Category / policy

This part of the blog features news and information about higher education policy and how BU’s research is influencing policy.

Policy and political scene this week: 8 June 2017

Welcome to this week’s political scene.

Its been a relatively quiet week in policy land with the main focus on today’s general election, however, gender equality for female academics and the student academic experience survey have hit the news.

2017 Student Academic Experience Survey

The 2017 Student Academic Experience Survey results have been released. Wonkhe succinctly summarise the findings here, and there has been press coverage on the findings from the BBC, Guardian, and The Times.

In brief: teaching is perceived more positively, learning gain has been reported positively (although Wonkhe disagree), and student wellbeing remains a concern. Most interesting is the consideration of the results dissected by student residency, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Students who live at home and commute score lower on satisfaction and wellbeing than students that relocate and live in. There are also clear ethnicity differences, in particular Asian and Chinese students rate teaching staff and value for money of their degree lower; and non-straight students score lower across the board on wellbeing. As Wonkhe suggest the interplay between race, commuting, attainment, wellbeing, learning gain, part time employment, and student support may make for some interesting personalisation interventions within the sector if the data can be sufficiently interpreted.

For more detail on the findings see this week’s policy update.

 

Rankings

The QS World Rankings have been released today. Paul Greatrix writes for Wonkhe noting that while the UK still places 4 institutions in the top 10 the majority of UK HEIs have dropped lower in the rankings (including 11 of the 16 Russell Group institutions). Paul reports that QS highlight weaker research performance and reputational decline as the reason for the UK institutions ranking drop, and he anticipates further falls as the Brexit gloom descends.

Furthermore, following a complaint to the advertising watchdog Universities are carefully considering their marketing messaging around rankings position. The BBC report the University of Reading will remove their claim to be within the top 1% of the world’s universities after the watchdog stated the figure could not be substantiated and could be misleading. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on recruitment, particularly for international students.

 

Academic Gender Equality

This week the Guardian reports Patricia Fara’s (Cambridge historian) call for universities to invest more money in childcare if they want to see gender equality. The Guardian writes that childcare is the single biggest problem for female academics and cites the 2016 report from Institute of Fiscal Studies into pay inequality which found the pay gap widens steadily for 12 years after the birth of a first child, leaving women on 33% less pay per hour than men.

The topic of female academics is also picked up by HEPI this week who discuss the expectation and difficulties of mobility in relation to career progression.

 

Consultations and Inquiries

There are no new consultations or committee inquiries this week. The new parliament will convene on Tuesday 13 June.

You can read BU’s response to past consultations and inquiries here. The response to the European Commission’s Erasmus+ consultation has recently been added, read it here.

To sign up to the separate weekly general HE policy update simply email: policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

 

Sarah Carter
Policy & Public Affairs Officer

BU research and KE policies – do you know where to find them?

To make things easier for colleagues across the University, all of the research and KE policies and procedures are available from the Policies and Procedures section of the Staff Intranet: https://staffintranet.bournemouth.ac.uk/aboutbu/policiesprocedures/

They’re located in the Research section and are organised into handy sub-categories such as BRIAN, pre-award and ethics and integrity.

 

Policy and political scene this week: 25 May 2017

Welcome to this week’s political scene within research. Here is a summary of the week’s generic policy reports and releases, alongside new niche consultations and inquiries.

The role of EU funding in UK research and innovation

This week the role of EU funding in UK research and innovation has hit the headlines. Its an analysis of the academic disciplines most reliant on EU research and innovation funding at a granular level.

Jointly commissioned by Technopolis and the UK’s four national academies (Medical Sciences, British Academy, Engineering and Royal Society) it highlights that of the 15 disciplines most dependent on EU funding 13 are within the arts, humanities and social science sphere.

Most reliant on the EU funding as a proportion of their total research funding are Archaeology (38% of funding), Classics (33%) and IT (30%).

The full report dissects the information further considering the funding across disciplines, institutions, industrial sectors, company sizes and UK regions. It differentiates between the absolute value of the research grant income from EU government bodies, and the relative value of research grant income from EU government bodies with respect to research grant income from all sources, including how the EU funding interacts with other funding sources.

