal situations and takes on the subject.
Media attention continues to capitalise on interest in the potentially bankrupt universities. Here is one example from The Economist and another from the Telegraph.
Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to protect students at universities on the brink of bankruptcy; and
Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to support the 17 universities with a decline in student numbers of more than 10 per cent since 2012; and
Q- Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate he has made of the number of higher education institutions at risk of insolvency in the next three years.
(The below response was given to all of the above questions.)
A – Sam Gyimah:
- In the new higher education (HE) regulatory framework, the Office for Students (OfS) has responsibilities to monitor and assess the financial viability of registered providers. In this work, the OfS as regulator, rather than the department, takes into account the individual circumstances of each provider applying to be on the new register of publicly-funded providers. It will therefore have taken into account the financial viability and individual circumstances of the twelve English universities that have experienced a decline in student numbers of more than 10 per cent since 2012.
- We have also given the OfS powers to ensure that registered providers have plans in place to protect their students, via appropriately constructed student protection plans. Where the OfS identifies particular risks to a provider’s financial sustainability, the student protection plan may need to be strengthened in a tailored way before it can be agreed. The requirement by the OfS that all registered providers have a student protection plan means that for the first time in the higher education sector there will be a consistent sector-wide approach to student protection arrangements.
- It is the responsibility of Vice-Chancellors and HE provider leaders to ensure their institutions are financially viable. We will not prop up failing providers.
- I meet regularly with the Chair and Chief Executive of the OfS to discuss the full range of issues relevant to the higher education sector. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also has similar meetings.
Sam Gyimah was questioned on the impact of the ending of means-tested grants in 2016, he replied stating the change put more upfront money into these students’ pockets and that record levels of students started HE (LINK).
There is a new Wonkhe blog that reads between the lines and interprets Sam Gyimah’s points made during his Wonkfest debut. Read on for university bankruptcy and whether OfS would be instructed to support, potential fees cut to £6,500, Brexit and R&D funding, campus monoculture, cost of living (and accommodation issues), post-qualification admissions.
The October letter stating reasons why UK Government and Investments will not publish the details on the sale of the pre-2012 student loans has been published here.
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Brexit has dominated the political scene this week. With a combination of key Cabinet Ministers and more minor figures resigned. On Thursday Dominic Raab (Brexit Secretary) and Shailesh Vara (Northern Ireland Minister), Suella Braverman (Brexit Minister), Esther McVey (Work and Pensions Secretary) and Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Education Ministers) all resigned in protest against the PM’s draft Brexit deal. Last week Jo Johnson resigned in protest. He has been replaced by Nick Hurd as the new Minister for London and Jesse Norman in his Minister of State for Transport role. Amber Rudd returns to Cabinet to fill Esther McVey’s Work and Pensions role.
In a statement to the Commons on Thursday Theresa May resiliently thanked her outgoing Cabinet ministers for their service and noted that they hold different views. Justine Minister Rory Stewart provided outspoken to support for the PM, Politics Home reports he said: “[Those who have resigned] are missing the basic point. The alternatives are catastrophic no deal or an attempt to redo the entire referendum which is also politically toxic.” He that the resignations are “dangerous, damaging” and that those who have quit “have made a mistake”. The PM spoke for a lengthy duration on Thursday and responded to questions and criticisms. BU readers can find a summary of the debate here.
Prior to the publication of Brexit documentation on Wednesday the Prime Minister said there were “difficult days ahead”. She will have anticipated another leadership challenge to be triggered by the Brexit rebellion, given that discontent has regularly surfaced since the failure of the snap election in 2017. On Thursday MPs began delivering letters of no confidence in the PM to the 1922 Committee Chair. Should 48 MPs lodge such letters it will trigger a vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s leadership. All Conservative MPs are then required to vote on the PM as the party’s leader, Theresa May would need support from a majority out of the 316 Conservative MPs to win. Should she win the vote she would stay as the party’s leader and no further challenges could be mounted against her for 1 year. If 158 or more Conservative MPs vote against her she would be forced to resign and a leadership contest would take place – the process takes a minimum of several weeks – all whilst the Brexit negotiation clock is ticking. This document, from political monitoring consultants Dods, provides details of the MPs that could cross the starting line of a leadership race.
While rumours abound on how many such letters there are at the time of writing there has been no announcement that sufficient numbers have been reached to trigger a vote of no confidence for the PM to stand down. However, Sky news reported the recall of the Government whips on Friday as the no confidence vote is considered likely. Speculation abounds that should the 48 letters have already been received the 1922 Committee Chair, Graham Brady, will await an impactful time to deliver the no confidence announcement.
All the major media sources have coverage, here is just one article from the BBC.
