Category / Research Training

MSCA COFUND Call is now open!

Would your research group benefit from a doctoral or fellowship programme?

Would you like to help support the careers of researchers?

Does your research have the potential to be of international significance?

If so, take a look at the funding available through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action COFUND scheme!

‘The COFUND scheme aims to stimulate regional, national or international programmes to foster excellence in researchers’ training, mobility and career development, spreading the best practices of Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions.

This will be achieved by co-funding new or existing regional, national, and international programmes to open up to, and provide for, international, intersectoral and interdisciplinary research training, as well as transnational and cross-sectoral mobility of researchers at all stages of their career.’ (Participant Portal call page)

This call closes on 28th September 2017.

UKRO, as the UK National Contact Point for MSCA, is hosting the UK Info Day in the afternoon of 18th May, in London. This event is free or charge but you must register. Find out more on the UKRO website.

 

BU staff are strongly advised to register, via BU’s subscription, on the UKRO website, so that you can receive announcements concerning EU funding direct to your own inbox – make sure that you hear first!

If you are considering applying, please contact Emily Cieciura, REKO’s Research Facilitator: EU & International, in the first instance.

EURAXESS – Supporting those working with Researchers

Do you support researchers? If so, EURAXESS can help you!

By registering on the EURAXESS site, you can gain access to a wealth of resources:

If you would like to discuss using EURAXESS as a researcher,  in order to promote BU’s research activity, supporting incoming researchers to BU or other related purpose, please contact Emily Cieciura, RKEO’s Research Facilitator: EU & International and BU’s EURAXESS Institutional Contact.

EURAXESS is also included as one of the highlighted resources within the Research Toolkit > Research Staff pages on this blog.

 

Research & Knowledge Exchange Development Framework – give us your feedback

It’s been over six months since Bournemouth University launched its new Research & Knowledge Exchange Development Framework, which was designed to offer academics at all stages of their career opportunities to develop their skills, knowledge and capabilities.

Since its launch, over 30 sessions have taken place, including sandpits designed to develop solutions to key research challenges, workshops with funders such as the British Academy and the Medical Research Council and skills sessions to help researchers engage with the media and policy makers.

The Research & Knowledge Exchange Office is currently planning activities and sessions for next year’s training programme and would like your feedback about what’s worked well, areas for improvement and suggestions for new training sessions.

Tell us what you think via our survey and be in with a chance of winning a £30 Amazon voucher. The deadline date is Friday 21 April.

Upcoming sessions:

  4 April Public engagement: an overview
  13 April Getting started on applying for research funding
  25 April How to update your Staff Profile Page using BRIAN
  9 May Writing Academy – Writing Day
  10 May Using social media to share your research
  18 May Targeting high quality journals
  18 May Writing an academic paper
  18 May Writing a good abstract
  18 May Dealing with editors
  24 May Research Data Management
  24 May Introduction to the Royal Society
  24 May My publication story so far… Prof. Tim Rees
  25 May Writing Academy – Writing Day

ECRs can apply to participate in an international research workshop

The British Council have a number of research workshops available to ECRs to attend under Researcher Links and the Newton Fund.  The workshops give researchers the opportunity to form new international connections.

If you are an early-career researcher based in the UK or the partner country you can apply for a grant to participate.

Current opportunities are:

Is Poverty a By-Product or a Building Block of Prosperity? Trends in Economic Development from Brazil and the United Kingdom

  • Date of workshop: 21-24 August 2017
  • Location: Belo Horizonte, Brazil
  • Application deadline: 1 May 2017, 12 noon UK time.
  • Programme: Newton Fund Researcher Links
  • For further information, elegibility criteria and application form please contact the workshop organiser.

Information and Communications Technologies in Homes and Cities for the Health and Well-Being of Older People (ICT4HOP’17) 

  • Date of workshop: 14-16 August 2017
  • Location: Bradford, UK
  • Application deadline: 20 May 2017
  • Programme: Newton Fund Researcher Links
  • Eligibility and further information can be found here.

Geological Disaster Monitoring Based on Sensor Networks

  • Date of workshop: 14-17 July 2017
  • Location: Harbin, China
  • Application deadline: 14 April 2017
  • Programme: Newton Fund Researcher Links
  • Eligibility and further information can be found here .

Socially Inclusive WM&RE in Supply Chains Workshop

  • Date of workshop: 23-25 May 2017
  • Location: Florianópolis, Brazil
  •  Application deadline: 23 February 2017
  • Programme: Newton Fund Researcher Links
  • Eligibility and further information can be found here .