There are also 11 focal case studies, including archaeology and ICT. Here’s an excerpt from the archaeology case study considering the risks associated with Brexit and the UK’s industrial strategy:

As archaeologists are heavily dependent on EU funding, a break away from EU funding sources puts the discipline in a vulnerable position. This is exacerbated by the fact that the UK is short of archaeologists and/or skilled workers active in the field of Archaeology because of the surge in large scale infrastructure projects (e.g. HS2, Crossrail, and the A14), which drives away many archaeologists from research positions.” Source

See the full report page 25 for particular detail on ICT and digital sector, and page 39 for archaeology. For press coverage see the Financial Times article.

Bathing Water Quality

The European Environment Agency published European Bathing Water Quality in 2016. It sees the UK as second to bottom in the league table for quality of bathing water. While 96.4% of British beaches were found safe to swim in last year 20 sites failed the annual assessment. Only Ireland had a higher percentage of poor quality bathing waters at 4%.

Report link: https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/european-bathing-water-quality-in-2016

How and when to submit evidence to policy makers

This week Research Professional ran a succinct article encouraging researchers to think more about when and how they submit evidence to policy makers. Timing is key, policy makers often want information instantaneously and the article urges researchers to be responsive but pragmatic, including a pro-active approach of gently keeping key policy makers informed of new developments.

Researchers wanting to have a political impact may consider attending a UK Parliament Outreach and Engagement Service events.

 

Consultations and Inquiries

Responding to a select committee call for evidence is a great way for academics to influence UK policy. If you respond to a consultation or inquiry as a BU member of staff please let us know of your interest by emailing policy@bournemouth.ac.uk at least one week before you submit your response.

This week there are three new inquiries and consultations that may be of interest to BU academics.

Sports

A Scottish Parliament inquiry is seeking individual’s views on community-based approaches to removing barriers to participation in grassroots sport and physical activity, including how to promote volunteering. The committee is asking for views and examples on a range of questions, including:

  • Examples where a community based approach has been successful in removing barriers to participation in sport and physical activity?
  • Approaches that were particularly successful in increasing participation among certain social groups, like women, ethnic minorities, certain age-groups?
  • The barriers facing volunteers and how can they be overcome? The aim is to inform how Scotland might increase participation rates across all groups and sectors of society, respondents can select to answer only the most relevant questions.

The call for evidence closes on 30 June.

Body Image

The British Youth Council has opened an inquiry into body image and how the growth of social media and communications platforms has encouraged attitudes that entrench poor body image. Included among the inquiry questions are:

  • Has the growing use of social media and communications platforms amongst young people encouraged practices and attitudes that entrench poor body image? What is the link between “sexting” and body dissatisfaction?
  • Do internet companies, social media platforms or other platforms have a responsibility to tackle trends which entrench poor body image? What are they already doing in this area? What more should they be doing?
  • Are particular groups of young people particularly prone to poor body image, or less likely to seek help? What causes these trends?
  • In relation to young men and boys, minority ethnic groups, and those who self-identify as transgender: what are the specific challenges facing young people in these groups? How effective is existing support?
  • To what extent is dissatisfaction with body image contributing to the increase in mental health problems amongst children and young people?

The call for evidence closes on 16 June.

Drainage & Flooding

The Welsh government has opened a consultation on the implementation of sustainable drainage systems on new developments (schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010).

The consultation closes on 11 August.

 

HE Policy Update

You can also sign up to receive BU’s separate weekly HE policy update delivered direct to your inbox each Friday by emailing policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

 

Sarah Carter

Policy & Public Affairs Officer

UUK – International Research Collaboration After the UK Leaves the European Union

UUK have published International Research Collaboration After the UK Leaves the European Union. The information below summarises the main thrust of the document.

 

Benefits of Research Collaboration

International collaboration is vital as it enables individual academics to increase their impact through pooling expertise and resources with other nations to tackle global challenges that no one country can tackle alone. Cross-nation collaboration increases citations and combined talents produce more innovative and useful outcomes.

