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Food for Thought for Parliament: Presenting Consumer Insights to All Party Parliamentary Group

Professor in Consumer Behaviour Jeff Bray writes about his experiences presenting his research to an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)… 

Earlier this term I received an unsolicited invitation to attend Parliament and present my research to an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). It was the first time that I received such a request and immediately viewed it with suspicion, imagining that it could be some kind of predatory conference or publication using Parliament logos improperly. But after some online checking, it did appear genuine and interesting, so I accepted the invitation.

I was invited to share my thoughts on ‘Behaviour Change’ to the Food and Health APPG. The brief was as open as that and no further guidance was forthcoming regarding likely group size, expectations or requirements. So, it was with a degree of uncertainty that on Tuesday I travelled to London with my notes, hoping that I had judged the audience and expectations correctly. I share some reflections here in the hope that it could provide others with a little guidance and confidence in similarly delivering such briefings for the first time.

I arrived in good time having been warned that getting through the airport style security could take 45mins +.  I then seemingly had the run of the place and was able to wander freely. I found the public viewing gallery in the House of Lords to be a warm spot to sit for 30mins looking through my notes, but I was distracted by the debate – the second reading of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which given my research field was actually quite interesting!

Finding the committee room was straightforward given the number of security guards around to advise. It was quite easy to forget that the room was filled with MP’s, Lords and Baronesses since there was a real collegial tone (despite being cross party) and definitely the discussion was more friendly and less combative than I’ve observed at some academic conferences.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but would have done so more, had I have known a bit better what to expect in advance. There are APPGs on a wide range of topics – the most recent register of groups is available here:  APPG register.  If there is a group that is closely linked to your expertise I believe it would be possible to contact the ‘Public enquiry point’ e-mail address and offer to present your work or just attend one of their sessions for interest.

HE policy update 27th November 23

Autumn Statement

You can find the full autumn statement and all the associated papers here.

Somewhat acerbic summary from Research Professional here,

Some extracts from the statement

Science and Innovation:

  • Scientific breakthroughs are a crucial driver of long-run growth and play a critical role in improving lives and helping to tackle societal challenges. The UK hosts many of the world’s leading universities and the government provides the most generous support for business R&D in the OECD as a share of GDP through tax relief and public investment. The government is now going even further to ensure the UK remains at the cutting edge of science, innovation and technological development.
  • The Prime Minister has negotiated excellent terms for the UK to associate to Horizon Europe and Copernicus, getting great value for taxpayers while maximising opportunities for researchers. As a result, the government can now announce ambitious investments of over £750 million in UK R&D this financial year. These investments include transformative new programmes, including £250 million for long-term world-class Discovery Fellowships, £145 million for new business innovation support, and support to establish a National Academy focussed on mathematical sciences. The government is also ensuring the research, development and innovation organisational landscape is diverse, resilient, and investable, in response to Sir Paul Nurse’s review. The government will also continue to cut bureaucracy in grant applications.
  • University spin-outs are some of the UK’s most innovative companies and play a hugely important role for the UK economy, with investment increasing almost five-fold since 2014. To capitalise on this strength, the government is accepting all the recommendations of the Independent Review of Spin-outs and setting out how it will deliver them. Several universities and investors have already endorsed the recommendations of the review, and the government will provide £20 million for a new cross-disciplinary proof-of-concept research funding scheme, to help prospective founders in the UK’s universities demonstrate the commercial potential of their research.
  • Also published: government response to the independent review: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-university-spin-out-companies
  • Also published: government response to the Paul Nurse independent review of research, development and innovation landscape: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-development-and-innovation-organisational-landscape-an-independent-review
  • The government is committed to staying at the forefront of new technology. For example, this Autumn Statement provides £121 million for the UK’s space sector. This investment will pave the way for new space clusters and infrastructure, make progress towards the government’s climate goals by supporting the earth observation industry and deliver new capabilities in low earth orbit satellite communications technology. The government is also building on the £2.5 billion ten-year National Quantum Strategy by publishing an ambitious set of quantum missions, including a mission to have accessible, UK-based quantum computers capable of running 1 trillion operations by 2035. Other missions focus on quantum networks, medical applications, navigation, and sensors for infrastructure.

Life Sciences

  • Life sciences is a strength of the UK economy, with the sector critical to the country’s health, wealth and resilience. In May 2023, the government committed £121 million in funding as a first response to Lord O’Shaughnessy’s recommendations on improving the UK’s commercial clinical trial offer. The government has published its full response to the review, supported by an implementation plan, to make the UK one of the best places in the world to conduct clinical research. Up to £20 million of this funding will launch the first Clinical Trial Delivery Accelerator, focused on dementia, to help innovation reach NHS patients even faster.
  • To build resilience for future health emergencies and to capture and capitalise on the UK’s R&D strengths, the government is providing £520 million in funding from 2025-26 to support transformational manufacturing investments in life sciences. It is also backing UK innovation by investing £10 million, with an additional £10 million from Scottish Enterprise, in a world class Manufacturing Centre of Excellence in Oligonucleotides. Tackling antimicrobial resistance will be essential for future health resilience, so to mark the 2028 centenary of the discovery of penicillin, the government is granting £5 million seed funding to help launch  the Fleming Centre. A collaboration led by Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, the Centre will support the next generation of world changing health innovations.
  • The UK is uniquely placed to harness the power of health data to improve patient outcomes. In England the NHS has 1.6 million patient interactions every 24 hours generating real world experience and insights at scale.72 The government is therefore announcing a further £51 million for the Our Future Health (OFH) programme, a world-leading resource for health research, to genotype their first 1 million participants and to recruit hundreds of thousands of new volunteers, supporting the development of better ways to prevent, detect and treat diseases. The COVID-19 vaccine showed the UK is one of the best places to launch lifesaving therapies. Building on this legacy, Genomics England, along with a consortium of partners, is announcing the launch of a world first Rare Therapies Launch Pad, generating evidence on whether a pathway for new individualised therapeutics could be implemented in the UK for children with ultra-rare disease.

Creative industries

  • The UK has world-leading creative industries at the heart of an increasingly digital world. The sector grew at over one and a half times the rate of the wider economy between 2010 and 2019,73 contributing £126 billion in GVA in 2022. In June 2023, the government published its Sector Vision which set ambitions to grow the creative industries by £50 billion and deliver a creative careers promise to support a million more jobs by 2030. This included £77 million in new government spending, bringing the total announced since the 2021 Spending Review to £310 million. The sector also continues to be supported by significant tax reliefs, which were worth £1.66 billion in the year ending 2022.75
  • The government expects further growth and a rise in employment as creative industries embrace new technologies. To maximise the benefits of this, the government will further boost the international competitiveness of tax incentives for the UK’s world-leading visual effects sector. The government intends to increase the generosity of the Audio-Visual Expenditure Credit for visual effects expenditure, and will work with industry on how best to design this with the intention of implementing changes to the tax relief from April 2025.
  • To support the production of film and high-end TV across the UK, the government will provide £2.1 million of new funding next year for the British Film Commission and the British Film Institute Certification Unit. Furthermore, the government will review public investment in R&D spending for the creative industries to a Spending Review timeframe

Making a long-term investment in skills by delivering a world-class education system

  • A crucial part of securing Britain’s prosperity for future generations is building a world-class education and skills system. Long-term investment in human capital is crucial for growth and productivity: changes in labour quality contributed to around 15% of growth in labour productivity between 2001 and 2007, and the majority of labour productivity growth in the years after. This is why the government continues to make year on year increases to school funding in England, boost opportunities for adults to train, upskill and retrain, and, from 2025, transform the student finance system through the Lifelong Learning Entitlement.
  • In October 2023, the Prime Minister announced a strong action plan to ensure every student has the literacy and numeracy skills they need to thrive through the introduction of the Advanced British Standard. This new Baccalaureate-style qualification will bring the best of A-Levels and T-Levels together, creating a unified structure that puts technical and academic education on equal footing. This reform will ensure every student in England studies some form of maths and English to age 18, boosting basic skills and bringing the UK in line with international peers. It will increase the number of taught hours by 15% for most students aged 16 to 19 and will broaden the number of subjects students take.
  • The government is funding a down payment of over £600 million over the next two years. This will give teachers in key shortage academic and technical subjects – who are in the first five years of their career – a payment of up to £6,000 per year tax free, including further education colleges for the first time; support students to achieve their maths and English GCSEs where they did not pass first time; improve the quality of maths teaching; and build a deeper understanding of what works in 16-19 teaching and training with a £40 million capital investment into the Education Endowment Fund.
  • Beyond 16-19 education, the government is supporting employer based training in England so that adults of all ages can access high quality apprenticeships. The government has transformed apprenticeships to offer a prestigious and high quality alternative route to higher education. In 2021-22, almost a third of all starts were at Level 4 and above compared to only 4% in 2014-15.
  • The government continues to work closely with businesses to improve the apprenticeship system to meet the needs of learners, employers and training providers. The government is supporting plans to catalyse the growth sectors by committing £50 million to deliver a two-year apprenticeships pilot to explore ways to stimulate training in these sectors and address barriers to entry in high-value standards.

King’s Speech

King Charles III delivered his first King’s Speech to open the new parliamentary period on 7 November 2023. The speech is written by the government, not the King, and delivered within Parliament in a ceremony with all manner of pomp and tradition. If you’re interested in the history this article looks at how the custom developed and what themes were apparent in previous monarch’s first state opening speeches.

Onto business, the speech highlighted the broad areas the government intends to move in the forthcoming year. None were a surprise as the government has been announcing them across the last few weeks.

Of most interest to HE:

  • Steps will be taken to create the Advanced British Standard qualification, bringing technical and academic routes together.
  • Proposals will be implemented to decrease the number of people studying poor-quality degrees, and to increase take-up of apprenticeships. [There’s no new legislation for this so it will be a continuation of the OfS using existing powers and the proposal to include salary (by subject) in the graduate outcomes baselines in licence condition B3.  It’s not clear at this stage if there will be more proactive work to increase apprenticeships.]
  • Encourage innovation in new technologies such as machine learning and continue to lead international discussions to ensure AI is delivered safely.
  • Proposals will be published to reform welfare and support more people into work.
  • New legislation to empower police to tackle digital crime, including child sexual abuse.
  • New legislation to create a smoke-free generation, by restricting sale of tobacco, as well as the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children.
  • New legislation to promote the creative industries and support journalism.

Wonkhe also highlight this legislation which will impact on the HE sector:

  • A new Terrorism (Protection of Premises Bill) – known as “Martyn’s Law” – will require UK venues including universities to have preventative plans against terror attacks.
  • The new Data Protection and Digital Information (no. 2) Billis intended in part to “clarify and improve rules around using data for scientific research.”

The background briefing on these forthcoming Bills is available here.

In addition to the new legislation some Bills of interest to HE were carried over, such as:

Anything that wasn’t officially carried over is now defunct. This includes any parliamentary questions and Private Members’ Bills you may have been following.

If you’d like to read more delve into content from the House of Lords Library on the 2023 King’s Speech.

The King’s Speech was followed by several days of debate. Secretary of State Gillian Keegan led Friday’s  debate failed to answer Labour ex-Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy’s question about how the government would identify low quality courses while controlling for local and regional differences in graduate salaries. Emma Hardy quoted the words of Lord Willetts to argue from research evidence that parental background also has a huge effect on graduate outcomes. The full transcript is here.

Cabinet Reshuffle

Although headline grabbing in a general sense there wasn’t much change for HE.

George Freeman resigned as Science Minister, replaced by Andrew Griffith:

The minister is responsible for:

Nick Gibb resigned as the long standing Schools Minister, replaced by Damien Hinds (another returner after a long period of absence),

Research

UKRI EDI Advisory Group

We mentioned this in the last update but there’s been significant sector interest, and some more movement on the UKRI EDI Advisory Group.  On 28 October DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan wrote to UKRI with concerns that individuals appointed to the UKRI EDI advisory group had expressed inappropriate views on social media which weren’t in keeping with their public responsibilities. Michelle recommended for UKRI to immediately close the group and undertake an urgent investigation into how this happened.’

Michelle also suggested that UKRI were overstepping their boundaries by going beyond the requirements of equality law in ways which add burden and bureaucracy to funding requirements, with little evidence this materially advances equality of opportunity or eliminates discrimination.

Wonkhe consider Donelan’s interventions and succinctly explain whether (in their opinion) she has the right to intervene or not. You can read Donelan’s letter and the two Wonkhe blogs: Michelle Donelan writes to UKRI over “jobs for Hamas terrorist sympathisers” and Can the Secretary of State tell UKRI what to do?

In response to the SoS letter UKRI immediately stated they would:

  • Suspend operations of the Research England Equality Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group with immediate effect.
  • Launch an investigation into the specific areas of concern.
  • Use the findings to come to a conclusion about the ultimate future of the RE EDI advisory group, and how best to ensure its purpose is fulfilled, as advised by the Research England Council.
  • The Board would review advisory structures to ensure that they are fit for purpose. This will include the processes for their establishment and operation.

Most recently UKRI Chief Executive, Ottoline Leyser, highlighted that only the EDI Expert Advisory Group’s work had been suspended. All other UKRI EDI initiatives continue their work programmes. And: We are fully committed to the principles of freedom of speech within the law and equality, diversity and inclusion. These are the foundations on which research and innovation excellence is built. I am determined to uphold these principles through the actions we are taking, despite the heightened emotions surrounding these debates at the current time…In line with the principles we espouse, we understand that different people will take different views about the best way to act and we respect their decisions.

REF2028 – overload and dilution?

HEPI published a Policy Note by former Warwick VC Nigel Thrift: REF 2028: Outputs Matter expressing concern that research outputs will be reduced from 60% to 40% and outputs will not be directly tied to individuals. He argues the REF is becoming overloaded and this is diluting its core purpose and putting Britain’s science superpower status at risk.

Last week Sarah was at a research sector gathering and noted a clear divide between those who are extremely concerned with the REF changes including the strong voice of Professor Dinah Birch (who led main panel D in REF2021) and those in favour of progress and changes such as Helen Cross from the Scottish Funding Council who was involved in the FRAP. It feels the tussle for REF 2028 isn’t yet over, not least because Professor Birch is advocating delaying REF past 2028 if the assessment changes are implemented.

The very quick read of Thrift’s policy note is here or read the full seven pages here.

An analysis of REF 2021 impact case studies was published last week exploring the pathways to research impact, and the practices that enable it. Wonkhe report:

  • The team identified 79 “impact topics” that highlight the diverse range of areas where UK research is making a difference to policy, practice, and people’s lives. Notably, 72 per cent of impact case studies linked to two or more disciplinary areas. Of the 79 impact topics, those associated with “grand challenges”, such as environmental conservation and food policy, are more likely to be underpinned by interdisciplinary research than those for which disciplinary and professional practice are more closely linked, such as clinical medicine. Research collaboration also features prominently in generating research impact.
  • What lessons should be learned from this data? The one that the sector most hopes will be clear is that funding research generates societal benefit – there can be no doubt about that. Some might argue you don’t need an “impact agenda” to know that, but on a purely pragmatic level it really helps to have the evidence.
  • The second lesson might be about the links between research culture and excellence – the current debate over the extent to which research culture should form part of the REF is interrogating the extent to which inclusive, cooperative research culture is associated with excellence, and there are almost certainly links to be made around research collaboration, cooperation with non-academic partners, and the engagement of diverse disciplinary perspectives as being research practices that actively support research impact.
  • …to what extent should REF incentivise universities to align their research agendas to local challenges as well as grand global challenges? Some would say that it doesn’t matter how far away the impact occurs as long as the research is excellent and impactful. Others might point out that the relative “place-blindness” of research funding until recently has led to a situation in which R&D spend is not very evenly distributed across the country, and that part of universities’ social compact involves deploying their resources for the benefit of their places.
  • Universities will, in many cases, already be considering these questions in light of a new focus on place from funders, some of which will materialise in the next iteration of REF. But it is always worth considering the extent to which local research impact forms part of a university’s agenda and how that ambition might be realised in time for the next big assessment.

Blogs:

AI news

Similar to previous weeks, there’s a significant amount of artificial intelligence (AI) related news. We’ve kept content as brief as possible so do click the links for more information if this is your interest area.

Medical diagnostics (AI): The House of Lords published part two of their Current Affairs Digest: Science. It looks at how advances in AI are changing medical diagnostics. Once trained on vast datasets of images and research AI tools have been designed to interpret scans, refine images for clinical review, and map anatomy ahead of treatment. It looks at whether AI can save clinician time, costs and workload. Thes briefing presents a range of studies on applications, accuracy and challenges.

£118m AI Package: The Government announced a £118m “boost to skills funding”, including a new grant scheme and confirmation of a further 12 Centres for Doctoral Training in AI (£117 million), funded through UKRI. The remaining £1 million creates the AI Futures Grants scheme to help the next generation of AI leaders meet the costs of relocating to the UK- it’s currently being designed and will launch in 2024. The British Council and UK universities are also funding 15 GREAT scholarships for international students to come to the UK to study Science and Technology courses, including subjects related to AI or life sciences. The ‘Backing Invisible Geniuses’ (BIG) scholarship pilot is being launched. It’s led by the Global Talent Lab and champions outstanding high-school performers in International Science Olympiads, setting them on a path to excel in maths, science, and AI. Funded by XTX Markets and in partnership with DSIT. The government intends to create a new dedicated visa scheme for the world’s most talented AI researchers to come to the UK on internships and placements, early in their careers, to encourage them to build their careers, ideas and businesses.

AI Safety Summit: For weeks the government has been building up to the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park. You can read a summary of the Summit’s discussions provided by DSIT and the summaries of the eight roundtables are here.

Announcements:  

  • Michelle Donelan announced the government’s Frontier AI Taskforce and leading British researchers will be equipped with supercomputers to analyse the safety of advanced AI models.
  • The investment into the AI Research Resource has been tripled to £300m, up from £100m announced in March 2023, in a bid to further boost UK AI capabilities. This will bolster Isambard-AI (Bristol University) announcement and will connect Isambard-AI to the newly announced Cambridge supercomputer called ‘Dawn’.
  • The connection of the two new supercomputers means researchers will be able to analyse advanced AI models to test safety features and drive breakthroughs in drug discovery and clean energy (from summer 2024). The Frontier AI Taskforce will have priority access to the connected computing tools to support its work to mitigate the risks posed by the most advanced forms of AI. The resource will also support the work of the AI Safety Institute, as it develops a programme of research looking at the safety of frontier AI models and supports government policy with this analysis.

AI safety institute: DSIT published further information about the new AI Safety Institute. The creation of the Institute was announced by the Prime Minister in a speech at The Royal Society. It will focus on advanced AI safety for the public interest, minimising surprises to the UK and humanity from rapid and unexpected advances in AI. It will work towards this by developing the sociotechnical infrastructure needed to understand the risks of advanced AI and enable its governance. Read more about its three core functions here:

  • Develop and conduct evaluations on advanced AI systems
  • Drive foundational AI safety research
  • Facilitate information exchange.

The Frontier AI Taskforce has been subsumed within the AI Safety Institute to continue its safety research and evaluations. The other core parts of the Taskforce’s mission will remain in DSIT as policy functions: identifying new uses for AI in the public sector; and strengthening the UK’s capabilities in AI. Ian Hogarth continues as Chair of the AI Safety Institute and the External Advisory Board for the Taskforce will now advise the AI Safety Institute. A Chief Executive of the Institute will be recruited.

Quick research news round-up

Ex-Science Minister George Freeman announced the recipients of over £14 million funding for the UK’s quantum sector. He described how the government is continuing with its ambition to become a quantum-enabled economy by 2023 and broke the £14+ million down into the following elements:

  • The launch of a UK Quantum Standards Network Pilot that will help to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of establishing global standards for quantum
  • Over £10m in funding for 6 projects to accelerate the development of components and systems for quantum network technologies
  • Over £4m to strengthen collaborative research and development through Canada-UK partnerships to develop real-world quantum technologies for commercial use
  • The National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) closing its £30m competition to provide quantum computing testbeds, alongside a partnership with IBM to provide users cloud access to IBM’s full fleet quantum machines
  • A new science and innovation agreement with the Netherlands to deepen collaboration on quantum which will see closer cooperation covering research and development, commercialisation, investment, and skills

Full details here.

Horizon Europe PQ: Shadow Universities Minister Matt Western asked the government to assess the potential impact on the (a) finances and (b) reputation of individual universities of not having participated in the Horizon programme for two years; and to publish the 10 most affected universities. The government stated that the Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme meant no UK researchers has been left out of pocket, and that 2,600 grant offers (£1.39 billion) had been made by end September 2023.

RIF allocations: At the end of October UKRI released the 2023-24 Regional Innovation Fund (RIF) grant allocations to institutions (total £48.8 million for England). All HE institutions receiving HEIF will receive a RIF allocation. More detail here.

Spinouts: Wonkhe – The government should push universities to offer a two-track system for spinouts, with a “light touch” option taking a small equity stake for those who do not want additional support from technology transfer offices. This is according to a report from the Tony Blair Institute, Onward and the Startup Coalition on the need to harness artificial intelligence. The report also recommends reform to the High Potential Individual Visa so that it applies to graduates from a wider range of universities internationally, in particular institutions with a specialism in technology.

REF 2028 Parliamentary Question: Q – Ben Lake – will the SoS for DSIT meet with representatives of the Universities Policy Engagement Network to discuss the implications for Departments of the REF2028 requirement that universities demonstrate (a) impact and (b) engagement.
Answer – George Freeman: The design and implementation of the REF 2028 is being carried out by the devolved funding bodies of the UK nations, including Research England in England. During this process the funding bodies have engaged widely with stakeholders, including many of the members of the Universities Policy Engagement Network (UPEN), on the design of the next REF. This engagement, including a currently open opportunity to provide written comments, will continue through the autumn and the final design of the REF will take full account of stakeholders’ contributions to the engagement process. [Note, the consultation mentioned is actually closed now.]

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Prior to the prorogation for the King’s Speech, the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill 2022-23 was debated in the House of Commons at Report Stage against the backdrop of increased tension in the Middle East. Labour called for the Bill to be delayed or withdrawn due to the geopolitical context. Margaret Hodge MP (Labour) also criticised the Bill stating it was flawed and would not solve the problem of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and accused the Conservative party of introducing it for party political point scoring. She was also concerned it would inflame recent community tensions on university campuses and in workplaces.

During the debate several MPs spoke about the antisemitism and Islamophobia following the 7 October attacks and examples of antisemitism on campus were cited.

Previous Secretary of State for Education, Kit Malthouse (Conservative), introduced his amendment which requested universities were exempted from the Bill. He believes that aspects of the Bill run contrary to the recent HE Free Speech Act and the work of the new OfS Free Speech tsar. Kit also felt including universities would be another step towards universities being classed as public bodies – which he was opposed to – because the Treasury had taken on significant debt when FE colleges had become public bodies and the government risked greater debt should they bring universities into the fold. He requested his amendment be considered and did not present the amendment for a vote.

Chris Stephens (SNP) spoke to Clause 4 stating the Bill would, in effect, prevent elected councillors and university Vice-Chancellors from publishing public statements indicating intention to act in ways that would contravene the ban. He highlighted that anti-boycotts laws in the US had curbed freedom of expression. Angela Rayner (Labour) also spoke to the Clause 4 gagging clause and stated Labour believed it was incompatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – she called on MPs to remove or amend the Clause. David Jones (Conservative) also spoke out against Clause 4 again highlighting the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023; he stated the Clause was an unacceptable constraint on free speech and a deeply un-conservative measure – he called for the removal of the Clause from the Bill.

Angela Rayner also outlined her amendment which would allow public bodies to produce a document setting out their policy on procurement and human rights. She said this could ensure that ethical considerations could be applied equally to all countries rather than singling out individual nations, adding consistency and avoiding the critique from some around Israel having special treatment.

John McDonnell (Labour) argued that BDS actions should be seen as an overall tactic rather than solely in the current Israel/Palestine context, citing BDS actions throughout history including for apartheid South Africa, and more recently for Russia and Iran. MPs from both sides of the House raised concerns that the only states and territories explicitly named on the face of the Bill, were Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), and the Golan Heights. Angela Rayner said that this showed how the government were failing to treat Israel like any other state or nation, despite the Secretary of State previously claiming the Bill would be non-country specific. Angela highlighted how the Bill would apply as much to China, Myanmar and North Korea, as it does to Israel and this would have significant impact on the ability for e.g. communities to support Uyghur minorities in China.

George Eustice (Conservative) stated including the OPTs and the Golan Heights alongside Israel on the face of the Bill could send a signal that the UK had changed its longstanding position of a two-state solution and that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were illegal. He warned the government against equating Israel with those territories.

Kit Malthouse outlined his cross-party amendment which sought to remove the prohibition on the government specifying Israel, the OPTs or the Occupied Golan Heights as a country or territory to which the prohibition on boycotts does not apply. He said that this was seeking to ensure that Israel was treated like any other country in the world and avoid adding fuel to the argument that it receives special treatment, which he said gave rise to antisemitism.

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, responded on the government’s behalf stating he appreciated the debate came at a sensitive time, but that the House was united in their horror of terrorism, their desire for peace and belief in a two-state solution. He highlighted that the Bill was introduced following a manifesto commitment, made prior to the current conflict in the Middle East. [This is significant because when the Bill reaches the House of Lords, while they can amend and offer challenge protocol dictates they should not deliberately oppose manifesto commitments.] Gove acknowledge the debate concerns but felt they had misunderstood the provisions and intention of the Bill. He said the Bill did not prevent any individual from articulating their support for the BDS campaign, rather it prevented public bodies and public money from being used to advance these ideals. On free speech, again he said the Bill would not affect individuals right to free speech but prevent public bodies themselves from making their own foreign policy. Finally, he said that the Bill did not prevent human rights considerations from being taken into account by public bodies, and that the Bill made it clear that legitimate human rights considerations, provided that they are noncountry-specific, should be taken into account.

All amendments were rejected and the Bill passes to the House of Lords unamended.

Education Questions

The DfE ministerial team answered Education Questions. Here is the content most relevant to HE:

  • Rosie Duffield (Labour) highlighted the regular use of food banks among the student community, questioning what the government were doing to support students and staff that were forced to turn to food banks. Halfon, Universities Minister, stated the Government had frozen tuition fees and provided £276 million student premium funding. He added that it was important to provide a system that was fair for students and the taxpayer, and that prioritised the most disadvantaged.
  • Lilian Greenwood (Labour) highlighted that the maintenance loan had fallen £1,500 in real terms since 2020/21. She said the cost-of-living crisis was affecting students’ education and physical and mental health; she challenged the Minister on whether this was acceptable. Halfon responded that the government were doing everything possible to support the most disadvantaged.
  • Matt Western, Shadow HE Minister, highlighted the increased level of paid work among students, and the negative impact it was having on their studies. He asked Minister Halfon whether he expected students to balance paid employment with university work, and to acknowledged it was forcing many students out of higher education. In his reply, Minister Halfon stated: Actually, the opposite is true. We have a record number of students going to university. Disadvantaged students are 71% more likely to go to university now than they were in 2010. We have a huge package of support. I have mentioned the £276 million for disadvantaged students. We are doing everything we can to help disadvantaged students. The hon. Gentleman criticises the money we are giving but does not come up with a figure of his own. Warm words butter no parsnips.
  • Carol Monaghan MP, SNP spokesperson (Education): The Minister mentions some things that are maybe trying to help these students, but recent Higher Education Policy Institute analysis shows that students who previously received free school meals are less likely to complete their degree and those who do are less likely to get a first or a 2:1. Support cannot stop once they get to university. She asked the Minister to detail what support he is giving those students at every stage of their journey to make sure they really do have the same opportunities as those from more privileged backgrounds. Halfon responded: Many universities offer bursaries to students…we are doing everything possible to ensure that students who do courses get good skills and good jobs at the end. That is the purpose of our higher education reforms…

There were also a number of questions on Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) – you can read the content here (scroll down the page to locate the HTQ questions).

Growth for the sector

Lord Willetts (and the Economy 2030 inquiry*) published How higher education can boost people-powered growth. The report notes the success of HE and rejects the claim that there are too many university degrees. It calls for reforms to the system to properly fund HE and to support new innovative universities to enter the market. The report recommends:

  • An open, evidence-based debate about the calibration of the graduate repayment scheme so the system is adjustable and reflects changing political judgements. Via a once every five years review of fees and loan terms so the system can be modified without tearing it all up and starting again.
  • Banks could be invited to partner with universities to buy the debt of a university’s graduates from the Student Loans Company.
  • The DfE could launch a competition inviting applications to create a new university with a particular focus on places that do not currently have one.

If you prefer the short version Lord Willetts wrote about the recommendations in Conservative Home: This is the moment to seize the opportunity for growth in apprenticeships and higher education.

* The Economy 2030 inquiry is not a Select Committee or a Select Committee inquiry – it’s the name of a collaboration between the Resolution Foundation and the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.

Rip off degrees

Minister Halfon dodged responding to a parliamentary question requesting the Government state which degree courses they plan to increase controls for to prevent rip-off university degrees (reference: Crackdown on). Halfon used the Prorogation of Parliament to state they wasn’t enough time to respond to the question before the parliamentary session closed. Let’s hope Charlotte Nichols (who tabled the question) reintroduces it in the new session so we can receive the official government word on the matter.

Meanwhile Wonkhe have managed to find the time and have highlighted that OfS published prioritisation criteria for its 2024 quality round, stating where it (OfS) sees the greatest risk to student outcomes. The OfS areas for quality focus for the year ahead are as expected: business and management courses, foundation year provision, and franchised provision. There’s a blog: England’s higher education regulator has announced its areas of focus for its next round of inspections. Snippet: What is OfS getting at? The combination of mentions of integrated foundation years, business courses and subcontracting is very interesting – partly because a good hypothesis is that all three characteristics make up a good chunk of the story in the DfE figures on foundation years that were released recently. Wonkhe suggest universities for whom all three areas of focus intersect should prepare for the ‘boots on the ground’.

Mental health

The Minister for HE has suggested that he might ask the OfS to consider a licence condition to require universities to take more action to address mental health. In a speech to a UUK conference, Robert Halfon said:

  • I’d like to begin by paying tribute to all the student services staff who work on the frontline, day in, day out, to support students. You are there for them on their hardest days at university. You strive to help them find a way through. You do it because you care – because you want the best for your students.
  • … In my year as Minister for Higher Education I have made this an absolute priority. There are 3 pillars to our approach: Funding vital services and projects; spreading and implementing best practice; and clear responsibilities for providers and protection for students.
  • The first pillar is about investing in the wellbeing of students. To provide nationwide access to free mental health resources and confidential support, we provided Student Minds with £3.6 million to set up Student Space. Over 450,000 students have now benefitted from this service, including those who recently braved the “freshers” experience… We are backing university wellbeing services to support these students as part of this year’s £15 million investment in mental health by the Office for Students (OfS)
  • Our second pillar is about best practice. We need to create the right conditions on campus for students to thrive through a whole-university approach to mental health. This means not just relying on student wellbeing services. It means everyone, from the Vice Chancellor down to the librarian takes responsibility for creating an environment and culture that supports positive mental health and wellbeing. The principles for achieving this are laid out in the University Mental Health Charter. ..Thanks to the hard work of university staff, and the backing of your leaders, you have delivered an incredible 50% increase in University Mental Health Charter Programme membership over the summer. We’re now at 96 universities, which is a big step – perhaps even a giant leap – closer to our target of all universities joining by September 2024. 
  • Clear responsibilities for providers and protection for students:…
    • I wrote to university leaders in June to ask them to take ownership of mental health at an executive level. The sector needs to come together to finish the job of embedding the guidance that has been set out.
    • I now want to turn to the work of Professor Edward Peck, and take this opportunity to thank him for all the progress he has made since his appointment as HE Student Support Champion. This summer I asked Edward to build on that work and chair the Higher Education Mental Health Implementation Taskforce – a vehicle for delivering real change… The taskforce will conclude its work in May next year, providing an interim update in early 2024.

He ended:

  • As I’ve said before, I am confident we have a strong plan in place, but I don’t rule out going further if needs be. If we do not see the improvements we need, I will not hesitate to ask the Office for Students to look at introducing a new registration condition on mental health.
  • Ultimately, we must do what it takes to provide the safety net that students and their loved ones expect and deserve as they embark on the amazing privilege of university life.

Not off the hook yet…

The House of Lords has continued their theme of inquiring into regulation. They’ve published a new inquiry into UK regulators. It’s described as a short and cross-cutting inquiry into UK regulators as a whole (including the OfS), with a specific focus on roles, remit, independence and accountability.

The inquiry will examine whether regulators as a whole have been given a clear job to do and whether their roles and remits are sufficiently discrete from one another. The inquiry will also examine whether regulators are appropriately independent of Government, including whether the right balance is being struck between strategic and political input from government and preserving regulators’ operational independence.

The inquiry will further examine how regulators should be held to account for their performance, and by whom – including the respective roles of the Government and of Parliament.

Lord Hollick, Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee, said: The committee has recently conducted scrutiny of regulators including Ofwat, Ofgem, and the Office for Students. A common area of concern arising from all these inquiries is the relationship between the regulator and the Government, and the level of independence and accountability regulators have. Many regulators are public bodies funded by the taxpayer and have significant powers; it is therefore vital that they are scrutinised and held to account.

Quality

UUK report on the QAA’s (Quality Assurance Agency for HE) latest policy paper in the Future of Quality in England series: The right ambition, the wrong solution? How the Lifelong Learning Entitlement can deliver a high-quality learning experience.

UUK: The paper argues that the eligibility and scope of modules included within the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) is too narrow, and that pathways for progression throughout a learner’s lifetime are unclear. It outlines ways in which the learning experience will need to be adapted for modular learners and how this will impact the way quality is measured. The paper recommends that policymakers should:

  • Balance the option of working towards a full qualification with accessing a suite of standalone modules.
  • Facilitate greater collaboration with the sector.
  • Use evidence to determine how quality is measured. You can read the full policy paper.

Short summary available from QAA here.

Modules

UUK published their response to the OfS call for evidence on positive outcomes for modular study. The response includes:

  • Welcoming the OfS’ approach to policy development.
  • Agreeing with the OfS that the approach to regulation will need to change because of the LLE.
  • Supporting the exploration of completion measures for modular study.
  • Recognising the importance of understanding where students go after studying, whether that’s through further study or employment.
  • Considering how the reflective questions in the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) graduate outcomes dataset could inform what successful study looks like for modular learners.

Student Finance

The Minister for the School System and Student Finance, Baroness Barran, announced the introduction of regulations to allow plan 2 (undergraduate), plan 3 (postgraduate) and plan 5 (undergraduate) student loan interest rates to be capped automatically each month, where they would otherwise exceed comparable prevailing market rates.

There’s also to be a change to the calculation of the overseas fixed instalment repayments for plan 1 student loans (1998 to 2012) with the amended fixed instalment rate increasing to be equivalent to the monthly repayments of a plan 1 student loan borrower earning twice the median working age graduate salary in England. The Minister stated that this would remove a perverse incentive whereby higher earning borrowers residing overseas may have chosen not to submit their earnings information to the SLC in order to reduce their monthly payments.