Re-naturing Cities: Theories, Strategies and Methodologies

  • Date of workshop: 10-13 July 2017
  • Location: Goiânia, Brazil
  •  Application deadline: 23 April 2017
  • Programme: Newton Fund Researcher Links
  • Eligibility and further information can be found here.

Research & Knowledge Development Framework – give us your feedback

It’s been over six months since Bournemouth University launched its new Research & Knowledge Exchange Development Framework, which was designed to offer academics at all stages of their career opportunities to develop their skills, knowledge and capabilities.

 

Since its launch, over 30 sessions have taken place, including sandpits designed to develop solutions to key research challenges, workshops with funders such as the British Academy and the Medical Research Council and skills sessions to help researchers engage with the media and policy makers.

 

The Research & Knowledge Exchange Office is currently planning activities and sessions for next year’s training programme and would like your feedback about what’s worked well, areas for improvement and suggestions for new training sessions.

 

Tell us what you think via our survey and be in with a chance of winning a £30 Amazon voucher. The deadline date is Friday 21 April.

Upcoming sessions:

  4 April Public engagement: an overview
  13 April Getting started on applying for research funding
  25 April How to update your Staff Profile Page using BRIAN
  9 May Writing Academy – Writing Day
  10 May Using social media to share your research
  18 May Targeting high quality journals
  18 May Writing an academic paper
  18 May Writing a good abstract
  18 May Dealing with editors
  24 May Research Data Management
  24 May Introduction to the Royal Society
  24 May My publication story so far… Prof. Tim Rees
  25 May Writing Academy – Writing Day

 

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.

*Book now* Research Application training- Spaces still available on the RKE Development Framework Pre-Award Pathway

The research and knowledge exchange (RKE) development framework offers a range of opportunities for academics at all career stages to develop their skills, knowledge and capabilities in relation to research and knowledge exchange. The pre-award pathway offers all of the starting information required by academics and researchers at BU to undertake research bidding.

Research Ethics at BU

All research being conducted at BU falls under the Ethics and Governance policies at BU. This session will offer Academics and Researchers an understanding of the Ethics procedures and Research Governance policies at BU.

10 April 2017 10.00 – 11.00 Lansdowne Campus

Getting started on applying for research funding

This session will explore how best to adapt research in response to the changing external environment. The workshop will provide information on the best routes to funding based upon career stages and also introduce how RKEO can help.

Thursday 13 April 2017 09.00 – 10.00 Lansdowne Campus

Pre-award finance

This session will introduce researchers to Full Economic Costs (fEC), transparant approaches to costing (TRAC) and the BU Financial Regulations. Guidance will be offered on how to cost projects in a way that funders will find acceptable. Training will be provided on producing the ‘Justificaton of Resources’ document required by many funders.

Thursday 13 April 2017 10.30 – 11.30 Lansdowne Campus

BU processes for applying for funding

This workshop will provide a short introduction/refresher on how to apply for external funding at BU. The latest update on the policies and processes will be introduced as part of this short session.

By the end of the session you will be familiar with the processes required to apply for funding at BU.

Thursday 13 April 2017 13.30 – 14.30 Lansdowne Campus

Quality approvals at BU

This course is aimed at those who are, or wish to be, a designated Faculty and UET Activity Quality/Peer reviewers. This session will provide an introduction/refresher of academic review policies at BU.

Thursday 13 April 2017 15.00 – 16.00 Lansdowne Campus

EURAXESS – new video released

Further to the recent blog post outlining the information available via EURAXESS, there is now a new video providing an introduction to the service available. Other videos are available on the EURAXESS You Tube channel, including case studies, where researchers have benefited from the services offered by EURAXESS.

Find out more about how EURAXESS can help your career development or locate the best researchers for your team!

If you would like to discuss using EURAXESS as a researcher,  in order to promote BU’s research activity, supporting incoming researchers to BU or other related purpose, please contact Emily Cieciura, RKEO’s Research Facilitator: EU & International and BU’s EURAXESS Institutional Contact.

EURAXESS is also included as one of the highlighted resources within the Research Toolkit > Research Staff pages on this blog.