 

The paper emphasises that the researchers themselves need to drive the collaboration and have choice. Selecting ‘Britain’s best new research partners’ is infeasible as sectors have different needs and Britain needs to collaborate with the countries with the richest talent and expertise. Funding needs to be well-structured and flexible to allow this.

 

The foreword on page 2 states “We should look to developing new networks and funding arrangements that support collaboration with major research powers” both within Europe and internationally. “The primary focus should be on delivering excellent research”, the government should seek to access and influence the 9th Framework Programme (Horizon successor), alongside new funding sources to incentivise collaborations with high-quality research partners beyond the EU. UUK call for a cross-government approach to supporting international research and the drawing together of the current disparate funding mechanisms, including “promoting research collaboration opportunities as a central pillar of the UK’s offer to overseas governments and businesses.”

 

Collaborative Partners

While its important to work with both EU and non-EU partners the report notes that research with other EU member states collectively makes up the largest pool of collaborators. “Research undertaken with EU partners like Germany and France is growing faster than with other countries – hence while it is vital that the UK takes every opportunity to be truly global in their outlook, the importance of collaboration with EU partners should not be underestimated.”

 

Almost all the growth in research output in the last 30 years has been brought about by international partnership. In 1981 less than 5% of UK research publications had an overseas co-author. Whereas Figure 1 below demonstrates how collaboration has changed, illustrating how domestic output has plateaued and non-UK collaborations accounts for recent growth.

 

Figure 1: The trajectory of international co-authorship on research publications from Imperial, UCL, Cambridge and Oxford.        (Data: source, Web of Science; analysis, King’s College Policy Institute).

 

 

Table 1 below highlights the UK’s major collaborative partners demonstrating a mix of EU and non-EU partners (non-EU partner in bold).

 

Table 1: Countries co-authoring UK output (2007-2016).

The UUK report reminds that research is a form of diplomacy leading to alliances and memoranda between national academies. The international links create esteem and demonstrate the wider engagement and status of an institution which is attractive to international students and staff.

 

 

Addressing Collaborative Barriers

Addressing the barriers to research collaboration is more than just funding, the report calls for:

 

  • Better information on capabilities and strength of UK researchers

 

The report states there needs to be better understanding and matching of research and innovation strengths between partners and potential collaborators, with clearer articulation of these and provision of contact points at the research organisation, funding agency and sector levels.

 

The circulation of people and ideas is fundamental to international research collaborations: National policy frameworks of all partners must be flexible enough to support international exchange, enabling critical human resources – including technical expertise – to flow between systems.

 

  • Cultural barriers need better understanding

 

The report highlights South Korea and Taiwan as attractive collaborators because of their research-intensive economies, strong technology investment, excellent university system, and high-English speaking rate. However collaboration is challenged by geography, proximity and cultural differences.  UUK report that communication problems are a key barrier alongside the uncertainty about research profiles of UK universities and significant differences in research governance.

 

Researchers working within different national contexts will have experience of different research cultures. These can be a source of strength and innovation, but also create challenges that must be understood, acknowledged and addressed. This requires time, but can be mitigated by the development of shared understandings, priorities and policy frameworks.

 

  • Policy and funding stability is essential

 

Stability, certainty and trust are required if successful international research collaborations are to be fostered. Partners need to have confidence that the policy and funding environment will not be subject to unexpected or dramatic change after they have invested the time and resources necessary to develop productive and beneficial partnerships. Stability and certainty in both policy and funding environment is a key facilitator.

 

  • Bilateral agreements with defined funding facilitated by a coordinated application process

 

The report effectively highlights the difficulties of ‘double jeopardy’ (Roberts, 2006) whereby all partners need to individually secure funding across a sustaining period to both commence and fully complete. Furthermore while countries commission and pay for the research it depends on individual motivation for success. Individuals make research choices that further their career and are fundable. EU links exist because researchers at well-funded institutions saw mutual net benefits, however EU collaboration proliferated because mutually assured Framework Programme funding supported it.

 

The report suggests a mechanism for effective research collaboration is to create more flexible agency-level bilateral agreements with associated secure funding. A Memorandum of Understanding should identify common priorities and mutual research standards yet this should be backed up by a research fund. Page 6 describes collaboration with Brazil as an example of this.

