Category / Student Engagement

HE policy update for the w/e 7th December 2018

Another lively week in HE policy – starting late last Friday night when the Minister resigned..and we had to wait several days for the new one to be appointed.

New Minister

For those watching HE twitter late on a Friday night, the big news was Sam Gyimah’s resignation over Brexit (amid some whispers from the HE conspiracy theorists that fee cuts are nigh and Sam may have been exiting before the blame falls).  The new HE Minister is Chris Skidmore. We’ve compiled a profile on him here.

Chris is a party loyalist and has maintained an interest in education throughout his career both sitting on the Education Select Committee and authoring a report on SEN children. As a historian he is an interesting choice given the current negative policy rhetoric around graduate outcomes (meaning salary levels) which show lower returns for humanities subjects, and questions about whether these degrees should have the same fees associated with them as other subjects where average rewards may be higher.

  • [We have commented before that there is not always a direct line between choice of subject and career and earnings.  The Minister started an academic career but has strayed into career territory that should surely be occupied by politics graduates?  Honestly, if people keep going off their career path, how are we supposed to compare universities? The current rhetoric is not helped by the fact that so many politicians studied PPE, a vocational training course for politicos.  It might be interesting to know how well students studying PPE do afterwards, but their earnings may not all be down to the university they went to and their choice of degree subject.  Earnings might also depend on whether they choose to work near home rather than in London, what their political views are, whether they actually work in Politics or Economics, or prefer the Philosophy part, whether they come from a disadvantaged or minority group or have disabilities, whether they choose to be teachers or charity workers or take low paid or part-time work to juggle caring responsibilities. Just a thought].

If he survives the turbulent Brexit seas the new Minister may be looking to make his mark on HE. Jo Johnson’s contribution included HERA with its new research structures, the OfS, TEF and KEF.  Sam Gyimah championed students, on a range of issues from mental health to printing costs, and his famous campaign on free speech.  The new Minister may have his own agenda.  It will be interesting to see how he’ll respond if asked if he will now also be the ‘Minister for Students’.   Meanwhile he’ll be on a learning curve to prepare for the imminent Office for National Statistics decision on how student loans will be accounted for (which has the potential to change future HE policy if the new accounting method looks too unpalatable for the Government) and getting a sneak peek on where Phillip Augar’s review of post-18 education and funding is heading.

It seems to always be the case that the sector will complain bitterly about a Minister when he is office and miss him when he has gone – perhaps that’s just fear of what the next one may bring.  Research Professional has an interesting article on Sam Gyimah’s exit and reflects on his time as HE Minister. I  It also ponders what the new minister may bring (it was written before Skidmore’s appointment was announced):

  • …instead, higher education will be faced with a May loyalist who is signed up to the delivery of Brexit, sceptical of a sector in which leading figures have been finding an oppositional voice in recent days, and therefore happy enough to inflict some pain in the interests of career and the shadowy outlines of a plausible ideology.
  • Gyimah’s journey perhaps demonstrates that it is difficult to spend any time in British higher education without coming to appreciate it—even to love it—but his successor may have precious little of that commodity on his or her hands before having to make pivotal decisions.

Also, if you don’t subscribe to Ivory Tower from HE at Research Professional, you should.  This one is one of the best.  Sorry Sam (who?).

Student Mental Health

It’s been a busy week for Damian Hinds since Sam Gyimah stepped down. On Tuesday he urged universities to take action on student mental health by reaching out to student’s emergency contacts when they’re at risk of a mental health crisis. Hinds wrote to the chair of a roundtable on student mental health, from which advice for universities on consent for the disclosure of information about severe student difficulties to third parties will emerge.  His letter said:

  • Ensuring that university students, many of whom will be leaving home for the first time, are supported is a key challenge for my department and the higher education sector as a whole.

Not everyone agrees with his approach, which is consistent with Sam Gyimah’s statements about universities being “in loco parentis”.  We’ll have to see where the guidance comes out.

And in the meantime, the Office for National Statistics has published an analysis of children’s and young people’s experience of loneliness.

Young people (aged 16 to 24 years)

  • 8% of young people said that they were “often” lonely.
  • Nearly half of young men reported that they “hardly ever or never” felt lonely, compared with 32.4% of young women.
  • Those reporting no long-term illness or disability were much more likely to say they “hardly ever or never” felt lonely (44.8%) than those with a long-term illness or disability (19.3%).
  • Young people living in a household with other adults were more likely to say that they “hardly ever or never” felt lonely than those living in single-adult households (over 40% compared with 18.2%, respectively).