 

HE policy update w/e17th March 2017

Brexit:

  • Research Professional illustrates the Brexit threats to research positioning and job losses by highlighting the difficulties facing an EU astronomy consortium. The consortium represents seven countries, led by the UK, but will move headquarters to an EU member state from January 2021. The move means the UK will lose the project’s leadership and the 12 UK universities may not continue post-Brexit. Research Professional notes that while access to research infrastructures is available to non-EU states, the EU membership plays a significant role in decisions on where to locate facilities. Gerry Gilmore (the consortium leader, from University of Cambridge) stated:
    The UK will lose substantial scientific leadership and influence in the EU. There is going to be bad news all around. I don’t think people realise how many new jobs and new opportunities have just been destroyed.”
  • The EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has survived the parliamentary process and received Royal Assent on 16th March (BBC). This bill allows the Prime Minister to notify the EU of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU. The Lords made two amendments to the Bill – one relating to Parliament having a “meaningful vote” on the final arrangements and one requiring a guarantee for EU citizens to remain in the UK. The bill was approved by the House of Commons, which rejected the Lords bill and then went back to the Lords under what is called “ping-pong”. The Lords voted again on both issues but the House of Lords majority backed down and the bill was passed. The PM is expected to trigger article 50 later in March.
  • 2018/19 EU student and staff guarantees: During oral questions in the Lords Baroness Royall of Blaisdon pressed the government spokesperson (Viscount Younger of Leckie) when announcements would be made regarding fees and access to loans for 2018/19 EU student starters. Leckie gave a side stepping response: “The noble Baroness makes the important point that there are uncertainties arising from Brexit, but the Government have moved rapidly to give assurances to this sector… “We have also provided similar assurances that EU nationals starting courses in 2016-17 and 2017-18 remain eligible for Research Council postgraduate support. As I have said, we will ensure that students starting in 2018-19 have the information well in advance

International students:

  • The debate over the inclusion of international students in the long-term migrant numbers continues. Even senior ministers are rebelling – Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and Liam Fox have all protested, although Jo Johnson continues to toe the party line backing the PM’s stance to include international students within the original immigration statistics. Liam Fox spoke out this week about the value of overseas campuses.
  • On Monday the House of Lords defeated the government on the Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB), approving an amendment to prevent international students being counted as long-term migrants. The government have responded that “the proposed amendment would create a situation where we were potentially unable to apply basic visa checks, or impose conditions on a student visa. It would also mean that fresh primary legislation were needed just to make minor, technical changes to immigration rules.” (Wonkhe)
  • HERB is scheduled to have its third reading in the Lords on 22 March 2017 and then will go back to the Commons. The PM’s stance on international students seems rock solid (Financial Times) and Theresa May is not expected to waiver – the parliamentary ping pong regarding international students will surely make headlines over the coming weeks.
  • Meanwhile there are worries about student recruitment. Politics Home quotes an Office for National Statistics release stating the number of students coming to the UK dropped by 41,000 in 2016.

Higher Education and Research Bill:

  • The HE and Research Bill has finished its third reading in the House of Lords (although it will have to go back if the House of Commons makes any changes, as seems likely).  The report stage in the Lords is on 22nd March – usually only technical or minor amendments are made at this stage.  The current version of the bill as amended by the Lords is here.
  • The surprise amendment on international students is referred to above.
  • The government won the final vote on the proposed amendment that would have required UKRI and OfS to jointly revoke research degree awarding powers, the amendment was defeated. Wonkhe report that Lord Mackay made an impassioned speech noting that it was “extraordinary” that the OfS was not required to have any expertise or experience regarding research, and yet had the unilateral power to revoke research degree awarding powers, but to no avail. The Bill continues to say that research degree-awarding powers should be made by the OfS with advice from UKRI.

With long debates, late nights and a large number of amendments, it is fair to say that HERB has received an excellent level of scrutiny within the Lords. Lord Prior of Brampton notes: “Everyone who has contributed [to the Bill debates] can take some credit for having improved it considerably. For me, it is a good example of the value this House can bring to a Bill of this kind.”

HEFCE 2017/18 funding to universities: The grant letter details the overall funding to the sector for 2017/18. It includes doubled funding for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (£60m pa), an additional £17m increase for mainstream quality-related research, a reduction of £40m for teaching (including a reduction in PGT FTE funding rate), maintaining the disabled students premium at the 2016/17 level, the inclusion of nursing, midwifery and allied health professions (£32m), cuts to the student premium budget for full time UG of £20m (part time UG funding remains static). Institutions will receive individual allocations in April although with a publication embargo in force until May. Capital allocations will be announced in March.