 

Furthermore, UK research funding beyond the EU is highly dependent on the ODA budget which limits research themes and fundable countries. Post Brexit the UK needs new money without ODA type restrictions to support collaborations with partners not eligible for EU funds.

 

Note: UUK have also released a second report on whether free trade agreements can enhance opportunities for UK higher education post Brexit.

 

References

Roberts, Sir Gareth. (2006). International partnerships of research excellence.

 

 

Policy update for w/e Friday 21 April

General Election: The general election (#GE2017) has been announced for Thursday 8 June meaning Parliament will dissolve on 3 May. In local news Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) was reported as announcing he will stand down and not contest the next election; however this related to 2020 and he has confirmed he will contest 2017.

Current bills must receive Royal Assent before Parliament dissolves or fail; therefore a ‘wash-up’ period will likely take place to hurry key bills through. The ‘wash-up’ business must be agreed between the Government and the Opposition. Its a time when deals can be made, although its likely the Government may tighten ranks to push through a bill with the main thrust of its intent intact.

Select committees are wrapping up their business with several inquiries prematurely closing their requests for evidence. The chairmanship of several select committees will also change as Members can only chair a committee for the maximum of two parliaments or 8 years (Standing Order 122A).

Purdah, commencing at midnight tonight, will impact and delay the TEF year 2 results, the release of the full LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data, the Schools that Work for Everyone white paper, and other announcements including the appointment of the Chief Executive for the Office for Students.

 

HERB: The next stage for the Higher Education and Research Bill is ping pong, where the Commons respond to the Lords Third Reading amendments. Currently, no date is scheduled for ping pong and the bill is absent from next week’s published parliamentary business. With Parliament’s dissolution looming speculation abounds on the bill’s fate, its likely it will be considered on Thursday where the parliamentary business has been left unspecified. Opinion divides on whether the Government will concede or hard line to push the bill through. The House of Commons Library has published a useful briefing paper summarising the Lords Amendments. Furthermore, Research Professional reportthe amendment to widen the grounds for appeal of Office for Students decisions is understood to have been accepted by government”, no authoritative source is provided to confirm this, although as one of least controversial Lords amendments it seems plausible.

 

Student migration: Frequent in the press this week (Times, Huff Post, Wonkhe, Reuters) was Theresa May’s rumoured U-turn on counting overseas students within the net migration figures However, there are no firm commitments and the position is neatly summarised by THE: May is “offering to change the way that student numbers are calculated, with the promise of further concessions”; the government is likely to offer a “regulatory compromise” in how overseas student numbers in Britain are calculated. On Thursday Theresa May told the BBC: “We want to see sustainable net migration in this country, I believe that sustainable net migration is in the tens of thousands.” A recent UUK ComRes poll highlights that only a quarter of the public consider students to be immigrants. We wait to see how migratory targets are tackled in the Conservatives election manifesto.

 

2018/19 EU Students: The government has confirmed that 2018/19 EU students will remain eligible for undergraduate and masters student loans and retain their home fees status even if the course concludes after Brexit. EU students can also apply for Research Council PhD studentships for the duration of their study.

 

Industrial Strategy – HE research commercialisation: HEFCE have launching the Connecting Capability Fund (£100 million) as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy to support university collaborations and research commercialisation. It is intended to help universities to deliver the industrial priorities, forge external technological, industrial and regional partnerships, and share good practice and capacity internally across the higher education sector. It is expected to be channelled through the Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) programme with the first round deadline set as 10 July.

 

Other news:

The Common’s Science and Technology select committee have published: Industrial Strategy; Science and STEM skills. It urges government to increase the R&D investment and make up net shortfall for international collaborative research lost through Brexit, alongside stepping-up measures to increase children and students STEM skills.

Research Councils UK have launched the £700k Strategic Support to Expedite Embedding Public Engagement with Research (SEE-PER) call aiming to better embed support for public engagement with research in higher education institutions The call will be open for a limited time, assessed by panel over summer 2017, with activity commencing no later than 1 October 2017.

British businesses winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise (2017) have been announced, the winning product/service for each business is listed in the Gazette. Among the winners is Poole based BOFA International Ltd (fume extraction).