Student loans:  Wonkhe – The Student Loans Company has posted provisional figures for its student finance dispersals in the current academic year – over £5bn in total, of which £2.06bn are tuition fee payments to providers.

Quick Student News

Commuter students: Shadow universities minister Matt Western: asked for an estimate of the number of domestic students commuting to university campuses in each of the last five years. HE Minister Halfon stated the closest approximation of commuter students shows the proportion remains at around one in four between 2018/19 and 2021/22.

Grades: Wonkhe report – Graduate employers are less inclined to focus on grades when looking for suitable employees – just 44 per cent of the 169 organisations surveyed by the Institute of Student Employers asked for a 2:1 or above, down from 76 per cent a decade ago…This year’s ISE Recruitment Survey also reveals that graduate vacancies are up six per cent on last year, but the average organisation receives 86 applications per vacancy (up 23 per cent on last year). It describes graduate employers as “cautiously optimistic”, but notes that less is being spent on recruitment. Overall, 92 per cent of employers were either “often” or “almost always” able to find the graduate employees they need. The Telegraph covers the report. Blog: The chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers shares the findings of this year’s survey of student recruiters.

Student deaths: Wonkhe – The government’s review of student suicides has come in for criticism from #ForThe100, the campaign in support of bereaved families. On Wonk Corner, Jim Dickinson goes over the issues.

Healthcare courses: Wonkhe – Recent UCAS data indicates that healthcare-related courses are not as attractive to applicants as they used to be. If the last time you looked at this area of provision was during the pandemic’s peaks of aspiration, more recent data will make it clear that all Universities UK, the Medical Schools Council, and the Council of Deans of Health have responded to the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan with a call for thoughtful reform of medical and healthcare provision and funding.

And UUK published Universities Powering the NHS: Working together to deliver future health skills. The paper sets out actions to meet the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan goals. Snippets: Universities fully recognise the challenges involved in such a radical expansion and transformation of health education system capacity…Success will depend on cross-party commitment to support and fund the plan across the next 15 years, which includes general elections and spending reviews.

UUK recommendations:

For universities and the NHS to work together successfully, five system conditions need to be addressed:

  1. a strategic shift within higher education to dramatically expand health education capacity
  2. a culture shift within the NHS to value and support learners and educators and improve the working environment
  3. implementation must be co-produced to an agreed roadmap
  4. funding must be sustained across the plan’s 15-year horizon
  5. regulation must be aligned, outcomes-based and adaptive

There are also five threshold conditions that need urgent attention:

  1. student recruitment including widening participation
  2. the educator and clinical academic pipeline
  3. capital investment to boost system capacity
  4. extending and diversifying placements and practice-learning
  5. health student and early career attrition

BU’s medical simulation game is featured under case studies.

Regional graduate premium: blog – Data on the graduate premium in the UK’s regions suggests some struggle to make the most of graduate-level skills. Debbie McVitty tries to work out what’s going on.

Political News

Dods provide a roundup of the Labour Party’s recent policy statements in The Labour Policy Roadmap – post-conference update. A sectoral breakdown of the party’s pledges and ambitions. Of interest to HE is their commitment to ban unpaid internships, however, it’s not a blanket policy as they caveat their policy commitment to allow unpaid internships when part of an education or training course.

They also commit to:

  • Reform university tuition fees system to lower pay-back costs for graduates.
  • Increase private and public R&D spending to 3 percent of GDP, improve collaboration between universities, business and local economic institutions, enable universities to develop self-sustaining local clusters of innovation and investment, and Introduce 10-year R&D funding settlements to support innovation.
  • Create more medical school places.
  • Create 7,500 more medical school places, 10,000 more nursing and midwifery clinical placements per year, and train 5,000 more health visitors.
  • Include a creative or vocational subject as one of the non-EBacc subjects in pupil’s Progress and Attainment 8.

HE statistics

The DfE published the education and training statistics with the most recent data on schools, attainment, qualifications gained, education expenditure, further education and higher education in the UK.

For HE there were 2,972,33 higher education (HE) students in 2021/22, of which 72% were undergraduates and 28% were postgraduates.

  • More females than males made up the overall student population (57%) and females made up a greater share at every level.
  • The most popular subject was Business and Management with 18% of all students enrolled (over half a million students), followed by Subjects allied to Medicine (12%) and Social Sciences (10%).
  • The majority of students studied full-time but proportionally more females than males studied part-time (23% vs. 19% respectively across all course levels).
  • In 2021/22, 23% of all HE students were from overseas (681,600 students).
  • Overall, 4% of 19 to 64-year-olds held a NQF level 4 or above in 2022 – 67% had level 3 or above, and 83.1% had level 2 or above.
  • Total UK government expenditure on education across the UK increased by 5.1% from financial year 2021-22 to financial year 2022-23.
    • Primary and secondary education saw an increase in spend of 2.2% and 7.1% respectively, while tertiary education saw a 3.6% decrease in spend.
    • Expenditure on education in real terms decreased by 1.3% from financial year 2021-22 to financial year 2022-23. Expenditure on education as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.1 ppts.

DfE also published the statistics which measure HE participation by school cohorts, calculating the proportion of the population aiming to complete a qualification at HE level (measured at age 15, excludes apprenticeship HE hopes).

Full data here.

Applicants

UCAS published the first statistical release of the 2024 undergraduate cycle highlighting applicant numbers for HE courses (with the early October deadline). Dods highlight the key findings:

  • The number of UK 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas (POLAR 4 quintile 1) is at a record high, with 3,160 students having applied, up by 7% from the 2023 cycle (2,950). 17,080 of the most advantaged (POLAR4 quintile 5) have applied this year compared with 16,720 last year, up by 2%.
  • A total of 72,740 have applied to start an undergraduate course with an October application deadline in 2024, down by 2% from last year (74,090), but up by 6% from 2020 (the October 2019 application deadline, for autumn 2020 entry) – the last pre-pandemic cycle (68,690).
  • In total, there have been 39,310 UK 18-year-olds apply by the deadline, the second highest number on record. This is up by 2% since 2023 (38,660) and up by 11% since 2020 (35,290).
  • The total number of UK 18-year-olds who have applied to medicine is 11,750, which is down by 7% since last year (12,700), but up by 8% since the October deadline for 2020 entry (10,930).
  • The number of UK students aged 35 and over applying to medicine for the first time (230) is up from 170 in 2023 (+31%), down from the record of 260 in 2021. This is the largest year on year percentage increase since 2021 (up 39%).
  • There has been a 18% decrease in the total number of UK 19-year-old applicants – which is 5,580 this year, but down from 6,770 in 2023.
  • The total number of international students (all ages) who have applied is 20,850, which is down from 2023 (20,970) but up from 2019 (20,280).
  • China remains the largest source market for international applicants; however the number of applicants from China is down 1% from 2023 (but up 31% against the October deadline for 2020 entry). The USA and Singapore have had the largest growth in applicants since last year, with applicants from USA increasing by 9% and Singapore by 6%.
  • There has been a 6% increase in UK domiciled applicants declaring receipt of free school meals. This is in the context of rising numbers of pupils in England receiving free school meals.

Access & Participation

The House of Commons Library briefing paper Support for care leavers provides an overview of the government’s policies to support care leavers.

The Women and Equalities Committee has endorsed the appointment of Alun Francis as chair of the Social Mobility Commission, following a pre-appointment hearing.

Wonkhe blog: Universities are often failing to enable disabled doctoral students to access their education. Pete Quinn explains a new research report on what can be done to change things.

Wonkhe also outline a new report from TASO examining the effectiveness of four interventions at universities in England – either intended to support disabled students, or improve employability – as well as making recommendations on the evaluation methods used. It notes that evaluations of the “scope and calibre” of those considered in the report are “time-consuming and resource-intensive”, and recommends institutions invest in further evaluation capacity and consider whether academics can provide support with evaluation.

The Sutton Trust published 25 Years of University Access – How access to HE has changed over time. They state it reveals persistent gaps for poorer students, particularly at the most selective universities. Key findings:

  • Over the last 25 years there has been a substantial increase in the number of young people going to university, with 50% of young people going on to higher education by age 30 for the first time in 2017.
  • Proportional gaps in access to university by under-represented neighbourhoods (POLAR) have narrowed over that time, though the gap itself remains significant.
  • Russell Group share of disadvantaged and low participation area students has declined since 1997 compared to the rest of the sector.
  • 4,700 state school students and 1,000 students from areas of the country with low historic participation ‘missing’ from 30 most selective universities each year – these students have the required grades but don’t get places.
  • Students from London are considerably more likely both to apply and to go on to attend higher education, with the rest of the country falling further behind each year.
  • Male students have fallen further behind female students and entry rates for White young people have lagged behind other ethnic groups.
  • These stubborn gaps persist despite considerable efforts from universities, government and the third sector to improve access rates. This emphasises the scale of the challenge in tackling access gaps in an environment with substantial social inequalities, and increasing demand for a limited resource (places at the most prestigious universities).
  • Widening participation efforts have likely prevented POLAR gaps from growing further. Groups promoting widening access in some senses have been ‘running to stand still’. In contrast, where access efforts have had less focus, for example on region, ethnicity or gender, gaps have widened.

Recommendations:

  • Tackling the access gap is likely to become more, rather than less challenging in the medium term, as a population bulge goes through the higher education system.
    • Universities should make greater use of contextual offers, taking into account the wider circumstances of applicants when accessing their potential.
    • It is also vital that universities are properly monitored and held to account on their progress in widening participation.
  • Findings show the importance of looking at how several different aspects of someone’s background and identity can impact on their likelihood of going onto university, and that it is important to look at these factors in combination, as well as overall trends for each group.
  • In the longer-term, we cannot tackle access issues at university level without also tackling the education attainment gap earlier on in a young person’s journey. This should start from the early years onwards, with efforts made at every part of the education system to ensure all young people can fulfil their potential.

International

Parliamentary question what assessment the government has made of the impact of changes to student visas on international students coming to the UK.

The International Higher Education Commission published Is the UK developing global mindsets? The challenges and opportunities for Internationalisation at Home in driving global engagement The report suggests a decline in the international diversity of UK campuses with the loss of incoming Erasmus+ exchange students and UK students’ decline in foreign language studies contributing. To address this the report recommends actions to enhance the advantages of internationalisation at home, including strengthening capacity and capability across various aspects of internationalisation.

The QAA published another policy paper within the Future of Quality in England series. Instilling international trust in English HE – a quality perspective argues that England’s HE international reputation is integral to its role as one of the UK’s biggest assets. It highlights that this reputation is built on trust, which is at risk of being undermined by divergence from international commitments in quality, unhelpful political rhetoric, and a lack of collaborative global outlook.

The briefing contends that, if steps aren’t taken to reinforce international trust, there are potential risks to international student recruitment, international research funding and mutually beneficial international partnerships. To reinforce international trust, the paper recommends that:

  • Policymakers should publicly champion the higher education sector on the world stage.
  • The Government should adopt a collaborative global outlook.
  • Make changes to England’s external quality system to increase international trust.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Good relations: Advance HE updated their guidance on promoting good relations in HE.  Covering how to prevent intolerance and develop a culture where relationships between diverse groups and individuals enhance the learning experience, protect freedom of speech and academic freedom, tackle harassment, and contribute to an inclusive society. It supports institutions to take a proportionate approach in decision making and suggests immediate, medium and long-term strategies for promoting good relations within the present legal framework. It is recommends that institutions should consider any incidents of hate and intolerance or situations where free speech and good relations intersect on a case-by-case basis within the framework of agreed policies, seeking specific legal advice where necessary.

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RKEDF: Engaging with Parliament for Impact 26th January, 10:00-14:30, Fusion Building

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HE policy update w/e 3rd November 23

We have a response from the Government on student accommodation, DSIT is all about the AI research, whole-sector foundation year student statistics are rather damning, we hear from the new Free Speech Tsar, and the BTEC | T level | Advanced British Standard confusion takes the next step as 85 qualifications are defunded.

Parliament – new session beckons

Parliament has been prorogued ready for the Kings Speech and the new session of Parliament to open on Tuesday 7 November. Carry-over motions were agreed for six Bills, with the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill being of most relevance to universities. In addition, the Renters Reform Bill was introduced but was still awaiting a second reading when this briefing was published (see below for a discussion of that one).

Bills that had not completed the legislative process and for which a carry-over was not agreed have now fallen.  They might be brought back, along with the ones that were announced but had not gone forward, including bills on media, audit reform, and mental health.

The King will formally open Parliament on 7 November and in his speech (which is written by the Government) he will announce the Government’s proposed policies and legislation for the coming session. The new session will end when Parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election – which must be held in January 2025 or before.

The House of Commons Library briefing King’s Speech 2023 has lots of useful information, including setting out some potential areas for the 2023-23 new legislative session:

  • Criminal justice measures, including knife crime and sentencing
  • Raising the age of sale for tobacco products
  • Implementing legislation for UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • Transport
  • Leasehold and commonhold reform
  • Changing the Habitats Regulations to ‘scrap nutrient neutrality’.

Conference season – final elements

Jonathan Woodhead of Birkbeck College has written a piece for the campaign for Learning on the LLE after the party conference season – lack of clarity seems to be a theme.

Wrapping up the final elements from the 2023 party conference season we highlight the aspects in Labour’s conference most of interest to HE:

  • Keir Starmer criticised the Prime Minister’s comments on universities, saying I never thought I would hear a modern Conservative Prime Minister say that 50% of our children going to university was a “false dream”. My Dad felt the disrespect of vocational skills all his life. But the solution is not and never will be levelling-down the working-class aspiration to go to university.
  • Labour’s speeches were light on policy announcements throughout the conference, likely because the polls suggest Labour is favoured for the next election. Members of the Lighthouse Policy Group suggest staying non-committal on policy announcements means they can avoid making any gaffes that would hurt the party’s chances in the polls and avoids the Conservatives producing a reactive manifesto that usurps Labour’s plans.
  • Kier also spoke of Technical Excellence Colleges describing them as having stronger links to their local economies…planted firmly in the ground of young peoples’ aspiration. TECs are expected to transform existing FE colleges and will have improved links to local universities.
  • Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, stated that Labour would change the way students pay for their time at university, so none of our young people, fear the price they’ll pay for the choice they’d like. The feeling in the sector is that they are favouring a graduate tax, unlikely to increase the cost of tuition fees (despite sympathy for universities’ unit of resource), may be open to reintroducing maintenance loans on a small scale, and are likely to introduce some form of tuition forgiveness for teaching and nursing/midwifery.
  • Shadow Secretary of State for the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology, Peter Kyle, announced that Labour would create 10-year R&D budgets allowing relationships with industry to build and long-term partnerships to form – leading to investment in new technology and the infrastructure that underpins it. Also that Labour would increase the number of universities spinouts, accept the recommendations of Lord O’Neill’s start-up review. This would include publishing annual data on the performance of university spinout support and a new founder track, giving more flexibility to people who establish spinouts and want to keep a higher stake of the equity. You can read the full transcript for Keir Starmer’s speech and Bridget Phillipson’s speech.

Research

  • AI & medicine: The House of Lords library published their science current affairs digest for October looking at how AI is changing drug discovery and its role in pharmaceutical changes such as anti-ageing, personalised cancer cures and robotic dosing implants. The paper includes the government’s approach to regulation.
  • AI safety summit: DSIT published the programme for the AI Safety Summit on 1 and 2 November. Day 1 will consist of roundtables on AI risks and AI safety and a panel discussion on the immense opportunities of AI to transform education for future generations, Michelle Donelan will provide closing remarks. On day 2 PM Rishi will convene a small group of governments, companies and experts to further the discussion on what steps can be taken to address the risks in emerging AI technology and ensure it is used as a force for good. Michelle Donelan will led a group of international counterparts to agree next steps.
  • Innovation funds: DSIT announced funding for £32 million for innovation projects that can improve productivity in key sectors through the use of AI; and £5 million for feasibility studies into 100 small firms’ pioneering AI ideas. Artificial intelligence projects in areas as diverse as fashion, farming and fire-fighting are being backed…as…Michelle Donelan highlights how AI can be a force for good ahead of next month’s AI Safety Summit. The funding is from the UKRI Technologies Mission Fund (administered by Innovate UK).
  • AI safety research team: Yet another AI announcement from DSIT the government’s Frontier AI Taskforce has begun building an AI safety research team to evaluate the risks at the frontier of AI. The Taskforce has partnered with Advai, Gryphon Scientific and Faculty AI – to tackle questions about how AI systems can improve human capabilities in specialised fields and risks around current safeguards. The findings of the research will be incorporated into presentations and roundtable discussions with government representatives, civil society groups, leading AI companies and experts in research at the AI Safety Summit in November. The findings of the research will be incorporated into presentations and roundtable discussions with government representatives, civil society groups, leading AI companies and experts in research at the AI Safety Summit in November.
  • AI superpower: The Lords Communications and Digital Committee met to examine whether the Government is striking the right balance between opportunity and risk in their ambition to make the UK an AI superpower. Large Language Models were considered. You can read or watch the session here.
  • Creative: Wonkhe – The Council for Science and Technology has set out recommendations to the government for harnessing research and development in the UK creative industries. Its recommendations include the Treasury and the Office for National Statistics collaborating on improvements to data collection on creative industries R&D.
  • Horizon funding: Parliamentary Question – UKRI funding of Horizon Europe guarantee scheme and other aspects of the UK research system. George Freeman MP: The government’s priority is to ensure the UK’s R&D sector gets the right support to allow them to continue their ground-breaking research and international collaboration. UKRI has to date issued grant offer letters totalling approximately £1.36bn through the Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme with further funds to be committed throughout 2023-24. UKRI has delivered further support across the Horizon programme, including elements of targeted investments to support UK research, as announced by the Government in November 2022, – with spend underpinned by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. UKRI’s budget remains as published in our Annual Report and Accounts for 2022-23
  • Innovation clusters: DSIT announced £75 million to fund eight Launchpads (regional SME innovation clusters). These initiatives will build on existing clusters of high-tech innovation in each region…The £7.5 million bespoke funding from each Launchpad will allow SMEs in each region to bid for support that is tailored to the unique needs of each business cluster, helping them drive innovation, expand operations, and boost their local economies. The Launchpads cover Net Zero, Digital Technologies, Health Technologies, Agri-Tech and Food Tech, Marine and Maritime, Bio-based Manufacturing, Immersive and Creative Industries, and the Life and Health Sciences.

George Freeman, DSIT Minister: The UK science, research and innovation economy is not just the ‘golden triangle’ of Cambridge-Oxford-London. It is all around the UK. That is why we have launched our flagship Launchpads programme – and this £75 million investment will support high-growth companies to build the industries of tomorrow – in sectors from renewable energy through to digital health. These Launchpads will play a pivotal role in growing our local economies, creating jobs and levelling up the UK

Regulatory: Free Speech

Professor Arif Ahmed, Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the OfS made his inaugural speech at a King’s College London event. He confirmed his role was non-partisan and stated freedom of speech is not the property of one side in any culture war and that the role exists to protect and to promote freedom of speech within the law. On academic freedom Arif stated that data showed academic freedom in the UK had dropped in the last 10 years and now ranks around 60th in the world, below most EU countries. There is lots more in the transcript, it follows the messaging you’d expect from OfS covering the chilling effect and institutions silencing controversial voices.

Smita Jamdar explores how the Middle East conflict challenges free speech principles and practice in an article for Research Professional.

Meanwhile Michelle Donellan, Science Minister, has drawn huge amounts of criticism for intervening to tell UKRI to change its approach to equality and diversity, citing the social media accounts of two members of a committee as symptoms of a much wider problem and calling for the committee to be disbanded.  This is a row that is likely to run for a while.  James Coe writes for Wonkhe on the exchange of views with links to how the issue unfolded and escalated if you missed it.  Regardless of views on whether the Minister should have made comments about the individuals concerned or her criticism is justified (and we express no view on that ourselves), the elision of that issue with a wholesale challenge to the equality and diversity work at UKRI seems unhelpful.  The wholesale challenge has been on the agenda for a while, alongside other challenges to what the papers like to call “woke” ideology in universities, but ought perhaps to be treated as a separate and important issue in its own right not at raised the end of an unconnected and different sort of letter – which makes it look less considered than it probably is.

Students

Mental health – by characteristic

OfS published the Meeting the mental health needs of students insight brief examining issues relating to mental health at university. It considers the likelihood students will report mental health conditions by characteristic (age, sex, ethnicity, free school meals and area deprivation measures) and how these affect student outcomes (continuation, completion, attainment, and progression).

Mental health & climate change

Student Minds published the Climate Change and Student Mental Health report which considers curriculum design, leadership, behaviour changes, the impact on specific student groups, the role of government and HEIs:

  • 71% of student respondents were quite or very concerned about climate change.
  • 68% were quite or very concerned about the impact on them personally.
  • 53% of students wanted to learn about sustainability in their curriculum, while only 20% already had.
  • Students believe their universities and the government should focus on energy and recycling over measures to tax or ban meat on campus.

Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation, said: This fascinating report illustrates the need for universities to offer students practical and constructive ways for them to tackle climate change and wider environmental issues – not only for the good of the planet – but for their own wellbeing too.

Research Professional has a good write up and analysis of the report here.

Student mental health – blogs

Wonkhe has two blogs on student mental health:

Foundation year student statistics

The DfE published foundation year student statistics for 2021/22. Bear in mind the Government is currently reviewing HE funding for foundation years in key areas and the presentation of the statistics seems to match their agenda.

Providers, courses and entrants

Foundation year courses have proliferated in the last 10 years with the greatest number of foundation year providers in London and the South East.

  • There are 69,325 foundation year entrants at English HE providers. This is an increase of over 60,000 since 2011/12 (8,470 entrants), and a 718% increase overall (more than 20% increase each year).
  • Since 2011/12, the number of foundation years available has been growing rapidly, with the number of courses increasing more than fivefold between 2011/12 and 2021/22, from 678 to 3,717.
  • The proportion of foundation year entrants studying a classroom-based subject reached 59% in 2021/22. Most entrants were studying business and management (51% of total foundation year entrants). The figure is higher than undergraduates in the first year of their course, of whom only 13% were studying business and management in 2021/22. Business and management are one of the key areas the Government intends to discontinue foundation year funding.

In total, there were 105 English providers of foundation years in 2021/22.

  • 23 of these providers were based in London, the second highest cluster was South East England (16 providers).
  • 42 of the 105 providers (40%) had a low or unknown tariff in 2021/22, the highest percentage across all OfS provider typologies.

Student characteristics 

Foundation year students are older, more ethnically diverse, balanced between the genders, and less declare disabilities compared to first year undergraduates.

  • 64% of foundation year entrants were aged 21 and above in 2021/22
  • 58% of students entering HE through a foundation year do not have prior attainment in the standard tariff population. (For comparison, only 15% of first year undergraduates entering HE are in this category.) After excluding those recorded as not in the standard tariff population, the prior attainment of those who undertook a foundation year was still lower than for first year undergraduates.
  • In 2021/22, foundation year students identified as White (54%), Asian (14%), and Black (14%). In 2021/22 the proportion of non-white entrants was significantly higher among foundation year entrants (46%) than among first year undergraduate entrants (34%).
  • Gender is split evenly among foundation year entrants (for comparison 58% of first year undergraduates are female).
  • The proportion of foundation year entrants with at least one known disability in 2021/22 was slightly lower than the proportion among comparable first year undergraduates (11% compared to 18%).

Outcomes

Students who complete full HE study that commenced through a foundation year have lower graduate outcomes than non-foundation entrants.

  • 53% of entrants who started in HE with a foundation year completed HE within 6 years (during the academic year 2021/22). Whereas 80% of first year undergraduates completed their qualification within 5 years.
  • Foundation year students studying at high tariff and medium tariff providers saw the highest percentage of graduates in employment or further study (90%).
  • The average salary for a foundation year graduate five years after graduation was £24,500, almost £4,000 lower than that of comparable undergraduates (£28,200).

Full data available here.

Student accommodation

The Government’s response to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee inquiry on reforming the private rented sector includes information that touches on student tenancies.

The Committee recommended that fixed-term tenancies should be retained for the entire student housing sector and require all landlords letting to students to sign up to one of the existing Government-approved codes of conduct. Long term the Committee called on the Government to replacing existing codes with a single national code of conduct. Also to consider ways to prevent or deter landlords from abusing the exemption such as introducing financial penalties.

The Government response:

  • The government recognises that the student market is cyclical – and that removing section 21 will mean landlords cannot guarantee possession each year for a new set of tenants.
  • Having engaged across the sector, we understand the cyclical model is critical for landlords’ business models and ensures a timely and robust supply of student accommodation. We will therefore introduce a ground for possession that will facilitate the yearly cycle of short-term student tenancies.This will enable new students to sign up to a property in advance, safe in the knowledge they will have somewhere to live the next year.
  • Retaining fixed terms for students, as per the committee’s recommendation, would not in itself mean properties are available at the end of an academic year for next year’s students. Unless notice is served, tenants have a right to remain in a property when a fixed term ends, and a landlord must still use a ground for possession or section 21 to evict them. We believe retaining fixed terms would unfairly lock students into contracts, meaning they could not leave if a property is poor quality, or their circumstances change. Student tenants should have the same flexibility as others.
  • We do not think it is viable to introduce codes which cover all student housing. There are a very large number of private rented sector student properties which would make enforcement extremely challenging, and further regulation would be a significant burden on small landlords. There are key distinctions between private housing rented to students and purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) which warrants a different approach. PBSA is designed specifically with students in mind and caters for their needs, often with additional facilities or support services that would not be available in a standard home rented to students.

Read the full 25-page Government response here.

Renter’s Reform Bill

Wonkhe have a blog: Jim Dickinson reviews the emerging compromise between students and landlords over the Renters (Reform) Bill – and wonders if it will be enough to get the legislation through.

Here’s the latest on the Renter’s Reform Bill discussions taking place in Parliament.

  • Clive Betts MP (Labour), Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, described exempting purpose-built student housing from the ban on 6 periodic tenancies as ‘entirely sensible.’ Regarding non-purpose-built student accommodation, he said landlords having the right to terminate a tenancy in line with the university year may prove a good compromise and will be further probed at Committee stage.
  • Mary Robinson MP (Conservative) highlighted concerns from landlords operating student lets on the abolition of fixed-term lets. She said it may prevent landlords from securing tenants ahead of time for the next academic year, taking away certainty and security for both landlords and students. She also warned that the changes could negatively impact the rental market and make it unattractive for landlords to let to students.
  • Paul Blomfield MP (Labour) raised the concerns of student renters, drawing on his findings as Chair of the APPG for Students. He highlighted that approximately 45% of students who live in the private rented sector and are currently not covered by the Bill. Participants in a recent roundtable had agreed on the many positive elements of the Bill but stressed the need for it to succeed for all renters. Paul Blomfield proceeded to note the heterogeneity across the student community, urging the Minister to not rush to exempt students from the protections in the Bill relating to non-fault evictions…without careful consideration of the impact on all types of students.
  • Helen Hayes MP (Labour) recounted an experience of a constituent who had lost their first-year university student son to suicide. As their son had signed a tenancy for second-year accommodation with a guarantor agreement, after their son’s death the parents were pursued for rent. She said she would table an amendment to address this issue.
  • Caroline Lucas MP (Green) warned against excluding students from the reform, reminding the Secretary of State of the White Paper which stated, it is important that students have the same opportunity to live in a secure home and challenge poor standards as others in the PRS.
  • Matthew Pennycook MP, Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, said Labour would press for clarification of the new grounds for possession for students’ landlords to ensure they are not too expansive and ensure the complexities of the student market are reflected.

The Bill is being carried over to the next Parliamentary session where it will be considered in depth at Committee Stage. It’s this stage that the real shape of the Bill will begin to emerge.

UUK have a good in-depth briefing on the implications of the Renter’s Reform Bill for students.

HEPI report on student accommodation costs

Student accommodation costs across 10 cities in the UK: Cost pressures and their consequences in Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (HEPI Report 166) provides an authoritative picture of student living, conducted in response to the unprecedent rent rises and supply issues witnessed over the past two academic years. It includes data voluntarily submitted by both universities and the 10 largest providers of Purpose-Built Student Accommodation operating across ten major regional university cities who collectively manage more than 125,000 beds in those cities (including Bournemouth).

Consequences

  • The overall picture that has emerged is one of very challenging market conditions. While many accommodation providers acknowledge there is an undersupply of accommodation and rising rents, there are no easy fixes.
  • Although there is much talk of affordability, the ability of providers to build more to relieve supply pressures is being hit by high development costs. The new rooms that do get built come with a higher price tag, so that providers can recoup their development costs. The pipeline of new accommodation is being slowed by historically high interest rates which are driving up funding costs. Rent levels in existing buildings have also been increasing as a consequence of rising running costs.
  • All providers surveyed recognise that the result of all this is that many students are having to put up with steep rent rises because they have no other options.

Policy implications and recommendations (from main report):

Student maintenance system

  • The student maintenance system needs resetting, if access to higher education is to be maintained evenly across both richer and poorer students. ‘Maintenance loans’ could more accurately be described as ‘a contribution to living costs’. The importance of the parental contribution should be highlighted rather than just mentioned in passing and parents should be provided with clearer official information on the minimum they are expected to contribute.
  • Maintenance support needs to be based on how much it actually costs to be a student living independently and away from home. In England, there is a golden opportunity to harvest the invaluable data collected for the government-funded Student Income and Expenditure Survey (SIES) and to use it as an evidence base towards a better system.

Affordability and financial intervention

  • Beyond the talk of affordability, the figures show that new and additional PBSA is getting more and more expensive. Rent for new beds in 2023 is 22 per cent more than for existing stock.
  • The main driver for the growth of PBSA is the private sector, and they are unlikely to increase their risk by going it alone on innovative products or lower-cost accommodation to fulfil an educational agenda. These options will only be developed if led by educational institutions, sharing some of the risk through private sector partnerships: universities must get more involved.
  • Accommodation bursaries can be effective in markets where there is a lack of affordable options.Finding resources for partnering with private providers is essential if educational institutions are going to make this support available. This is an important short-term approach, even if it serves to help shore up a dysfunctional student maintenance system.

Wonkhe blogs on the topic:

Admissions

Grading of level 3 results

Dr Jo Saxton, Ofqual’s Chief Regulator, wrote to HEIs to communicate grading arrangements for England’s 2023/24 admission cycle. It notes the 2-year transition to pre-pandemic grading is complete and normal grading arrangements will continue for GCSE, AS and A levels in 2024. Meaning national results in 2024 are expected to be ‘broadly similar’ to those of the summer of 2023. Grading arrangements for vocational and technical qualifications will continue as normal with awarding organisations adopting the same approach for the academic year 2023 to 2024 as they did previously.

Progression to HE: key stage 4 and 5 student data

The DfE published three data releases on the destinations of key stage 4 and 5 students in 2021/22. The releases cover whether students go into apprenticeship, education and employment destinations, and whether they progress to HE. All three data sets are available here.

The data release covering progression to higher education or training look at the percentage of level 3 pupils continuing to a sustained education or training destination at level 4 or higher in the two years after they completed their 16 to 18 study back in 2019/20.

The proportion of students that progressed to a sustained level 4 or higher destination was 68.3% (+2.3%); of the 68.3%:

    • 64.0% were studying for a (full level 6) degree.
    • 1.7% were participating in a higher/level 4 apprenticeship.
    • 2.6% were studying other qualifications at level 4 or 5

Disadvantage

  • Disadvantaged students (those eligible for pupil premium in year 11) were less likely to sustain a level 4 or higher destination (63.4%) than other students (69.5%) – a larger gap than last year
  • Disadvantaged students were much less likely to sustain a degree destination at a top-third HEI (12.2% vs 21.6%).
  • However, this gap reverses looking at the value-added scores (which take prior attainment at GCSE and qualification type into account).
    • Disadvantaged students scored +1.9, compared to -0.5 for other students, showing that a student of given prior attainment and qualification type is actually slightly more likely to progress if part of the disadvantaged cohort.
    • This could be because disadvantaged students are more likely to enter into level 3 study with the intention of progression, or it could be that they are boosted by the London effect (London has by far the highest proportion of disadvantaged students and a very high progression rate).

Gender

  • Female students were more likely to progress to a level 4 or higher destination (71.4%) than male students (64.7%), a slightly larger gap than last year. Except there are more males on tech levels (qualifications prior to T levels) with male tech level students obtaining a higher progression score (+2.7) than female students (-1.8). Gender bias it likely at play here due to the type of tech level subjects chosen (some tech subjects lead to higher rates of education/ apprenticeship destinations than others).
  • Though female students were much more likely to sustain a degree destination, male students were slightly more likely to sustain a level 4 or level 5 destination and nearly twice as likely to sustain an apprenticeship.

Ethnicity

  • There is large variability in the rate of progression by ethnicity group. Asian or Asian British students were most likely to sustain a level 4 or higher destination at 84.6% overall. 21% ahead of students from the White ethnicity group which had the lowest progression rate.
  • Once prior attainment and qualification type were accounted for, students from the Black or Black British ethnicity group achieved the highest progression scores (+17.2), followed by students from the Asian or Asian British group (+13.4). Students from the White major ethnicity group were the only ones to average a negative progression score, however they were more likely than students from other groups to have a high-level apprenticeship or level 4/5 destination.

Region

  • London continues to have the highest rates of progression to level 4 or higher (79.1%), while the South West continues to have the lowest (61.7%). This difference remains even when prior attainment and qualification type are considered. The gap has widened on last year. Proximity to HEIs is likely a biasing factor here – students from London might have the opportunity to sustain degree destinations while living at home, while those from the South West have fewer options and may find the necessary travel/rental costs prohibitive. London also has a higher-than-average ratio of schools to colleges, creating a stronger bias towards education destinations over employment.

Previous provider type

  • Students from non-selective schools in highly-selective areas continue to progress well below the national average even once prior attainment is taken into account.
  • For two students with the same GCSE results and studying the same qualification types, both at non-selective schools, the one studying in a highly-selective area is 5.5% less likely to progress to a level 4 or higher destination than the other student.
  • Students from selective schools continued to progress at a very high rate (89.7%) with an average progression score of +2.0.

You can find the full data release on progression to HE here.

The DfE has also published data on 16-18 destination measures detailing students who left 16-18 study in 2020/21 and follows their destinations in 2021/22. Excerpt: Disadvantaged students were more likely to stay in further education and less likely to progress to higher education: While 45.8% of non-disadvantaged students leaving 16 to 18 education progressed directly to higher education, the rate for the disadvantaged group was 35.6%. On the other hand, 7.7% of disadvantaged students continued in further education, compared to 6.1% of all other students.

Finally, there is also information on key stage 4 destination measures.

BTECs out. T levels in for now.