Student Loans Sale: A parliamentary question tabled by Steve McCabe requested publication of the ‘in-depth market testing exercise associated with the same of the student loan book. Jo Johnson has responded: “The Government ran a market testing process with a cross-section of potential investors in the student loan book from the end of September into November 2016. This sought feedback on potential sale structures and key features of the transaction and informed the design of the sale. This was a commercial rather than a public process and was conducted under non-disclosure agreements. We do not intend to publish a report of the details. Protecting the details of the conclusions of market testing will help the ongoing sale process achieve value for money for taxpayers.

Student Fees: On Thursday 16th the Petitions Committee released its latest decisions regarding recent petitions with a high number of signatures. This included a petition to government to change the University fees from £9250 back to the £3000 fee. The Committee agreed to wait for the Higher Education and Research Bill to complete its passage through Parliament before deciding whether to schedule a debate – effectively this was a dismissal of the petition.

Research Excellence Framework  The responses to the REF2021 consultation were due in by midday on 17th March.

  • There has been a lot of focus on one area, the definition of “research active staff” for the returns – there are some interesting views:
  • HEFCE blog (and BU’s reply) – HEFCE are proposing a negotiated definition for each university, BU is proposing all staff should be returned, including teaching only
  • Royal Society blog on Research Professional – they say staff shouldn’t be returned at all, it should be institutional
  • The PVC (Research and Enterprise) from Hertfordshire says on Times Higher Education that the solution is flawed and that clarity is needed

There are many other issues in the REF consultation, including the portability of outputs, which will have important consequences for institutions and their staff. The HEFCE REF consultation on the implementation of the REF 2021 closed on 17 March 2017.  You can read BU’s response here.

NVivo workshop and surgery – 23 March

As part of the Graduate School’s Research Development Programme 2016/17, Jacqueline Priego from CEL will be delivering an NVivo workshop. Details below:

Date: 23 March 2017

Time: 14.00 – 17.00

Venue: S103

Bookings via myBU *

Audience: This workshop is suitable for PGRs with some knowledge of qualitative analysis approaches.

Intended learning outcomes. By the end of this workshop you should be able to:

• Confidently identify the main elements of the NVivo interface

• Open and create new NVivo projects

• Prepare and modify documents

• Create codes and code documents

• Rearrange the coding system

• Perform simple retrieval of coded documents

• Use annotation and linking tools.

If you are already using NVivo for your research, you might like to drop in for the last half an hour of the session, when an open surgery will be held.

Jacqueline Priego has been delivering CAQDAS workshops and training postgraduate students and researchers on qualitative analysis since 2010. She is also available for queries relating to MAXQDA and QDAMiner (not supported at BU).

*Spaces are limited due to room capacity – please book through myBU to avoid disappointment.

Blog by the Vice-Chancellor – what next for the Teaching Excellence Framework

The BBC 2 series “Meet the Lords” could not have been better timed. The House of Lords has flexed its muscles on the Article 50 Bill and this week’s episode coincided with them passing an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill (HE Bill) that breaks the link between the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and fees. Since then another amendment has been passed that would change the nature of the TEF, and bring it under Parliamentary scrutiny.

It would be easy to dismiss these (as some have done) as acts of rebellion by a non-elected chamber that is in the case of the HE Bill, representing vested interests in the face of a genuine government attempt to reform a sector that is badly in need of it. The Department for Education could be forgiven if they had thought that the HE Bill was nearly home and dry. They had published a long list of amendments which had been largely welcomed by the sector. The TEF does not require Parliamentary approval. Universities UK and GuildHE, amongst others, had expressed support for the HE bill as amended and expressed support for the TEF – opposing the addition of more detail as it would reduce flexibility in future negotiations on the detail. But the House of Lords did not agree – they have not sought to add more detail in the TEF, but to change its nature completely. Reading the debates, it is clear that members of the House of Lords, like most of the sector, generally support the objectives of TEF in bringing focus on the quality of education and student outcomes. They support the provision of more and better information about universities for applicants and others. They, like many in the sector, also generally support an inflationary increase in fees.