Rachel Hewitt, HESA, writes for Wonkhe to provide feedback on the new DLHE consultation. HESA report 80% support for the proposed survey design and a mixed response to the financial model mainly due to lack of information. A final version of the model is earmarked for publication later in June. Hewitt states: “We now want to ensure that HE providers have certainty over the implications of the review outcomes, and to enable them to start reviewing their systems and processes”, and commits to sharing information through the rolling FAQs.

HEA and Action on Access have published: What works? Supporting student success: strategies for institutional change.

HE Policy Update w/e 7th April

Higher Education and Research Bill: the Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords this week with little fanfare. An amendment relating to the ‘transparency duty’ (publishing further information on applicants’ backgrounds for better WP policy targeting and transparent admissions) was moved but withdrawn. This followed reassurance from the government that they will require the Office for Students to consult on the transparency duty. Eight minor government amendments were agreed, full details can be read in Hansard. The Bill will reappear in the Commons after the Easter recess, when as noted in last week’s update, the opposition and cross bench amendments are expected to be removed.

Brexit: The Commons Select Committee for Exiting the EU released their report The Government’s negotiating objective: the White Paper. Wonkhe report that not all members of the committee agreed with the conclusions in the report. Pages 68-71 cover science and research and reiterate previous calls from the sector for the immigration system to support researchers and students and for the UK to continue to participate in Horizon 2020.

Tuition Fees: In a non-binding debate in the House of Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Labour) moved that the House of Lords regrets the 2016 changes to the tuition fee regulations and loan conditions which have worsened circumstances for some students, particularly WP and part time students. Lord Stevenson stated it is “virtually impossible to challenge what the Government are doing” and suggested that fee increases, the ending of maintenance grants, and introduction of income-contingent tax liabilities had not achieved what they had set out to do for the public purse whilst burdening students with ever-increasing debts. He asked for clarification on the “huge gap” in public finances the system was creating and explained that his motion would call on the Government to report annually to Parliament on the impact on the economy of increasing graduate debt, provide estimates of payback rates and an estimate of the annual cost to the Exchequer of the present system. Stevenson and other Lords also criticised the linking of fees to the TEF.

The voting was close and the motion to regret was agreed by the Lords.

Speaking for the Government Viscount Younger of Leckie expressed his disappointment about the vote and stressed that the Government’s policy intention remained to link fees to the quality of provision via the teaching excellence framework.

A second motion to regret has been tabled for Wed 26 April by Lord Clark of Windermere to move that the House of Lords regrets the introduction of tuition fees and removal of bursaries for NHS students.

Science Communication: The Science and Technology select committee have reported on their inquiry into science communication. The report notes that public interest in science is high and rising yet most people still lack a personal connection or understanding of science, and there is low trust in science journalism. The committee report concurs with the Stern recommendation for REF to synonymise impact with associated policy-making. Furthermore, the Government has abandoned the intended anti-lobbying clause in government contracts and grants because for research grants it sent the wrong message, discouraging instead of encouraging the widest and fullest possible science communication and engagement.

The full report examines communication of science, including through social media and reaching young people. It also tackles the misrepresentation of scientific results in the media. Highlighting inaccurate interpretations of statistics, and distortion of results to sensationalise the story as source of public suspicion. The report calls for government to ensure that a robust redress mechanism is provided for when science is misreported.

It also recommends exploring multiple aspects of diversity, instead of just gender, so young people have a wide range of role models to inspire them to pursue STEM careers. There is an interesting section (paragraphs 13-21) on outreach to schools and young people in relation to the STEM skills gap and whether science communication has a role to play in addressing the STEM gap particularly through redressing negative messaging.

Recruitment: The latest UCAS statistical release reconfirms the known drop in applications – UK students down by 4% (c.25,000), EU 6% down, international applications increase by 2%.

Apprenticeships: It’s been a busy news week for apprenticeships – the Apprenticeship Levy for business is now in force and the Institute for Apprenticeships was launched on Monday. It has been confirmed that degree apprenticeships will be regulated by HEFCE (QAA) through the Annual Provider Review process, with the quality of training provision inspected by Ofsted, except where the apprenticeship standard contains a prescribed HE qualification – this will be assessed through joint working (HEFCE/Ofsted).