Rishi’s announcement that T levels will be defunded when (if) Britain moves to the Advanced British Standard put the DfE in a bit of quandary as to whether to continue the (unpopular) cancellation of BTECs that are gradually being replaced by T levels or whether to have a serious rethink. After a quick ponder the DfE are moving ahead and continuing to pull back from BTECs (and similar technical qualifications) and have published the final list of 85 qualifications assessed to overlap with wave 3 T Levels. The overlap occurs in these areas:

  • Business and Administration
  • Engineering and Manufacturing; and
  • Finance and Accounting.

The Government will withdraw public funding from these qualifications, for new starters, from August 2025.

Universities and Skills Minister Halfon has issued a written ministerial statement announcing the changes. It points out that of the 85 qualifications – 30 didn’t have any current enrolments and another 23 had fewer than 100 enrolments in the 2020/21 academic year. Although given that parents knew these qualifications were about to be dumped there is a question over the chicken and egg here!

Moving onto the Advanced British Standard (ABS) Education Secretary Gillian Keegan published a written ministerial statement on the Government’s proposals. She confirmed the Government would provide £600 million over the next two years to prepare for the ABS, consisting of:

  • £100m each year to double the rates of the Levelling Up Premium and expand it to cover FE colleges (to disproportionately benefit disadvantaged students). All teachers who are in the first five years of their career, teaching key STEM and technical shortage subjects and working in disadvantaged schools and all FE colleges, will be paid up to £6,000 per year tax-free.
  • £150m each year to support students who need the most support. I.e. those without a grade 4 or higher pass in maths and English GCSE at age 16. And supporting English and maths for all post-16 apprentices who have not gained their Level 2 qualification, uplifting the funding rates to match the Adult Education Budget.
  • £60m over the next two years to expedite evidence-based techniques for maths teaching, including in post-16.
  • £40m to the Education Endowment Foundation to expand their post-16 work and embed evidence-based approaches in 16-19 teaching.

Keegan stated the Government will consult extensively over the coming months on the design of the new qualification with the consultation resulting informing a White Paper to be published during 2024.

Wonkhe report that since the ABS was announced student enthusiasm for T levels has waned. They have a blog: As demand for “gold standard” T levels atrophies in the face of news that they’ll be replaced, Johnny Rich laments an obsession with killing off BTECs.

Access & Participation

Social Mobility

HEPI published The English Social Mobility Index which compares the performance of (English) HEIs was published. Research Professional set to the Index and have questions in this good article: Mobility Issues. Excerpts:

  • If accurate, it would seem to confound assumptions about which sort of universities are doing the heavy lifting on social mobility.
  • The results are somewhat counter-intuitive. Are Imperial College (13) and the University of Cambridge (16) doing more for social mobility than Brunel and Birkbeck (18 and 19 respectively)?
  • Is the University of Manchester (22) a more effective engine of social movement than Manchester Metropolitan University (36)? Is the University of Oxford (21) doing more on social mobility than Middlesex University (44)?
  • Examples like this could be multiplied as you move through the ranking. The bottom nine institutions are all post-92s, with the University of Exeter the only member of the Russell Group in the bottom quartile.
  • The obvious question would be, how accurate a portrait of social mobility is this? The emphasis on graduate outcomes—weighted equally between median salaries and the Office for Students definition of “positive outcome” of graduate-level employment or further study—would tend to favour both high-tariff institutions and those based in the capital.
  • the graduate outcomes and continuation data are very broad-brush strokes, especially in larger universities, which may or may not bear much relevance to the experience of “social mobility students” at any given institution. For example, Oxford’s access numbers might be quite low, but its continuation and outcomes figures will be great, producing a decent score in the table—but that is not the same thing as delivering on social mobility, and certainly not en masse.

Read more here.

Service Children

NEON cover the new report which analyses universities’ APP plans: Under the Radar – Service Children in the UK today, highlighting that only a quarter of universities (10% drop since 2000) in England have strategies in place to support Service children to progress to HE and these numbers may fall over the next year. Read more here. You can also access a recording of the event covering service children.  And Graeme (from NEON) writes for Wonkhe: Children from military families have worse progression rates into higher education. Graeme Atherton argues that they should be a target group for access work.

Neurodiverse students

Wonkhe blog – As retention rates for autistic students are lower than any other disability group, Helen Guyatt explains what could be done to help – and what incentives there are for institutions to do so.

International

China

The Lords Chamber debated the long-term strategic challenges posed by China. The Government’s approach to protecting Chinese students from undue pressure on political issues was criticised and Lord Stirrup questions mechanisms that could effectively be used to protect students including monitoring interactions students have with their own government.

  • Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench) raised Confucius Institutes and suggested the UK worked with the Government of Taiwan for language and culture studies rather than the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He queried what steps were being taken to help universities reduce dependency and diversify their funding sources.
  • Baroness Coussins (Crossbench) cautioned against ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ in responding to Confucius Institutes. She added that ‘closer monitoring of the situation in some universities is clearly advisable, but any action against the Confucius Institutes should be proportionate and properly targeted.’
  • Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State FCDO, responded on behalf of the Government stating a series of measures had been introduced to tackle threats to HE, such as the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023. Also that the Government were working to increase protections for academic freedom and university research, including strengthening the screening of Chinese academics and researchers in sensitive areas of research. On Confucius Institutes, the Minister said they were ‘taking action to remove government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK, but currently judge that it would be disproportionate to ban them.’ More details here.

There’s also a Wonkhe blog that may be of interest: Glen Noble explains how UK universities need to develop their own risk management processes for collaborating with China – especially when it comes to sensitive research areas.

International Growth

Lord Jo Johnson has spoken out (again, same messages) on restricting further international student growth and the need for universities to diversify their portfolio.

Wonkhe report: Speaking at a Universities UK International conference yesterday, Johnson said the sector is “reaching the political limits” of tolerance for higher numbers – because of dropout rates among Indian and Bangladeshi students of “approaching 25 per cent”, and questions over students’ ability to support themselves. Reflecting on accusations that universities were “selling immigration into the UK rather than education, he called on universities to take “collective action to weed out poor quality and fraudulent applications”.

There is full coverage in the Financial Times.

Health surcharge

Wonkhe report that the Home Office has published an equality impact assessment for the forthcoming increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge, which for students and their dependants (the discounted rate) will rise from £470 to £776 per person per year. It shows that the disparity between the median weekly wage for younger and older migrants may mean that students see higher impacts from the increase to the charge, making saving to pay the Health Charge more difficult.

Digital Teaching

Digital experience: UUK report on the JISC staff digital experience insights survey 2022/23 covering perceptions of HE teaching staff to technology and its potential in teaching.

  • 71% of teaching staff agreed the use of digital technology in teaching is convenient.
  • 61% agree that it allows them to teach in ways they prefer.
  • 64% rate the quality of their online teaching environment as above average.
  • 61% agree that it enables students to make good progress.

However, the survey also shows that teaching staff need more time and encouragement when it comes to improving their digital skills, with nearly half (49%) rating support for teaching effectively online as average or below average.

Kathryn Heywood, Head of Business Intelligence at Jisc said: This year’s student digital experience insights survey shows that HE students find online learning more engaging and motivating since 2020, and they havereaped the benefits of teaching staff working hard to improve their practice. What’s clear from this year’s staff survey, is that teachers need more dedicated support from the organisation to focus on their digital skills.

Digital enabling: Wonkhe and Kortext published Setting the curve – deploying technology for learning, teaching, and student success looking at how to deploy technology to support longer term learning, teaching, and student success strategies. Excerpt: in making technology part of the solution universities must also ask some searching questions: about the degree of digital capability required of staff and students; about what “hybrid” work and learning should look like and why; about the interaction of the digital and physical estate; and, crucially, about the nature of the spaces available for being critical about technology adoption, and how the conversation about technology moves forward. Read more here.

Other Wonkhe blogs:

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

General Election: The Times reported that the Government has been advised not to call the general election for November due to security concerns should the campaigning period align with America’s (fixed) November presidential election. The Times quotes an official as saying There are huge security and market implications if two Five Eyes countries are holding elections at once. It could potentially open up two countries to cyberwarfare and electoral manipulation from hostile states and if a security threat were to arise during a campaign it would leave western countries exposed. With a second Whitehall source stating: Far more care would have to be taken around national security and meddling from hostile countries. The Times also reports that Labour are preparing for a May election. The last possible date the UK election can be held on is 28 January 2025.

HE growth: Wonkhe blog – On the tenth anniversary of David Willetts’ 2013 Robbins Revisited report, David Kernohan wonders if it still stands up.proroSubscribe!

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Research by BU academic on NFTs, Blockchain and IP law cited in Parliamentary Report

A report on ‘NFTs and the Blockchain: the risks to sport and culture’ recently published by the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee (CMSC) cites research by Bournemouth University’s (BU’s) Professor Dinusha Mendis.

The report follows the consultation that was conducted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in November 2022 and outlines how Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and blockchains should be tackled in the future, particularly in relation to art and culture; professional sport and advertising.

In relation to intellectual property rights (IPRs), the report cites copyright infringement, limited recourse and redress (for consumers and creators), the scale of infringement, consumer confusion and the inflexibility of transferring IP as the main issues that needs consideration.

In responding to these issues, the report cites the research by Prof. Mendis calling for more protection for consumers and creators as a result of rising IP infringements, scams and frauds. The report also identifies the unique nature of NFTs and blockchains and cites Prof. Mendis’ research in demonstrating how current laws – such as ‘notice and takedown’ or ‘the right to be forgotten’ – which apply in other circumstances relating to piracy and counterfeiting, may not necessarily apply to online marketplaces. As such, the report recommends a code of conduct to be adopted by online platforms dealing with NFTs.

The hype surrounding NFTs was short-lived and in mid-2022, investors saw a collapse in the NFT market. However, as the report states, “cryptoassets such as NFTs continue to have advocates … [and] even if NFTs never again reach the peak they achieved over the last few years, areas of concern [in relation to regulation] remain”.

As such, based on the research presented in this report relating to intellectual property, the CMSC recommends that the “Government engages with NFT marketplaces to address the scale of infringement and enable copyright holders to enforce their rights”. In relation to sports, the report identifies the financial risks and harm which NFTs present to fans and the reputational harm it presents to clubs and recommends that “any measurement of fan engagement in sports, including in the forthcoming regulation of football, should explicitly exclude the use of fan tokens”.

Finally, in relation to advertising, and once again citing the research by Prof. Mendis, the report recommends that the Government respond to misleading and/or fraudulent advertising for NFTs.

For further information and for the full report, please see here: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/41611/documents/205745/default/

HE Policy Update w/c 16 October 2023

Here’s your catch-up edition after the Parliamentary recess for the party conferences.

We’ve the full detail from the Conservative events and some snippets from the Labour Conference (we’re still awaiting some of the event transcripts and reports). In addition we have a guest slot from Nat and Stephen who attended the conferences.

Big news is the announcement that A levels and T levels are to be ditched for the Advanced British Standard qualification…in 10 years’ time, perhaps. And Minister Keegan is moving forward to establish minimum service levels for the HE sector during strike action.

Conservative Party Conference

You can read short summaries (provided by Dods) from a wide range of the fringe events held at the Conservative conference here. Pages 2-3 contain the list of fringe events for you to peruse.

Here are some teasers and snippets on the interesting ones:

Skills Britannia: Developing workforce capabilities to drive social mobility with Minister Halfon. The panellists spoke about the need for focus on vocational systems as much as the focus on universities, and the need for greater guidance to students on how they could access them.

Delivering the skills Britain needs – the role of modern universities with Gillian Keegan, Education Secretary. The session focused on skills and apprenticeships, with particular emphasis on the role which universities could play in closing the skills gap.

Snippets:

  • Graham Baldwin, VC of University of Central Lancashire – modern universities deliver not just on the academic but the vocational also, collaborations with business was something that was natural to universities, universities were crucial regional anchors to delivering the skilled workforce needed by UK industry. He said that the skills gap facing the UK was a major economic threat. He said closing these gaps required expanding skills and it was crucial to ensure modern universities provided flexible learning options to make this goal achievable for a wider group of learners.
  • Naomi Clayton, Learning & Work Institute, said higher education was increasingly important to growth and levelling up. She said that they needed a diversity of routes for skills education at all ages. Also spoke about the role of universities in supporting lifelong learning. She said that they needed a system which supported people to change careers and upskill throughout their lives. She said that the lifelong learning entitlement was a welcome move, but for many people, the idea of taking on more debt could be a barrier to accessing education and training.
  • William Atkinson, leader of the panel for Conservative Home, asked whether they had too many people going to universities, and if not, how they could adapt their courses to encourage people to go to universities and get skills.
  • Keegan said it was difficult to generalise. She said there were very few skilled careers that were not vocational or technical in nature, in some capacity. She said that it was not useful to have arbitrary targets, but they needed to make sure there were no rungs missing on the ladder for people to access a variety of opportunities.

How can science and innovation support an ambitious plan for economic growth? With George Freeman, Minister for Science. The panel discussed priorities for the Government in science and innovation, and what the main challenges facing the sector were.

Snippets:

  • Freeman – the Government’s mission was to shift the economic model towards research, innovation and science, away from the current services economy. Challenges facing the sector, Freeman first argued was Whitehall’s lack of ability to move at the same pace as the science sector. Second was the lack of skills. He said there was a disconnect between recruitment lists for jobs and the source of skills to meet them in many R&D clusters. Third was the lack of devolving more powers to R&D clusters
  • Professor Nigel Brandon, Dean at Imperial – wanted to see more stability in Government and a greater longevity of policies and incentives offered to the sector. He believed the priorities for research universities should be greater investment, access to a pipeline of talent and more international collaboration with other institutions.
  • Giles Wilkes, Institute for Government – the most important concept for innovation is openness, picking winners was needed and UK needs to choose where to focus attention and prioritise unlike countries such as the US which can cover more ground.

Key speeches:

Labour Party Conference

Fit for the future: How UK life sciences can drive growth and improve the health of the nation with Chi Onwurah, Shadow minister for Science, Research and Innovation. The panel focused on the vital role played by life sciences to the UK economy and the importance of every region of the UK supporting this sector.

  • Paul Blakely, Life Science Senior Policy Adviser, reasoned that the life science sector in the UK was now seeing a number of challenges due to increased competition in the sector due to increased investment in other countries during the pandemic. He also noted the NHS was in trouble which made the adoption of innovation difficult. He said the question was how could it be ensured that the UK maintained a competitive edge in life sciences.
  • Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, expressed her belief that science and innovation were key to our economy, growth, and to improving our quality of life. She reasoned they were therefore key to Labour’s missions, such as achieving the highest sustained growth in the G7. Chi also noted that medicine technology was an area where science could be transformative and that was what the next Labour would be seeking to unlock.

Peter Kyle, Shadow Secretary of State for Science Innovation and Technology speech announced 10-year R&D budgets. Snippets:

  • This would allow relationships with industry to be built, long term partnerships to form and lead to investment in new technology and the infrastructure that underpins it. We will go further than ever before to make Britain the best place to innovate.
  • We’ll increase the number of University spinouts, accepting the recommendations of our start-up review. That includes better tracking of spinouts from universities with a dashboard to identify what’s working and where there are barriers. And we will work with universities to ensure there are a range of options on founder-track agreements helping to boost spinouts and economic growth.

Making Britain Work – Modern Universities and the Public Sector Workforce with Andrew Gwynne, Shadow Minister for Social Care. The panellists discussed the workforce crisis in the public sector and the important role universities played in training the next generation of public sector workers. The conversation predominately focused on the recruitment, training and retention of teachers and nurses, with panellists discussing why these vital sectors had become less attractive career paths.

Research

George Freeman, science research and innovation minister, wrote for Research Professional in Sold on science. The article is a quick whizz through all the major R&D developments introduced by the Conservative party from the ringfencing of R&D spend to the development of ARIA. It’s an easy read and show the policy progression of the last 13 years, or as Freeman names it the Conservatives legacy.

At the Conservative Party Conference Michelle Donelan (DSIT Secretary of State) announced:

  • AI: a £8 million will be available for AI scholarships over the next 12 months giving 800 more people the opportunity to start on courses. The funding will be disbursed by the OfS.
  • Innovation: a new £60 million Regional Innovation Fund (more on this below)
  • Characteristics: A review into use of sex and gender questions in scientific research and statistics (including those conducted by public bodies). This Cabinet Office review will be led by Professor Alice Sullivan (UCL) (funding provided by ESRC) and will produce guidance on the topic by May 2024. The terms of reference for the review are currently being discussed.

The Regional Innovation Fund will:

  • boost support for universities in areas with low levels of R&D investment.
  • be relative to the size of each UK nation (£48.8 million for 110 universities across England, delivered by Research England).
  • Allocations to the devolved administrations will be : £5.8 million for Scotland, £3.4 million for Wales and £2 million for Northern Ireland.

Biggest bang for our physics buck

DSIT published a policy paper UK strategy for engagement with CERN: unlocking the full potential of UK membership of CERN which aims to ensure the UK gains a good return on its membership of CERN. The UK is one of 12 members of CERN which aims to uncover the mysteries of the universe, including what it is made of and how it works. Space is an important investment area for the Government and they’re keen to maximise the UK’s research potential and leverage funding. CERN is better known for being the creators of the World Wide Web. Minister for Science George Freeman stated: As the second largest contributor to CERN, our return on investment is below where we would like it to be, with much more we can still do to ensure we take full advantage of all opportunities that are afforded by CERN membership. The strategy covers five areas:

  1. Research excellence: including more high-impact papers and maintenance of the UK’s global research ranking, contributing to the government’s science superpower ambition.
  2. World class skills :increased numbers of highly skilled technicians, engineers and scientists whose skills and expertise can be deployed in a variety of fields, advancing industrial capability and attracting world class talent to study and work in the UK.
  3. Commercial impact and innovation: increased uptake of innovation and commercial opportunities that drive growth in the UK and for the UK to be the partner of choice for international collaboration; and using business engagement with CERN to drive technological capability and innovation.
  4. International leadership: increased championing of our principles for engagement on a global stage, including diversity and inclusion, and more UK nationals in positions of leadership.
  5. Engage and inspire: increased awareness and appreciation of the profound impact that science and technology has on everyday life and more students pursuing STEM subjects, specifically:
    • Encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM through the inspiration of CERN’s discovery science and technology.
    • Engage the public about the importance of STEM research and its societal impact.
    • Motivate all UK CERN stakeholders to set as ambassadors for the opportunities afforded by big science to people of all backgrounds.

More detail here.

Admissions: The Advanced British Standard

Rishi’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference said he was committed to stopping universities from enrolling students on courses that do nothing for their life chances, and that the target for 50% to attend HE as a false dream.

UUK Chief Executive, Vivienne Stern, responded to Rishi’s speech commenting: This political rhetoric is not in the interests of students, or the economic prospects of the country as a whole. We should be expanding opportunities and not talking down what is a national success story.

The biggest education announcement of the conference was Rishi’s intention to introduce the Advanced British Standard (ABS), a new Baccalaureate-style qualification for 16- to 19-year-olds which would bring A levels and T levels into a single qualification. The outline of the qualification would include 195 hours more teaching than current provision and learners would study five subjects. Responses to the announcement haven’t balked at a potential change to the long established A level system. Instead the ABS plans have been heavily criticised as there are already concerns for teacher recruitment/retention, particularly in FE, and sector commentators note increasing the number of teachers (even through incentives) is unlikely to yield the level of staff needed to deliver the qualification. If successful the change to ABS would be phased in over the next 10 years. The Guardian has coverage on the teaching crisis angle, highlighting an additional 5,300 teachers would be needed (not to mention a significant uptick in the education budget to fund them).  There are more responses to the announcement from the HE sector here.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan also spoke about the ABS in a subsequent speech.

Shortly after the speech the DfE published a 47 page paper: A world-class education system – The Advanced British Standard, meaning these plans have been in the offing for a while (and Maths to 18 was a key pledge in Rishi’s bid for PM). There’s a shorter Government press release here.

We have a summary if you’d like more detail on the ABS, summary content is drawn from the DfE paper.

The next steps in the ABS journey are:

  • Reforms are unlikely to be realised for at least a decade – with the pupils starting primary school this term expected to be the first cohort.
  • Government will launch a formal consultation on the “approach and design of our new qualification, and the accompanying work to strengthen the system to deliver it in the coming months”.
  • This will inform a White Paper to be published next year.

Party Conference roundup

Nathaniel Hobby and Stephen Bates feature in our latest guest update on the conferences. Nat and Steve attended the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour Party conferences to understand future opportunities for BU, and to meet with fellow public affairs professionals to talk about collaboration in the coming year and here is their update.

  • At the Labour Party conference, Professor John McAlaney spoke on a panel about responsible gambling and, specifically, updates needed to legislation to help protect from gambling addiction and harm
  • Party conference season has been interesting, with polarising moods depending on which Party you speak to.
  • For the Liberal Democrats, investment in health and care was front and centre, and it was said to be the key issue they will stand on in the next election – well timed with BU’s roundtable discussion following an announcement of the Lib Dems £5bn free personal care plan. Hosted in Bournemouth, the conference was busy with a positive mood towards the future.
  • At the Labour Party Conference, the mood was very optimistic; among Labour Party members and politicians there is a general view that the next election is theirs to lose, and the optimistic mood is a welcome change to the current political climate. A buzzword that came up more than once was this being the time for a ‘prevention revolution’ in a number of areas. Fringe events on alcoholism prevention, gambling addiction prevention (including BU) and healthcare interventions to prevent health problems later in life were littered across the schedule.
  • There was a focus on the Labour manifesto and the subject of technology, a lot about the speed of change in technology and the need for political wheels to move faster. Specifically, it was seen that there is a need to focus on opportunities in the next manifesto, even in areas that can seem risky, as the gear change the country needs.
  • A constant throughout the fringe sessions was a frustration on the lack of collaborative working across sectors, governments, organisations and including universities to solve societal or local issues. Whether it is skills, care, social mobility, jobs or governmental issues, a key thread was the seeming, or perceived, lack of collaboration and co-working for the good of people in local areas. Universities have a role to play in supporting the collaboration, but also being vocal where these collaborations are already happening as a way of fighting the current perception.
  • In HE, the subject of tuition fees was back on the agenda, and it isn’t good news, with a Public First polling report (summarised elsewhere in this update) showing that there is not a lot of public support for increases. At many of the sessions, the mood music was that the HE sector still needs to do much more to show its value to the public, and ‘playing nicely’ with FE, apprenticeships and the skills agenda to look to the long term. Almost universally in any fringe event connected to HE was an agreement that FE and HE need to get as close to it as possible. As one panellist put it, “Universities aren’t the priority for the public and no political party will want to be seen to be adding to the public debt” so universities will need to work much harder to rise up a very busy post-election agenda.
  • For the Conservatives, there were reports in the media of low attendance in the main hall of the Conservative Party Conference but the fringe events were very busy and well attended.
  • Two big themes in the main auditorium were how the UK could/should become a superpower in Science and Innovation and apprenticeships. Imperial and UCL both sponsored events discussing building Britain’s science innovation which were attended by George Freeman (Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation) and Andrew Griffith (Economic Secretary to the Treasury) respectively.
  • The question of university funding and the fact that international students now fund the shortfall in costs for domestic students, as opposed to providing additional research funding, was more of a focus for the Conservatives. The ministers appeared to agree that this was not a sustainable set up, although no answers to the problem were discussed. Interestingly George Freeman noted that the policy for university funding lies with the Department for Education but it clearly has a knock on impact for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology who own research funding.
  • Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, attended an event hosted by Policy Exchange and Grant Thornton on degree apprenticeships. As a degree apprentice herself, Gillian Keegan is clearly very passionate about them and, although she said she wouldn’t implement targets, there is going to be a clear policy drive on that if she keeps the brief. She was joined on the panel by the VC of Manchester Metropolitan University who have around 2500-degree apprentices, and Labour Metro Mayor of Liverpool Steve Rotherham who is also a big supporter and will carry on that support if Labour win the next election. Minister of State for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon joined a panel discussion on apprenticeships for school leavers and UCAS joined a panel discussion in the Youth Zone about making it easier for young people to find apprenticeships and explaining how their portal will soon be a one stop shop for apprenticeships and degree courses.

Students

Student withdrawals

The SLC published the (early) in-year student withdrawal statistics. The figures compared the number of students withdrawing from university over five academic years from 2018-19 to 2022-23.

  • In 2019-20, a total of 29,630 withdrew.
  • In 2020-21, a total of 31,279 withdrew.
  • In 2021-22, a total of 39,405 withdrew.

Student Needs

Advance HE published the Student Needs Framework. It maps and categorises students’ needs as:

  • Individual competence, Confidence and Resilience; and
  • Belonging and Community.

It’s a broad overview and doesn’t delve into interventions and explore the multiple ways students may manifest their individual needs. Advance HE say: The framework is designed flexibly to support a broad range of colleagues, especially those involved in teaching, learning and student support in strategic or in practice roles. It will be most effective if adopted at an institutional level, mapped with consideration to your institutional context and priorities to enhance practice and policy.

More information here.

Uni Connect

The OfS published the independent evaluation of the Uni Connect programme’s impact on outcomes for learners. The report is based on learner survey findings after Wave 4 of the project and it recommends that Uni Connect partnerships and individual HEIs should:

  • Continue to offer sustained and progressive outreach to maximise the impact of Uni Connect on learners’ outcomes.
  • Embed personalised support, such as mentoring and masterclasses, with lighter-touch activities such as campus visits, in a multi-intervention approach.
  • Ensure information, advice and guidance focuses on the financial support available (in addition to the costs) and the non-financial benefits (as well as the financial benefits) of HE.
  • Deliver interventions for key influencers.
  • Work with schools and colleges to support attainment-raising.

Industrial action: minimum service levels

At the Conservative Conference Gillian Keegan, SoS Education, announced a consultation to introduce minimum service levels in universities during strike action to ensure students receive the teaching they deserve. The DfE have announced more details: The consultation will focus on stronger protections for final year students, key cohorts or those studying specialist subjects. If introduced, the minimum service level could ensure students get the education they pay for, protecting them from strike action, for example looking at how to guarantee continued services such as teaching contact hours and marking their work during walkouts.

The minimum service concept isn’t new – the Act requiring minimum service levels was passed in July 2023 and applies to education services alongside health, fire and rescue, transport, nuclear activities and border security. However, to implement this legislation regulations are required for each service. And a consultation was launched in August on some aspects of the implementation including what reasonable steps means.

In the DfE press release the government link the minimum service expectation with their priorities of ensure quality degree delivery (and value for money) and the OfS recruitment limits where courses have high student drop out. They state: Today’s announcement is another step in a series of long-term decisions to ensure a bright future for all children and young people, whether it be starting school, through to going to university or undertaking an apprenticeship.

We’ll be watching closely to see how they define minimum service for education, and specifically HEIs. Watch this space.

Regulatory | Free Speech

Here’s a reminder on the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act, which involves:

  1. a new strengthened duty to promote freedom of speech and academic freedom
  2. new OfS condition(s) of registration
  3. requirements for codes of practice
  4. regulation of students’ unions on freedom of speech
  5. the introduction of a statutory tort
  6. establishment of a free speech complaints scheme
  7. creation of the role of the Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom
  8. monitoring of overseas funding in relation to risks to academic freedom and freedom of speech
  9. prohibition of non-disclosure agreements in complaints relating to harassment and sexual misconduct

UUK published a briefing and case studies aiming help universities to prepare for the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act. It sets out summarises the new legislation, highlights the consultation for the new OfS conditions of registration has not yet been published, explains the statutory tort, complaints and overseas funding. Helpfully it contains some information on the other legislations and legal duties which overlap or contain free speech content.

Fees

With the likelihood of a 2024 election looming attention turns once again to HE tuition fees. Public First published an interesting report Public Attitudes to Tuition Fees: What are Labour’s Options for Reform? The key findings are below but in short it’s a wicked problem – people want fees to be free or lower but don’t want to pay for them from the public purse, the level of debt students leave HE with remains an emotive issue.

  1. Labour made the right decision politically on fees. Our research confirms that Labour made the right electoral decision to move away from their pledge to abolish tuition fees. It is a decision that benefits Labour significantly more than it costs them as they head towards the next general election. By 43% to 30%, respondents thought Starmer was right to go back on the pledge to abolish tuition fees. Swing voters are even more likely to think that Starmer was right, with 48% saying he was right to drop the pledge, and 28% saying he was wrong to do so.
  1. Tuition fees are not a popular policy; in the abstract, there is a high level of support for fee abolition. People believe higher education is important: parents want their children to go to university, and they believe the cost is too high. They would ideally like to see fees cut or abolished entirely. This is broadly true across all demographics.
  2. However, people also think that there are other, more pressing priorities for spending, particularly in times of financial crisis. When we asked a narrow and direct question about whether people supported fee abolition, there was widespread support, but when the question was posed differently, with people given a list of options for the to pursue, or when people were told how much fee cuts would cost the taxpayer, support fell away.
  1. No matter how popular abolishing fees is in principle, in practice people are very against subsidising changes through general taxation. When informed of the overall cost, fee abolition is seen as too expensive, and there is little real appetite for it among voters. With the exception of raising corporation tax to pay for the abolition of fees, every other option has net negative support(more people oppose than support). It was the prospect of personal taxes and VAT rising to fund a fee cut that particularly put people off a fee cut. Hearing the scale of funding needed – and how this might need to be paid for – was a significant concern to voters
  1. People want university to be more affordable for students in the short term. Returning to maintenance grants was considered a popular alternative to the abolition of fees. Against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, many considered the cost of the university experience as prohibitive (at least in principle). Voters are also supportive of cutting fees in certain circumstances – such as for those from low income families or studying socially and economically important courses (such as teaching or nursing).
  2. Reducing tuition fees is popular (although paying for it is not). Across the board, people think fees are too high and that people leave university with excessive debt. They would like to see tuition fees reduced, with £6,500-£7,000 being the most popular choice. In particular, people are sympathetic to the plight of young people who leave education with such high levels of debt (which most people hate) but are unsure what the alternatives are. Respondents reject the idea that fees should go up with inflation but are supportive in the abstract of the government providing additional support when this is framed as limiting the cost increase for students.
  1. There is a relatively high level of support for employers making a contribution to the higher education funding system. When described as a levy that businesses pay to universities who train their workers, 59% were in support, making it a more popular choice than additional government funding. Support dropped to 39%, however, when this was framed as higher taxes employers would pay in order to hire graduates – consistent with our findings throughout that there is widespread lack of support for higher taxation in any form.
  2. There are more rewards than risks for Labour when moving away from the abolishing tuition fees pledge. Abolishing or not abolishing fees has little difference on the voting intention for existing Labour voters but is an important policy choice for undecided or swing voters. We estimate there are 83 seats in total where Keir Starmer’s decision not to abolish tuition fees significantly boosts Labour’s chance of winning the seat – including places such as Buckingham & Bletchley; both Isle of Wight seats; and Mansfield.
  3. U-turning on fees may have positive electoral consequences, but it shouldn’t be shouted about. Our results suggest that dropping the pledge has a relatively minimal impact among Labour’s supporters, and if anything is assisting support among those who have switched over from the Conservatives. Labour moving away from fee abolition is likely to have positive electoral consequences, but the act of u-turning on yet another policy position should not be taken lightly. The public needs more information about the context surrounding changing policy positions, such as the impact of the economic environment on decision making and/or what that money would be spent on instead.
  4. Restoring maintenance grants is the option most likely to be both a vote winner and a seat winner for Labour. It was also the option where respondents seemed content for the taxpayer to fund the commitment. When we asked voters directly if they supported reintroducing maintenance grants, assuming the extra cost would be paid for through increased taxation, 55% said they did, while just 14% said they would be opposed. 50% of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a party which pledged to reintroduce maintenance grants, and just 8% said they would be less likely to do so.
  5. Introducing a graduate tax was also more popular than abolishing fees outright, particularly amongst younger voters. Reforms to student repayments could help shore up support amongst highly educated progressives. Voters supported the idea of a graduate tax by 43% to 22%. Young voters supported this most enthusiastically: 18-24s support it by 53% to 18%, and 25-34s by 50% to 22%. 36% of respondents overall said they would be more likely to vote for a party planning to introduce a graduate tax, compared to 19% who said they would be less likely.
  6. There is massive, untapped support for more investment in FE. While there is widespread support for higher education in principle and practice, there is significantly more public support for further education and apprenticeships – and far more than the politicians give credit for. Politicians of all parties ought to be talking more about FE, apprenticeships and training. This is particularly true amongst swing voters, and those in target red wall seats which do not have a local higher education institution.

A manifesto for HE and Research

HEPI ran fringe events at both Conservative and Labour party conferences asking what should be in the party’s manifesto for HE and research. The recording of the Conservative event is here, the Labour event content isn’t available (yet). Ahead of the fringe events HEPI published a Higher Education Policy Institute report on three vice-chancellors’ hopes ahead of the party conferences. It set out the perspective of three HEI leaders on what they wanted to see in the manifestos for HE at the next election.

The essays all emphasise the centrality of HE to the UK’s future success and cover a broad range of themes, including research, local partnerships, and a long term skills strategy. There are some areas of consensus among the three authors (tackling the cost-of-living crisis among students and the growing shortage of student accommodation). However, they differ in their prioritisation of the request for more public funding. The essays are worth a read, even if a bit predictable.

Chris Husbands (Sheffield)

  • Government should establish a National Skills Council, bringing together government, universities, further education colleges, sector bodies and business leaders to shape a long-term skills strategy founded on collaboration.
  • … current support from Innovate UK and Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) should encourage differentiated institutional missions and structures, which might focus on educational cold spots, or offer specific teaching-only vocational provision, tailored to the region
  • Government needs to re-engineer the Student Loans Company to drive flexible and part-time learning
  • Given resource constraints, we propose to fast-track the delivery of the LLE via regional Higher Skills Centres (HSC), focused on mature learners, and located in educational cold spots across the UK rather than a wide-scale rollout – for which systems and demand are still underdeveloped.
  • ….regional business support needs to be restored with universities as key partners
  • Government should create a ‘shared apprenticeship facility’ which would enable SMEs to pool their apprenticeship demands and connect to training providers, including universities
  • Government should establish a funding pot, which need not be large, to drive higher education and further education collaboration in areas where advanced training provision is underdeveloped – largely those towns and smaller cities which do not have a university presence
  • The Office for Students should be merged with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to provide coherent oversight in the student interest.
  • Government should establish a strategic Tertiary Funding Council with oversight of the sector and the sustainability of institutions, with a more systemic view of the potential of universities to contribute to the full range of economic and social objectives.