Qualitative research with children and young people found that:

  • a range of predictable transitions linked to schooling and the move on from secondary education can trigger loneliness in children and young people
  • children and young people described embarrassment about admitting to loneliness, seeing it as a possible “failing”
  • practical, social and emotional or mental barriers to participating fully in social life and activities can also contribute to loneliness
  • the intersection of multiple issues and triggers to loneliness, or more extreme and enduring life events such as bereavement, disability, being bullied or mental health challenges, may make it more difficult for children and young people to move out of loneliness without help
  • their suggestions for tackling loneliness included: making it more acceptable to discuss loneliness at school and in society; preparing young people better to understand and address loneliness in themselves and others; creating opportunities for social connection; and encouraging positive uses of social media

Student Loans

Hinds also released a ministerial statement clarifying the (critical) queries following the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into a previous student loan book sale. The inquiry explored the sale and questioned why the Government sold the loans (with a face value of £3.5bn) for only £1.7bn, why the buyer wasn’t named and the failure of the Government to detail how these sales decrease the long term risk to UK public finances. The Committee’s comment on whether the Government would have been prepared to sell the loans at ‘any price’ (i.e. far greater losses) enflamed media attention of the sale.   Hind’s response reinforced the Government’s commitment and confidence in the sale, he stated:

  • This sale is good for the taxpayer. It releases money that is tied up and serving no policy purpose, to invest in other policy priorities now, whilst keeping within the spending limits we need to strengthen public finances. Government does not sell at any price. Throughout the process, Government’s decision on whether to proceed remained subject to market conditions and a final value for money assessment. This looked at whether we were selling to an efficient market, that can price the asset efficiently, and at a price that was worth more to Government than retaining the loans.

Technical Education

Damian Hinds spoke on Thursday to outline his plan to ensure more people move into skilled employment. It provides hints for technical education and continues the current Government policy line which values Universities whilst expecting them to diversify and for new and alternative education routes to open up. The Secretary of State said:

  • “For too long, we’ve had too many of our young people leaving school without the necessary skills or direction… I am determined to change this.
  • Matching German productivity would allow government to spend tens of billions of pounds a year more in our public services… Our high employment rate is a great strength of our economy…
  • But the challenge now is more people working in highly productive industries, in rewarding jobs with the opportunity to progress and earn more…not just in work, but getting on in work.
  • In 2017, employers reported difficulties finding the right skills, qualifications or experience for 42% of skilled trades vacancies. Our country needs more computer programmers…more engineers…more electricians and chefs… We need more technicians in fields from advanced manufacturing to healthcare …construction to telecommunications.
  • As a nation I’m afraid we’ve been technical education snobs. We’ve revered the academic but treated vocational as second class – when we do it well, law, engineering, medicine – then we don’t even call it vocational. Let me be clear, the answer is not just encouraging more and more people to go to university…It is introducing clear, high quality, technical paths to skilled jobs… Paths that are as respected and as easy to understand as the A-level-to-degree route.
  • We can’t guarantee young people that a qualification is a clear path to a job unless we’re working side by side with the people who have the vacancies and the skills needs. That’s why we’re putting employers at the heart of every reform we’re making to technical education.
  • Starting today I’m publishing guidance on the role of our Skills Advisory Panels – local partnerships between public and private sector employers, local authorities and colleges and universities – setting out how they will work together to decide what skills are really needed in each local area. Each Panel will get £75,000 to analyse their local skills needs, which could include employing a labour market analyst.
  • Today, as part of our T Level Action plan, I am also announcing the next set of T Levels we will roll out in 2021…[Health, Healthcare Science, Science, Onsite Constructive, Building Services Engineering, Digital Support and Services, and Digital Business Services].
  • And I’m pleased to be announcing today that UCAS has agreed to give a T Level UCAS tariff points in line with 3 A-levels. This reflects the size and complexity and demands of the qualification.
  • By investing in our technical education now, we can make sure that everyone is qualified for the jobs of today and tomorrow… That all our young people have the opportunities they need to succeed”.

On Wonkhe: David Kernohan analyses Damian Hinds’ interesting intervention on technical education, wondering whether it will help fix the parity problem.

Widening Participation

From the Sutton Trust website:

In 2011, the Sutton Trust published Degrees of Success, which looked at university acceptance rates and how they differ by school type and area, finding state school pupils were considerably less likely to go to top universities than independent or grammar school pupils.

Access to Advantage returns to the issues raised in this report, with findings showing little has changed. In the UK, whether someone goes to university, and if so at which institution they study, is still highly impacted by an individual’s socioeconomic background, the school they attend and where in the country they are from.

Authored by Sutton Trust Research Fellow Rebecca Montacute, this report uses UCAS data to analyse university acceptance rates for the 2015-2017 cohorts by school type and region, and discusses what schools and universities can do to help close the gap in Higher Education participation rates in England.