In the latest amendment, the provisions for the TEF in clause 26 have been removed and the new clause instead requires the Secretary of State to bring forward a scheme to identify whether an institution meets or fails to meet expectations based on quality standards but it “must not be used to create a single composite ranking of English higher education providers”.  The arguments are neatly summarised by Lord Lucas: “Bronze will be seen as failing because these universities will be marked out as the bottom 20%. This is just not necessary. We have succeeded, in our research rankings, in producing a measure of sufficient detail and sophistication for people to read it in detail. It produces quite marked differences between institutions, but nobody reads it as a mark of a failing institution. It is information, not ranking…”.

An earlier amendment removed the differentiation between fees based on different ratings. The speeches in the House of Lords demonstrate that they are opposed to this link for different reasons, for example:

  • Baroness Deech “If we detach fees from gold, silver and bronze, we stand a chance of increasing social mobility under the amendment. If we do not, social mobility will be frozen and ghettoisation will increase.”
  • Baroness Wolf of Dulwich: “I want to cite three groups of academics ….all of which feel, as do students, that in their current state the TEF metrics are not up to the job of determining fee levels and that, until we are sure that we have valid and reliable measures, we should not do this.”
  • Lord Lipsey : “… what seems knocking on bizarre is to plough on with bringing in this link between fees and the TEF before we have got the TEF right….The Government would give themselves the best chance of proving themselves right and the sceptics wrong if they gave time for the TEF to settle down before they brought in the fees link.”
  • Lord Kerslake: “My second reason for not making the link is that the TEF rating will relate to the university, not the subject or course. We will not see subject-level ratings until 2020 and yet we know that it is perfectly possible to have a mediocre course in an otherwise excellent university, and indeed vice versa. It can be argued that the TEF ranking gives an indication of the overall ​student experience at a particular institution, but the variation which so obviously exists within institutions makes that argument quite unconvincing.”

Except for the subject level fee point (which has not become a topic of debate yet), these are all arguments that were made by the sector in responding to the Green Paper and the TEF consultation. These are all things that we have continued to raise as we discuss the implications of subject-level TEF.

So as it stands, the TEF has lost both of its “incentives” – aka its carrot and its stick, which were both in the form of the impact on fees and reputation. It is not at all clear what will happen next – some ideas are given in this Wonkhe blog. In blogs on the Times Higher Education, Maddaleine Ansell of the University Alliance and Sorana Vieru gave very different perspectives.

So what compromise could there be to address all the concerns and yet still preserve the positive aspects of the TEF – i.e. the increasing focus on education and outcomes? I go back to BU’s response to the Green Paper, when we said that the TEF should model itself on the REF.. It should celebrate excellence wherever it is found, there should not be a link with tuition fees and there should be no forced ranking. To achieve that now, a remodelled TEF could include the following features:

  • no link to fees
  • have two rather than three levels of award – perhaps indicating good and outstanding. The last category is those who fail their quality assessment and don’t qualify for TEF.
  • take a different approach to benchmarking that does not force differentiation
  • include a place for commendations

I am not convinced by the argument that no-one would participate in the TEF without the direct financial incentive. That does not hold true for the REF. The REF has increased the focus on impact and had a beneficial impact on research. (We have some reservations about the changes proposed in the latest REF consultation, but that is a separate issue.) The concerns about the TEF would be mitigated substantially if the Olympic rating system and the link to fees were dropped. The sector would be able to engage in a much more constructive debate about subject-level TEF.

The TEF does not need to be thrown out completely – but this is an opportunity to go back to where this started from and ensure that the TEF brings focus on the quality of education and student outcomes.

HE policy update w/e 24th February 2017

Jo Johnson spoke at a UUK conference today and made a number of important announcements:

  • New government amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill. The detailed amendments have not yet been published but a Department for Education factsheet has been provided. The government amendments have been welcomed so far. See the Latest set of proposed amendments (mostly opposition amendments but some government ones too) – this will clearly grow more before the report stage starts on 6th March 2017. See more below.
  • Importantly, he announced that the subject level TEF would have a two year pilot – starting in 2017/18 but also running through 2018/19. Subject level TEF would then be formally implemented in 2019/20, with ratings that are announced around May 2020 with the Year 5 institutional level ratings. Note that it is currently not intended that subject level TEF will result in subject level fees. There was no mention of TEF for post-graduate, which was originally planned to run in year 4, so assessed during 2018/19.
  • Accelerated degrees – Jo Johnson also wrote in the Times about the government response to the consultation on accelerated degrees and credit switching (that closed last July with 1000s of responses) which will be issued shortly, and relevant changes that will be made to the HE Bill.  Apart from the headline grabbing focus on universities being able to raise fees above £13,000 a year, this consultation response will probably contain interesting stuff on credit transfers between universities.  The headline focus on fees is a little bit misleading, because this is in response to sector feedback that it isn’t possible to provide three years of teaching in two years unless fees are increased for those two years (there were many other comments about the impact on extra- and co-curricular activities, as well as cost).  The higher fees would only apply to accelerated degrees, as The Times story makes clear.
  • He also announced a number of other changes regarding institutional and research autonomy which are very helpful – more detail is given below.