Sasha Roseneil  (Sussex)

  • A COVID generation student premium
  • A mental health and wellbeing support grant and University Clinics
  • A ‘Science Superpower and Crucible for Creativity’ grant
  • A new focus on student maintenance
  • An independent, comprehensive review of university funding, to include citizens’ voices
  • Facilitating local public investment in student housing
  • Universities under a single government department

Adam Tickell, Birmingham

  • Foster a conducive environment for universities to thrive, so they can help to tackle the pressing challenges facing the country
  • Prioritise quality-related funding to allow universities to pursue high-risk high-reward discovery research
  • Adopt a long-term, sustainable and predictable funding model for higher education to protect universities’ future
  • Rebalance the current framework so that UK R&D remains internationally competitive
  • Promote and support UK universities on the world stage to maintain the UK’s attractiveness to international students
  • Set the broad policy parameters, then leave universities to get on with what they do best

Another manifesto: what might be in the King’s Speech

But before we get to an election, Policy Exchange have published a manifesto for the next session of Parliament – Iain Mansfield’s request for the King’s Speech. It includes a proposal for a Higher Education and Skills Bill (for England only), most of which will not be surprising to those who follow Iain on X or other platforms:

  • Cap overall student numbers:
    • To impose a duty upon the Education Secretary to, on an annual basis, determine the total number of undergraduate university places that would be funded for the following academic year, at least three months prior to the beginning of that year’s university application cycle.
    • In the event that Parliament did not approve a new annual quantity of places, the number of places funded would be the same as in the previous year.
    • The number of places funded may not be lower than 95% of the total number of places funded the previous year
  • Make the OfS share the cap out between providers based on a massive complex bidding system
    • To impose a duty upon the Office for Students to apportion the limit on funded places amongst higher education providers by imposing a limit on funded places upon each provider.
    • In determining the limits upon each provider, the Office for Students may consider:
      • The wishes of the provider.
      • The need to maintain stability within the sector.
      • The student outcomes achieved by the provider, as measured by completion rates, progression to highly skilled employment or further study and earnings.
      • National skills shortages, as specified in the Shortage Occupation List published by the Migration Advisory Committee.
      • The sufficiency of student accommodation provided by the provider or available in the vicinity of the provider.
      • Whether or not the provider is currently subject to one or more specific ongoing regulatory conditions of registration.
      • Guidance or Directions issued by the Secretary of State under Section 2 or Section 77 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.
      • The need to protect institutional autonomy.
    • In determining the limits upon each provider, the Office for Students may not consider:
      • The content of courses at the provider, and the manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed,
      • The criteria for the selection, appointment or dismissal of academic staff, or how they are applied, or
      • The criteria for the admission of students, or how they are applied.
    • In determining the limits upon each provider, the Office for Students may not impose a limit that is lower than 95% of the limit imposed the previous year, unless the provider requests such a limit.
    • To impose a duty upon the Office for Students to impose a fine upon any provider that exceeds their place limit equal to twice the total value of tuition fees that would be paid by those students over the course of their studies.
    • The Office for Students may, at its discretion, choose to waive the fine for a provider that exceeds its place limit but does so by less than 2%, where it is satisfied that this was neither negligent nor intentional.
    • The Office for Students may not waive the fine for a provider more than once in any three year period.
    • To provide a right of appeal against such a fine the basis of severe procedural irregularities or significant factual errors only.
    • To provide that the Open University shall be exempt from all limits on funded places.
  • And then to also incentivise employers to invest in training
    • To create a Skills Tax Credit that would enable all businesses to claim a tax relief equal to 10% of the money spent on skills development that could be offset against their corporation tax.
    • Eligible skills spend would include spending on apprenticeship wages, any course at a UK Further Education College, registered independent training provider or registered higher education provider, T-Level placements (up to £1000 per placement), Skills Bootcamps and the cost of external trainers brought in for skills development.
    • Excluded skills spend would include any training required solely or primarily to comply with statutory obligations, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 or the Bribery Act 2010

There are other proposals in the paper including on housing, leaseholder enfranchisement, anti-social behaviour etc.  Not sure that any of this will turn into reality, certainly not in the King’s Speech this autumn, but these things may pop up in election material.

Access & Participation

The Sutton Trust has published the report 25 years of university access setting out how access to HE has changed over time. See page 4 for the key findings.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Medical schools: The government has asked the OfS to allocate an additional 205 places for medicine study as part of the drive to increase the number of doctors needed in the UK. Contact us for more information on this.

Cyber defence: UUK published guidance outlining the main cyber security threats to the HE sector and the impact of recent attacks against individual organisations. Actions universities are recommended to take include:

  • Review institutional security posture using the four-pillar security posture model described in the introduction.
  • Business continuity: make sure everyone in your organisation knows what to do in the event of a serious security incident. Regularly rehearse scenarios with a view to continual improvement, remembering to reflect changes in the threat landscape and technology.
  • Share and collaborate: Defending as one, higher education institutions should work together to share threat intelligence and expertise, which has a positive impact on the sector’s preparedness and capability to respond, both tactically and strategically.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 29th September 23

It was a funny old week. TEF and KEF results popped out with little fanfare, OfS announced a degree apprenticeship push and are getting on with the sexual misconduct survey (finally). We’ve got to hope the Government keep their receipts safe if they wish to claim the Horizon Europe guarantee refund – through a voucher discount for the next scheme (which we may or may not join). UKRI’s PGR new deal scheme gets a pasting and Minister Halfon sneers at the criticism that the Lords Committee dished out to the OfS. It’s a parliamentary recess for conferences so you can expect more politics and less policy in the news for the next couple of weeks!

Teaching Excellence Framework

The new TEF results were announced on Thursday for 228 providers, the remaining 23% (53 providers) are pending appeal. More detail will be provided in November when the provider submissions, panel statements, and student submissions are published (along with the outcome of the appeals). Once this is released we’ll have a fuller national picture of how institutions have engaged with TEF across the nation.

You can search the results here.

If you’re not familiar with TEF it’s changed a lot since BU received the previous silver award – since then there were lots of experiments and interim exercises. Wonkhe have an explainer: TEF now contains two “mini TEFs” – one covering student experience (the NSS metrics plus evidence from submissions) and the other covering student outcomes (continuation, completion, progression, plus evidence from the submissions. You get an award for each, which are then combined into your main TEF award

73 universities and colleges were awarded Gold for at least one aspect.   Of the Gold ratings awarded:

  • Ten are for what the OfS has categorised as “low entry tariff” providers. A further seven low tariff providers have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.
  • Seven are for what the OfS has categorised as “medium entry tariff” providers. A further five have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.
  • Ten are for what the OfS has categorised “high entry tariff” providers. A further eight have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.
  • Nine are for specialist providers in creative arts subjects.
  • Three are for specialist providers in other subjects. A further three have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.

It is interesting to see how little the new “requires improvement” award was used in practice – no-one received an overall RI rating and only a few had one aspect rated as requiring improvement.  Which is good, of course.

Prior to the announcement Wonkhe questioned: But what – if anything – does TEF mean in a world of dwindling resources and acute student hardship? The 2015 Conservative manifesto that sparked the exercise was speaking to a different world, and it seems highly unlikely that anyone in power will use these results as a spur to praise the excellence and diversity in the sector.

What does it all really mean – we don’t know until we can read the submissions and the panel assessments.

Blogs:

KEF

Research England published the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF 3) results on Wednesday. If you’re unfamiliar with the KEF the best explainer is on the Research England website. KEF is a series of dashboards which summarise an institution’s performance on seven areas of knowledge exchange (or ‘perspectives’) – public and community engagement, research partnerships, working with business, working with the public and third sector, CPD and grad start-ups, local growth and regeneration, IP and commercialisation. If you scroll down to table 1 (on the webpage) you’ll see what activities are measured to provide the KEF judgement for each of the perspectives listed above. The data for the KEF is pulled from the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction survey.

For the KEF, institutions are grouped into “clusters” and results are compared across the cluster, with every institution being given a rating for each perspective based on which quartile it falls into in its cluster.  Confused?  Well yes, it is confusing!

For more coverage delve into:

  • NCUB blog: What can the KEF tell us about university KE performance and improvement?
  • Wonkhe blog analysing the KEF 2023 results across providers and clusters.
  • Some good (if rather chatty) coverage from Research Professional (suitable for novices to KEF) in At KEF’s door. It begins:
    • some of our readers may be old enough to remember when former universities and science minister Jo Johnson told the Universities UK annual conference that the KEF was “a challenge” that all universities “did not need to rise to”. The fact that the architect of the KEF did not expect all universities to take part in it has not prevented the entire sector from having a go …with the KEF: the large research-intensives of the Russell Group have their own group of death, and the specialist arts providers play among themselves….It’s all in a good cause, we are told, because obviously the Royal College of Music should not be compared with the University of Oxford when it comes to industrial research collaborations. Over the years, the KEF has developed a basket of metrics to allow meaningful comparison, to encourage institutional improvement.
    • …[this] third instalment…leaves us wondering if anyone is enjoying this apart from the people who produced it.
    • …Is the KEF driving improvement in knowledge exchange across the board or has it created another battleground for institutions to compete against one another? At the moment, Research England is sitting on the fence on that one.
  • UKRI article: KEF3 gives insights on emerging trends in performance improvement

Research

Horizon Europe voucher refund. Following intervention from the Lords last week Science|Business have broken the news that the financial guarantee mechanism will only be implemented if the UK participates in the Framework Programme 10 Horizon successor programme (FP10). Underperformance against contributions in Horizon will be ‘refunded’ in the form of a voucher against FP10 participation. The guarantee assures the UK if they pay over 16% more in Horizon costs than they receive credit back through the voucher. Martin Smith, Head of the policy lab at the Wellcome Trust said the rollover clause is good news, because it lays the groundwork for the UK to take part in future framework programmes. “It’s setting up an expectation that participation is a long-term thing, which is great”. Full details here.

Wonkhe blog:  With Horizon association secured, Maëlle Gibbons-Patoure takes us through the challenges, joys and practicalities of working with the world’s largest funding framework.

Quick News

  • Consultations: REF 2028 planning continues to move forward. There are currently two consultations open for contributions – our tracker outlines who to contact if you wish to contribute to BU’s responses. Wonkhe have two blogs on the topic:
  • Business links: Research Professional – the performance of very large universities with a major research focus has dropped slightly when it comes to linking with businesses, according to a major assessment.
  • PGR New Deal: Wonkhe criticise UKRI’s new deal for PGRs, excerpts:
    • If I thought the Office for Students’ work on student voice and engagement was weak, I wasn’t quite prepared for UKRI’s “New Deal” for PGRs…The trifecta of a pretty weak set of rights to start with, institutions that are trying to squeeze every last drop and effort and value from dwindling funding, and an environment in which PGRs think any attempt to enforce the rights that are there will result in perceived reputational damage when trying to build a career means that we really do need to work out how their “voice” can engender protection and change…As such, the “New Deal” for PGRs…is a real let down.
    • …The “baseline” of support it’s thinking of establishing – over everything from supervision standards to mental health – ought to have a real relationship with quality frameworks from OfS and QAA, and government-backed work like the University Mental Health charter. That neither the Quality Code, OfS’ B Conditions nor Student Minds are mentioned doesn’t fill me with hope that PGRs will be properly considered 
    • …A genuine sector collaboration on the issue – drawing in providers, funders, regulators, the unions and actual PGR students – is long, long overdue. Read the short blog in full here.

Try this blog for a rundown on what the new deal includes or read the official version by UKRI.
Meanwhile the Russell Group issued a statement welcoming the new deal for PGRs.

  • PGR stipends: UKRI to review stipend payments to improve support for postgraduate researchers.
  • Spinouts (part 1): Wonkhe – Investment group Parkwalk has releaseda report on equity investment in UK university spinouts, finding that the total amount invested fell from £2.7bn in 2021 to £2.3bn in 2022, and “looks set to fall again in 2023.” However, the figure for 2022 was significantly higher than that of 2020 (£1.5bn) and all preceding years, and the number of spinouts over the last three years has been largely unchanged. Life sciences continues to be the main area for spinouts, though the report also highlights the growing importance of artificial intelligence-related companies. It’s also suggested that since 2021 there has been a decline in the proportion of investments exclusively from UK investors – historically around 80 per cent, but in the last two years at 64 per cent – with an increase in the share of UK-foreign co-investment deals. The Financial Times covers the report.
  • Spinouts (part 2): Wonkhe – The government should introduce standardised agreements with universities regarding the equity shares they take from spinouts, the Social Market Foundation has argued in a new report – the think tank suggests five to ten per cent in companies founded by staff, and no share in student-founded firms. The report also suggests identifying regional hubs for high value industries, and scaling up the local universities with increased investment and research funding. The Times covers the report.

Lifelong Learning Entitlement

The Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) became law last week, closely followed by the DfE publishing the modelling assumptions behind the LLE financial planning. It assumes learner numbers for modular programmes will start small.

Wonkhe say: There are also some very generous assumptions about costs incurred by providers and the modelling on which the Department for Education is basing the business case contains assumptions about staff time that many in the sector will find generous to the point of fantasy. There’s plenty of time for that to change because the LLE is only in the planning stages, it will be implemented from 2025 onwards. Blogs:

Regulatory

Cracking quality: Research Professional report on the announcement in the Sunday Times that Rishi Sunak is planning yet another “crackdown” on low-quality university courses as part of his pre-election reset of Conservative policies. However, they anticipate it to be more bark than bite: The last time the government rattled a sabre over low-quality university courses, the attack was all but abandoned by lunchtime as ministers struggled in media interviews to name a course or university that would be subject to restrictions. We can expect a line or two about Mickey Mouse degrees in Sunak’s conference speech in Manchester next week, but little more in the way of action from a regulator licking its wounds following the Lords select committee report that criticised the Office for Students as too close to government.

Of course, the government already announced how it was tackling low quality courses earlier in September – through the regulatory system.

In favour:  Universities Minister Robert Halfon responded to a comment in the Financial Times defending the university sector and trotting out a reminder of his pet projects (degree apprenticeships, lifelong learning entitlement, cracking down on low quality courses). What was most interesting in the response was Halfon’s dismissive mention of the Lords inquiry which heavily criticised the OfS. Halfon states: while I recognise there is always more to be done to reduce regulatory burdens, the Office for Students is an essential part of our mission to drive up the quality of higher education by holding universities to account, championing students’ interests and improving social justice. It’s a strong indication that the Government’s response to the Lords formal report won’t call for significant change or rebuke the regulator publicly.

Sexual Misconduct: The OfS launched a pilot survey aiming to identify how widespread sexual misconduct in HE is. They’ve commissioned independent research by IFF Research who will work with the 13 HEIs that put themselves forward for the pilot. All students at the HEIs will be invited to complete the survey and answer questions about their experiences of sexual misconduct, how these experiences have affected their lives and studies, and their experiences of using the reporting mechanisms in their university. Note, this is the fieldwork element of the pilot survey announced in January 2023 (here).

Wonkhe highlight a warning for the sector regarding what the pilot may find: this pilot survey should offer some insight into the scale of the issue facing institutions and what kind of support students might need…At a Wonkhe event last week, academic and founding member of The 1752 Group Anna Bull warned that the sector should prepare for the discovery that the scale of sexual misconduct is higher than anticipated – smaller-scale prevalence surveys have indicated that around one in five students in any given year may be affected, and up to two-thirds of students during their time enrolled in higher education. These students are predominantly, though not exclusively, women – and perpetrators are typically other students at the same institution. Replication of these findings could change the picture considerably for how institutions seek to tackle the problem, encourage reporting, support survivors, and handle alleged incidents. 

Blogs on the topic:

Degree Apprenticeships: The OfS have earmarked £40 million (awarded through competitive bidding) for HEIs to expand their Level 6 degree apprenticeship programmes.

Apprenticeship levy: There’s a parliamentary question on the total amount of unspent apprenticeship levy and the funds returned to the Treasury.

Cooperation: the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education has signed a memorandum of understanding with Ofqual agreeing to work together and share information in order to meet their respective responsibilities in the HE sector.

Student News

  • Turing: Parliamentary Question revealing the DfE cannot currently calculate the actual average cost to the public purse per participant supported by the Turing Scheme in each academic year. And that data on the international mobilities delivered in the first year of the Turing Scheme (2021/22) is coming soon.
  • Accommodation: Wonkhe – Cushman and Wakefield’s annual student accommodation report highlights the brewing “student accommodation crisis” – with average private sector rents outside of London now at 77% of the maximum available maintenance loan. Fewer than one in ten spaces are now affordable for the average student, with university cities including Durham and Exeter offering even less affordable housing. Overall average rental costs have risen by more than 8% this academic year – driven by a growth in demand, rising operational and development costs, high inflation, and fewer new spaces available. The Guardian has the story.
  • Student support: Wonkhe have a neat blog looking at student support across the four nations and which students/parents get the best deal for their household income. HEPI also published a paper earlier this month on how different institutions are approaching student support with cost of living.
  • Loan forgiveness: It feels as though one organisation or another calls (or writes about) the need for student loan forgiveness for nursing (and often other allied health disciplines) every week. This week it’s the BBC’s turn covering calls for the loans to be written off once the student has completed 10 years of NHS service, although much of the article focuses on non-completion of training. The research behind the BBC’s article comes from a Nuffield Trust report: Waste not, want not. Nuffield state the estimated cost would be somewhere in the region of £230 million for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals per cohort in England. A similar scheme, or early-career loan repayment holidays for doctors and dentists in eligible NHS roles, should also be seriously considered. We believe this would represent a very sound investment.
  • Meanwhile the Royal College of Midwives highlight a report which finds that midwifery degree apprentices improved accessibility and retention within the workforce. There were lower drop outs (almost 0%) than through a traditional degree route (13%) – likely influenced by the majority of apprentices already holding positions in the maternity support workforce. And the programme was also found to support diversity, both in terms of supporting mature apprentices and those with caring responsibilities, and those from non-white backgrounds.

Admissions

A Levels: The Times reported that Rishi Sunak plans to replace A levels with a British baccalaureate qualification incorporating more subjects including compulsory English and his manifesto committee of maths to age 18. The extension of compulsory maths already has an expert advisory group looking into it. Dods report that the DfE have not denied Rishi’s proposals are being explored but that they had already reformed post-16 education (T levels and apprenticeship changes) and that the baccalaureate policy was a personal mission for Rishi, not the DfE.

Sector response to the possibility of replacing A levels has been dismissive. The concept faces many barriers because it would require significant infrastructure change for the educational curriculum, the overcoming of the maths teacher shortage, and the policy has to convince not only the DfE but also the electorate in the upcoming general election. Even if adopted it may polarise education in the nations further as Wales and Northern Ireland may choose to retain their current systems.

Here’s a comment from Research Professional on the baccalaureate:

  • Just as with the seven recycling bins, all of this can be filed in the category of never going to happen. Even if Sunak were to win a general election, the teacher shortage would make such a curriculum impossible.
  • Universities have not been consulted on replacing A-levels and there are no details on the changes that would need to be made to both GCSEs and higher education admissions to make any of this possible. Given how long it would take for these wholesale reforms of English education, it is almost as if Sunak himself has no real expectations of any of it happening.

What is interesting is the timing of this announcement. We’ve entered conference season and the political parties and party leadership need to be seen to make bold changes for the future demonstrating both their worth and that of their party – positioning it well in the electorate’s eyes for the forthcoming general election.

The party conferences are staggered so we’ll provide coverage across the next few policy updates.

Finally, Lord Willets weighs in on the A level debate in this Conservative Home blog: Why Sunak is right about A-levels and what should be done next.

Quick news

  • Recruitment caps: Wonkhe blog – Northumbria SU’s Tom Wellesley is concerned that the government’s plansfor recruitment caps on “low-quality” courses will restrict opportunities for prospective students.
  • New UCAS Chief: Dr Jo Saxton steps down as Chief Regulatory of Ofqual (in Dec 2023) to become the Chief Executive of UCAS (in Jan 2024 – replacing Clare Marchant). Recruitment for her Ofqual replacement has begun. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: I am hugely grateful to Jo for guiding Ofqual through the challenges that followed the pandemic, ultimately overseeing a smooth return to exams and normal grading. Jo’s knowledge and experience have been invaluable as we’ve navigated the past 2 years and returned to the exam arrangements that best serve young people. I look forward to continuing to work with Jo in her new role at UCAS, supporting students to progress onto university, degree apprenticeships and the world of work.

Access & Participation

Parliamentary Question: Care leavers’ access to HE.

TASO published: Student mental health in 2023 – Who is struggling and how the situation is changing. It highlights more and more students are experiencing (or reporting) mental health difficulties and looks at how gender, LGBTQ+, ethnicity and student background factors interact with poor mental health. It also highlights mental health as the leading reason to withdraw from university. If you don’t fancy reading all 32 pages check out the conclusion starting on page 27 or read Research Professional’s analysis of the TASO paper which also delves into university resources and the Government’s attention to student mental health to provide a rounded picture.

International Recruitment

The Big Issue reports on international recruiters: £500 million is being spent by UK universities on a murky and unregulated industry. Education agents, who are paid a commission for each international student they enlist, are involved in 50% of international student admissions in the UK. In some countries such as China, this number reaches 70%. Twenty years ago the figure was just 10%. So who are they, and why are they now so widespread?  The article is timely given Lord Jo Johnson’s call for international recruiters to be regulated and for HE providers to diversify their international portfolio to reduce financial risk and alleviate security concerns about the influence of overseas nations.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. Email the contact listed against the item you’re interested in (or policy@bournemouth.ac.uk) if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Skills shortages: The DfE published the 2022 employer skills survey demonstrating that 10% of employers have a skill shortage related vacancy. Skills shortages as a proportion of all vacancies rose from 22% in 2017 to 36% in 2022. 15% of employers stated they had an employee (or employees) who lacked the skills for the job and overall 5.7% of the workforce have a skills gap (up from 4.4% in 2017).

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

BU policy update for the w/e 22nd September 2023

Lots of meaty topics for you to chew over this week. The student cost of living debate had a hearing in parliament. The Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Act 2023 has received royal assent and we’ve a pop out summary on the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. The OfS received strong criticism in the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee report. We’ve the latest on visa fee increases, clearing and oodles of research news.

Parliament has now entered conference recess but government business will continue over the next few weeks. There will also be items of interest from the party conferences which will receive closer scrutiny this year given the impending general election.

As always if you need this update, or the pop out summaries, in a different format for accessibility please email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Political News

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

The Lifelong Learning Bill finished its passage through the Lords and the King has given Royal Assent. You’ll recall this Bill contained limited detail and will be padded out through secondary legislation further down the line – meaning the Government of the day will retain control and be able to tweak the implementation details when they wish.   Note the name change: it is now about lifelong learning not lifelong loan entitlement.

During the debate Baroness Barran, the Government’s representative, thanked the former Education Ministers and Secretaries of State for their insight (Lord Blunkett, Lord Willetts and Lord Jo Johnson).

Baroness Barran stated: The LLE will become the route for people who require student finance for levels 4 to 6 study across higher and further education. In introducing the LLE, we want to do as much as possible to make it accessible and affordable for the most disadvantaged. And confirmed that the Government would monitor the concerns the Lords raised at Report Stage, that the number of learning hours in a credit wouldn’t be changed unless sector standards change, and that the alternative student finance product compatible with Islamic finance principles would be delivered as soon as operationally possible after 2025 (further update coming on this later in 2023).

Labour’s spokesperson, Baroness Twycross, confirmed their support for the Bill’s aim: we support the idea that people can access funding to undertake the learning they need throughout their career. With people undertaking portfolio careers and with continual changes in technology and society, it is no longer the case that what you learn through a traditional three-year degree course is all that you will need in your work for the next 45 years or so. But reminded that the detail (scope) of the Bill was limited and felt a more formal review process for several aspects could have been set to safeguard against unintended consequences.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (representing the Liberal Democrats) highlighted the party remained concerned about how many adults will wish to take on debt in order to improve their learning, and we look forward to hearing updates from the Minister about how many people have done so. From these Benches, we feel that grants would be a much more effective way of persuading adults to learn. But, of course, we are all totally in favour of lifelong learning, and we wish the Bill well.

You may have noted the name change to Lifelong Learning (HE Fees Limits) Act, previously it was called the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. Apparently, the name change was decided upon following engagement with the sector. For those that have been in this game a long time you may harbour a small chuckle at the name change when you recall a rival party proposed a similar policy in the early 2000s based on, and called, Lifelong Learning.

The DfE published a policy paper on the LLE – it provides a useful introduction to the key details of the intended LLE operationalisation. Here are the next steps we can expect from the government, including two consultations:

In autumn 2023:

  • we plan to provide further information about the entitlement
  • we will work with the regulator, awarding organisations and providers of current advanced learner loans (ALLs) funded Ofqual-regulated qualifications to embed changes we set out in HMG’s response to the LLE consultation
  • OfS will launch a consultation on the development and introduction of a new third registration category

In spring 2024:

  • we will launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding
  • we will lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in parliament

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

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

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill: The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is a controversial bill seen as eroding university autonomy and there was dissent from some parties at the detailed Committee Stage (although other HE sector members agree with its legal principles). You can read a summary of the evidence provided in the early Committee stage sessions here. The bill now awaits a date for Report Stage. Wonkhe also update us that: The Home Office has released draft guidance on the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme (FIRS), designed to monitor foreign influence on UK politics. Sector-specific guidance will follow – supported by consultation panels from the research and higher education sector – but there are a handful of examples given of activities either requiring or not requiring registration under the scheme that make reference to international students or staff.

The future for education policy?

The New Conservatives published a ‘manifesto’: plan to upskill Britain which Research Professional view as an attempt to push Conservative education policies to the right. It’s keen on developing technical routes and reforming the apprenticeship levy and technical skills in general.

It’s less keen on universities stating: Since the reforms of 1992, too many universities have not been fit for purpose. Steps to address skills shortages in Britain and rising student debt should not shy away from one of the main culprits – rip-off universities. And: The false promise of university –  Long gone are the days when university was the hallmark of success. Many young people today could have much more opportunity if they opted for on-the-job training alongside receiving an industry recognised qualification, rather than go to university. But too few school leavers make that choice [apparently because they’re promised higher starting salaries].

The manifesto calls for a crack down on poor quality and less people attending university- redirecting the public funds saved to quality technical and vocational education. And they call for minimum academic grades to qualify for student loans: Introducing minimum grade requirements at GCSE-level would see an approximate reduction of 10 percent in the number of students qualifying for student loans. Although introducing minimum eligibility requirements of Level 4 grades at GCSE English and Maths would close off student loans to around 40 percent of all students… They would also like to ensure student loans are re-paid – although NHS employed graduates would be offered a three year loan repayment exemption.

Research Professional say the ‘manifesto’ is full of holes  – you can read their take down of the manifesto in Blue on blue.

Government role changes: Dehenna Davison MP has stepped away from her post as Levelling Up Minister due to ill health. Jacob Young MP will take over.

Free Speech: Wonkhe highlight that the OfS has published indicative timelines for the introduction of free speech related duties and provisions – under the proposals, 1 August 2024 would see the launch of the new complaints scheme and the coming into force of new statutory duties from providers and students’ unions. Provisions relating to OfS’s monitoring of overseas funding and new conditions of registration around free speech and academic freedom would come into force on 1 September 2025.

Research News

ARIA

The construction of ARIA continues – this week their programme directors announced their key questions and invited input from the R&D community. For colleagues familiar with the expression of Areas of Research Interest this is the ARIA equivalent. Although it’s not clear how universities can feed their research in to answer the questions yet. However, Wonkhe, have their finger on the pulse and inform that each set of programme questions has a budget of £50m. And that most of the programme directors have joined from academia. They are now mandated with developing a concrete programme, based on the “area or set of areas they feel compelled to explore” – these include programmable plants, interfaces with the human nervous system, climate intervention technologies, and robotics. Wonkhe also have a neat blog on how ARIA is taking shape. Excerpts:

The team as a whole tells us some important things about ARIA.
The first is that they are aligned to what the broader scientific community would consider to be some of the world’s greatest threats and challenges. AI, climate change, and food security, would appear at the top of most lists of the most pressing issues facing humanity…

Equally, the team straddles a hinterland between having programme directors that have more conventional academic careers with big interests, academics that have run or built companies, and programme directors that lean more into business and technology worlds but with significant academic credentials…
this [the programme directors] is a group of people who probably ordinarily would never hang out together…The mix of expertise and backgrounds speaks to the fundamental challenge and promise of ARIA. Its whole purpose of existence is to fund the things that funders would not usually fund in ways they would not usually fund them. The challenge is to not only discover new things but to make a new disparate team function with some of the standard practices needed to make scientific breakthroughs…  And a tolerance for constructive failure that will see programmes potentially outlive ministers, funding, and maybe even ARIA itself.

Quick Research News

  • Biosecurity: The UK Biosecurity Leadership Council held its inaugural meeting to build our national resilience to future biological threats, whilst establishing the UK as a world leader in responsible innovation. The Government’s press release mainly focuses on the details about the Council with little on what was discussed.
  • Tech: Dr Dave Smith has been appointed as the Government’s National Technology Adviser taking over from Sir Patrick Vallance.
  • DSIT policies: The Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published a summary of their achievements in the six months since the Department was formed. These include the Science and Technology Framework, the AI White Paper, setting up the Foundation Model Taskforce, the 20-year National Semiconductors Strategy, the 10-year National Quantum Strategy, and the International Technology Strategy. There’s also info on the DSIT Start-Up Board.
  • AI: Research Professional: Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU should work with its partners to develop a global framework for regulating artificial intelligence.
  • Catapult: DSIT published a Catapult Network review update
  • REF: Wonkhe – Research England has “concerns” from stakeholders over the proposed People, Culture and Environment element of the 2028 Research Excellence Framework, both around its suggested weighting (25 per cent) compared to Contribution of Knowledge and Understanding, and around whether “robust indicators” can be developed to fairly assess research environment. There’s a blog from Jessica Corner (Exec Chair of Research England).
  • CaSE: Daniel Rathbone has been appointed as interim executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.
  • Funding: Research England published the remaining HE grant allocations for 2023-24.
  • R&D spend: The House of Commons Library published a research briefing on R&D spending. It covers the (2022) methodology change in how R&D spend estimate are calculated – leading to the false achievement of the 2.4% of GDP 2027 target. We also learn that of business research in 2021: 23% was spent on research into computer programming and software development, 18% on miscellaneous activities, technical testing and analysis, and 17% on chemicals and pharmaceuticals. For public sector (2021) research: 35% went towards the general advancement of knowledge, 21% to health and 13% to defence. Other items of interest are the R&D spending by region 52% of all R&D resides in London and the South East (£24.4 billion) with the least in Wales. With the new calculations UK R&D spending is equivalent to 2.9%-3% of GDP – above the OECD and EU averages (but less than the USA, Japan and Germany
  • China: Wonkhe – Both OfS and UKRI need to do more to mitigate overreliance on China, for tuition fee income and research capability respectively. This is the conclusion of a report from former universities minister Jo Johnson and others, revisiting past recommendations for “de-risking” higher education given the potential for deterioration in the UK-China geopolitical relationship. The report highlights that Chinese students made up 28 per cent of non-UK PhD student starts in 2021–22, up from 17 per cent in 2017–18, with a growing concentration across the most selective institutions – the authors caution that “there is no next China or EU” in terms of markets for research student recruitment. There’s coverage in The Times, and the Guardian.
  • Confucius diplomatic immunity: A parliamentary question on diplomatic immunity for Chinese nationals working in Confucius institutes in the UK. Helpful answer from Robert Halfon, universities minister.
  • Horizon: The Lords Chamber debated Horizon Europe and Pioneer. Short transcript here. Discussions included the global talent visa. Research Professional (RP) also have a good article: UK in Horizon: money on the table. Researchers can already apply for (2024) Horizon funding, even though the UK officially joins on 1 January 2024. Funding is available across six clusters and three main innovation schemes – there is summary detail in the RP article. Chair of the House of Lords European Affairs Committee, Lord Ricketts, has called on DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan to provide additional detail…about the operation of the corrective mechanism designed to prevent the UK from paying a disproportionate net contribution to the [Horizon] scheme. We also ask you to update us on the expected timetable for the political agreement to be formally adopted by the Specialised Committee on Union Programmes. Lord Ricketts’ letter pulled no punches as he also highlighted the detrimental consequences of the last two years of uncertainty, and asked the government to stop using research as a political football.
  • Case Studies: Wonkhe – The UK Collaborative on Development Research has publishedan analysis of how development research appeared in REF 2021 impact case studies. The report examines which unit of assessment contained most international development impact case studies (business and management), how these were distributed across the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and which countries most often appeared (India, followed by the United States and Kenya).
  • Researcher influx: DSIT Minister Jonathan Berry has stated the UK will need 380,000 new researchers by 2027 to meet the growing need for research and counter retirement numbers. Berry continued that attracting overseas talent will need to be a big part of the growth, however, peers have expressed concern that the visa regime may hamper the influx. Labour peer Stephen Benn called for the global talent visa to be reformed and highlighted how the visa fees were discouraging talent from working in Britain. Research Professional have more on the tussle here.
  • New REF: Wonkhe on the new REF – With the consultation period drawing to an end (the deadline is the first Friday in October), it’s slowly becoming clear that there are two unconnected but influential lines of pushback.
    The first, from within the sector, is the argument that it is the quality of output that matters, and boosting the role of narrative statements and measures of input dilutes the essence of what really matters in the REF.
    Separately is an external climate in which the use of government funds to support anything that can be labelled as “EDI work” provokes tachycardia in the bosom of influential figures. Against this backdrop, Research England (in conjunction with the other UK funding bodies) is going to additional lengths to promote discussion and debate around the prominence and use of research culture measures, with Executive Chair Jessica Corner noting on Wonkhe that the weighting given to different elements of the next REF is still a live question, even if the commitment to assessment that “supports a thriving and healthy research system” remains steadfast.
  • Researcher mobility: Wonkhe – The government should make the mobility of researcher careers a “key design principle” of the research and innovation system, according to a report from the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) Researcher Career Mobility Taskforce. The report argues that researchers need to be “empowered” to move between industry and academia throughout their whole career. The taskforce found that research staff are currently not always aware of opportunities (with existing guidance often focused on academic career pathways), that mobility between sectors is seen by many as high risk, and that institutional recruitment and progression frameworks can undervalue skills and experiences gained in other sectors. Blog.
  • Israel agreement: The UK has signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel committing £1.7 million to support joint research focused on technologies critical to future prosperity and quality of life, like quantum. Details here. Other recent bilateral international science deals the UK has signed include partnerships with India, Switzerland and South Africa. And funds have been committed to the International Science Partnerships Fund (launched last year with an initial £119 million).

International

De-risking international reliance

King’s College London policy institute published The China question revisited: de-risking higher education and research. The report was led by previous Minster for Universities, Lord (Jo) Johnson who has long been a supporter of international students balanced by the need to minimise risks to the nation and financial stability of HE providers, e.g. through diversification of international recruitment to reduce the reliance on some countries, including China.

The report highlights that China has become an increasingly entrenched collaborator on research and a key source of doctoral students crucial to the strength of the UK’s research system. The paper proposes a range of measures to de-risk HE’s relationship with China:

  • Requiring universities to publish an annual statement on their international student recruitment plans, in order to provide greater visibility of current strategies to diversify the international student population.
  • Improving regulation of course quality, given high drop-out rates among students from countries such as India and Bangladesh.
  • Weeding out poor-quality and fraudulent applications by charging an application fee for international students, requiring tuition fees to be paid up front and maintenance funds to be put in escrow at the start of the year.
  • Maintaining a register of recruitment agents and publishing key performance indicators relating to visa refusals, to improve accountability.