It’s all about the Russell Group, and the press have focussed on the headline about Oxbridge (more students from 8 private schools than from all the state schools put together…), but the recommendations could apply to all universities:

    1. Universities should make greater use of contextual data in their admissions process, to open-up access to students from less privileged backgrounds. Highly selective universities in particular, where low and moderate-income students are substantially under-represented, should make greater use of contextual admissions, including reduced grade offers, to recognise the differing circumstances faced by applicants.
    2. There should be greater transparency from universities when communicating how contextual data is used, including the use of automated ‘contextual data checkers’. In order for contextual admissions to have an effect, it should be communicated clearly to potential applicants where they may benefit from a contextual offer. Otherwise, they may never apply in the first place. Universities should publicise the criteria for contextual admissions clearly, along with how they are taken into account. For example, through an easy-to-use lookup tool on university websites allowing candidates to enter their details and find out whether they qualify.
    3. A geographic element should be included in future university access agreements, including a focus on peripheral areas. There is a notable lack of provision of university outreach in peripheral areas in stark contrast to working-class schools and colleges in London, which often receive high levels of engagement. Oxbridge and other selective universities should target schools in such neglected areas.
    4. Universities should work to reassure students and families who may be reluctant to move substantial distances to university. Outreach activities, open days and summer schools such as the Sutton Trust’s Summer Schools can help to reassure such students – and their parents – about travelling by offering more opportunities for them to visit those universities.

And after the UCAS report on unconditional offers, their next release for the 2018 end of cycle report looks at applicant characteristics.  Splits by ethnic group, free school meals status and the multiple equality measure, will follow in January 2019.

  • The entry rate of pupils from POLAR4 Q1 increased by 1.8 per cent proportionally, from 19.3 per cent in 2017 to 19.7 per cent in 2018, while that of Q2 experienced the largest increase of any quintile, rising by 2.3 per cent proportionally since 2017.
  • In contrast, the entry rate of pupils living in the most advantaged areas, those in POLAR4 Q5, had the smallest increase of any quintile, rising by just 0.8 per cent from 46.1 per cent in 2017, to a value of 46.5 per cent in 2018[1].
  • Overall, the gap is still large.
  • Women have been more likely to enter higher education than men since the 2006 cycle. In 2018, the increase in UK 18 year old entry rate was reflected across both men and women, with 28.0 per cent of men, and 38.3 per cent of women entering higher education – the highest recorded proportions of each gender.
  • The proportional increase for women was nearly twice that of men, however, meaning the entry rate gap between these genders increased.

EU Staff

The Home Office has updated the EU Settlement Scheme information in the event of a no deal exit from the EU. The Government:

  • confirms that if there is no deal, the EU Settlement Scheme will continue to be implemented, enabling EU citizens and their family members living in the UK by 29 March 2019 to secure their status and continue to be able to work, study, and access benefits and services in the UK on the same basis after the exit from the EU as they do now. The scheme will be fully open by 30 March 2019 as planned.
  • confirms that the Home Office will continue to look to grant status rather than refuse and in line with the UK commitment to be more generous in certain respects than the draft Withdrawal Agreement, a person will not be refused status under the EU Settlement Scheme because, for example, they are not economically active or they do not hold comprehensive sickness insurance.

There will be some changes to the EU Settlement Scheme if the UK leaves the EU without a deal (the detail is in the policy document). Notably, no deal would mean dropping the agreed implementation period with the application deadline brought forward to 31 December 2020. The Government reminds action does not need to be taken now (unless you are involved in one of the pilot schemes which provides early settlement – Universities are) and emphasises that the scheme will be fully open by 30 March 2019.

Higher Education Data on BME student retention and outcomes

This week SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield talks BME student retention and outcomes.

The Office for Students (OfS) published a Topic Briefing on Black and minority ethnic (BME) students this week, highlighting that despite a rise in numbers of students from BME backgrounds participating in HE, there remain issues in retention, outcomes and progression especially when coupled with socio-economic disadvantage. The report is focused on home students and looks at access and participation plans across different institutions. A key aspect of the briefing by the OfS raises an issue with the umbrella term ‘black and minority ethnic (BME)’ and the limitations it has, as the experience of students from different ethnic backgrounds is different. Interestingly the report shows the disparity between students from different ethnic backgrounds in outcomes, especially when compared with entry into HE; “the proportion of BME students achieving a first or 2:1 is lower than their white peers. For the majority of entry qualifications the largest differentials exist between black and white graduates” (Figure 4, pg.4-5). The OfS goes on to explain that the difference in outcomes “may be associated with… factors such as institutional structures and curriculum”. BU’s Access and Participation Plan for 2019-20 can be seen here and notes a target to ‘increase BME students’ attainment of good degrees in line with expectations for qualifications on entry.’