HE and Research Bill – As mentioned above, the amendments continue to accumulate for the Lords report stage of the HE bill with the latest government amendments yet to be published. See the latest round up from Wonkhe here. One joint government and Labour amendment (to replace the opposition amendment passed in the House of Lords) defines institutional autonomy, and a number of others require the OfS to protect that autonomy. The definition that is proposed is set out below:

  • There is a new transparency duty – one that did seem to be an omission in the previous drafting. The TEF reflects the new focus on widening participation away from just access to progression and outcomes, but the HE Bill did not reflect this fully in the transparency duty as originally proposed. This has now been picked up, and the proposed amendment (which we have not seen yet) will require providers to publish information on levels of attainment, in addition to application, offer, acceptance and completion rates, broken down by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.
  • After the long and energetic discussions in the Lords about the Haldane principle, research autonomy and the many concerns expressed about the role of the Secretary of State, a number of amendments have been tabled 9but not yet published) including one explicitly about the Haldane principle
  • There is a response to the criticism of the limitations on the role of Innovation UK and some of its financial arrangements – we don’t have the detail on all of it but the business focus amendment is set out in the explanatory paper
  • As noted above, the announcement on accelerated degrees requires a change to the HE Bill to allow for higher fees for accelerated degrees – the DfE paper is clear that the overall cost of a degree will not go up – but universities will be allowed to charge more per year for the more intensive short courses.
  • On credit transfer, the proposed amendments will apparently require the OfS to monitor and report on arrangements for student transfer and a power for them to encourage and promote it.
  • There are a number of more technical amendments proposed, including to protect institutions in cases where degree awarding powers may be revoked, to protect Royal Charters and to ensure that the OfS does not meddle in institutional autonomy as regards standards. These changes will be most welcome, and BU, along with most of the sector has called for these changes, and we are looking forward to seeing the detail.

Other proposed opposition amendments include:

  • yet another attempt to change the name of the OfS – this time to the Office for Higher Education Standards. Given that the government have just confirmed that the OfS should not meddle in standards (see above), this amendment seems unlikely to pass.
  • and another attempt to address student loan repayment terms and conditions – this has been raised at every opportunity so far but has not yet been subject to a vote.

The HEFCE grant letter is out, with extensive coverage.  Research Professional report that:

  • Teaching funding will fall, representing nine consecutive years of reductions- it is due to be cut by 5 per cent in 2018-19—and the funds now also have to cover the expansion of medical schools and include trainee nurses, midwives and other health professionals. This is particularly interesting because of the theory that removing the commissioning arrangement will increase student numbers, balanced against concerns in the sector about falling applications and the real-life challenge with increasing student numbers, i.e. placements – On the latter point, Research Professional note the part of the HEFCE letter that “adds that in order to implement the Department of Health announcement that, from September 2018, the government would fund up to 1,500 additional student places in medical schools each year, the funding council should make an initial allocation of 500 places in 2018-19 “based on the capacity for growth and viability of provision in different institutions and be informed by advice from the Department of Health and Health Education England on the distribution of medical placements
  • On PG: “The letter further asks that the funding council ensures it pays for postgraduate courses on a basis that is “consistent with and complementary to” the new postgraduate loan system. In particular the funding council is asked to prioritise science and other high cost subjects.”
  • On TEF: “It asks the funding council to continue funding the introduction of the teaching excellence framework, including the subject-level pilots, for which the budget and approach will be determined later in 2017. The letter further encourages the continued funding of the “high priority” learning gain pilots” – which may give us an idea of where TEF metrics may be headed
  • On schools: “On social mobility, government asks the funding council to continue encouraging “innovative” forms of engagement with schools, including work to identify which institutions are sponsoring or establishing schools and the support they require to achieve it.” This sounds like a slight backing away from compulsory sponsorship of schools? Or maybe just preparation for identifying those who don’t comply.
  • On research:  “the letter says that detailed allocations for the £4.7 billion of additional investment pledged in the autumn statement will be finalised in early March. The funding council is expected to distribute the additional research and knowledge exchange funding allocation in 2017-18. The £100 million announced for technology transfer, meanwhile, will be based on competitive mechanisms that the funding council will develop with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.”
  • And on student wellbeing: “The letter further asks the funding council to implement recommendations made by the Universities UK taskforce on violence, sexual harassment and hate crimes, which advocated the embedding of a zero-tolerance culture towards such incidents on campus. It also recommends the creation of an evidence base around mental health needs and services for staff and students.” The latter cross refers to a UUK good practice guide.
  • Other issues include plagiarism, credit transfer, REF, degree apprenticeships, Prevent and efficiency.