If you’ve been following the policy update for a while you may remember our review of a Westminster Higher Education Forum event on this topic earlier this year. The calls to action in the report are exactly those expressed by Johnson previously – he’s nothing if not considered and consistent. Given his influence in the House of Lords, and the strong ex-Ministerial powerhouse of Johnson – Blunkett – Willets, we can expect some pressure from the peers on this and other key HE matters over the next year.

Visas

Legislation to increase the immigration and nationality fees has been laid in Parliament. The changes:

  • the cost for a visit visa for less than six months is rising (by £15) to £115
  • the fee for applying for a student visa from outside the UK will rise +35% (by £127) to £490 (equalling the amount charged for in-country applications).

If approved the new fees will apply from 4 October 2023. Changes to the planned increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge are scheduled to be introduced later in 2023. The Home Office equality impact assessment on the fees is here – its concludes there is no direct or indirect discrimination based on protected characteristics observed for the changes to student fees.

The latest visa letter from Home Secretary Suella Braverman is here. The letter is dated 3 August but it has only just been released to the public via the Lords Science and Tech Committee.

There’s also a parliamentary question on visas granted under the High Potential Individual route.

Finally, from Wonkhe, The Erasmus Student Network has published a report on international student perspectives of the UK, based on polling conducted earlier this year (and with EU students notably overrepresented). Almost 16% of 465 respondents who had studied in the UK reported that obtaining a visa was a significant problem, and almost half disagreed that they received enough support from their host university in finding accommodation. Some 77% would have liked more interaction with local students.

Regulatory

OfS Inquiry

From March 2023 the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee ran an inquiry into the work of the OfS looking closely at its effectiveness as a regulator. The committee published their report: Must do better: the Office for Students and the looming crisis facing higher education. As is clear form the title the Lords concluded that the regulator is performing poorly, even accounting for the extra challenges facing HE today. The report concludes that the OfS has poor relations with both providers and students, a controlling and arbitrary approach to regulation, and a lack of independence from the Government.

On the OfS’ duties and decision making the committee highlight that the OfS has legal duties, but substantial freedom to pick and choose what it prioritises, creating uncertainty. Also the Lords believe the other regulators within the HE sector cause duplication and red tape.

The Lords recommend:

  • When the OfS makes changes to its approach, it should make clear how it has taken its legal duties into account or explain why it has not done so.
  • The Government should set out the steps it is taking to streamline the responsibilities of different regulators in the higher education sector.

On financial sustainability of HE the committee notes the undergraduate tuition fees have been frozen since 2018 with their value further eroded by inflation and that universities are relying more on the income boost provided by international (and postgraduate) fees – which sits uncomfortably with government concerns over the influence of other nations. Bottom line – the committee states that current HE funding is not sustainable and worries about the geopolitical vulnerabilities (in 2021/22 22.3% of student came from China). The peers state we were not convinced that the regulator has paid enough attention to the financial challenges facing the sector.

Recommendations:

  • The Government must review how higher education is funded, setting long-term, sustainable funding and delivery models for the sector
  • Both the Government and the OfS should also clarify whether there is any strategic oversight of the sector’s long-term financial stability.
  • Hold discussions with providers more regularly about their financial situation and ensure it is aware of the systemic challenges facing the sector;

On students the Lords committee highlights that despite the OfS explicitly being set up to regulate in the interests of students it has never defined what these interests are, creating a suspicion that it uses them as a smokescreen for political priorities. And that students often feel their views are not acted upon, especially where they do not match with what the OfS wants to do. The committee gives the example of from the OfS’ Student Panel who stated that when student issues of importance contradicted with the Government’s views the OfS threatened the Panel’s future.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should conduct work with students, to define student interests and explain how this drives its work.
  • Hold providers to account if they do not ensure prospective students receive clear, digestible information on their course, including its long-term costs and approximate contact hours
  • The OfS must also ensure its Student Panel is free to raise issues of importance to students, whether or not the OfS agrees with them and ensure that there are at least two student representatives on the OfS’ Board and open up more of its work to student involvement.
  • Conduct detailed scoping work, with students, on how it defines “the student interest,” and how this informs its work.

On regulation and sector relations the committee acknowledged evidence from HE sector representatives that found the OfS over controlling in their approach to regulation:

  • We conclude that it [OfS ]has demonstrated little regard either to the autonomy of providers or the impact of its requests and decisions, particularly its onerous requests for data.
  • We also heard that the OfS is both distant and combative in the way it treats providers, giving the impression it seeks to punish them rather than help them to comply.

The peers welcomed the OfS’ focus on value for money for students, however, they felt the OfS did not provide HEIs with value for money because of their regulatory approach and particularly when higher registration fees partly reflect the regulator’s own expanding remit.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should be more transparent about its approach, making clear why it makes particular requests and decisions.
  • Make clear how it has taken the institutional autonomy of providers into account when it regulates.
  • Build trust with higher education institutions and adopt a more strategic, less combative approach to its work.
  • The Government should reconvene its Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforcein order to reduce unnecessary red tape.
  • Urgently align its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body

On independence from Government the committee questioned whether the OfS really was the independent regulator it claims to be:

  • we found that it lacks both real and perceived independence, with its actions often appearing driven by political priorities. The fact that the OfS Chair continues to take the Conservative Party whip in the House of Lords has not helped.
  • The OfS lacks independence from the Government, and its actions often appear driven by the ebb and flow of short-term political priorities and media headlines.
  • We concluded that the Government has also contributed to this situation, by being too prescriptive in the guidance it sends to the OfS. The situation has been worsened by the fact that the OfS has had to work with seven Education Secretaries and six Universities Ministers since 2018.

Recommendations

  • The Government and the OfS should set out what each of them will do to secure the OfS’ independence.
  • As a first step, the Government should consider requiring serving politicians to resign any party political whip before becoming Chairs of independent regulators.
  • Limit itself to providing higher level, strategic input to the OfS, rather than overly prescriptive guidance.

Lord Hollick, Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee said:

  • At a time when the higher education sector faces a looming crisis caused by financial instability, increased costs, industrial action, and reduced EU research funding, it is vital that the sector’s regulator is fit for purpose.
  • However, it was evident throughout our inquiry that the OfS is failing to deliver and does not command the trust or respect of either providers, or students, the very people whose interests it is supposed to defend. We were surprised by the regulator’s view that the sector’s finances are in good shape, which is not an assessment that we or most of our witnesses share.

The Government must respond to the committee’s report and recommendations by 13 November. It remains to be seen if the Government will throw the OfS under the bus (unlikely) or agree to consider a small number of actions (probable, and most likely those that place the onus on the OfS to deliver) whilst arguing the point on other items. Of course, the Government can completely refute the committee’s report if it wishes too – again this is unlikely because the OfS has already responded to the report conceding improvements are needed in some areas. You can read OfS Chair, Lord Wharton’s, response on the OfS blog and Susan Lapworth’s, OfS Chief Executive, response in Learning lessons – a Research Professional blog.

The report may not be a bad thing for the OfS. They have been willing to concede some shortcomings, and the committee’s recommendations recommend the OfS should be given more freedom and leeway to work outside of the government dictat they currently operate within.

Research Professional (RP) spoke with two members of the Lords committee – Chair Clive Hollick and Ann Taylor (both Labour). RP highlight some of the frank quotes from the Members here.

RP: to what extent do they feel the OfS has fallen short of its objectives, particularly compared with other regulators—and can the trust that has been lost with the higher education sector be regained?

Hollick: It is a relatively new regulator, so it is still finding its feet, if I could put it that way—in response to which, Taylor quips that this is a “very generous” bit of context. Hollick agrees.

They also explore what the Peers think of the OfS denouncement of the QAA:

  • Elsewhere, the Lords expressed concern that the OfS is currently operating not only as England’s regulator but also as its Designated Quality Body, after the Quality Assurance Agency gave up the role over its concerns that the English regulatory framework was now at odds with European standards.
  • The OfS said after the QAA quit as DQB that it wasn’t overly pleased with how the QAA was carrying out its brief anyway.
  • Since that spat, the OfS has said that it sees no problem with keeping the DQB role itself, at least in the medium term. To what extent are Hollick and Taylor concerned about all this?
  • “We’re still trying to find the real reason [why the OfS was unhappy with the QAA],” said Hollick. “Why change something that’s working, that’s trusted, that is actually valuable for the brand, not only nationally but internationally?”
  • He added that the current situation, with the OfS in ostensibly temporary control as DQB, is “a complete muddle, and an unexplained muddle”.
  • Taylor added that the inquiry had heard fears that this was “a power grab” by the OfS, and “unless things are sorted out…that fear remains”.

There was great coverage of the committee report – here are some good sources if you want to read the editorials:

Research Professional: Friends in high places and Lords a-meeting.

Wonkhe blogs:

  • Jim Dickinson reflects on calls to reduce regulation of universities, arguing that the real problem is the way we frame higher education as “big boarding school”.
  • Chair Lord Hollick presents the findings of the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee inquiryinto the work of the Office for Students.
  • Everyone loves to commit to reduce data burden in higher education. Andy Youell asks what it would take to actually do it.
  • The long awaited Industry and Regulators Committee report on the work of the Office for Students is here – David Kernohan sets out everything you need to know.
  • Wonkhe also have a different coverage angle in their Monday summary: Many of its findings and recommendations chime with established concerns about the regulator – distant, opaque, punitive, expensive, politically compromised… But take a step back and what is powerful is the way that the committee’s report situates its critiques in the context of wider financial issues affecting the whole sector. The risks to education quality and to provider sustainability are greater than they were at the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act in 2017. Arguably, the higher education sector needs strong regulation more than ever to address failures where they do occur – but tempered with a sense of proportion about the feasibility of what is expected, and responsibility for the sustainability and success of English higher education. The question, then – with little money around and little prospect of a lot more coming – is what should happen next.

One obvious area for attention is expectations of providers. Even if OfS was seen as credible in its efforts to pursue the interests of students, there is little doubt that some of the “burdens” of regulation might be streamlined to allow the sector to get on with delivering on those interests…

But efficiencies and engagement can only get a reformed regulator and its beleaguered providers so far. There’s a case to be made that expecting one regulator to have a grip of the range of issues affecting students’ university experience and act as a proxy for bodies as diverse as the Charity Commission, the Competition and Markets Authority, and various local authorities is too much to ask. We need bodies looking out for the interests of students, that are worried about their housing and health, and that are capable of causing those things to be discussed and resolved… if the expectations on OfS are just that little bit too large – yet reflect a wider problem of what we ask universities to do while absolving others from ever thinking about over two million citizens.

There is further coverage in the national media: the Mail, the Standard, the BBC, and Byline Times.

For full detail read: the full published committee report on OfS effectiveness.

Quality Regulation

QAA: This week Research Professional highlighted how the House of Lords critique raising concerns over the effectiveness of the OfS is a small victory for the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) which stepped down from the role of Designated Quality Body (April 2023) in protest that the English regulatory framework was at odds with European standards. QAA continues to oversee quality in the other nations of the UK as well as internationally. The Lords report recommends that the OfS urgently aligns its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body.

QAA Chief Executive Vicki Stott stated: We’re really pleased to see that the committee recognises the importance of strengthening the current oversight of quality in England by returning to alignment with international good practice and for quality assessment to be undertaken by an independent body… You can’t simply take a self-assessment review and pass it to the body that is doing the regulation and funding and expect the two of them to mediate the accuracy of that assessment for themselves.

The OfS has responded to the report by saying it will consider the findings carefully over the next few weeks.

You can read the full Research Professional write up here.

On the QAA Wonkhe also inform us that they’ve released a briefing note with a definition of quality in UK higher education, intended for policymakers and other stakeholders internationally. Indicators of quality set out include staff and students thriving professionally and academically, a relevant and challenging learning experience, and external experience being sought and used. And:

This morning, and with impeccable timing, the QAA publishes the first in a new series of briefings on the “future of quality in England”—which it says “builds on” the Lords report. Among other things, it calls for England to “realign” its approach to quality assurance with “internationally agreed good practice”. Read The Future of Quality in England. The paper suggests policymakers commit to:

  1. Realign the English quality system with internationally agreed good practice.This should include honouring the UK’s commitment to the European Higher Education Area by working with QAA and the sector to develop a pathway to alignment that maintains and strengthens international trust while recognising the distinct characteristics of the English sector. This would involve addressing:
  • the independence of quality assessment so that the system operates without fear or favour
  • a periodic touchpoint with all providers to secure up-to-date assessments of their provision
  • student engagement across the full quality system, including as full members of assessment teams
  • the transparency of data, thematic analysis and assessments.
  1. Formally recognise enhancement as part of the quality systemto encourage an approach of continuous improvement where providers are supported by an independent body, such as QAA.
  2. Streamline regulatory requirements from the various bodies with oversight of higher education(Office for Students, Ofsted, Ofqual, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and relevant PSRBs) by convening them to align requirements in terms of data requested, format required and relevant deadlines, following the Regulator’s Code principle of ‘collect once, use many times’. This should be achieved through reconvening the Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforce and ensuring all relevant oversight bodies are represented.

Wonkhe blogs:

Students

Cost of living

This week HEPI published on the student cost of living in:  How to Beat a Cost-of-Learning Crisis: Universities’ Support for Students. They find:

  • 76% of universities help their students with food and drink (discounts, food banks and food vouchers), with nearly half (47%) helping with health and more than a third (35%) respectively with travel and digital.
  • Wales, the South West, the North East and the South East were the regions where universities were most likely to operate a food bank.
  • Four-fifths (82%) have an online platform to communicate their support to students.
  • On average, hardship funds are awarded up to £2,470 and institutions commit to get funds to students within four weeks.

Recommendations:

  • All universities should establish a cost-of-living working group streamline their hardship fund, launch an emergency fund and include students throughout their cost-of-living response.
  • Students’ unions should encourage their university to act by mounting an ambitious and practical cost-of-living campaign, founded on strong evidence and excellent relationships with university staff.
  • The Government establishes a cost-of-living taskforce, which consults regularly with students and sector leaders, and urgently reviews the level of maintenance support.

The publication came ahead of this week’s Westminster Hall debate on student cost of living. We have a short summary of the debate cut and thrust here. In the main, Minister Halfon followed the well-worn party line on disadvantage student numbers being up, extra funding for skills, and toughed out the calls for additional hardship funding. He agreed to look into the issue of students taking poorer quality accommodation due to price constraints and explained the government were trying to target hardship funding as there isn’t a consistent national picture. Although it appears the ‘targeting’ is simply the previous redistributed leftover budget that institutions already received.

Research professional also have an excellent summary and analysis on the student cost of living recent publications and debate.

Disciplinary process Pinsent Masons have a blog on disciplinary procedures following the landmark High Court ruling whereby a former student successfully sued their university for breach of contract. It concludes universities should understand the case before making hasty changes to their processes: It is therefore very much about the appropriate training of disciplinary panels and those involved in disciplinary processes, and how they should properly assess and test the evidence put before them – rather than this being a strict process point requiring the need to urgently revise procedures.

Medical Bursaries Vs Loans

While pressure is being applied for allied health professions to reinstate bursaries or receive loan forgiveness the Institute for Fiscal Studies has moved to an opposite position for medical and dental students stating the NHS bursary should be binned and tuition fee loans rolled out. Wonkhe cover the story:

The NHS bursary for medical and dental students should be scrapped and replaced with tuition fee loans, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has argued, with the money saved spent on NHS staff pay. The think tank contends that the bursary “displaces student loan funding” – in some cases leading to less upfront support for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – and ultimately benefits high-earning medical graduates who are able to pay off their loans earlier.

It also notes that “Plan 5” student loan reforms in England will benefit medical graduates by around £20,000, undermining one of the original arguments for the bursary which was to protect those who spent many years in training from the effects of high interest rates.

However, the Sutton Trust disagree and call for caution because they believe scrapping the NHS bursary may make medicine less accessible for disadvantaged students. Peter Lampl, Founder of the Sutton Trust, stated:  Any change to the NHS bursary should look at the support provided to students across the NHS professions rather than just for medicine…This is to avoid funnelling less well-off young people towards other health professions and away from medicine for financial reasons. We should also ensure that medical students have adequate access to maintenance support to live on, in whichever form that is provided.

Similarly Wonkhe report on the Union position to move away from tuition fees (across all programmes): The Trades Union Congress has carried a motion in favour of campaigning for the abolition of [all] tuition fees, improved pay and conditions in the higher education sector, and the tackling of education “cold spots”. The motion was proposed by the University and College Union (UCU) to the annual congress.

Loneliness

DCMS published an interesting YouGov survey exploring (young) students’ concerns across a range of areas such as friendships and fitting in, cooking and cleaning for themselves and finding housing, homesickness and loneliness, managing money and the difficulty of their course. It shows the range of intensity of concerns in the above areas. Including that 43% of students worry they’ll be judged if they admit feeling lonely.  The factors students found least helpful to alleviate the loneliness were speaking to university staff and online resources. The Government has launched a loneliness awareness campaign but it’s received criticism from some sector members.

Quick student news

Parliamentary Question: The Government has no remit to intervene in the student housing market (re: overseas students).

Parliamentary Question: tackling anti-Semitic and pro-Iranian messaging in universities.

Parliamentary Question: non-continuation of first year students (2015-2019)

Wonkhe blog: universities can do more to address gambling harms

At-risk Academics

Finally there was a Westminster Hall debate on UK support for At-risk Academics who are working overseas. Julian Lewis MP reflected positively on the work of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and noted that CARA fellows had a (recent) 100% visa application success rate. He called on the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration to continue to support at-risk academics, and on the government to consider a long-term follow-on scheme. Sarah Dines MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Department, responded on behalf of the Immigration Minister noting the benefits at-risk academics bring to the UK and thanked CARA and the wider university sector for their contribution.  Research Professional has a good article on the record numbers of Ukrainian and Russian academics placed through CARA in the last 18 months.

Admissions

Wonkhe report record numbers secured university places through clearing this year despite a dip in overall recruitment:

16,040 UK 18 year olds found a place through Clearing after releasing themselves from a previous choice this year – 32%  (the largest single pool) of all Clearing placements. Today’s figures come as we reach 28 days after A level results day, usually considered the end of the main application cycle.

Overall recruitment is down by just over 5,000 from last year, though this still represents a growth of 12.9% over 2019 – the last year to feature a comparable results profile immediately prior to Covid-19. Similarly, this year saw a slight decline (around 500) in international recruitment beyond the EU, though this was 25% up on 2019. The BBC and The Evening Standard cover the news.

Savanta have stated the dip in top A level grades drove the increased demand for Clearing this year: early data from UCAS suggests that by the day after results day, 10,400 school leavers had been through Clearing to secure a university place (compared to 6,600 placed at the same point last year), with fewer securing their first or second choice university.

Savanta also have a downloadable report for colleagues interested in how universities approached the marketing and comms around Clearing.

Research Professional has an entertaining and useful read, UCAS pocus, on the UCAS data released for this year’s student intake numbers. It begins: Once more, it is time to release the party poppers and streamers over in Cheltenham. The headline comes with more spin than the average washing machine…. The press release goes on to say that “growing numbers of students that have been placed at their firm choice are using clearing to secure a new choice of university. In total, 16,040 UK 18-year-old applicants found a new course after releasing themselves from a previously held choice. This compares to 14,760 in 2022, and 12,170 in 2019.”…That all sounds wonderful until you pause for a moment to reflect that this must surely mean that “record numbers” of students were therefore denied their first-choice institutions or failed to make the necessary grades.

Some 32 per cent declined their original firm choice—this is the largest single pool. Another 30 per cent did not meet the terms of their offer and were released into clearing on results day, while 38 per cent either applied directly into clearing or held no firm choice.

That is, as Ucas acknowledges, an unprecedented use of clearing, which is surely something that cannot be good for either prospective students or university recruitment planners. It all rather raises the question of whether we should now get serious about a post-qualification admissions process.

Access & Participation

Care leavers

Think tank Civitas published Breaking the Care Ceiling: How many care leavers go to university? In 2022 the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care estimated the lifetime cost of poor outcomes for children with experience of our care system was over £1 million per child. The report argues that graduating university turns the poor outcomes around.

Wonkhe have two blogs:

Other news

Other news

BTEC gap: The Protect Student Choice Campaign published Desperate measures: data and the reform of Level 3 qualifications finding that 155,000 young people – 13% of all sixth form students in England – could be left without a suitable study programme from 2026, given the planned reduction in AGQs [applied general qualifications] and slow growth of T levels. See chart below. They also provide examples of when they believe the government has misrepresented data to suggest AGQs such as BTECs perform poorly. You can read their points on the data here.

HTQs: The Government’s policy line has been to grow Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQ) for several years, and it’s a particular passion for current Universities Minister Robert Halfon. If you’re not quite sure what a HTQ is we’ve got an explainer (below) and the Government has released a policy paper providing an overview of how the funding and approval system works for HTQs.

The key information to understand about HTQs is that they are an alternative qualification to apprenticeships and degrees. They are level 4 or 5 qualifications such as HNCs, HNDs and foundation degrees. They bridge the gap between A/T Levels and degrees and are taught at a range of FE, HE and independent providers. The Government plans to expand the range of HTQ courses by 2025 – there’s a list here (scroll down to Available Subjects).

Creative & Arts round up: An interesting Guardian article noting the disappearance of art schools. Wonkhe also had creative content this week: All political parties should commit to a series of measures in support of creative education, a coalition of sector bodies has urged. The Creative Education Coalition – made up of sector bodies including University Alliance, GuildHE and London Higher, as well as institutions and subject groupings – has set out a manifesto with eight “asks” for revitalising creative arts education from school level onwards, including retention of BTEC qualifications in creative areas and an end to “low value” rhetoric around arts subjects and careers. There’s a Wonkhe blog on the topic too: A manifesto for creative education. Finally, AHRC has announced a reduction in the number of PhD students it funds from 425 to around 300 by 2029–30. There will be an increase in “strategic investments that fill specific sector-related gaps,” with a lower number of studentships through its Doctoral Training Partnerships – these will also be funded through a formula approach, rather than competition, in a move designed to reduce administrative burden (Wonkhe).

Commuters: The COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) study published new analysis of their cohort data and report that this year’s university applicants look more likely to stay at home during term time than previous cohorts.

Midwifery educators: Wonkhe – A lack of senior midwifery educators is severely impacting the UK’s ability to recruit more midwives, a new report has found. The State of Midwifery report from the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM) highlights growing numbers of people leaving midwifery education – with poor working conditions and low pay among the main reasons for the resignations. It says the drop off in educators has increased staff-to-student ratios in the UK, and in the 2022-23 academic year there were fewer recruits than previous years. The number of midwifery students leaving their courses before graduating is also rising, with around 15 per cent of students failing to complete their degree in 2021-22. The Belfast Telegraph has the story.

UUK International published Lessons from the UK higher education sector response to the invasion of Ukraine. Full report here, summary here. UUKi introduce the report: the report highlights how the UK sector was mobilised to support universities in Ukraine and sets out ways in which we might better respond to future crises, while recognising that there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. It reflects on the policy, funding and political levers which have enabled a broadbased response and how these need to be considered when formulating a response to emerging crises at individual, institutional and sector levels. The report sets out a framework that institutions might employ to help develop and tailor such responses, providing a practical tool that can help maximise the effectiveness and impact of university action.

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Parliamentary Committees online event, October 3rd

October 3rd, Cross-cutting policy and scrutiny challenges: Parliamentary committees

Find out about the work of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, and how these Committees draw on evidence and expertise from academic researchers in science, technology, social science and beyond.

Come along with your questions and contribute to the discussion about cross-cutting and interdisciplinary policy and scrutiny challenges.

The speakers will be Yohanna Sallberg, Second Clerk and Katherine Woolf, Parliamentary Academic Fellow, House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee and Thomas Hornigold, Policy Analyst, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. The webinar will be chaired by Nicky Buckley, Associate Director, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge.

This is a free event, please register on Eventbrite.

HE policy update – summer catch up September 2023

The best bits from the summer period!

To keep the overall size of this policy update smaller we have included several linked documents to provide further detail on some items. These documents are in pdf format and accessed through a hyperlink in the text. If you would like the original documents (in Word) for accessibility purposes, please email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Parliamentary News: Reshuffle, no kerfuffle

Rishi has reshuffled his Ministers and you can find all the Cabinet members here.  All the junior ministers and their portfolios for both departments are here.

It’s stability in the main for both departments. David Johnston OBE joins the DfE as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (mainly care, SEND and schools focussed but with free speech in education within his brief too), replacing Claire Coutinho, who was promoted). Johnson was previously Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation (a charity which runs a range of programmes that incorporate mentoring, internships, university application support and skills development to help young people from low-income backgrounds enter universities and professions). Johnson has been active in the media on education, generally supportive of technical education, and tweets about social mobility factors a lot.

Labour has reshuffled the Shadow Cabinet appointments – I’ve put all the appointments (both new and those that have remained in post) here. Of most interest are:

  • Matt Western remains as the Shadow Minister for HE
  • Seema Malhotra is appointed as the Shadow Minister for Skills
  • Peter Kyleappointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

Horizon Europe

Finally!!! The Government has announced that the UK has made a deal and will associate with the Horizon Europe and Copernicus programmes through a bespoke agreement with the EU. Researchers can apply for grants and bid to take part in projects under the Horizon programme, as a fully associated member from now until the end of this Horizon programme in 2027. Once adopted, the UK will also be able to join the governance of EU programmes – which the UK has been excluded from over the last three years.

The UK will also associate to Copernicus, the European Earth Observation programme. This will provide the UK’s earth observation sector with access to specialist data, e.g. to help with early flood and fire warnings, and be able to bid for contracts (we’ve been excluded for the last three years).

It may be a case of the devil is in the detail however, the Government’s press release sets out the financial protections that have been agreed for the UK:

  • We will not pay for the time where UK researchers have been excluded from since 2021, with costs starting from January 2024This will also provide breathing space to boost the participation of UK researchers in open calls for grants before we start paying into the programme. [Because it’s expected it’ll take UK researchers some lead time before the UK begins securing a volume of successful bids.]
  • The UK will have a new automatic clawback that protects the UK as participation recovers from the effects of the last two and a half years. It means the UK will be compensated should UK scientists receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme. This wasn’t the case under the original terms of association.

UUKI state the agreement must be adopted by the EU-UK Specialised Committee on Union Programmes. They also clarify:

  • UK researchers will be able to carry out European Research Council and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action projects in the UK while retaining their status as ERC or MSCA grantees.
  • UK researchers can once again lead collaborative projects as coordinators.
  • UK research entities will count towards the consortium eligibility requirements as one of the three required partners from EU Member States or Associated Countries (nb. consortia will still need one partner from an EU Member State).

From Minister Donelan’s written statement:

  • From today, UK scientists can bid and participate confidently in the world’s largest programme of research cooperation – alongside their EU, Norwegian, New Zealand and Israeli colleagues – and with countries like Korea and Canada looking to join…UK academics and industry will be able to bid, secure funding for, and, crucially, lead, the vast majority of new calls that will be opening throughout the autumn. UK researchers and businesses can be certain that all successful UK applicants will be covered through the UK’s association for the rest of the programme (or through the remainder of the UK’s Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme as we transition to these new arrangements). All calls in Work Programme 2024 will be covered by association and the UK guarantee scheme will be extended to cover all calls under Work Programme 2023. UK scientists and researchers can lead project consortia under Work Programme 2024 – a key ask of the sector – allowing them to shape the next generation of international collaboration.
  • Under the previous programme the UK established over 200,000 collaborative links, and we will now play a leading role in a range of ground-breaking industry collaborations such as the AI, Data and Robotics Partnership worth over £2 billion, or the Cancer Mission aiming to help more than 3 million people by 2030.
  • Access to Horizon Europe was a top ask of our research community. We have listened to our sector and in this deal delivered collaboration where it is most valuable to UK science. This provides our scientists with a stable base for international collaboration and makes sure we are on track to deliver on the ambition to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030.
    Euratom (nuclear) association is out, rumoured because the UK believes we’re further ahead than Europe. Donelan: The UK will not join the Euratom programme. The UK fusion sector has communicated a preference for an alternatives programme that would involve direct investment in the UK sector. We are pleased to announce that we will be doing exactly that. We plan to invest up to £650 million to 2027 in a programme of new, cutting-edge alternative programmes subject to business cases, and will announce further details shortly.

Links: Government press announcement; EU/UK joint statement; FAQs on the deal (provided by EU)

Press: Guardian. Research Professional: charm offensive, plan B still on cards (Minister Freeman), implications for Switzerland. UUK warm welcome

FRAP

The Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP) is gradually wrapping up following the latest publications. The FRAP addressed how research might be measured (and rewarded) in 2028 and proposed a number of changes to the current REF. The reports that informed the planned changes have been released. This Research Professional article is a good quick read, it begins:  we learned what had influenced the thinking behind these changes, with the publication of a summary of stakeholder engagements, an analysis of equality, diversity and inclusion in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework and another analysis, commissioned from the policy-advice group Technopolis, of how much that exercise had cost to run.

  • …the starkest numbers appeared in the examination of costs. It showed that the overall cost for higher education institutions reached £430 million for REF 2021, up from £237m for the 2014 exercise. The four UK national funding bodies spent a further £17m, while the cost to the panels that assessed submissions was £24m.
  • The total average cost for each university or research institute rose from £2m in REF 2014 to £3m in REF 2021, with the average cost per researcher submitted amounting to £6,000—up from £4,000.
  • institutions had also been doing a lot of work that they weren’t asked to do because they wanted to optimise the REF process—hardly surprising…
  • the interesting thing for 2028 is how can we reach a kind of settlement with the sector to say how much of this do we really need to do?”…“And how much can we stand back from in the interests of reducing the burden on everybody?”
  • by removing the association between individual staff and outputs, the changes suggested by the Frap would make a big difference—particularly for institutions without a large infrastructure, such as smaller specialist institutions.
  • Implementing the Frap recommendations is expected to save institutions an estimated £100m and…. the research funders would use the Technopolis report to make calculated reductions in costs.

You can find all the reports here and the stakeholder engagement summary here.
Wonkhe have a blog too: REF is expensive because it’s good value.

Research – Quick news

The Science and Technology Committee published their interim report into the governance of AI: summary here. There’s a world first summit on AI safety to be held 1-2 November. International governments, leading AI companies and experts in research will unite for crucial talks and agree a set of rapid, targeted measures for furthering safety in global AI use. Matt Clifford and Jonathan Black have been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Representatives.

  1. Announcements: UKRI announced the creation of four new research facilities, and a survey has found that “extreme measures” are needed to help some European research infrastructures deal with the “severe” impact of higher energy costs (Research Professional).
  2. Peer Review: Research Professional have an article on UKRI’s Review of Peer Review: UKRI report suggests AI could improve grant reviews.
  3. Overall: UKRI has published its annual report and accounts for financial year 2022–23. The year saw it assess over 22,300 applications for funding, and make 6,118 awards (as well as support 1,897 Horizon Europe Guarantee grants). (Wonkhe.)
  4. QR Funding: Research England has notified institutions that it is “not yet in a position” to confirm quality-related research (QR) funding or Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) allocations for 2023–24, “due to the complete replacement of our analytical system and associated quality-assurance processes.” It plans to publish an overview of its budget later this month, and individual allocations from late summer. (Wonkhe.)
  5. Parliamentary Question: Strengthening UK-Africa science and tech research and partnerships.
  6. Life Sciences sector: OLS, DSIT and DHSC have jointly published the life sciences sector data for 2023 covering the research environment, domestic market, production environment, international collaboration, investment environment, and access to skilled labour. Links:

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: life science ecosystem

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: user guide

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: data tables

Foundation year fee caps & student number controls

Read more about the government’s latest plans to incentivise quality below.  In that context, the outcomes of the first two of the OfS investigations into quality related matters – 2 of the 8 business and management investigations – were reported this week.  The OfS haven’t announced any sanctions yet, but number controls could be in their toolbox.  The VC of London South Bank University (no concerns were found after the investigation) wrote for HEPI about the experience.

Way back (February 2018) PM Theresa May announced a review of post-18 education and funding whereby the Government consulted on HE reform, and the Augar report (2019) resulted. There was a lot of change on the table for consideration and the Government launched further consultation concluding in January 2021 and February 2022. The Government introduced piecemeal changes since the Augar report, most recently laying the legislation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (implemented from 2025). This Government response document is the latest in these piecemeal changes and continues to focus on changes to ensure high quality HE provision across the sector. The Government states:

We have set out…what more government will do to continue to drive up the quality of higher education. This includes asking the Office for Students (OfS) to use recruitment limits to help drive out provision which is not delivering good student outcomes, a sharp focus on franchising arrangements, and a reduction in the maximum fee and loan limits for classroom-based foundation years. We will also ask the OfS to consider how they can take graduate earnings into account in their quality regime. We know many factors influence graduate earnings – but students have a right to expect that higher education will lead to improved employment opportunities and commensurate earnings… These reforms represent the start, and not the end, of our determination to drive out low-quality provision. We are confident that this will be successful with the support of the sector. The Government has decided not to proceed with a minimum eligibility requirement at this point in time, but if the quality reforms set out here do not result in the improvements we seek, we will consider further action if required.

Student Number Controls: The government believes that as most HEIs charge the maximum fee, combined with no student number controls, it has incentivised providers to expand student numbers on courses that are less expensive to teach, but which may only provide limited benefits to graduates and the wider economy.

There was a consultation on whether to introduce student number controls to prevent ‘the growth of low quality provision’. Instead the Government decided to task (via statutory guidance) the OfS to consider ‘recruitment limits’ for courses not delivering positive outcomes for students – this is already in train because the OfS is already permitted to impose recruitment limits on providers. However, the Government’s newly announced plans concern the OfS’ existing powers and regulatory framework, including the B3 condition of registration on student outcomes (continuation rates, course completion, and graduate progression). Recruitment limits won’t be applied to a course without a prior investigation, and providers will have opportunities to set out contextual information for why a course might not be delivering the student outcomes required by the B3 condition.

The OfS is expected to consider how it can incorporate graduate earnings into its regulatory regime for quality purposes too.

Foundation Year Fee Caps: Foundation years are a route in for students that do not meet the entry requirement for a particular course. However, the Augar report questioned how effective and necessary they were for students. And with the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement the Government does not want the full lifelong entitlement to be taken by one degree course entered through a foundation year. They have also been vociferous in their questioning of foundation year costs and urged for some time for the fees charged to be lower. Through the document the Government has stipulated the from 2025/26 the maximum fee and loan limit for foundation years will be lowered to £5,760 for classroom-based subjects whilst the maximum fee and loan limits of £9,250 will remain for all other subjects.

Here’s a little more detail:

  • ‘classroom based foundation years provision’ means the subjects currently in OfS Price Group D …the government will issue detailed guidance to the higher education sector on the subjects that the £5,760 fee cap will apply to in due course. While we’re waiting, we do know the challenge is to law, business and management (not tourism, transport or travel), social sciences (not health studies), and humanities (English, historical, philosophical and religious studies (exception is archaeology) including publicity studies. Although it really depends which HECoS code the course falls within as to whether it’s in or out.
  • The Government means business on the foundation year clamp down: We will keep fee and loan limits for foundation years under review, particularly where growth is concerning, and will not hesitate to impose further reductions if necessary. We encourage providers to ensure their business model is not reliant on income from foundation years.