The Brexit documentation – the draft withdrawal agreement, the outline political declaration on the future relationship between UK and EU, and the Joint Statement are all now available. The technical notes and explainers are available here. Should the PM hang on the Brexit proposal has to also succeed within the House of Commons. The lack of Government majority, the Conservative rebellion due to discontent with the Brexit deal, alongside DUP non-support, and the Opposition party stating they will vote against the deal means at best the deal will have rough passage through the House. There is a useful explanation of the meaningful vote here: Under section 13(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the House of Commons must approve a resolution on the withdrawal agreement and a joint statement between the UK and the EU on the future framework of relations between the two. Without this resolution, the withdrawal agreement cannot be ratified by the UK. Under existing rules the debate cannot exceed 90 minutes and only one amendment can be made, but this is recognised not to be in the public interest. So the House of Commons Procedure Committee has identified three different models (technical detail is here).
Wonkhe report that a student-related clause in Article 23 confirms that there would be no change for student funding and support regimes during the transition period – this has so far been confirmed by the UK government to include students starting in 2019/20. This draft withdrawal agreement covers the period of the Brexit transition which ends on 31 December 2020. Details about student support and funding for EU citizens studying in the UK, and UK students in the EU, will all be part of negotiations over a future relationship agreement that will seek to agree a long-term settlement to follow the transition period and will need parliament’s approval.
Wonkhe also note a lack of detail in the draft agreement about access to research funding post 2020, however, the political statement about the future relationship between the UK and EU does leave the door open for the UK’s involvement in programmes “such as in science and innovation, culture and education”.
Earlier in the week the European University Association issued a short guidance note – Brexit: How universities can prepare for a no-deal scenario.
Carers Careers: Advance HE have covered the release of a film, What Works, which considers the struggle of being a carer whilst juggling an academic career.
NSS: The Spectator has an article on the downsides of the NSS: A culture committed to securing real-time student satisfaction naturally encourages spoon-fed, step-by-step learning. Academic innovation and intellectual rigour are hampered by fears that individuals’ poor attainment will condemn a course’s collective success. But students must not be deceived: hard work is hard work, and degrees must deal in degrees. Being pushed as far as one’s abilities allow may feel uncomfortable rather than satisfying. But that is the particular privilege of a university education.
EU Framework Programme: UK Research Office report –
- After months of discussions within the EU Parliament on the next EU Framework Programme, European associations representing universities and researchers are calling for Horizon Europe to be based on research excellence, instead of focusing on reducing differences in national levels of participation, as suggested by some MEPs.
- To date, fourteen European associations have stressed that recent developments in the ongoing negotiations within the European Parliament are undermining the main aims of the future programme, stated in the Commission’s proposal that was published in early June.
- Building on a previous communication entitled ‘Universities united for the best Horizon Europe‘, these associations have repeated their call for Horizon Europe to be based on excellence and for international collaboration between EU member states and other countries to be a priority. The associations also support the Parliament’s plea for a substantial increase of the programme’s budget, stating that the amount required to ensure the success of the programme is €160 billion – €40 billion more than the Parliament is currently preparing to ask for in its official position.
Employment figures: Recently the Government has mentioned the recent record levels of employment within the UK. The blog Working 9 to 5? explains how the statistics are calculated and why zero-hours contracts don’t skew the data.
PGTs: The OfS have announced a further step towards the development of a taught postgraduate student experience perception survey. Building on what has already been trialled another sample survey will take place in Spring 2019 alongside a feasibility study exploring the introduction of UK priority measures. Aggregate data from the survey will be published without identifying specific providers.
Successful drop out: Wonkhe and The Times report on an uncomfortable truth uncovered by Sheffield University who ran a pilot entrepreneurial scheme giving students time away from their studies to start up a business. However, their ventures were so successful only 2 out of 3 returned to study – preventing the university from scaling up the scheme to maintain continuation rates and prevent negative outcomes within the TEF. Sheffield state they have a work around: a strategy that led to enterprise being more firmly embedded across its teaching. The Times reports that MPs have stated the government should reform the Teaching Excellence Framework so that universities were not discouraged from letting students create successful start-ups.
Vacant seats: The Telegraph report on the Birmingham University lecture where no one from a cohort of 400 attended. The programme have now decided to use attendance registers for all classes, but perhaps a better lesson would have been not to schedule just one lecture during reading week.
Social Care Funding: A ComRes Daily Mirror Social Care Poll ran an online survey which established that over half the British adults surveyed agreed (54%) they “would be prepared to pay more National Insurance to fund more and better social care”.
Rankings: Times Higher published the Graduate employability rankings.
Free Speech: Well we almost made it – nearly a whole policy update without mentioning free speech. Instead Toby Young, who had to step down from the OfS Board because of how free he was with his past opinions on Twitter, has plenty to say on the state of free speech today.
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