A recent Commons select committee report on apprenticeships has criticised the government’s apprenticeship policy stating it will not resolve the skills gaps as it is not sufficiently focussed on specific sectors nor targets key regions where training is lacking. The Committee also warns that schools are still failing to promote non-university routes.

Technical and Further Education Bill: this Bill has been amended and passed by the Lords. The Lords debate noted improvements are needed in learner support when private providers fail, alongside clarity for targeting apprenticeships in the engineering, construction, IT skills shortage areas. The Bill will now return to the Commons. If you would like more

Other news:

The Times covers Exeter University’s online masters degrees – fees will be £18,000 (same fee for UK and international students).

Radio 4 broadcast A Degree of Fraud, which covered the contract cheating services that provide bespoke essays. UK Essays claim to have sold 16,000 essays during 2016. It is reported that students can purchase a guaranteed 2:1 essay within 12 hours for £450. The broadcast also recognises Lord Storey’s campaign for parliament to outlaw bespoke writing services. You may remember this was covered in an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill which was withdrawn following reassurance from Jo Johnson who has asked the QAA to take steps to combat the ‘essay mills’.

Wonkhe discuss Hobson’s potentially mobile international student survey and look at the positive and negatives of a branch campus with a nod to the Brexit context.

The Guardian presents case studies of two disabled students who are failing to complete their studies after the reduction in disability benefits. It highlights how the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a ‘gateway benefit’ meaning students that lose it are then ineligible to access other supports such as universal credit or carer’s allowance. It is recognised that students with mental health disabilities are particularly affected.

Lily Boulle, student at the University of East London, went to Citizens Advice for help and found she was “locked out” of the benefit system. “There’s absolutely nothing you can get as a student unless you have PIP. It doesn’t make sense.”

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “Disabled students… may be eligible if they need to take time out from studying due to their condition.”

The Equality Challenge Unit published experiences of gender equality in STEMM academia which expresses disadvantages experienced by women academics (more teaching and admin, less research time, less training, limitations due to caring responsibilities) and intersects the data with ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age.

HE Policy update w/e 31st March 2017

This week has of course been all about Brexit with the Article 50 notice formally served on Wednesday.   Bu published information for staff and students on Wednesday.

Then the White Paper setting out the plans for the Great Repeal Bill which will deal with arrangements to make UK law work once the UK has left the EU – a challenge given how much EU law has been incorporated into UK laws and regulations. The Bill itself has not been published, but the approach it will take is set out in the White Paper:

  • “In order to achieve a stable and smooth transition, the Government’s overall approach is to convert the body of existing EU law into domestic law, after which Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) will be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal once we have left the EU. This ensures that, as a general rule, the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as they did before….
  • The approach outlined in this White Paper is designed to give businesses, workers, investors and consumers the maximum possible certainty as we leave the EU: but it also needs to provide the flexibility necessary to respond to all eventualities of the negotiation process.
  • This is a separate process from that by which the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement to be voted on by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded.
  • The Great Repeal Bill will not aim to make major changes to policy or establish new legal frameworks in the UK beyond those which are necessary to ensure the law continues to function properly from day one. Therefore, the Government will also introduce a number of further bills during the course of the next two years to ensure we are prepared for our withdrawal – and that Parliament has the fullest possible opportunity to scrutinise this legislation”.
  • The most controversial part of the proposal relates to powers to make secondary legislation. The White Paper says “This will enable corrections to be made to the laws that would otherwise no longer operate appropriately once we have left the EU, so that our legal system continues to function correctly outside the EU, and will also enable domestic law once we have left the EU to reflect the content of any withdrawal agreement under Article 50.”

So will there be any changes to UK law linked to Article 50 – there are some clues in the White Paper:

  • Customs bill
  • Immigration bill
  • And on consumer protection, the Government intends to bring forward a Green Paper this spring which will closely examine markets which are not working fairly for consumers

What the White Paper says won’t change:

  • Environmental protection
  • Worker’s rights and equalities
  • Participation in European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), but not the EU Charter on Human Rights

Read more about the process for Brexit here.