Throughout the Government’s campaign to reduce foundation years undertaken, and reduce their costs where there do continue has been the push back from the access and participation community who state foundation years remove barriers and allow non-traditional or disadvantaged students to enter HE and ultimately achieve a degree.

Finally, other consultation questions covered plans for a new national scholarship scheme and how to grow the provision of high-quality level 4 and 5 courses. The Government document didn’t contain any detail on the scholarship scheme, however, they have confirmed they will not change the maximum fee limits for level 4 and 5 courses from £9,250 at this time.

Students

  • Cost of living: The Commons Library have a briefing on Cost of living support for students
  • Student struggles: The National Union of Students (NUS) Wales has published survey findingswhich show that a quarter of students in post-16 education were unable to find suitable housing last year as rent and bills increased, and 8% had experienced homelessness.

The research on the impact on students of the cost-of-living crisis also found that 1 in 5 students were working more than 20 hours a week alongside their studies, with 64% of those with jobs saying it negatively impacted their students.

Accommodation

PwC and StudentCrowd published Student accommodation: Availability and rental growth trends July 2023 for privately-owned Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) across the UK.

While demand outstripping supply creates an investment opportunity, particularly for private capital, it also represents a challenge for both universities and students. If left unresolved, it is likely to adversely impact affordability of accommodation, the student experience, university reputation and, ultimately, future recruitment of students. With students facing rising costs of living, without a corresponding increase in maintenance loan levels, the cost of accommodation will, for some, become a prohibitive factor in higher education (HE) participation, impacting those from under-represented groups the most.

There are illustrative charts and more detail along with recommendations for colleagues particularly interested in student accommodation – see the full report.

Healthcare students – pay and childcare

There are three petitions currently in front of parliament relating to pay and financial support (childcare) for healthcare students including student midwives, nurses and paramedics. The petitions call for healthcare students to be paid at least minimum wage for their placement hours and for the 30 hours free childcare offer to be extended to the students. Pay and conditions for healthcare students has been a constant rumble in the background since 2017 when the NHS Bursary and free tuition fees were abolished and students were switched. The strong public support shown for the petitions means a debate has been scheduled and a Government representative will be asked to respond to the petitions.

For colleagues who would benefit from dipping into the full history and detail behind healthcare student’s pay and financial support there is an excellent briefing provided in advance of the parliamentary debate.  You can view the petitions here: 610557616557 and 6196409.

Student Loans – what the policy makers are reading

The House of Commons Library has updated their briefing on student loan statistics. The content is the same as we’ve outlined in recent policy updates. However, what is of interest to the sector is that these briefings are how many non-ministerial policy makers obtain their in-depth information on topics (because they don’t have a departmental team briefing them on the topic). The briefings are impartial (i.e. don’t side with one political party over another) but the content the brief focuses on may lead to debate focusing on these topics in the House. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation and the reinforcement of the focus can lead to a self-fulfilling circle – hence why it’s useful for the sector to be aware of the information the parliamentarians are reading.

For more detail and other student loan statistics you can read the full briefing.

Parliamentary Question: The Plan 5 reforms will make the student loan system fairer for taxpayers and fairer for students, helping to keep the system sustainable in the long term.

Other sources on debt: The cost of student loan debt has been picked up again recently by media. The Times and Martin Lewis ran features on whether it’s better (or not) for parents who can afford to pay upfront for university costs rather than burden their children with long term debt. CAPX wants to replace student loans with ISAs. And Wonkhe report on the small but significant number of students…taking out maintenance loans but not fee loans – in 2021–22 this amounted to £281.2m across 51,000 students. Or 6% of full time English undergraduates. This blog explores the group and considers reasons nicely. There’s a data heavy section in the middle, do skip past it if you’re not keen, and read on further through the blog for more context. Here’s a quick summary of the data elements: The providers where maintenance loans outnumber those with fee loans are mostly connected by a strong access and participation role – that and a recent strategic focus on franchise and partnership arrangements. Wonkhe explain: One possible explanation is that students, agents recruiting students, or some providers are taking advantage of the time period between when students are to access and spend the maintenance loan and when they become liable for the fee loan. We don’t know for sure, but it is certainly one possibility that regulators and those responsible for university partnerships may wish to keep in mind.

Graduates – university boost

UUK report that 73% of UK graduates credit going to university with enabling them to find the job they wanted in under 1 year. In addition the report finds that 79% of graduates say going to university enabled them to build skills that have proved professionally valuable, and 71% of first in their family UK graduates said that going to university opened doors to companies for them.

Employment

  • During a cost-of-living-crisis – two-thirds (64%) say that going to university has improved their job security
  • 97% of senior managers polled revealed that graduates reach managerial positions faster, as a result of going to university
  • 73% of business leaders surveyed believe that going to university introduces graduates to peers who can help them build their careers
  • UK graduates see their salary increase by 8.2% on average with their first promotion
  • 61% of business leaders say that going to a UK university puts candidates at an advantage in comparison with other international candidates when applying for a job at their company

Industry knowledge and skills

  • 76% of UK graduates going to university helped to build their self-confidence
  • Over a quarter (28%) of UK graduates first gained employment through a direct connection to their university or degree course

Increasing social mobility

  • Those who were the first in their family to go to university had a slightly higher average starting salary than those who were not the first to attend; £30,111 versus £27,754
  • 51% of business leaders who were the first in their family to go to university said it helped them fast track their career, compared to 46% of business leaders who weren’t

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • This new research clearly demonstrates the value that graduates benefit from when they go to university in the UK. The benefits captured by this research are numerous – from job security and career ambitions, to earnings and social mobility. They highlight how highly UK universities are regarded not just by those who attend them, but also by those who hire their graduates and benefit from their skills.
  • It is clear that Universities play a huge role not only in preparing graduates for employment, but also in teaching them crucial, transferable life skills that will serve them throughout their career. Ultimately, what this research demonstrates is that our universities play a powerful role in helping graduates forge successful career paths that can help return the UK economy to growth and continue to power our public services.

LEO

The LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data for 2020-21 has been released. Quick reminder – the LEO data looks at the employment and earnings outcomes of graduates and postgraduates at 1, 3, 5 and 10 years after graduation. One aspect of a university’s performance that the regulator watches with their quality hat on is their graduate outcomes.  If you’re interested in graduate outcomes I’d recommend you engage with the short, simple explanations here and there’s plenty to capture your attention further down the page where you can drill down into charts and summaries by student characteristics such as subject, prior attainment, ethnicity, and disadvantage (POLAR). The provider level data is also well worth a browse through. There’s too much of interest for us to cover it all here so do dive in at source.

What we will mention is where media focussed their attention – on the widening pay gap for graduates previously receiving fee school meals. The data shows that at one, three and five years after graduation, graduates whose families claimed free school meals (FSM) were less likely to be in sustained employment, further study or both than graduates whose families did not claim FSM…and their median earnings were lower – 10% lower at 5 years post-graduation. It continued a trend seen in previous years – that the earnings gap increases as the years after graduation increase. You can see the charts and read more of the detail on the gap here.

If you’d prefer a very quick overall here’s what Wonkhe have to say: This latest iteration of the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset shows that the impact of Covid-19 as measured by subject area and by industrial area varied widely. Overall, the experience was a negative one for graduate and postgraduate earnings – though in most cases these remained relatively stable in real terms. At a subject level, there appeared to be a greater impact by provider in computing, law, and business and management subjects. This year’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data drop refers to the 2020–21 tax year – a period during which you may recall that the global economy was subject to a number of shocks. The fascinating thing about what we see from our heavily-caveated data on graduate salaries is how little impact this appears to have had. In most cases graduates could expect a similar level of pay, in real terms, to every other year LEO covers.

And what they read into the politics: All this prompts us to ask what LEO is really for, and what it really shows us. It’s gone from being a central feature of the government’s armoury of tools to identify and destroy “low-quality” courses – thus driving down the cost of the loan system – to featuring only on the data graveyard that is Discover Uni. Even the people who write those “best course for a big salary” articles rely on aggregated CVs rather than an actual government release. One wonders if Wonkhe will change their opinion on this given the weekend’s announcement on the role of graduate data in student number controls.

Plus a blog: LEO – it promised much, but in regulatory terms has delivered little. David Kernohan wonders what went wrong. And another: however, it does offer a useful corrective to the use of provider- and subject-level outcomes measures.

Note: the LEO data is different to the DfE 2022 Graduate labour market statistics (see Graduate Employability section for coverage of the DfE statistics).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published an article on the data released exploring the educational attainment of pupils in English towns, using data from the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset. It examines how educational attainment differs by town size, deprivation level and the average qualification levels of residents in the previous generation, using LEO data, and focusses on pupils who sat their GCSEs in the 2012 to 2013 school year. A summary provided by Dods Political Intelligence is available here.

Sharia-compliant student finance

This Parliamentary Library paper on Sharia-compliant alternative student finance is a good catch up on the basics and latest news for the alternative student finance system which the Government plan to introduce from 2025. There haven’t been any further developments since this was announced at the beginning of the summer period.

Students: Quick News

Cost of living: Wonkhe blog –  Eighteen months into the biggest cost of living crisis the UK has seen in decades, Jim Dickinson tries to work out if university advice on the costs that students will face has improved.

Mental Health: Wonkhe – Some 30 per cent of undergraduates starting university this September will have a history of missing education due to their mental health, the Unite Students 2023 Applicant Index suggests, drawing on a survey of 2,141 applicants for 2023–24 entry conducted by Savanta in May (and weighted to be broadly representative of the applicant population as a whole). Of these, 24 per cent have missed 20 days or more due to mental health issues. The survey also found that 18 per cent of applicants with a disability say they have no plans to disclose it to their university.

Harassment: The Women and Equalities select committee report Attitudes towards women and girls in educational settings concluded that sexual harassment and abuse of female students and staff is a serious problem in education. They call on the Government to support the following recommendations for implementation in universities

  • OfS should implement a new condition of registration to place mandatory obligations on universities to tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence
  • Develop a nationwide sexual harassment and sexual violence awareness campaign that particularly targets male university students
  • Compulsory intervention programmes (evidence-based bystander intervention) for all first-year university students

Transport: Parliamentary Question – the cost of public transport on students’ finances and mobility.

Parliamentary Question: Students cost of living (grant question).

Apprenticeship Barriers

The UCAS and Sutton Trust report What influences the choices of would-be apprentices looks at the choices and barriers students face on the journey to an apprenticeship, such as when discovering, applying for and entering a role. Here’s the press release if you prefer the quick read version: Three in five do not pursue apprenticeships because they cannot find one, or here’s an impartial succinct summary of the key points prepared by Dods.

Of note for HE in the report are the recommendations for degree apprenticeships (below) and the recommendation for parity between degrees and apprenticeships (see page 7).

Parliamentary Question: Incentivising universities to provide more higher apprenticeships

Admissions:

The Government responded to the House of Commons Education Committee’s report on The future of post-16 qualifications. Committee report here; Government response here. The Government’s response does not depart from the same party lines you’d expect – rationalising qualifications, the study of maths to age 18, skills bootcamps and is primarily focussed on T levels and apprenticeships. Halfon’s priorities are apparent – HTQs, apprenticeships/skills, and careers advice (especially as relates to T levels).  One concession is that the Government does ‘note’ or acknowledge the Committee’s interest in Baccalaureate models.

We’ve three major data releases included in this policy update. This one is the 2023 cycle application data (at 30 June deadline). The June deadline is when students have to apply for (up to 5) choices of HE provision (and make their conditional firm and back up selection) so this data snapshot provides a good look at the application rates.

We cover the high level data below, but for those who want more interpretation of the implications we recommend reading Research Professional’s (slightly irreverent) Ucas’d a spell on me – What’s the difference between reality and spin in this year’s application data? It begins: It is one of the perennial puzzles of higher education in the UK: why does the university application service Ucas insist on trying to spin good news stories about higher education entry data when the available evidence points to the contrary?

Here’s the top level data:

Note: All data relates to UK applicants unless we specify otherwise.

  • 18-year-old applicant numbers are 319,570; down -2% from 326,190 in 2022, but up on 2021 (311,010, +2.8%).
  • 37,410 18-year-olds from POLAR4 Quintile 1 (i.e. the lowest rate of participation) have applied – this is down from the record of 38,310 in 2022 (-2.3%), but an increase on 2021 when numbers stood at 34,840 (+7.4%).
  • The number of international applicants (all ages) stands at 138,050, up from 134,870 in 2022 (+2.4%), and 130,390 in 2021 (+5.9%). This is driven by interest from India (+ 8.7), the Middle East (+20.8%) and Africa (+3.9%). Meanwhile, applicants from China are down by 2.2% (UCAS says most likely due to Covid-19 restrictions and disruption to learning).
  • The number of UK 18-year-olds applicants who have declared their ethnicity as Asian, Black, Mixed or other has increased by 4.4% – 104,160 in 2023, versus 99,770 in 2022, and 89,560 in 2021 (+16.3%).
  • A total of 1,740 people with predicted T Levels have applied to higher education, up from 490 last year (252%).

Admissions – quick news

  • Parliamentary Question: Foundation Degree enrolments (national data).
  • Clare Marchant reflects on her time as Chief Executive, and the progress UCAS has made in this Research Professional blog.
  • Finally, an entertaining parliamentary question asking reasons for the difference in the number of men and women entering university was answered by Minister Halfon who managed to link together the male gender underrepresentation in HE and the gap in progression rates with prior attainment concluding that universities should have a more direct role in driving up the standards in schools. He even mentions degree apprenticeships and skills related courses and the OfS Equality of Opportunity Risk Register as a key marker for social justice to ensure that no student groups are left behind. So there you go, it’s up to universities to do more to fix the systemic issues behind the lower number of men entering HE provision. One wonders if the staffer who wrote the response to this parliamentary question was after promotion or on a whim to win the office keyword bingo.

International

HEPI published their annual soft-power index (where the world’s countries are headed by someone educated in the UK or another country other than their own). America still leads the field but the UK has taken a step closer to America’s top numbers.

  • In the first year of the Index (2017), there were more world leaders who had been educated in the UK tertiary sector than in any other country, including the US. But the US overtook the UK in 2018 and extended its lead in each of the four subsequent years – in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
  • The new results for 2023 show, in contrast, that the gap between the number of current world leaders educated in the US and the UK has shrunk for the first time since the Index began: compared to last year, there are two more countries with a leader educated in the UK and two fewer countries with a leader educated in the US, reducing the gap by four.
  • There are 195 countries in the world and around one-quarter of them (54 or 28%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the US while a similar number (53 or 27%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the UK. As there is some overlap, with a handful of leaders being educated in both the UK and the US, the total number of countries with a very senior leader who has been educated at a higher level in the US and / or the UK is 84 (43% of the world’s countries).

Research Professional verge dangerously close to stating that the recruitment of international students for financial sustainability is/will impact on the number of domestic UK students recruited when they report on this Telegraph article and this opinion piece. Read the Squeezed Middle (meaning middle class students are/will be pushed out by international recruitment and outreach targets to recruit disadvantaged students) to see if you agree with the reasoning presented. Of interest is that the number of unplaced applicants (presumably domestic applicants) rose by 46% last year to 20,000 (was 14,000 the previous year), that’s quite a jump.

Quick news from Wonkhe:

Parliamentary Question: Cost of living support for international students.

Access & Participation

The Research Professional article Squeezed Middle may be of interest.

TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education – one of the Government’s what works centres) published a project report – Addressing gaps in the participation of sandwich courses. Project partners were:

  • University of Surrey who focused on the intention to apply for and complete a sandwich course.
  • Nottingham Trent University (NTU) who focused on converting this intention to successful completion of the sandwich course.

Findings – intention to apply and participate

  • There was a perception that disabled students, students from low-income families, and black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students were underrepresented on sandwich courses. However, few providers were able to provide specific statistics about their sandwich course cohorts nor identify whether those taking up sandwich courses were representative of the wider student population.
  • Both staff and students identified several factors that influence a students’ ability to apply to and complete a sandwich course such as a perceived lack of support from providers and challenges associated with travelling considerable distances for a work placement.
  • Staff referenced a variety of activities, some of which had already been implemented, to remove the barriers (financial and otherwise) that WP students experience when accessing sandwich courses, such as students attending a budgeting meeting to ensure they would be able to cope financially.
  • There was a consensus from both staff and students that participating in a sandwich course had a positive influence on employment outcomes for students.

Findings – successful completion of sandwich course

  • Students, employers and staff identified confidence and resilience as important for helping students navigate challenges that arise throughout the process of applying to, securing and completing a sandwich course.
  • They also reported that biases remain against students from disadvantaged backgrounds that can influence their experiences of navigating the process of applying to and securing a placement as part of their course.
  • A lack of placement opportunities, and lack of opportunities in geographically convenient areas, were identified by students as a factor in whether they could secure a placement.
  • The requirement for money and resources was also reported as a challenge for their participation in the course.

Recommendations for HE providers:

  • Develop Enhanced Theories of Change (ToCs) to plan, and rigorously evaluate, the impact of support for WP students accessing sandwich courses.
  • Make more use of their institutional data and administrative datasets, such as the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, to track students into the labour market and evaluate employment outcomes.
  • Consider implementing specific support on student finances for learners intending to take part in a sandwich course.
  • Provide comprehensive and tailored support to WP students considering a sandwich course, as well as those who have already enrolled in the course, at multiple points to ensure students are supported to start and complete the course.
  • Take a strategic approach to employability support, developing and evaluating programmes specifically designed for disadvantaged students in order to address the gaps between more and less advantaged students.

High potential students

The Sutton Trust published: Stories from the Class of 2023 – Education experiences of high potential students from different backgrounds as part of its new Social Mobility: The Next Generation series. The report sets out key differences and similarities between high attainers from different socio-economic backgrounds:

Differences

  • Overall, the major areas in which socio-economic background drove differences in young people’s experiences were the quality of and access to education. Quality was defined by staff turnover, lack of teachers and generally poor quality of (online) teaching, whereas access to education was limited or enabled on the basis of technological access.
  • Socio-economic background also informed differences in the role and level of engagement of parents.
  • Differences in socio-economic backgrounds were also associated with a varying consistency of motivation and the varying degree in the perceived importance of hard work.
  • Experiences of the COVID pandemic were mainly shaped by the quality of and access to education, as well as differences between state and private education.

 Similarities

  • Regardless of socio-economic background, young high attainers also shared similarities such as the importance of relationships with parents, teachers and friends as well as an intrinsic motivation to perform well at school.
  • They also shared the importance of disruptive life events such as COVID-19 or experiences of bullying and its detrimental effect on motivation, mental health & wellbeing.
  • Inequalities stemming from (mental) health, sexuality, gender or race could be intertwined or go across socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Across socio-economic backgrounds, high attainers were guided by their personal interests in their future plans.

Recommendations include a national strategy to close the attainment gaps that have opened since the pandemic, reform of school admissions for a better socio-economic mix of pupils across schools (those who attend more socially mixed schools progress more at GCSE), universities to recognise the disruption faced by students and support their transition and success (universities to identify key gaps in learning at an early stage in the first term, and provide continuing support if necessary, as well as support for student mental health and wellbeing).

There’s a short blog on the report if you don’t fancy reading the full content.

Place, Privilege and Prestige

HE Minister Halfon spoke at the NEON Summer Symposium. The key element of his speech focussed on social justice, structured around his three ‘P’s of Place, Privilege and Prestige. His passion topics of skills, FE, apprenticeships and careers advice were all explored in the speech.

As far as I am concerned, social justice is fundamental to higher education. Universities should exist to facilitate the studies, progression and graduation of all students – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds – so they can go on to get good jobs and pursue worthwhile careers.

On Privilege:  the Office for Students recently launched the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register, with 12 key risks to equality of opportunity across the student lifecycle. These have used evidence to determine where interventions can really move the dial on social justice. They’ll be an important tool for designing future initiatives to broaden access to HE, and I look forward to providers rewriting their upcoming Access and Participation plans to incorporate them.

On Prestige:

  • I want technical education and training routes to have parity of prestige with academic routes…For students to be excited at the prospect of learning a real technical skill that can get them a job. And for teachers to value pupils’ success equally, whether they accomplish a T Level or three A levels.
  • I really believe degree apprenticeships can bridge this gap in a way that other initiatives haven’t managed…HE needs to allow FE to leverage some of its prestige. At this point Halfon announced a bidding process for universities on degree apprenticeships to come later in the year (through OfS). He continued:
  • I also want to end the perception that FE colleges are somehow second-rate institutions. And that to finally emerge from the shadow of academia, there must be a ‘Skills Oxbridge’ we can point to. I have great respect for the academic excellence of Oxford and Cambridge, but we need to stop using them as a benchmark for everything else.

You can read the official (as written, not necessarily exactly as Halfon delivered it) speech here.

However, NEON report that the audience was unimpressed and even angered by Halfon’s speech. One attendee, Jessica Newton, felt compelled to blog and give voice to her frustrations. Excerpts:

  • Was it the halls of residence pillow causing a twinge in my neck or was it the physical cringe when he was so unaware of his contradicting messages when addressing his already unimpressed audience? His feeble attempt to be one of the people ‘I too come from a working-class background’ was instantly discredited when he followed that by ‘but I went to an independent school’ and ‘my father gave me no choice but to go to university’. The lack of awareness that it is the independent schools and the encouraging parents that elevate one student above another almost sent my neck into spasm.
  • How dare Robert Halfon sit there and express how joyous his time at university was and how free he felt and then explain that for the disadvantaged students there’s some really incredible vocational choices out there for them. How dare Robert Halfon say how free he felt at university when I speak to 13-year-olds that are making plans for their future so they can financially support the rest of their family. How dare Robert Halfon say how free he felt free at university and have the severe lack of awareness young people are raised with no safety net, there is simply no room for feeling free.
  • …How dare Robert Halfon have his moment in the spotlight and have the ‘best time of his life’ but expect the working-class, unrepresented future generations [to] spend their career only ever behind the curtain.

Widening Participation

The DfE published the 2021/22 widening participation in HE statistics. The statistics explore young progression to HE study by a range of student characteristics such as free school meals, ethnicity,

Parliamentary Question: Accreditation scheme for universities to demonstrate the gold standard in the care leaver provision.

Blogs: Wonkhe – To meet legal responsibilities to disabled students, the sector must address the overwhelming workloads of disability services staff, says Hannah Borkin.

Lifelong Learning Bill

The House of Lords debated the Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill. Despite the vigorous debate no changes prevailed as all amendments were either withdrawn or not moved. Baroness Barran as Minister for the School System and Student Finance was able to bat away most of the opposition. She emphasised that the policies behind the Bill had been designed in consultation with relevant HE sector stakeholders and there would be further consultation to come.

The Government intend to set most of the detail of the Bill through secondary legislation. In essence this means that Parliament passes the Bill so it becomes an Act. Then the Government backfill the nitty gritty detail which sets out the operation and how things run. The positive of secondary legislation is that it can flex with the times – fee limits can be raised, new clauses can be brought in to respond to the unexpected and keep the sector functioning well and responding to change. The negative is that it hands full power to the Government of the time to set these items with very little parliamentary scrutiny or power to change the Government’s will – it could result in a bad deal for the HE sector being forced through. In practice, while the Bill is passing it means that Parliamentarians, and the Bill is currently with the House of Lords, can raise objections and call for certain things to be changed and the Government’s representative can simply provide reassurances without conceding or changing the wording of the Bill. Likely the Government will listen to the amendments and speeches made and may make concessions or adapt to points raised through the secondary legislation (as suits their policy ideals). But there is no guarantee of this. There is little detail for the Lords (who now have a very well informed, experienced and powerful HE faction, with several ex-Universities Ministers) to take a stand on and force a change. Meaning the Bill may pass quite quickly as it is so bland. Short of the unexpected this Bill will become law before the next general election (and is planned to be implemented in 2025).

Distance learning fees: the Government have no intention of differentiating fee limits between distance and in-person learning under the LLE. The per-credit fee limits will be the same for full-time, part-time, face-to-face and distance learning…Distance learning courses will remain in scope for tuition fee loan support under the LLE.

Distance maintenance: The Baroness stood firm against calls for maintenance support for distance learners although will continue current arrangements for distance learners with a disability to qualify for maintenance loans and disabled students’ allowance. The disabled students’ allowance will be extended to all designated courses and modules.

More reading:

Free Speech Act

This parliamentary question reveals there is still no set date for the free speech Act to come into play:  The timeline will involve working in collaboration with the OfS on the creation of new registration conditions and a complaints scheme dedicated to handling freedom of speech complaints, which will be operated by the OfS. The OfS will also develop guidance on how to comply with these duties, in consultation with providers, constituent institutions and students’ unions.  Another related parliamentary question asks whether freedom of speech in the UK includes the right to criticise ideas around gender identity. Answer – it’s defined in case law and in the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 and the Government has no plans to outline the specific content of freedom of speech on an issue-by-issue basis.

Russell Group Yardstick

Finally, Wonkhe report: At the House of Lords Education for 11–16 Year Olds Committee yesterday, schools minister Nick Gibb was on the end of a grilling from committee chair Lord Johnson of Marylebone over the Department for Education’s use of Russell Group entry rates as a performance indicator for schools in England. The former universities minister suggested that the government was “fixated” on the Russell Group and disincentivising schools from sending students to other universities. Gibb replied that the term “high tariff” could have been used instead. You can watch the session back online.

HEPI

HEPI celebrated their 20th Birthday by releasing UK higher education – policy, practice and debate during HEPI’s first 20 years. Fifteen contributors cover a wide range of HE policy matters including governance, research, student learning, funding and finances, and the relationship between HE providers and Government. One thing HEPI haven’t learnt in 20 years is that not many people enjoy the thought of reading a 184 page document, so do use the contents page to jump to the section you’re most interested in.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. There isn’t much of interest at present but things will pick up over the autumn period. You can email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you spot a consultation or inquiry that you’d like to contribute to.

Other news

Turing: The House of Commons Library has a comprehensive briefing on the Turing scheme which funds international study and work placements. At 51 pages it’s a bit long but there is a useful 2 minute read summary here.

Cyber employment: DSIT published Cyber security skills in the UK labour market 2023. It sets out the skills needs and job vacancies across the UK cyber security sector.

Findings:

  • 50% of all UK businesses have a basic cyber security skills gap, while 33% have an advanced cyber security skills gap. These figures are similar to 2022 and 2021.
  • There were 160,035 cyber security job postings in the last year. This is an increase of 30% on the previous year. 37% of vacancies were reported as hard-to-fill (down from 44% in 2022, but same as 2021).
  • Only 17% of the cyber sector workforce is female (down from 22% last year, but similar to 2021 and 2020) and 14% of senior roles are filled by women.
  • There is an estimated shortfall of 11,200 people to meet the demand of the cyber workforce (down from 14,100 last year, largely due to slower growth of the sector).

DAPs: The OfS has published new operational guidance for providers to apply for (or vary existing) degree awarding powers (DAPs). The OfS’ powers mean they can authorise HEIs to grant different types of degrees, including:

  • foundation degrees only (up to and including Level 5 qualifications)
  • awards up to, and including, bachelors’ degrees (up to and including Level 6)
  • all taught awards (up to and including Level 7)
  • research awards (research masters’ degrees at Level 7 and doctoral degrees at Level 8).

Full details here.

Digital Education ID: The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change published The Future of Learning: Delivering Tech-Enabled Quality Education for Britain. There are a number of recommendations mainly aimed at schools. Of interest is their recommendation to introduce a digital learner ID for every pupil that would:

  • contain all educational information, including formal test results, attendance records, week-by-week assessments, marked homework, records of non-academic achievement and more;
  • become a hub of digital learning, connecting learners with apps to supplement traditional teaching;
  • give pupils and parents control of their data and provide them with useful insights from the information, such as suggestions for further study or employment opportunities, or assistance in the selection of schools or nurseries.

A digital ID implemented as described may have implications for the HE admissions system and for student data interface, particularly as the expectation would be to continue this regular feedback model direct to the student throughout their HE study.

Parliamentary Question: Evaluating the interventions aimed at increasing boys’ learning in educational settings.

HE Net Zero: Wonkhe – Achieving a net zero higher education sector will cost £37.1bn based on current decarbonisation costs, according to a report from the Association of Higher Education Directors of Estates, the British Universities Finance Directors Group and the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education. A “cost of net zero calculator” has also been released, designed to allow individual institutions to estimate the financial resources required to reach net zero. Also from UKRI:

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Masterclass: Writing for Policy and Building your Online Profile – 7th September

This is a free online event for academics interested in policy engagement, run by Showrunner Communications on 7th September, 13:00-15:00. You can sign up via Eventbrite.

During this session, participants will learn to write for policy stakeholders, including advice on drafting comment articles and blogs, and Select Committee and Government consultation responses.

This session will also focus on building participants’ professional social media profiles and emphasising their expertise online.

Showrunner’s training workshops build the understanding and skills that academics need to effectively achieve policy impact throughout their careers.

This session will be delivered by Nicky Hobbs and Jennifer Harrison, who are communications, policy, and education specialists, in partnership with Showrunner Communications and the Future Leaders Fellows Development Network.

Jennifer Harrison

Jennifer has a distinctive track record within the fields of policy, public affairs, and communications, on behalf of national and local government, the voluntary and community sector, and higher education. Her work has been used by think tanks and policy institutes, directly influenced legislative and policy change, and has represented policy interests at the highest level, including meetings with ministers, in regional and national media, and at parliamentary inquiries.

Jennifer was Durham University’s first policy engagement lead, working with academics to successfully achieve REF and societal impact. This included helping to secure the first ever parliamentary inquiry into urban soil health, securing changes to criminal justice legislation, and campaigning to end irresponsible lending practices that exacerbate poverty. She has been Chair of the Russell Group Political Affairs Network and has contributed widely to thought leadership across the sector, including policy blogs and conference speaking engagements focusing on the nature of policy engagement and research impact.

Nicky Hobbs

Nicky is a communications and engagement leader with over two decades of experience, Nicky has run programmes and led teams for multiple private and public sector organisations.

Nicky has led award-winning communications departments in two Russell Group universities; UCL and Queen Mary and stakeholder engagement at a Government department. At Queen Mary, Nicky led communications for the ground-breaking City of London Institute of Technology which opened in 2022. As a consultant, she has led engagement campaigns for multiple social enterprises and charities and has significant expertise in developing high-impact digital content with a focus on higher and further education.

 

BU Professor’s research contributes to House of Commons report

Written evidence provided to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee by Prof. Ann Luce, FMC, has been cited in the “Progress in improving NHS mental health services” report released today. Luce’s research around suicide risk to NHS mental health staff and the impact that has on care, served as the underpinning evidence for one of six recommendations the committee has made.

The Public Accounts Committee heard concerning evidence of increasing pressures on NHS mental health staff at a time of spiking demand. In the report published today, it warns that increased workload is leading to burnout for remaining staff, which contributes to a higher rate of staff turnover and a resulting vicious cycle of more staff shortages.

17,000 staff (12%) left the NHS mental health workforce in 2021-22, up from pre-pandemic levels of around 14,000 a year. Those citing work-life balance reasons for leaving increased from 4% in 2012-13 to 14% in 2021-22, and the percentage of days lost from the workforce due to psychiatric reasons doubled in a decade. NHS England told the PAC that, in common with all NHS staff, mental health problems are one of the biggest drivers of sickness among staff.

Staff shortages are holding back NHS mental health services as a whole from improving and expanding. The PAC calls on the NHS to address the fact that staff increases are being outpaced by the rise in demand for services. The NHS mental health workforce increased by 22% overall between 2016-17 and 2021-22, while referrals to these services increased by 44% over the same period. The PAC’s inquiry found that staff vacancy rates in acute inpatient mental health services are at approximately 20% or more.

Good data and information is necessary to manage and improve NHS services, as well as to deliver them impactfully and cost-effectively. The Government and NHS England (NHSE) acknowledged to the PAC that mental health services are lagging behind physical services in this area to a particularly concerning degree. Of 29 integrated care boards surveyed by the National Audit Office, only four said they had all or most of the data they needed to assess patient and user experiences, and none of them felt this in relation to patient outcomes.

Another area of particular concern for the PAC is a continuing lack of progress in the area of treating mental health services with equal priority as physical services – or ‘parity of esteem’. Despite the Government setting this ambition in 2011, and the PAC itself calling four years ago for a clear definition of how to measure progress to get there – a recommendation accepted at the time by the Government – there is still no such clear definition.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The findings of our inquiry must serve as a warning to the Government that mental health is still in danger of not being treated with the same urgent priority as physical health. NHS mental health staff deal with some of the most challenging care needs there are. Staff in this space deserve not just our heartfelt gratitude for the job they do, but concrete support and training to work as part of well-staffed workplaces. Our report warns of a vicious cycle, in which staff shortages and morale both worsen in self-reinforcing parallel.

“The short-term actions being taken by the Government and NHS England to tackle ongoing pressure are welcome. But these numbers are still going in the wrong direction, as demand for care well outpaces the supply of staff to provide it. The Government must act to pull services out of this doom loop. Invaluable care for some of our most vulnerable cannot and must not be provided at the expense of the welfare of the workforce carrying it out.”

NHS England and the Government now have six months to respond.

________________________________________

If you are interested in submitting written evidence based on your research to a Parliamentary Inquiry, please reach out to impact@bournemouth.ac.uk who can help you with putting together your submission. Contributions to inquires are a good pathway to impact for impact case studies for the REF, and can lead to policy change and influence.

HE policy update 28th June 2023

Some major areas covered in this policy update. We summarise all the latest parliamentary action on duty of care and consider what’s next for the sector more generally. Lots if research news, including the House of Lords being grumpy about the UK’s plans (and progress) to become a science and technology superpower. Horizon Europe guarantees have been extended (again). There’s the latest on free speech and the CMA requirements relating to course changes. Finally, an in-depth look at the future of international students from two authoritative figures in the sector.

The outlook for the sector

In a speech at an event hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute, the Secretary of State outlined his 3 priorities for the sector, to meet skills needs, advance social justice and deliver high quality qualifications. He talked extensively about apprenticeships and wanting the sector to do more in this are, as these programmes not only help with skills needs but also support disadvantaged students to earn while they learn, enhancing his social justice agenda too. He also made reference to mental health and wellbeing and the importance of student support.

  • The government has yet to provide the outcome to the Department for Education consultation on minimum entry requirements and student number caps – these have been outstanding since last year. In his speech the Secretary of State for Education, Robert Halfon said that he hoped we would get them soon.
  • Here is a Wonkhe blog covering Halfon’s speech.