BTEC students – the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) have issued a report on BTECs and Pearson have blogged for them.  The report concludes that “Students arriving at university with BTECs account for much of the growth in students from the lowest participation neighbourhoods and other under-represented groups over the past decade. But those with BTECs face a ‘glass ceiling’ – for example:

  • only 15 BTEC students were accepted at the four most selective higher education institutions in 2015; and
  • under 60 per cent of students with BTECs at Russell Group universities complete their course.”

The report makes the following policy recommendations:

  • As the proportion of pupils achieving the highest BTEC grades (equivalent to three A-Levels) more than doubled from 17% to 38% between 2006 and 2013, the Government should evaluate whether the current system of external verification of BTECs is fit for purpose.
  • Universities should issue collective guidance on which BTECs are most valuable to students in terms of progression, as they have already done for A-Levels.
  • More prestigious universities with low numbers of BTEC students should consider bespoke access courses for BTEC students aimed at helping them adjust to the methods of teaching and assessment that are common in higher education.

Lifelong learning – The University Alliance issued a report on lifelong learning which calls for a number of actions, including setting up a UCAS style system for adult learning courses, reintroducing individual learning accounts and providing additional loans. They also mention accelerated degrees and suggest broadening the apprenticeship levy to cover such course.

Essay Mills – Jo Johnson called this week on universities to do more to stop students buying custom written essays online. He has asked the QAA to prepare guidance for universities and information for students to help combat the use of ‘essay mills’ websites as well as other forms of plagiarism and for the QAA to take direct action against those marketing the services. It looks as if the guidance will focus on making sure that universities have policies and sanctions in place.

“The Universities Minister has asked for guidance aimed at universities and information for students to help combat the use of these websites, as well as other forms of plagiarism. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has also been tasked to take action against the online advertising of these services and to work with international agencies to deal with this problem.

The Minister is calling for the guidance to include tough new penalties for those who make use of essay mills websites, as well as the need to educate students about the potentially significant negative impacts on their future career if they are caught cheating.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: “This form of cheating is unacceptable and every university should have strong policies and sanctions in place to detect and deal with it“. Essay mill websites threaten to undermine the high quality reputation of a UK degree so it is vital that the sector works together to address this in a consistent and robust way.””

Brexit – The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published the terms of reference and membership of its “high level stakeholder working group on EU exit, universities, research and innovation”.

“The overarching purpose of the group is to provide a forum for BEIS, DfE, DExEU, and a broad range of UK representatives of the universities, science, research and innovation communities to discuss issues of common interest in approaching the UK’s exit from the EU. The emphasis will be on considering all factors related to research and innovation that need to be taken into account as government policy develops.”

Membership includes Jo Johnson, Madeleine Atkins, Nicola Dandridge, and the chairs of Million Plus, the Russell Group, GuildHE and the University Alliance, a couple of VCs and PVCs from the devolved administrations (Heriot-Watt, Ulster, Cardiff)  and representatives of a number of science bodies such as the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and others, CBI, RCUK, UKRI.  And Sir Mark Walport in his current role as the Government Chief Scientific Adviser.  Interestingly, none of the bodies represented are arts or social sciences bodies, which continues to demonstrate the apparent assumption in all of these groups on research as an activity that is only relevant to STEM.

Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have intervened following a complaint to OIA from students that didn’t receive sufficient notice that compulsory modules had been introduced to their course. While UEA was not considered by OIA to have breached its rules the CMA have asked UEA to change its policy and consider the introduction of compulsory modules as a substantial change which would require greater timeliness of notice in future. CMA’s intervention is seen as a landmark intrusion by some. The CMA request is discussed further by Jim Dickinson and Paul Greatrix on Wonkhe. UUK also have a blog on the subject.