Universities are not mentioned in the paper (except in the introduction where it is noted that the government acted fast to reassure applicants about fees) – there are on-going calls for the question of EU citizens in the UK to be settled fast, along with fee guarantees for students starting in 2018/19. UUK’s priorities for Brexit are set out in their short paper here and there are some interesting views written for the Universities All Party Parliamentary Group here.

Fake Research – UUK has a new blog on fake research following comments in the news about it. The blog helpfully brings together the latest reports and information in this area including the Research Councils UK guidance issued recently.

Higher Education and Research Bill – this will have its third reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday No more amendments have been added since the debate was postponed following the Westminster attacks. However, we know a little bit more about the government’s approach to the opposition and cross bench amendments made by the Lords. The bill will go back to House of Commons (to start its “ping-pong”) after Easter.

For example, of the 5 non-government amendments, one related to the requirement that universities should share information with local authorities to ensure that students are registered to vote. Jo Johnson has written a letter to HEFCE requesting that they do more to encourage institutions to support students to register to vote. They ask HEFCE to develop a best practice model and then encourage universities to use it. This amendment this therefore likely to be removed in the House of Commons

Another provided that the OfS could not approve a provider unless it has been validated for at least 4 years (as now) or has been approved by a Quality Assurance Committee as being full able to maintain the required standard for the duration of its authorisation and that it operates in the public interest and the interest of students. It seems unlikely that this will survive in the House of Commons:

  • A letter dated 22nd March from Jo Johnson sets out the government’s position that the student protection arrangements should cover this and that there will be a consultation on this as part of a Regulatory Framework consultation in the autumn of 2017.
  • A letter dated 8th March from Jo Johnson sets out why the government believes that the current validation arrangements do not work and explains why it should be easier for new providers to be authorised.

The other 4 amendments were:

  • Requiring UKRI to encourage international collaboration, not allowing students to be treated as long term migrants and not allowing more visa restriction on student or staff immigration more stringent than the day the act is passed – this is likely to be removed in the Commons pending the wider consultation on immigration policy which has been delayed since November
  • Removing the TEF clause and requiring the OfS to introduce instead a scheme to provide information about quality, which is approved by Parliament and which cannot be used to create a single composite ranking – This is likely to be removed in the Commons but it will be interesting to see if any concessions are made about the TEF. So far subject level TEF has been postponed for a year to allow for 2 years of pilot, but other changes may be forthcoming
  • A statement that the TEF (or its replacement) cannot be used to rank institutions as to the fees that they charge or the number of students they recruit, in the UK or overseas – this seems unlikely to survive – the student number/immigration issue will be dealt with as above, and the fee issue is so key to the government’s position on fees that it seems very unlikely to be dropped. There has been surprisingly little pick up on this issue – see the VC’s blog on this. There is a blog by Professor Mark Smith here.
  • The grounds in which institutions can appeal the revocation of their authorisation, so that instead of being on the grounds of an error of fact, a decision being wrong in law or unreasonable, it now just says that institutions can appeal on the grounds that “the decision was wrong” – this seems unlikely to survive – see the letter from Viscount Younger and Lord Young dated 20th

Apprenticeships – The Commons Select Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy have published a report on apprenticeships which raises a number of concerns about the focus on quantity over quality.

Social Mobility – Justine Greening gave a speech on 30th March on social mobility. She set out three priorities:

  • tackling geographic disadvantage
  • investing in long-term capacity in our system
  • making sure our education system as a whole really prepares young people and adults for career success

This speech refers to the plans for schools to work with universities but doesn’t give any more information (we are still waiting for the response to the consultation), technical education and widening access to universities.

HE policy update w/e 24th March 2017

Higher Education and Research Bill – the third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords was scheduled for Wednesday and was about to start when the attack took place in Westminster, so the session was cancelled. It has now been rescheduled for Tuesday 4th April.  The current version of the bill as amended at the report stage is here. There is a short list of amendments for the third reading – these are usually “tidying up” amendments rather than the more substantive ones that we have seen in the earlier stages – and are monstly (but not exclusively) government amendments.  The Bill will then return to the Commons – probably after Easter – when all six of the opposition and cross bench amendments made by the Lords are likely to be removed – including the one decoupling TEF ratings and fee increases, removing the Gold, Silver, Bronze TEF system and replacing it with a pass/fail, and measures aiming to support international students and staff studying and working in the UK.