Shadow Secretary of State for Education Matt Western also spoke at the event. He wouldn’t be drawn on detailed plans ahead of the work that Labour have to do on their manifesto.  Labour have already indicated they want to replace the current system with something “fairer and more progressive,” including reversing the changes being implemented this year which will increase the payment term and lower the threshold for student loan repayments, meaning that some lower paid graduates will pay more (because of interest and the longer term) than higher paid ones who pay it back earlier. It does sound increasingly like a graduate tax arrangement. He noted that the sector needed to be financially sustainable, but there are no promises about increased income under the new government. The Shadow Minister was also supportive of the LLE.

  • The Shadow Minister noted the cost of living issues impacting students, criticised the negative rhetoric about the value of a degree, and talked about social and educational inequality. He was highly critical of the regulatory burden in the sector, with multiple and overlapping regulators. He expressed admiration for what is happening in Wales, where the Welsh government are in the course of setting up a new combined regulator and funding body for tertiary education, which includes FE and HE, apprenticeships and skills training. Note that in Wales there are means-tested grants available for maintenance costs. The Welsh have also not extended the student loan repayment term to 40 years.
  • Research Professional have a piece Muddied red water which argues the fit with the wider UK isn’t clear, particularly because the Welsh arrangements do not address the issue of financial sustainability as the value of the tuition fee falls.
  • Iain Mansfield (ex- SpAd to Michelle Donelan and Director of Research and Head of Education and Science at Policy Exchange) writes for Wonkhe stating that while a return to real interest rates would be more progressive and seem intuitively fair he’s not sure the claims and the numbers stack up. Mansfield has his own political agenda and if you read the full blog you’ll spot he favours this argument pattern: stating ‘this looks nice…but it won’t work because…’
    • On public perception of fee fairness and the tax system Mansfield states: A system where interest rates are no higher than inflation, so that no-one will pay back more, in real terms, than they paid in is intuitively felt to be fair. Tony Blair, arguably the most canny political operator of our time, understood this, and it was a fundamental concept that underpinned the system of student loans in the New Labour era. Introducing swingeing rates of interest in 2013 toxified the system – and it is no coincidence that fees have only been raised once since then… If you want to deliver more progressive taxation, changing income tax rates is far better targeted than introducing arbitrarily high rates of interest into your higher education funding system – not least because you can target the whole population, rather than the minority who are graduates.
    • On the numbers: There’s a second big problem, and it’s that you can’t use a future asset – the additional money you will hypothetically receive from graduates in 30-40 years’ time – to directly pay for a current expense, such as reduced repayments or new maintenance grants… additional cash now requires additional borrowing. I’m going to go out on a limb, therefore, and say that the claim that reducing monthly payments can be done without additional borrowing will end up being incorrect.
    • On grants Mansfield foresees consequences for universities: …it seems that the poorest students may get a maintenance grant… Restoring maintenance grants is a very reasonable thing to want to do – but it has consequences… For universities rightly worried about their finances it means that maintenance grants and lower repayments look likely to be prioritised over any increase in the funding per student…it shows where Labour’s priorities lie: and that is with graduates and low-income students, not with universities.
    • Mansfield also reminds that Labour’s tax cut messaging didn’t work out for Theresa May when she raised the repayment threshold from £21k to £25k – graduates saved £360 per year but it cost the Treasure £2.3 Billion and had no impact on political gain in the polls
  • Following Labour’s announcements that they will not abolish tuition fees NUS Scotland campaigned Scottish Labour who have confirmed they continue to support free tuition in Scotland.

To note: All together now: An independent report into tertiary education in Scotland (the Withers report) – Fit for the Future: developing a post-school learning system to fuel economic transformation – advocates for a single organisation to provide the funding, strategy (and presumably operationalisation) of all tertiary education in Scotland. This in an interesting one to watch how it plays out because while Westminster haven’t been bold enough to suggest this for England’s tertiary education it fits well with the Government’s ideals of a rationalised and coherent post-compulsory sector where the different routes through education have a parity of esteem. Also, FE and HE Minister Halfon is on a crusade to tackle the systemic underfunding of FE provision. Such a change in England would require a major upheaval, however, it’s an interesting one to watch for the medium to long term. That is, if Scotland even decides to adopt it (Scottish HE Minister Graeme Day has made encouraging noises but stopped short of committed support). If you’re interest in the topic Wonkhe have a blog but the detail is here.

Susan Lapworth, Chief Executive of the OfS also spoke at the HEPI event and talked about the two priorities of the OfS: quality and standards and equality of opportunity, alongside the enabling and underpinning matters such as governance and financial sustainability. The OfS recently published its annual report and accounts.

Student Experience

Ahead of the NSS, which it has now been confirmed will be published on 10th August, the annual HEPI/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey was published in June.

  • 76% of students feel that the cost of living crisis has affected their studies. 50% state that their studies were impacted “a little” and over a quarter (26%) state that their studies were affected “a lot”.
  • There has been a major increase in the number of students in paid employment, from 45% to 55%.
  • The proportion of students whose experience exceeded expectations increased from 17% to 19%.
  • 37% of students said they received good or very good value for money.

The reasons for these perceptions are interesting as are the relative changes – generally, the % for each reason has fallen for each category, both in the positives and negatives, even below the 2020 cohort (generally completing pre-covid).  The industrial action category was new this year after being highlighted in the open text replies previously. Note:

  • A fall in positive responses linked to course organisation (11 ppts) although a drop in negative comments too
  • A fall in positive responses to teaching quality but negative comments have also fallen
  • A fall in positive responses to level of challenge
  • Positive change in relation to quality of feedback
  • A fall in the positive and a rise in the negative from 2020 and 2021 on accessibility of teaching staff

As usual, there is a lot more content including analysis by characteristic, and the report is worth reading in full.

Here’s the Wonkhe blog on the survey.

Horizon Europe Guarantee – extended

Following on from the not-new-news Viscount Camrose set out above the Government has announced the extension of support for UK Horizon Europe applicants until the end of September 2023. The extension continues to guaranteed funding for successful UK Horizon applicants. End May figures note that £1.1 billion of grant offers have been made.

  • The guarantee will be in place to cover all Horizon Europe calls that close on or before 30 September 2023. Eligible, successful applicants to Horizon Europe will receive the full value of their funding at their UK host institution for the lifetime of their grant.
  • Successful awardees do not need to leave the UK to receive this funding, which will provide reassurance for future collaborations, and support UK researchers whether association is confirmed, or otherwise.

Full information on the Government announcement here. Operational detail on the UKRI website.

UK as Science and Technology Superpower

The Lords met to discuss Science and Technology Superpower, following the publication of the Science and Technology committee report. Leading the debate Baroness Brown of Cambridge was disdainful about aspects of the Government’s performance including:

  • the “science superpower by 2030” slogan was vague;
  • that numerous sectoral strategies existed across government, but they did not appear to fit into a clear, prioritised plan, and without international collaboration;
  • concerns over the scale of investment and that the Government should adopt a new, appropriate, target for R&D investment.

The Baroness called for better definition on the Government’s strategy, for a Science Minister to sit in Cabinet and for the UK to rebuild its reputation as an international pattern, starting with association with Horizon Europe.

Other Peers raised:

  • that regulation is important to support the sector and where do specific sectoral strategies, such as the AI strategy, fit into an overall coherent approach across all sectors.
  • questioned how the Government were tracking what other countries did; the importance of researchers from abroad and whether scientific visa applicants were subsidising other functions of the Home Office.
  • the need to develop global science partnerships, also that many, such as the Wellcome Trust, the ABPI, and the Royal Society, had highlighted that the UK needed to articulate more clearly its policies of global co-operation to attract science talent to the UK. Immigration policy popped up several times during the debate.
  • that the report could have gone further in articulating how the UK could harness its advantages of agility, expertise and a focus on global impact to overcome disadvantages of scale, such as the Vaccine Taskforce.
  • That ecology and social innovation were missing from the five critical technologies identified in the science and technology framework.

Lord Rees of Ludlow on HE: there are some worrying trends. The labour involved in grant applications was diminishing chances of success while research was still strongly concentrated in universities the encroachment of audit culture and other pressures are rendering universities less propitious environments for research projects that demand intense and sustained effort. Dedicated, stand-alone labs might become preferable, such as the biomedical science labs which allowed for longer-term research, supplemented by the Wellcome Trust, the cancer charities and a strong pharmaceutical industry. He said we needed this in energy, AI and other crucial technologies.

Viscount Hanworth stated concern over the systematic underestimation of the percentage of GDP that the UK devoted to research and development highlighting that it was still well below the OECD average and far behind that of most research-intensive nations. He added that the UK could not become a scientific superpower if it lacked a basis of scientific and technological industries that were ready to call upon the skills of the research workers.

The Government’s representative, Viscount Camrose, responded that the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) would promote a diverse research and innovation system, connecting discovery science to new companies, growth and jobs. Camrose said the science and technology framework challenges every part of government to put the UK at the forefront of global science and technology. Action will focus on creating the right environment to develop critical technologies; investing in R&D, talent and skills; financing innovative science and tech companies; creating international opportunities; providing access to physical and digital infrastructure; and improving regulation and standards.

Camrose tacked the funding calls by remind of the Government’s committed spend:

  • £2.5bn over the next decade for quantum tech
  • £1bn strategy for the UK’s semiconductor sector
  • Government had recommitted to increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20bn per annum by 2024-25, representing a one-third cash increase and the largest ever increase in public R&D spending over a spending review period.

On Horizon, Camrose stated that the Government continued to be in discussions, in good faith, with their European counterparts on the UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe and hope that their negotiations will be successful. Pioneer will become the default if the Government is not able to secure Horizon association on fair and appropriate terms.

Camrose also updated on ARIA’s progress – it has been established and is still in its early stage of development. ARIA is recruiting its first cohort of programme directors, who will help to shape and inform the agency’s first set of research programmes. None the less, funding transformative research with long-term benefits will require patience, as prepared for in the agency’s design.

On the risks of precarity for research careers, Camrose said the Government is looking at how to support through a new deal for PGRs and mentioned UKRI’s sector consultation as a first phase of this long-term programme of work, and the results would be published soon, in 2023.

Quick Research News

REF changes: Nature have a lovely gentle editorial into the changes to REF2028. While the ‘how’ detail isn’t known yet we do know that the weighting will be changed:

  • Output (now named contribution to knowledge and understanding) weighting is reduced from 60% to 50% of the overall score.
  • The environment weighting (now known as people, culture and environment) increases from 15% to 25%.
  • Everyone’s favourite – Impact – (now renamed engagement and impact) will remain at 25% of the overall score

Read the article for more on intentions for change around equality and diversity, quality PhD mentorship, and the expansion of the definition of excellence.

Wonkhe also have blogs on REF2028 and more background delving including the FRAP (Future Research Assessment Programme) is in this blog, and there’s a guest blog by the University of Liverpool – REF 2028: A Quiet Transformation.

Research infrastructure: Wonkhe report that – UKRI has announced £72m of investment into research infrastructure, including funding for wind tunnels and digital infrastructure for biomedicine. An independent report into progress with UKRI’s infrastructure programme has also been published, finding the programme has generally delivered its intended outputs and outcomes. However, the report observes that business case development and approval processes are still “overly complicated, duplicative and lengthy,” while noting that these processes sit outside the Infrastructure Fund’s remit and involve decision makers beyond UKRI.

Moonshots: Wonkhe highlight that UKRI and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) have opened a call for submissions for “moonshots” – “bold, ambitious, and transformative ideas” across the research and innovation landscape. The call for ideas will be followed by discussion events and shortlisting, with chosen proposals set to receive funding through the government’s Horizon Europe alternative Pioneer – or possibly through alternative sources of funding if the UK does associate to Horizon.

Defence innovation: Wales has committed £5 million funding for Defence and Security acceleration across several streams. More detail here.

AI mitigation: Rishi announced the UK will host the first major global summit on AI safety (following polling show public concern over the safety of AI). Also announced were:

  • The Government will increase the number of scholarships the UK Government funds for students undertaking post-graduate study and research at UK and US universities, enhancing our shared expertise in STEM subjects. Under the scholarship uplift announced today, the number of Marshall scholarships will increase by 25%, to 50 places a year. The Marshall scheme was established 70 years ago to give high potential Americans the opportunity to study in the UK for two years.
  • The UK will also fund five new Fulbright scholarships a year – up from the 25 currently funded. The Fulbright programme is predominantly funded by the United States to sponsor international students to study in the US and vice versa. These new scholarships will focus on STEM-related subjects, boosting the UK and US’ shared expertise in the technologies of the future.

Research Security: Wonkhe – Scientists at least 11 British universities have helped the Iranian regime develop technology that can be used in its drone programme and fighter jets, the Jewish Chronicle reported yesterday. Politicians expressed “deep concern” over the findings, with the government saying that Britain would “not accept collaborations which compromise our national security.” The story is picked up in the Telegraph.

Canadian Cooperation: Wonkhe – Science minister George Freeman has announced a range of agreements covering collaboration on science and innovation issues with Canada. These include £20m for a joint programme on biomanufacturing, deeper collaboration on quantum and climate change research, and Canada becoming a partner to the International Science Partnership Fund.

NERC: NERC interim executive chair has been confirmed as Peter Liss (of University of East Anglia).

Research culture: Wonkhe blog – A recent parliamentary committee report called for the REF to incentivise reproducibility – but more fundamentally the issue is about promoting openness and transparency. Grace Gottlieb explains.

Life Science: Jeremy Hunt announced £650 million package to drive growth and innovation in the Life Sciences sector. The government is committed to making the UK the most attractive destination for life sciences companies and has developed a comprehensive package of policies spanning regulation, research and development (R&D), infrastructure, skills and planning which is aimed at driving investment, growth and innovation. Full details here.

Innovation economy: The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) published The Skills Opportunity: Building a more innovative UK (summary here) it covers the challenges for education and skills provision in the UK, with recommendations for building a more research and innovation-intensive economy.

AI research: The Government announced (UKRI funded) research investments to develop trustworthy artificial intelligence (AI) research with £13 million going to 13 universities for developing AI technologies to have more sustainable land management, accelerate energy efficient CO2 capture, and improve resilience for natural hazards and extreme events. Also £31 million to create a UK and international research and innovation ecosystem for responsible and trustworthy AI. The consortium led by the University of Southampton will fund multi-disciplinary research and work across academia, business, and the public sector. Plus £2 million for 42 projects’ feasibility studies in businesses as part of the BridgeAI programme. These projects will look at developing a range of tools to facilitate assessment of AI technologies through governance, fairness, accountability, transparency, and privacy, and security. And, finally, £8 million for 2 Turing AI Researcher Fellowships, funding ground-breaking research on some of artificial intelligence’s biggest challenges including its application across drug and food design, and healthcare imaging.

Diversity in STEM: Dods summarise – The Science, Innovation and Technology Committee has published the government response to their report on diversity and inclusion in STEM, which it describes as “disappointing” and has urged the Government to adopt a more purposeful strategy. In its response the Government said it is preparing a cross-Government action plan, led by the Department for Education, to “drive wider participation in STEM” and see “a more diverse range of people enter the science and technology workforce by 2030”. The Chair of the Committee, Greg Clark MP, has said that “without any specific commitments or timings this amounts to a plan to have a plan.”

Duty of Care

Dominating parliamentary time on HE matters recently has been the call for universities to hold a specific duty of care for the wellbeing of students. The impetus for change has been driven by a group of parents who tragically lost a child to suicide whilst at university. Their campaign has been mentioned in Prime Minster’s Questions and formally entered parliamentary business through a petition which reached the required threshold for the matter to be debated (see here for the volume of individuals that signed the petition in the constituencies surrounding BU). The Petitions Committee also ran an evidence session on the statutory duty of care (our shorter summary of the evidence session is here).

Ahead of the Westminster Hall Debate the Petitions Committee ran an online survey on the proposal for a statutory duty of care for HE students to gauge public opinion on the matter. The survey revealed:

  • 27% of students who experienced poor mental health said their university was supportive/very supportive of their mental health.
  • 40% said the university was unsupportive/very unsupportive.
  • 86% of current students said they had suffered with poor mental health at university.
  • 77% of parents or guardians of a current student said that their child was suffering or had suffered with poor mental health whilst at university. Of those, 91% had not been contacted by the university about their child’s mental health
  • More statistics here.

Outside of the headline statistics are a number of quotes the Committee has included in the survey report.

  • University staff member: “The university I work at has implemented some measures, but they are not ‘joined up’ and most staff don’t know what they are. There is no clear guidance on who should do what.”
  • University student: “with the ‘trusted contact,’ I have had the opportunity to put someone down which I did when I started at university. However, when I experienced a mental health crisis and told the student wellbeing team I was suicidal, they did not contact my ‘trusted contact’ or ask if they could. They also did not offer me any support other than telling me to go to A&E if I hurt myself. So while it’s good for a university to have the ‘trusted contact’ option it’s also important that they use it
  • Parent: “Although University has various contacts, like student support, counselling, there is no way to actually speak to someone as a parent when you have concerns about a student…In an urgent situation as a parent you need to know there is a way of escalating your concerns.”

At the Westminster Hall Debate Nick Fletcher, member of both the Education Committee and the Petitions Committee, and chair of the Issues Affecting Men and Boys APPG, opened the session by noting between 2017 and 2020 that 202 male students and 117 female students had died by suicide. Here are some of the main contributions made by Members during the debate:

  • Hilary Benn stated that where a student attempted suicide, it was inexplicable that the university would not contact the parents and questioned whether the UUK suicide prevention guidelines should be made compulsory.
  • Nick Fletcher stated that many universities cited GDPR issues regarding contacting parents but that, in his view safeguarding always overrides GDPR. He also questioned why universities were still to sign up to the UUK guidelines or the university mental health charter [Helen Grant MP later stated only 61 universities have signed the Charter, only 5 had achieved Charter status and no universities had reached the higher merit and distinction levels of accreditation].
  • Nick Fletcher also stated that the witnesses they’d heard from in the committee’s evidence session – such as PAPYRUS and the student services organisation, AMOSSHE – had agreed that a duty of care would not be the best approach.
  • Nick Fletcher: questioned why universities were still carrying out bad practice such as telling students they must leave by email, without any thought of the inevitable emotional and mental impact. He asked why institutions weren’t coming together to find common themes in coroners’ reports of the 319 students.
  • Nick Fletcher: urged the Government: a statutory duty of care would ensure that all parties knew where they stood, but until we have one, please use the levers you have to make the universities do better at helping our young people. If they do not, do what the petitioners ask and legislate so that they must.
  • Paul Blomfield, Chair of the Students APPG: noted UCAS estimates that over 70,000 students entered higher education every year with a mental health condition, but around half of them told UCAS in a survey that they had not shared that information prior to entry. Also that universities could not be the only post of call for students who were struggling – students should be able to access NHS services, but were struggling to do so.
  • Paul Blomfield: stated he was not convinced that a duty of care would do the job those advocating it wanted, and could have unintended consequences. However, he said there still needed to be clear expectations on universities to up their game across the sector. He urged the Minister to acknowledge the other factors contributing to the mental health crisis, and asked what he would do, along with DHSC colleagues, to make support available to those working alongside universities.
  • Helen Grant: a statutory duty of care would set the bar to level up… a standard that required all higher education providers to do what might reasonably be expected, while maintaining their autonomy in deciding exactly how that would be achieved.
  • Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Matt Western, had met many families from the LEARN network and stated their diversity and number were a painful reminder that no family was immune from the consequences of the mental health crisis that affected many students on campuses. He stated he appreciated the time and money that many universities gave to providing mental health support for students and staff but said the gap between the expectations of students and parents and the reality of mental health provision in universities was far too great. He acknowledged that demand for services and support was clearly rising, with one in four student respondents to one survey reporting a diagnosed mental health issue. Many of those issues were also starting earlier in students’ lives. He also expressed disappointment that so few universities were signatories to the University Mental Health Charter.
  • Matt Western highlighted that in Wales, the Commission must ensure it’s satisfied with the effectiveness of registered education providers’ arrangements for supporting and promoting the welfare of their students and staff. Western noted Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce such a requirement for FE & HE providers and asked if the Minister would consider something similar in England.

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon, responded on behalf of the Government to the debate. He stated:

  • he owed it to the memories of the young people to collectively take strong and effective action that prevented further tragedies.
  • the Government’s approach would rely on funding services, spreading best practice and having clear responsibilities for providers and protection for students.
  • the suicide-safer universities framework provided guidance on suicide prevention for university leaders. There was also now postvention best practice on providing compassionate and timely support after a suspected suicide. The associated charter programme was not a panacea but a process which enabled continuous improvement.
  • if the response is not satisfactory from universities then the Department would ask the Office for Students to look at the merits of a new registration condition on mental health.
  • Professor Edward Peck was appointed as the first ever student support champion in 2022 and is chairing a new higher education mental health implementation taskforce, with its outputs reporting directly to Ministers. By the end of this year, the taskforce would be asked to put in place an interim plan for better early identification of students at risk and for delivering the university student commitment as well as clear targets for improvements by providers. By May 2024, it should follow with a final report outlining the next steps, including how the sector will publicly report on the progress measures over the coming years.

Halfon declined to introduce legislation to create a statutory duty of care: I absolutely get the arguments and hope I have demonstrated that I share the petitioners’ fundamental aims, which are to protect those who study at university and to prevent future tragedies. If creating a duty for higher education providers towards their students was the right way to achieve that, it would absolutely have the Government’s backing. There are reasons why we believe that it may not be the most effective intervention.

Halfon stated there was already a sufficient general duty of care in common law as part of the law of negligence, plus further protections for students within the Equality Act 2010 to protect students with disabilities, including mental health conditions. He expressed concern that if a framework was too overbearing people will recoil even further and avoid any natural intervention that they would ordinarily make.

Halfon:

  • setting aside the legal position, we do not believe that the most effective way to improve student mental health is to introduce new legislative requirements when the sector is making progress on a voluntary basis. Although the sector absolutely could and should do more…providers are still innovating and improving, and there is not yet consensus on which interventions are most effective…It is no excuse for not doing anything or for inaction, but it does mean that the one-size-fits-all approach may not achieve the best results and support for students suffering from mental health difficulties, which is what we all want to see…
  • I expect universities, as organisations with an obligation to do the right thing for their students, to rise to the challenge that we have set for them today…if we do not see the expected improvements I will not hesitate to ask the Office for Students to introduce a new registration condition on mental health. It is vital that the whole sector takes this call to action seriously.
  • I hope that I have been clear that we are not standing by and letting things continue as they are. I am determined that all universities will sign up to the mental health charter

In conclusion, Nick Fletcher said it was disappointing that progress was not being made faster but if there was not an improvement after 2024 when all universities had signed up to the mental health charter then he would be back to ask for the issue to be looked at again.

For more coverage here are some media sources:

So what’s next?

While the Minister has turned down the request for a statutory duty of care the matter is very much of national interest and the parent group’s campaign has brought greater focus and national coordination from the previous reporting of isolated student suicides that occurred across various institutions.

Halfon has remained true to his word and aims for the sector to provide consistent support with improvements where necessary. His expectation is that matters will progress and he is serious about intervening with licence or other conditions if action isn’t sufficient or fast enough. Halfon immediately wrote to universities setting out a range of actions (below). Of course, we have to mention the potential disruptive factor – the impending general election. Halfon has set a timeline to 2024, however the general election must take place by 28 January 2025. Even if the current Government wins Halfon isn’t certain to remain as Universities Minister and the policy focus changes as Minister’s change. That said, this is a matter of interest to all major parties and the media and while the specifics may alter with electoral changes the thrust of the matter will remain (and presumably so will the OfS).

Halfon’s Letter: Halfon tweeted the contents of his letter stating I am not closing the door on future legislation if that is what is required but I am confident the sector will rise to the challenge of the action plan I have set out below. The message is clear do it voluntarily, with some flexibility to apply it within own institutional context or be dictated to by the regulator/legislation.

Also important to mention is that there is a new NSS question on access to mental health support. It’ll be closely watched and if results are low the OfS may act (even though their regulatory remit does not apply to student welfare or support systems).

There is also a Duty of Care Bill introduced by Tim Farron (Lib Dem, Westmorland and Lonsdale). As expected, it’s a PMB (Presentation Bill), it’s nothing but a title – no Bill text, no explanatory notes. A Bill to provide that higher education institutions have a duty of care for their students; and for connected purposes. It was presented for First Reading on Wed 21 June and will (may!) receive Second Reading on Fri 24 November. Of course, there are LOADS of them scheduled for Second Reading, and being a Presentation Bill it’s at the bottom of the pile.

Mental Health debate

There was also a recent debate on mental health treatment and support.
Aaron Bell MP:

  • Aaron highlighted that many universities have a professional counselling and mental health team to support its students.
  • He spoke of HESA data: In 2021-22 19% (416,000) of UK students declared a disability—and within that, 119,500 said they had a mental health condition (5.5% of all UK students). He stressed the growth in number – That number is three and a half times higher than it was in 2014-15 and noted higher rates are found among women, undergraduates, full-time students and those in their second or later years. He stated: there is an issue here that we have to address
  • He believes the pandemic is partly to blame.

Layla Moran also focussed on students withing the debate:

  • It will come as no surprise that the Mental Health Foundation found that 40% of students are not coping well with their anxiety.
  • In Oxfordshire…82% of students at Oxford Brookes University had self-medicated with drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health issues.
  • Where students know that they cannot rely on the NHS, an added burden is put on university staff. Tutors increasingly find themselves acting as therapists or counsellors for their overburdened, ill or anxious students.
  • …the students I have spoken to have made it clear that “University wellbeing services are not and cannot be a substitute for adequate mental health care”
  • On the duty of care Layla stated: It is just common sense. It already exists between employers and employees. All we are asking is for the same duty of care to apply to students.
  • we all know, the problems in young people’s mental health services are not restricted to those at university. So many people tell me the system is broken: parents, teachers, educational psychologists and clinical psychologists all identify the same failings. One parent wrote to me:
    • I am breaking my heart listening to my son saying horrible things about himself, threatening to take his life, and struggling with his mental health in general. Next year we would have been on the waiting list for four years and nothing will probably happen.
  • We know how to fix this; it is about more funding. A senior healthcare professional in Oxfordshire told me that “every pound spent on a child’s mental health saves thousands in the future.”

Regulatory

Wonkhe report that the OfS will publish a review highlighting concerns about some assessment and awarding practices in higher education providers. We’re also waiting for consultations on freedom of speech and the lifelong learning entitlement.

If you fancy some light relief read Research Professional’s irreverent take down of the OfS under the banner of commenting on the OfS annual report.

  • Excerpts: As a bureaucracy, the OfS, now in its fifth year, seems to exist to defend the act of regulation rather than to actually represent the interests of students.. Questions are being asked about the OfS, such as why it cannot complete a single investigation… The regulator’s inquiry into the graduate outcomes of university business schools has been going on—shrouded in secrecy—for a year. An investigation into grade inflation in English higher education began in September 2022 and is yet to report. There is a lot of regulation going on but precious little regulatory outcomes. In March of this year, the OfS announced plans to bill universities found guilty in an investigation for the cost of their investigation. To date, no one has been sent an invoice. The investigations continue.
  • the OfS has become an inertial and litigious organisation, but one oddly enough prone to legal mishap. The regulator lost its legal fight against the Bloomsbury Institute and as a result embarked on an odyssey of consultation and reform that has resulted in ever-greater monitoring and reporting for universities.

The article reminds that the fees universities pay to OfS be registered HE providers are being increased substantially. Yet the OfS currently has reserves of £6.2 million—more than some universities. Although overall for the OfS reserves are down which is mostly due to the decline in the value of direct grants from central government. Research Professional (RP) question Does that mean regulatory fees are increasing for providers to make up for cuts in funding from the DfE? RP also provide a nice comparison: The OfS does seem to cost an awful lot to run. The staff bill for the regulator last year was £25.9m. If the OfS were a university, it would be roughly the size of the University of Chichester.

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

The Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill had an airing in Parliament. It was debated in the House of Lords at Second Reading stage and has progressed to Committee Stage where rigorous scrutiny will commence. The Bill is the legislative support for the Government’s lifelong loan entitlement (LLE) which will introduce a credit-based method to calculate maximum tuition fee limits based on the delivery of modules, short and full courses across a ‘course year’ rather than an ‘academic year.’ It only applies to England and provides a personal post-18 funding pot which students can chose to spend in flexible ways across their lifetime.

The Government intends to set the detail of the fees and credit information through secondary legislation so that each time changes are required it does not need to go through the full legislative process again. The downside of this is it hands greater power to the Government and reduces parliamentary scrutiny and intervention. Concerns over the lack of detail in the current Bill on these important aspects was raised by Baroness Wilcox of Newport, the Shadow Education Spokesperson. She stressed that Labour broadly supported the introduction of the LLE and the credit-based method to determine fees, but called for a definition of credits and what the yearly minimum and maximum  credits would be. She also questioned if different per-credit limits would be set based on the intensity and duration or based on the subject (topic) and level of study, and whether all 2025 students would automatically fall under the LLE or if it would be a gradual transition. She also raised the current part time student premium and wanted this flexibility to be retained, and for distance learning maintenance support to be introduced for access purposes.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat) wanted to know the criteria by which modules would be determined to be eligible, spoke up on the uncertainties for disabled students, and suggested that if high-cost modules did not attract pro-rata teaching grants it would disincentivise modularisation in disciplines where there were particular skill shortages.

Lord Stevens of Birmingham highlighted the DfE short course trial hadn’t attracted much interest and suggested that the LLE fee support may not be attractive, Baroness Garden agreed with this stating she felt the debt was unlikely to be attractive to mature learners. Lord Stevens also raised  maintenance support for distance learners.

Lord Willetts (Conservative) called for more detail on how the new third category of OfS registration, which would enable new providers to supplement existing provision from established universities, would work. Highlighting policy inconsistencies he also asked the Minister to reconcile that the policy encouraged learners to dip in and out of courses whereas the OfS’ monitor and criticise universities with high drop-out rates.

Lord Rees of Ludlow (emeritus professor at Cambridge University) argued that post-18 education needed to be much more flexible and open and offer everyone the opportunity to enter or re-enter, maybe part-time or online, at any stage in their lives.

Lord Johnson of Marylebone (Conservative, previous Universities and Science Minister) stated the Bill addressed an important problem with the current funding system for HE (i.e. the impact it had on lifelong and adult learning) which Johnson believes has been in crisis for a decade. He also noted another problem was that the system had not allowed tuition fees to rise with inflation stating this has led to the progressive defunding of universities. And the consequential increased dependence of universities on international student income to cross-subsidise domestic tuition and research was an issue. Johnson declared disappointment that the Bill did not address the problems he noted and that modular degree wouldn’t commence until 2027-28 (almost a decade since the Augar report was commissioned). He also called on the Government to make modular funding available for level 7 provision.

Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that the Government would not impose credit transfer arrangements and would facilitate credit transfer through other methods, including through the introduction of the requirement for providers to produce a standardised transcript on the completion of individual modules. She also confirmed the number of learning hours in a credit would remain as now, unless standards in the sector changed.

On rollout the Baroness explained 2025-26 would roll out higher technical qualifications and modules at levels 4 and 5. And that maintenance loans would be available for part-time study below level 6.

You can read the full cut and thrust of the debate here.

Free Speech

King’s College London (KCL) announced that UUK will reconvene a previous advisory group for free speech and academic freedom, with KCL’s President and Principal, Shitij Kapur, Charing the group. KCL state:

  • The primary role of the Advisory Group will be to shape the implementation of the Freedom of Speech Act and provide advice and recommendations to the UUK Board, which will include shaping UUK’s engagement with the OfS in relation to free speech and academic freedom.
  • Alongside responding to the immediate policy environment, the Advisory Group will also play an important role in providing guidance on the approach UUK should be taking to the wider free speech and academic freedom debate, including how the sector should respond over the medium-to-long-term and where UUK can further support members to meet their new duties.

Student news

Course changes

Wonkhe have a blog on the updated CMA (Competition and Market Authority) guidance which strengthens students’ rights when teaching is significantly changed. Wonkhe say: The guidance warns providers over giving a “misleading impression” about whether a course is accredited, who is involved in its delivery, and how many optional modules are available – it advises that students’ express agreement must be obtained for deviations from the pre-contract information which informs their decision-making, including information about teaching. The CMA also cautions that contractual clauses excusing providers from liability due to industrial action may not be regarded as fair, as this is something which “could be within [an institution’s] control.” Here’s the blog: Making major changes to courses just got a lot harder.

There’s some good detail with clear interpretation on the legal requirements in this Pinsent Masons blog: Updated CMA guidance adds to universities’ obligations and enhances students’ consumer rights.

And, most recently, the OfS has published an Insight Brief setting out the scope of consumer protection law and how OfS regulation protects consumer (student) rights.

Loan rates:

Plan 1 (pre-2012) student loans have increased to 5.5%.

Admissions | Personal statements

HEPI published a policy note – How do Admissions Professionals use the UCAS personal statement? Context: UCAS plans to reform the personal statement to short questions covering the six themes of motivation; preparedness for course; preparedness through other experiences; extenuating circumstances; preparedness for study; and learning styles. HEPI surveyed admissions professionals to explore how they use undergraduate person statements and what implications this has for UCAS’ plans. Here are the key stats:

  • While the majority of personal statements are read, the average time spent on each statement is two minutes. 39% are read for one minute or less.
  • Personal statements are mainly used to assess applicants’ interest in a course (88%), or to gather contextual information (65%), assess academic potential (40%) and assess work experience (29%).
  • The majority of admissions professionals feel that decisions are primarily made on the basis of grades
  • The personal statement is considered to be important for vocational or highly selective courses.

HEPI says the results have implications for UCAS’ proposed changes:

  • There is little evidence that ‘preparedness for study’ and ‘preferred learning styles’ are used in admissions – therefore, these themes should be removed from UCAS’s proposals.
  • There should be space within the UCAS form for applicants to discuss extenuating circumstances, as admissions professionals do consider this information.
  • There is little evidence to support the division of ‘preparedness for the course’ and ‘preparedness through other experiences’ into two separate questions – only 6% of personal statements for non-vocational subjects were used to assess applicants’ transferable skills.

Caring – life chances

Parliament has launched its first APPG ‘inquiry’ (investigation) into the impact of caring responsibilities on the life chances of young adult carers. UCL research shows young carers and young adult carers were 38% less likely to get a degree than others their age. Carers aged 23 or over were also less likely to get a job. Those caring for 35 hours or more a week are 46% less likely to enter employment than non-carers. And a Carers Trust survey finds greater demands on their time than previously – 56% of young and young adult carers are spending more time caring than the year before, while 47% are looking after more people than they used to. The inquiry will look into include access to education among other caring issues. It will also focus on how caring affects young people into adulthood such as the impact on further education and employment prospects. A report is expected in November 2023 and may contain recommendations for HE providers on supporting carers.

Free school meals – educational outcomes comparison between providers

HEPI published a paper on educational outcomes across different universities for students formerly eligible for Free School Meals: The disconnect between quality and inequality: An analysis of the gaps in educational outcomes achieved by free school meal-eligible students in English higher education. Quick points:

  • Institutions with a TEF Gold Award recruit significantly fewer Free School Meal pupils as a proportion of their overall intake compared to Bronze and Silver universities.
  • Universities that recruit a smaller number of Free School Meal students have a higher entry tariff and are disproportionally more likely to receive a Gold award under the TEF. Not a single provider with more than 30% of their students having been eligible for Free School Meals was awarded a Gold in the TEF.
  • There are no significant correlations between the proportion of Free School meal pupils and the size of any outcome gaps (Continuation, Completion, Attainment or Progression). Gold providers, despite having far fewer Free School Meal students, do not achieve comparatively better Continuation, Completion, Attainment or Progression for these students compared to Silver and Bronze providers.

Ethnicity Degree Awarding Gap

TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education) published the report Approaches to addressing the ethnicity degree awarding gap – Contextualising the landscape and developing a typology. The project:

  • Reviewed APPs (Access and Participation Plans) to produce a typology of approaches.
  • Interviewed sector stakeholders on institutional infrastructure, attitudes, barriers, and enablers.
  • Established an Expert Reference Group.

The analysis of APPs found 16 different types of approaches to addressing the ethnicity degree awarding gap (EDAG) – see pages 18-19 for the list and explanations of the types and this chart shows how frequently they’re found:

Key findings:

  • Despite the sector being broadly aware of the EDAG, they lack confidence about how to address the gap.
  • While the report shows a real commitment to addressing the gap, HE providers need to do more to consider approaches based on contextual factors – such as institutional student data – to bring about meaningful change.
  • One-of-a-kind individuals were hailed as catalysts for effective progress when addressing the EDAG therefore there is concern that meaningful work may stagnate or cease if these individuals were to move roles.
  • The sector has a good awareness of the need for evidence-informed practice, and the need to evaluate approaches to addressing the EDAG. However, capacity and capability for evaluation vary greatly between HE providers.
  • Working with students is central to addressing the EDAG, therefore there is a need for HE providers to consider how they work with students to ensure their voices are sought and valued.

In response to the findings, TASO recommends HE providers:

  • Develop Theories of Change (ToCs) and associated evaluation plans which make clear links between proposed activities and desired outcomes. This will allow providers to consider the barriers and facilitators to carrying out an approach successfully.
  • Consider the different elements of approaches and how these would work at their organisation so they are better placed to develop interventions that are tailored to their organisational context.
  • Reflect on organisational structures and allocate accountability and responsibility for addressing this gap so providers can best determine what systemic changes can be implemented to support these challenges.
  • Use data to inform action taken to address this gap. By including data analysis as a stage in their ToC, providers can highlight the importance of this and use findings to inform later stages of the approach.
  • Include students in their work to address this gap and develop models for student co-creation, moving away from a model that only consults students on plans to address these inequalities.

TASO are now tendering for providers to receiving evaluation support to develop Theories of Change for interventions aimed at addressing the ethnicity degree awarding gap.

International

The future of international students in the UK

Lord Jo Johnson, former Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister (2016-19), gave the keynote address on the Future of International Students at the Westminster Higher Education Forum. Johnson is a supporter of international students and the economic and wider benefits they bring to the UK and our education system. He was instrumental in establishing the graduate work visa during his time in office.

Johnson spoke of the gradual weakening of the political consensus for the graduate work route and the growth of international student numbers. He highlighted three key concerns that the HE sector should resolve to satisfy and reverse the Government’s cooling of support for international students. Johnson urged the HE sector to engage with these concerns rationally and make visible changes where needed.

  1. Address the false narrative that international students are displacing domestic student and/or taking ‘their’ graduate jobs. Emphasise that international and domestic students are symbiotic and reliant on each other. Ensure the cross-subsidy from international fees is seen as a positive as they increase choice and broaden the range of courses available to domestic students making what would otherwise be loss m7aking courses viable.
  2. The Government’s concern that some institutions are seen to be selling immigration into the UK rather than education is genuine and one of the factors behind the changes to the dependants visa policy. Johnson intimidated that these institutions are ruining it for the majority and that the practice needs to be immediately and publicly curtailed to address the Government’s concerns. Johnson stated he supports the cessation within visas for international students to switch to work mid-stream (and felt it never should have been an option). The second element within the immigration concerns that Johnson felt strongly about is that universal systems need to be in place to check and ensure that international students really have the funds needed and declared to gain their visas. Johnson highlighted examples of a London food bank which is providing for 1,000 international students per week and overcrowded housing where up to 15 students are sharing a small flat. Johnson stated that these issues were exacerbated by the pandemic as students were not able to access sufficient work. Johnson called on the sector to address these concerns to achieve a sustainable international student model.
  3. Johnson’s third concern focused on (lack of) diversity within the international student body. The overreliance on certain nations of international students leaves universities vulnerable to geopolitical changes and Johnson argues limits the experience for other students. For example, the reliance on China within post graduate courses and India for masters students (particularly in a specific set of post-92 universities) was a concern for Johnson. Johnson highlighted that the Government has stated it wants diversity in the international student body but the dominance of certain countries is creating difficulties. In addition, to head off Government concerns, Johnson urged universities to raise the quality of students entering the system.

Johnson gently sang the praises of the DfE and their work representing the value of international students to the Home Office stating if not for their efforts the package of measures introducing restrictions for international students and their dependants could have been much worse. Johnson felt the DfE intervention protected the international graduate route architecture. However, he believed the days of government support for rapid international growth are over and cited technicalities in the wording of the Government’s current policy documents to demonstrate this. Johnson felt this position was inescapable because of the abuses creeping in at the edges – and believes that if these been dealt with at the time today’s restrictions could have been avoided. To this end Johnson recommended four reforms which we set out below.

It’s worth a mention at this point of how influential Johnson remains within Parliament. You’d be wrong to assume his influence is diminished because he now sits as a Peer, not an MP, and because his brother, Boris, has resigned his position under a recent cloud. Jo, as a previous long-standing education minister has established authority, is well connected, and he joins a powerful group of other ex-Ministers and education sector experts within the House of Lords that have demonstrated (e.g. during the Freedom of Speech Act’s passage and the recent Lords select committee inquiry into the OfS) that they’re willing to show their teeth and fully engage with their role to bring scrutiny to bear on the Government and operate the checks and balance functions within Parliament.

Back to Johnson’s four recommendations/reforms for the university sector:

  • Regulatory – universities are tightly regulated for domestic students but not international. Johnson believe the B3 conditions should be applied (and regulated) to international students too. Johnson suggested universities take not of the work which highlights the drop-out rates from certain countries – because the Government is taking note of this, and action may follow.
  • Universities should publish their international student recruitment plans as an annual counterpart to their domestic APP (Access and Participation Plan). This would allow the regulator (the OfS) to gain insight into the risks relating to international students and provide projections forecasting the national picture for international students across the HE sector. It felt it would also provide reassurance that the widening of international participation does not limit (or push out) domestic students.
  • Institutions and sector bodies should do more, through collection action, to weed out poor quality and fraudulent applications. Johnson felt universities need to urgently address this across the sector. He believes universities should raise the quality of applications by
    1. charging an application fee for international students (Johnson stated the evidence is that higher fees result in higher enrolment rates and successfully counter the loss of time/money/staff resource tied up in processing applications for those that don’t ultimately enrol/turn up
    2. that international fees should be paid up front
    3. that international students should place their maintenance money into a specific type of account and draw it down across the year. Johnson believes this would address the fraud and lack of diversification in the system. Johnson also spoke of the low risk countries on the register and overcoming the issue of losing visa awarding powers due to number of refusals.
  • Finally, Johnson wants to see greater accountability for recruitment agents, to weed out the unscrupulous factions. Johnson suggests using VI data and requiring universities to publish non-continuation route and visa refusals by recruitment agent to identify, across the sector, the agents with concerning practices and performance. He felt this would allow institutions to gravitate towards agents supporting the UK university reputation. As Johnson spoke on this topic there was an undercurrent of expectation and onus on the university to be required to do this and a hint that it may be an area for future regulation/OfS scrutiny.

Throughout Johnson demonstrated that he was aware that universities may be reluctant because they don’t want to suffer a ‘first to move’ disadvantage. However, in his opinion the sector needs to urgently address his points and recommendations to stave off less favourable international student reforms in the future.

Baroness Diana Warwick who chaired the session stated she supported the international fee subsidisation of the teaching and how it enables a wider range of courses for domestic students without which institutions wouldn’t be able to support.

A second presentation at the conference by Matt Robb, from EY Parthenon, on Financial Sustainability was equally compelling. He highlighted that across the world there is a once-in-a-lifetime expansion in tertiary enrolment and, therefore, a strategic imperative to capture a significant enough proportion of the market share for international students before the expansion matures. Robb felt the UK needed to establish itself as a  leading provider during this growth as the UK would not be able to regain its share once the maturation slow down begins.

highlighted that multiple countries are facing these issues. Alongside this he recognised the significant costs of transitioning to digital materials, which the UK was less prepared for. He highlighted how universities tend to respond when facing cost pressures, e.g. trimming the course portfolio, which is fine for a small financial squeeze but Robb suggested that over sustained time it led to underinvestment leading to weaker offers and poorer performance. He also highlighted how providers adapt e.g. strategic distinctiveness.

Robb made two key points for student planning. First, The medium to long term growth for the sector is in international students because the UK tertiary enrolment isn’t as high (or growing as much) as other countries – so there will be surplus demand in certain countries internationally. Robb reinforced the need to debunk the myth that international students are displacing domestic students to ensure policies remain favourable for international recruitment.

Second, the concentration of international students from particular countries will be really difficult for the sector to address. Robb gave the example of how affordable international education is within China currently (the Chinese economy is growing and limitations on the number of children mean two generations of a family’s income are available to support the one child to study abroad). Robb also address the elephant in the room – that outside of China one of the reasons why international students come to the UK is to secure work after graduation, and part time work to fund themselves while they are studying. He highlighted that those who are financially affluent already have access to their own very high quality domestic education – so few would want to study overseas. Robb stated that universities often limit recruitment to strong economies which further compounds the diversification issue  and isn’t an access friendly policy. Robb felt a solution would be to use more agents to work into further and newer markets. However, he noted that the further flung the agent network the harder it would be to ensure receiving genuine and quality applications – so running counter to Johnson’s maintaining quality objective. Robb also acknowledged that Brexit continues to exacerbate the concentration (lack of diversity) issue.

Quick International News:

Minister Halfon commits via a Parliamentary Question (PQ) to ensure the visa changes relating to international students and their dependants will be watched to ensure the UK remains competitive in the international market for students. Halfon stated: The Department for Education will work closely with the Home Office, the Department for Business and Trade, and across other government departments, to assess the impact of these changes on research, science and arts in the UK.

Plus two more PQs confirm an equality impact assessment was carried out for the reform package, and that the Government cannot confirm the [overall] value of the immigration health surcharge fee,

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week: Generative artificial intelligence in education.

Other news

Universities had a letter from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. Newly introduced, this is intended to fulfil “an important manifesto commitment to “ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries”.”

Student Loans: Martin Lewis, from Moneysavingexpert.com, has published a new blog:  New student loans to cost many 50% more: 6 need-to-knows about ‘Plan 5’ English student finance running through the changes for English students commencing in September 2023 in his usual what-it-means-in-practice style.

HTQs: The DfE announced the second round of the Higher Technical Education Skills Injection Fund committing £48 million for higher technical qualifications (HTQs) across areas such as digital, engineering and manufacturing, and protective services in the 2024-25 and 2025-26 academic years. An additional 66 qualifications have also been approved as HTQs. Government press release here.

Short course trial: An update from Wonkhe – The Department for Education has updated its list of courses included in the higher education short courses trial, with two new courses added and two no longer running removed.

Policy campus: The DfE, Cabinet Office, Home Office and DWP are all cooperating to establish a Civil Service Policy Campus based in Sheffield. All the details are here, but in short it’ll pilot a regional fast stream, provide policy apprenticeships at level 4, offer policy internships and research projects for regional students, and work with Sheffield universities on policy research.

Creative: The Government published  its creative industries sector vision. It plans to grow the creative industries by £50bn and support a million more jobs by 2030.

Graduate outcomes: HESA released the outcomes data for 2020-2021’s graduates.

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HE policy update w/e 12th May 2023

There is a renewed focus on funding for the sector amidst talk about elections.  Student visas are back on the agenda and UKRI have been reviewing arrangements to support knowledge exchange.

Elections

Local elections were held in England on 4 May.  Dorset Council did not have an election.  Locally, BCP issued an update:

“The Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council local elections have resulted in no overall control, with the largest number of seats held by the Liberal Democrat party. Liberal Democrats won 28 seats, the next largest party was Conservatives with 12 [down from 34], followed by Labour, Christchurch Independents, the Green Party, Poole People, Poole Engage and five Independent candidates….The new leader of BCP Council will be elected at a meeting on the 23 May, and a new Cabinet formed.” 

With the general election looming before January 2025 the local results were being watched very closely to predict outcomes, but of course as always it is very hard to tell and there is time for lots to change before then.

Impact of requiring voter ID

This was also the first election where photo ID was required and pre-election concerns centred on voters being turned away at the polls, particularly the young, old and marginalised groups. There will likely be discussion of the impact of voter ID (and its potential to bias the election outcome through the groups that will find providing ID easier) over the next week. The impact of the photo ID requirement is being formally reviewed, initial findings are due in June and the report is scheduled for September.

However, early indications come from the Guardian who say: Anecdotal evidence of issues, but no clear picture of impact yet…Peter Stanyon, the chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said there had been “no reported incidents of any major concern” as the UK rolled out new voter ID requirements for the first time. And Peter Walker and Jessica Murray report that fears of widespread chaos did not materialise. But by the end of the day, there were anecdotal reports of a number of people, many from marginalised groups, being unable to cast their ballots. The Electoral Reform Society said there were “countless examples”. ITV News reported that polling station tellers in Oxfordshire estimated that 10-25% of would-be voters had been turned away. The Electoral Commission said that the election was “well run” overall but “some people were regrettably unable to vote”.

The Financial Times reported last night (£) that ministers plan to widen the forms of photo identification that will be valid in future if turnout is shown to have fallen – a U-turn in government policy.

The Telegraph has a more positive spin on the success of the photo ID requirement.

Student Voting

Earlier this week HEPI published political polling of current full time UK undergraduates on voting intention.

  • 85% expect to vote at the next general election
  • 89% are registered to vote, and 64% who are registered to vote say they are registered only at their home address (so less influence of the young vote in election towns than has previously been claimed).
  • 78% understood they will needed photo ID to vote (and 61% think this is a good idea)
  • 46% of students would vote Labour if there were a general election ‘soon’, 11% would vote Green and 7% would vote Conservative

On student fees and funding (see also below), the polling shows student opinion:

  • Tuition fees:
    • 28% of students domiciled in England want Labour to commit to abolishing tuition fees in England,
    • 23% want Labour to reduce fees to £6,000,
    • 20% want Labour to back the current system of fees capped at £9,250,
    • 15% want Labour to cut fees to £3,000,
    • 4% want Labour to introduce a graduate tax, and
    • 3% want Labour to let the current fees rise with inflation
  • Living costs:
    • 52% of students think living costs should be covered by targeted grants and top-up loans, while
    • 25% want a mix of grants, loans and parental contributions
  • Maintenance support:
    • 46% of students think maintenance support should be between £10,000 and £12,500 each year
    • 19% think it should amount to under £10,000 and
    • 18% think it should be between £12,501 and £15,000
  • Student opinion priorities: 77% of students say the NHS is a high priority for them, 58% rate education as high priority, 46% reducing poverty, but few students give priority to defence (6%), migration (5%) or international development (2%)

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

  • Our poll suggests it is wrong to think of students as apathetic or disengaged from party politics. Most students plan to vote and they care about the same issues as other voters, most notably the NHS.
  • The results won’t make happy reading for the Conservative Party, who now have minimal support among undergraduates. While they will make happier reading for Labour, it is clear there is no single student funding model that would be overwhelmingly popular with students. This will make the Opposition’s job harder as they firm up their policies in the run up to the next election.

International Student visa restrictions

The press report the Government are considering visa restrictions to prevent postgraduate students’ dependants from accompanying them. Financial Times:

  • The surge in legal net migration is boosting the size of Britain’s workforce but the issue is politically problematic for the prime minister….
  • Students have been one of the main drivers of the the…surge in migration…with 135,788 visas granted to dependants in 2022, up from 16,047 in 2019.
  • The Department for Education, the Home Office, and the Treasure are finalising a plan that would stop dependents from travelling with master’s students on one-year courses…
  • The Treasury, which normally favours higher migration, has accepted the political need to restrict the number of dependants of overseas students, while Gillian Keegan, education secretary, has also agreed to the plan.
  • But government insiders said Keegan was insisting that master’s students should be able to bring family members to the UK if they stay to work in the country after completing their studies.

UUKi’s response: we recognise that the growth in the number of dependents may have exceeded planning assumptions and that this has created some concerns for government, and indeed challenges in some areas of the UK – for example, around access to suitable family accommodation. We are committed to working with Government to understand these issues and to find solutions that ensure the UK continues to welcome international students and that we are able to grow numbers in a sustainable way that protects both the quality of the student experience and the UK’s global competitiveness.

Wonkhe coverage: Dependants of international PGTs won’t be able to get a visa

Fees & Funding

Closely tied to electoral outcome is the wicked problem of HE fees and funding. Here’s a round up of the latest news on the different elements surrounding fees and funding.

We start with a couple of interesting Wonkhe blogs:

Labour’s HE Fee Policy

In last week’s policy update we reported that Labour were reviewing their policy for HE tuition fees giving a clear indication in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that the previous policy of abolishing fees will not survive because of costs concern. This week the media is widely reporting on Labour’s ‘U turn’ on tuition fees i.e. that fees will not be abolished and paid for by the public purse. From the coverage we’ve seen this hasn’t been formally announced but Keir Starmer continues to caveat his interview responses to nudge in this direction, perhaps a soft announcement then. Here is the latest coverage:

  • Research Professional: Channel 4 News looks at what Labour leader Keir Starmer has said about the party’s tuition fees plan.
  • Wonkhe – The Independent, theBBCChannel 4, the MirrorITV, and the Sun all have pieces examining the Labour Party’s – and others parties’ – stance on tuition fees.
  • Research Professional: In The Guardian, Labour is to begin consulting on new ways to fund university education,
  • Wonkhe – Labour leader Keir Starmer yesterday told the BBC’s Today programme that Labour is “likely to move on” from its commitment to free university tuition. The Times had earlier reportedcomments from a senior party source that Starmer will later this month deliver a speech on the party’s move away from its 2019 manifesto commitment. The BBCthe Independentthe Telegraphthe Guardianthe Mirror and the National all cover the remarks. There’s also a sketch in the Guardian.
  • NEON – Labour leader Keir Starmer announced yesterday that the party is abandoning its commitment to abolish university tuition fees in England. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme he said “We are likely to move on from that commitment because we do find ourselves in a different financial situation”. He was critical of the current system describing it as “unfair” and arguing that it doesn’t work for either students or universities. He promised that Labour would set out a “fairer solution” in the coming weeks. The move has drawn criticism from both Labour Students and Momentum.
  • Wonkhe blog on the topic: Jim Dickinson runs the numbers.

Wonkhe also reported this morning that Polling company Public First and think tank Progressive Britain have…announced a major national poll and extensive focus group work to test public attitudes to university funding reform. The research will be published prior to party conference season in October, and Public First expects its findings “to play a significant role in the ongoing debate about the future of tuition fees, university funding, and student finance.”

Also from Wonkhe, earlier this week: London Economics has published further modelling on options for the English fees and funding system, building on work conducted in December for the University of the Arts London. The models include an estimate of the impact of Plan 5 reforms – updated due to forthcoming ONS changes in inflation measurements, which significantly reduce the cost to the Exchequer – and two alternative “stepped repayment” models, with repayment rates varying depending on income level.

Landmark divergence in Welsh HE policy

Wales has announced they will retain their current student finance repayment system (despite changes to the English system). This is a break in tradition as historically the Welsh repayment system mirrors England. However, Jeremy Miles, Welsh Minister for Education, is concerned that the new English system would mean Welsh students would repay loans over a longer period of time (England 40 year repayment; Wales 30 years) with higher earners paying less and middle- and lower-income earners paying back more than at present. The Welsh system is more progressive than the English system -Welsh undergraduate students generally repay less as Wales has some non-repayable grants and there is a guaranteed level of maintenance support irrespective of a student’s household income.
The Welsh system will be reviewed annually to ensure sustainability.

Jeremy Miles said: “…the new system in England is not a good deal. The reforms benefit the highest earners and worsen the position for middle and lower earning graduates. Women are also disproportionately affected. We certainly shouldn’t be asking teachers, nurses and social workers to pay more, while the highest earners pay less. I can therefore announce today that we will not move to the system adopted in England but will retain the current system.”

The BBC cover the announcement.

How should universities be funded?

YouGov polling reveals the public do not have a clear consensus on how universities should be funded.

It’s worth looking at the interactive chart on the YouGov site to drill down into the results by different groups (e.g. political affiliation, age, social grade, region, gender).

Parliamentary News

HE (Freedom of Speech) Act

It’s been nearly two years since its first reading and now – three Prime Ministers and six education secretaries later the Government have finally got the legislation over the line and in the form they wanted. The Government played hard ball during the final stage parliamentary ping pong over the contentious tort in the HE (Freedom of Speech) legislation. The Lords weren’t happy, however, their hands were tied by the parliamentary convention that they do not block legislation that the elected Government included within their manifesto.

Wonkhe report on the disgruntlement: Peers agreed to the government’s latest version of the statutory tort, which included language clarifying the availability of redress for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, and the possibility of seeking an injunction, without a vote. However, the changes were not universally popular – in particular, Lord Grabiner described the government plans as “blowing away” the previous compromise that saw the tort reserved only for when other avenues had been exhausted, and Lord Willetts raised the spectre of interventions such as this bringing higher education into the public sector.

Cambridge’s Professor Arif Ahmed has been appointed as the OfS Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom. The role will have the power to investigate universities and student unions in England and Wales that ‘wrongly’ restrict debate. The director will also advise the sector regulator on imposing fines for free speech breaches.

Lifelong Learning

The Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill has completed its initial journey through the House of Commons and is awaiting a date for the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords. The Second Reading stage is the first opportunity for members of the Lords to debate the key principles and main purpose of the Bill and they will flag up concerns or highlight areas where they believe amendments need to be made. After the Second Reading the Bill will progress to Committee Stage. This is when it is examined in detail, line by line, with discussion and close scrutiny. MPs did not make any amendments to the Bill and it proceeds to the Lords in its original form.

HEPI published Does the Lifelong Loan Entitlement Meet its own Objectives? Spoiler alert: not for part time and distance students – inhibiting it’s transformative effect. Questions still to be answered include:

  • How will the credit-transfer mechanism work?
  • What will be the rules for students building their own degree?
  • How will a wide range of providers be incentivised to provide flexible learning?
  • How will the needs of employers be met?

Regulatory – OfS

The Lords Industry and Regulators inquiry into the work of the Office for Students heated up this week when Susan Lapworth (Chief Executive) and Lord Wharton of Yarm (Chair) were called to give evidence. You can read a summary of the session here.

Wonkhe report:  In a revealing hearing, we learned that the student panel is being reformed, that quarterly online meetings for vice chancellors are one part of the regulator’s strategy to improve communications, that 30 providers are currently subject to enhanced financial monitoring, and that two thirds of the quality assurance reports submitted by the QAA were not deemed usable for regulation when first submitted.

Wonkhe also have a short blog: Lapworth and Wharton face the committee – But don’t expect answers to everything that previous witnesses have brought up

Concerns over Wharton’s impartiality as a member of the Conservative party were raised. When suggested that senior figures often resign their political affiliations when they take up office Wharton replied Some do…I chose not to. It’s not a requirement.

HE Minister, Robert Halfon, is expected to be questioned next in this high profile inquiry before the proceedings wrap up and the Committee publishes its report.

Research

Research England (RE) published their Review of knowledge exchange funding.

The main themes within the review are data and metrics:

  • a key issue to unlock the potential for long-term and more fundamental changes to our methods, including the use of KEF as a basis for allocating HEIF, is the availability of better data, metrics and evidence.
  • our current metrics set does not capture the full achievements, nor help describe the ambitions, of HE KE. Better evidence is also a theme in DSIT’s priorities, particularly related to better evidence on HE performance in commercialisation and business collaboration.
  • Better metrics are then critical to make more significant changes to our methods in the long run. The issue of better metrics is a theme running through the feedback received and also a central issue in our decisions.
  • A major decision of the review then relates to our commitment to a significant work programme to improve metrics and evidenceThis is with the intention to have the tools available to make more fundamental changes to our approaches in the longer run.

The bulk of knowledge exchange (KE) related funded (KEF and HEIF) is based on the Higher Education: Business and Community Interactions (HE-BCI) survey. HESA are reviewing the HE-BCI and this report informs that UKRI will piggy back to build upon and widen the review for KE purposes.

…it is essential to add new classes of data, beyond improving the quality of guidance and definitions of existing data fields as is currently being done through the review …we and HESA are agreed that more effort is needed, particularly in the longer-term design of new data collection.

UKRI intend to develop a national capability to be a centre for knowledge exchange and impact evidence, metrics and data.

UKRI will:

  • Over 2 years develop UKRI as a national capability centre for university knowledge exchange, impact evidence and metrics, partnering with HESA.
  • Present a blueprint (for the national capability) in Spring 2023 at a major metrics conference and establish the blueprint by Spring 2025.
  • Our long-term aim following successful culmination of our work on the national capability and centre is to have available the appropriate data to make more fundamental changes to our approaches. Specifically, we aim to bring forward proposals for consultation on the development of KEF for use in funding. As this is necessarily a long-term endeavour, we would not expect to bring forward such proposals before 2025/26 at the very earliest. We note that any subsequent implementation and a phased roll out of an evolved funding method may take several further years.

KEF: Review feedback sees the KEF as having a positive impact on raising the profile of knowledge exchange (KE) and incentivising strategic approaches within HEIs and across the sector, with overall beneficial effects of improving HE KE performance. RE state there is broad agreement that the KEF has been useful within HEPs as a novel tool for benchmarking performance, making useful comparisons, giving greater accountability, and as a prompt to starting discussions on future areas of strategic focus.

However, KEF is not well understood beyond the KE sector and particularly by external users.

KEF will continue in a consistent and stable form in the short term because UKRI see worth in how the KEF provides HEIs with data to understand, benchmark and improve their own performance until at least KEF5 in 2025. RE will drop the KEF aim/purpose to meet the information needs of external (non-HE) partners but will continue to use it for public information purposes. In the long-term RE will bring forward proposals for consultation on development of KEF for use in funding.

HEIF: The review suggested that there is a good degree of confidence in [the] current HEIF approach, including balancing government priorities with HEI funding flexibility (getting the best out of the sector to meet the priorities).

Research England (RE) note points raised:

  • Our definitions and scope of HEIF were generally regarded as appropriate. There were a range of views on whether additional activities should be included, but generally it was felt that RE was not getting it wrong. The drivers from research and teaching were flagged and there were discussions as to whether our approaches fully address both.
  • There were a range of views put forward on how to measure success, including qualitative approaches. Our substantial work programme on metrics and evidence addresses the need to provide the more sophisticated tools needed to achieve all our objectives.

There are no major changes planned (now) – formula funding and accountability will remain.

However, RE will consider how to manage:

  • Problems for HEIs caused by year-on-year fluctuations in HEIF allocations – limiting long-term strategic decisions.
    • RE note they cannot commit funding past a government spending review period but could fix allocations for the full spending review period rather than recalculate each year.
    • There would be winners and losers to this approach and they note reverting to a less dynamic approach could also depress prompt rewards for improvement (including HEPs below the allocation threshold for the entire SR period).
    • The impending general election also pushes any change to the allocation methodology into the medium/long term. However, RE state they will look into this for the future.
  • Within the work on improving metrics Research England will look into activities that still generate impact but are not qualifying income-generating.
  • We recognise a potential opportunity to be more ambitious to identify and reward all forms of KE achievements in the longer run.
  • They will also look at the £250k allocation threshold (tricky as the threshold is a government policy priority handed down to RE), implementation from 2024-25 at earliest.

KE Concordat: The approach to the Concordat is to remain relatively stable.

Feedback showed strong agreement that the KE Concordat processes of self-evaluation and consideration of principles had been a useful exercise for HEPs, raising the profile of KE within their institution and encouraging engagement from across the institution

RE will look into suggestions for process improvement (more on page 11)

Forthcoming actions

  • Summer 2023 – publish KEF3, allocate 2023-24 formula funding, consult on eligibility
  • Later 2023 – publish HEIF threshold work
  • Spring 2024 – Host major metrics conference and launch national capability blueprint
  • Summer 2024 – publish KEF 4, allocate 2024-25 formula funding, publish work on dynamism/predictability of HEIF allocations with implementation in 2025/26 if spending review allows. (Note – potential disruption due to general election.)
  • Spring 2025 – the national capability and centre for university KE and impact evidence and metrics will be operational
  • Summer 2025 – allocate 2025-26 HEIF funding (in whatever form it takes), publish KEF 5.

Useful links:

Research integrity

The Science, Innovation and Tech Committee published a report on Reproducibility and Research Integrity. The background to this report are the increasing concerns that the integrity of some scientific research is questionable because of failures to be able to reproduce the claimed findings of some experiments or analyses of data and therefore confirm that the original researcher’s conclusions were justified.

This report finds and recommends:

  • while there are many reports of problems of non-reproducibility, there has been no comprehensive and rigorous assessment of the scale of the problem in the UK, nor which disciplines are most affected and therefore the extent to which this is indeed a ‘crisis’.
  • While we welcome the establishment of the new Committee on Research Integrity and note that one of its so-called strategic pillars is to “define the evidence base”, we are concerned about the absence of reproducibility as a priority in the new organisation’s strategy. We recommend that a sub-committee focussed solely on questions of reproducibility in research should be established.
  • Evidence to our inquiry raised important concerns about the academic publishing industry in—however unintentionally—giving rise to pressures that can undermine research integrity. To be successful, academics need to establish a strong list of publications in highly-rated learned journals. We heard a widespread view that journals favoured for publication original—rather than repeated—research and work which had striking or new outcomes. This meant that the value of conducting repeated or confirmatory studies was much reduced, and that there were strong incentives to obtain striking research findings. We call upon publishers to commit to publishing without prejudice confirmatory studies and those whose findings turn out not to be novel or striking.
  • the short-term tenure of early career academic contracts and research grants provide insufficient time for researchers to ensure that their work is reproducible by others. We call upon funders, including UK Research and Innovation, to consider whether its grants provide the resources necessary to ensure that work that it funds is reproducible, and we recommend that it requires reproducibility as a condition of grants awarded.
  • Training researchers in research integrity and the need to ensure reproducibility is inconsistent and often absent. We recommend mandating the provision of such training at undergraduate, postgraduate and early career researcher stages.
  • We welcome UKRI’s policy of requiring open access to research that it funds, but we recommend that this should go further in requiring the recipients of research grants to share data and code alongside the publications arising from the funded research.
  • We believe that a wider set of measures of academic success than lists of publications should be encouraged. The Future Research Assessment Programme, being carried out by UKRI, should address this and funders should also consider wider use of the ‘resume for researchers’ format in funding calls.

Further information links:

Research – quick news

  • AI: MPs Warn Against “Sleepwalking” Into AI Danger Without Rapid Regulation– PoliticsHome
  • Business collaboration: The National Centre for Universities and Business published Artificial Intelligence: the present and future of technology to showcase 8 university-business collaborations to address human challenges through AI partnerships
  • Parliamentary Question: Whether the Government is taking steps to help ensure that cities and towns which do not have a research-intensive university (a) benefit economically from innovation and (b) create innovation-driven jobs. Answer: to support places across the UK to fulfil their potential for innovation, the Government has pledged to increase domestic public investment in R&D outside the Greater South East by at least 40% by 2030, and by at least a third over the spending review period. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) invests across the UK with £25.1 billion allocated for 2022-2025. Innovate UK’s Launchpad programme is an innovation cluster development programme with up to £7.5 million funding available for each Launchpad for business-led innovation projects, such as the pilot in Tees Valley. Additionally, UKRI’s Strength in Places Fund provides opportunities for innovation across the UK.
  • Doctoral stipend: UKRI announced the minimum doctoral stipend for UKRI funded students will rise to £18,622 for 2023/24. The minimum fee that universities can draw from UKRI training grants will also increase, to £4,712. Research Professional coverage: Sophie Inge reports that campaigners have welcomed plans to increase the minimum stipend for doctoral studentsfunded by UK Research and Innovation to £18,622. And Wonkhe has a blog: UKRI’s work on the PGR new deal.
  • Postgraduate childcare: Wonkhe report – The N8 Research Partnership of eight universities in the north of England has writtento the government raising concerns over the ineligibility of postgraduate researchers for government-backed childcare subsidies. This follows a similar call from GW4 Alliance at the beginning of April.
  • Health & Wellbeing: Wonkhe report that Wellcome has announced£73m in funding for eight “discovery research platforms” aimed at addressing barriers holding up progress in areas related to health and wellbeing – seven of the platforms will be at universities in England and one at the University of Cape Town.

Students: Parliamentary Questions

  • Timely assessment referral and diagnosis of ADHD
  • Q: Whether the Government will implement the recommendations made in the APPG for Students report on the impact of the cost of living crisis on students. Answer (excerpt): Together with the HE sector, the department is doing all that it can to support students facing hardship. However, decisions on student finance have to be taken alongside other spending priorities to ensure the system remains financially sustainable and the costs of HE are shared fairly between students and taxpayers, not all of whom have benefited from going to university.

Other news

The University of Exeter and UPP Foundation have published a new guide on university-led tutoring, encouraging other universities to take up the practice, including practical lessons around quality and scale.

The petition for HEIs to hold a statutory duty of care for students will be heard in an evidence session (held by the Petitions Committee) on 16 May. There will also be a debate in the House on 5 June.

Parliamentary Question – the cost of training doctors and nurses.

QAA published advice for providers on how to manage the rapidly increasing use of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) in HE settings. HEPI also have a new blog on the topic: How are HE leaders responding to generative AI?

Publishing: Wonkhe blog – As a new sector agreement with Springer Nature is reached, Libby Homer reminds us that we all have a duty to seek value for money in research publishing.

EO: Wonkhe – The Office for Students has published an independent analysis of the responses received to its consultation on regulating equality of opportunity. The analysis, conducted by Pye Tait Consulting, saw respondents generally welcome the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register (EORR) but seek more clarity on how it would work. Small and specialist providers also stressed data limitations and the need to avoid resource burden.

Turing: Wonkhe – The House of Lords European Affairs Committee has called for an increase in engagement between the UK and EU. In a wide-ranging report, it recommends that the government consider adding a reciprocal student exchange programme to the Turing scheme, pointing at Wales’ Taith programme as a good model – the committee does, however, praise the Turing scheme’s flexibility and emphasis on widening participation. The report also highlights the administrative barriers faced by EU students wishing to study in UK universities.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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