There may be government amendments proposed in the Commons to seek to address some of the concerns behind the amendments to the TEF, but it seems unlikely that there will be concessions on international staff and students in the bill as these issues will be relevant to the separate consultation on immigration policy, which we are still waiting for. There will therefore inevitably be another process of “ping-pong” . If the Lords don’t accept the position approved by the Commons (and any concessions made) then there is a risk that the bill will run out of time in this session.

To respond to concerns raised by the Lords, Jo Johnson and the sponsor of the bill in the House of Lords, Viscount Younger of Leckie have written a number of letters during the report stage.

  • 15th March 2017 – powers to enter and search
  • 6th March 2017 – regulation (compliance with the Regulator’s Code – will require a statutory instrument but government agree), role of the Competition and Markets Authority (the government believe there is no overlap between the OfS and the CMA). One government amendment clarified that in addition to promoting competition, the OfS should have regard to the benefits of HEI collaboration for students and employers.
  • 3rd March 2017 – defending the TEF and its metrics, setting out the context and background and confirming a commitment to ensuring that the TEF supports widening participation.

There has not been a response to the amendments that were passed, so we will wait to see. In the meantime, there were some interesting articles about the future for the TEF on Wonkhe on Monday:

Another concern raised by the Lords and also raised in Education questions in the Commons this week related to free speech. Jo Johnson, the universities minister, added that the bill would safeguard free speech by extending the duty to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech to all registered providers. On the same day, Johnson also wrote to universities asking them to pay particular attention to this issue. He advised: “Policies and codes of practice should not simply be allowed to gather dust; they are crucial to demonstrating to students that free speech should be at the heart of our university system. They need to be meaningful documents that students and staff understand and, crucially, respect.”

Brexit – with the PM expected to serve formal notice to start Brexit negotiations under Article 50 next week, Peers debated EU membership and UK science after the referendum on 23 March. They urged the government to replace any money lost from EU research programmes with fresh money from Westminster, rather than with the extra £4.7 million allocated to science and innovation in the 2016 autumn statement.

The Parliamentary and Scientific committee have published a statement on science priorities for Brexit.  It asks for immediate actions, sets out negotiation priorities and changes to domestic policy.  It’s very short and readable – a list of proposals rather than a long summary of evidence and background

Its first statement is about staff and skills – it calls for immediate reassurance for EEA staff working in the UK, research about mobility of skilled workers to inform immigration policy and for the government to develop a communications strategy that champions Britain as a welcoming hub for research and innovation.

On funding, it says that there must be no decline in overall funding for science and innovation across all disciplines, calls for continued participation in Horizon 2020 and for the government to “set the closest possible association for the UK with EU research and innovation programmes”.  It also proposes a target of 3% of GDP for combined public and private R&D investment, with at least 0.7% of GDP invested in research and development.    It calls for a comprehensive review of all current public funding for UK research and development to ensure there is no gap as the UK leaves the EU.

It sets out requirements to ensure that UK-based researchers are able to collaborate, including funding and infrastructure for partnerships.  On trade, it suggests that all government departments should have scientific advisers, and calls for a comprehensive review of the current regulatory environment.

Student Loans – in a written answer to a parliamentary question Jo Johnson noted that the latest Student Loans Company statistics show that there were around 113,600 English student loan borrowers known to be abroad at the beginning of the financial year 2016-17. Of these around 22 per cent were EU-domiciled borrowers. The figures also show that the overall outstanding loan balance of these borrowers resident abroad was around £1.6 billion, of which around £220 million was held by EU-domiciled borrowers. He added in a separate answer that the Student Loans Company established a repayments evasion unit in 2016 to detect borrowers who live abroad and who fail to repay their loans.

Advance marketing – along with Professor Debbie Holley, I am presenting some policy briefings and workshops – read more and book via the intranet.