A report published last year by the UPP Foundation and SMF Foundation, ‘On course for success? Student retention at University’ found that whilst steps have been taken by Universities to increase diversity of students attending, dropout rates have increased (p.6) with ethnicity being a factor among others (p.15). Further to this, OFFA’s ‘Outcomes of access agreement monitoring for 2015-16’ report found that “Black students are almost 1.5times more likely to dropout than White or Asian students” (p.19). The UPP/SMF report found “contributing factors could include: lack of cultural connection to the curriculum, difficulties making friends with students from other ethnicities, or difficulties forming relationships with academic staff due to the differences in background and customs.” (p.18) Earlier this week the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced an inquiry into racial harassment in Higher Education, noting a link between “being made to feel unwelcome and attainment” (See Telegraph). The inquiry will look into routes for reporting racial harassment and how effectively incidents are dealt with, which is vital in ensuring institutions are welcoming to a diverse community of students and staff. The Students’ Union at BU (SUBU) and BU have a long history of working together to make BU welcoming and accessible to all, for example last year, SUBU and BU worked together to communicate guidance on reporting hate crimes. SUBU and BU have also worked hard to lead by example, with SUBU achieving the Investors in Diversity Stage 2 accreditation in June last year, which included all staff having unconscious bias training; and BU is a proud member of the Race Equality Charter since 2016, an initiative managed by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). BU’s Equality and Diversity Steering Group (EDSG) also meets every term as part of BU’s strategic commitment to dignity, diversity and equality.

These reports highlight a number of areas to work on to improve the retention, outcomes and progression of BME students in HE but a key starting place for an individual institution is understanding the experience that BME students have on that campus and steps that can be taken. This is something that SUBU’s VP Education, Lenrick Greaves, is working on through campaigns and research in collaboration with BU’s Equality and Diversity Adviser, James Palfreman-Kay, supported

Other news

Essay mills: YouTube have deleted thousands of videos promoting essay mills and the QAA have been calling on Facebook and Google to stop advertising them and Paypal to stop processing payments to them.  The BBC have investigated and the Adverting Standards Authority have taken enforcement action for the second time this year.


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[1] POLAR4 is a geography-based measure of disadvantage, classifying local areas (middle layer super output areas [MSOA]) into five quintiles based on the proportion of the young population (18 and 19 year olds) who enter HE from that area. Areas classified as POLAR4 quintile 1 (Q1) are those that show the lowest rates of HE participation, and are considered to be the most disadvantaged areas, while those in quintile 5 (Q5) are considered to be the most advantaged areas.


TODAY: PGR Live Exhibition – All Welcome

Wednesday 5 December | 13:00 – 16:00 | K103 Kimmeridge House | Talbot Campus

Drop-in to discover this unique display of research being undertaken by our postgraduate researchers. Interact with live displays, listen to recordings and explore a wealth of research posters and photographs.

What’s on display?

The Doctoral College look forward to seeing you there.



HE policy update for the w/e 30th November 2018

Lots of news this week  – and some negative headlines as a result.

TEF update

Have you been following the changes to the TEF announced in February?  Are you up to date with the metrics and proposed structure.  Did you know that year 5 has been postponed?  We have prepared some slides on TEF which will bring you up to date – you can see them via the Policy pages on the intranet.

Unconditional offers – the next phase of the debate

Sarah wrote a long piece on unconditional offers last week, and this week we have this year’s data from UCAS.  The headline of the report is that unconditional offers were made to a third of young applicants in England, Northern Ireland and Wales in the 2018 admissions cycle   The actual report is here.  The report also notes that most unconditional offers (i.e. around two thirds of those made) were made to those aged 19 and over – i.e. post qualification.  This share has fallen since 2013 when it was 98%.

  • The report shows an increase to 68,000 in 2018 from 3000 in 2013.  But also, there are separate figures, of 66,315 “conditional unconditional offers” – i.e. those which become unconditional if the student picks the university as their firm choice.  In 2013 apparently no-one was making those.   As some students (quite a few) got both sorts, overall the data says that 34.4% of 18 year old applicants) (87,540) got at least one “unconditional” offer in 2018.
  • The report also notes that “In 2018, 18 per cent of offers made to young people for creative arts and design courses were unconditional, compared to 0.3 per cent for medicine and dentistry courses. This reflects that an audition or portfolio review is normally a core part of the assessment for a creative arts and design course. The demonstration of potential via this form of assessment often carries more weight in reaching an admissions decision than examination results.”
  • The Wonkhe analysis of who gets the offers shows that the biggest group receiving unconditional offers is the lowest POLAR quintile and that this year the difference is sharper than in previous years.  That sounds like good news, if you believe that unconditional offers should be used contextually to help students who may have other reasons for struggling to achieve the grades that reflect their potential.
  • This is also interesting: “In 2014 and 2015, applicants predicted AAA were most likely to receive an unconditional offer, but in 2018, applicants predicted BBC became the most likely. Applicants with higher predicted grades are, however, much more likely to receive a conditional unconditional offer.”.
  • “In 2018, almost one in three applicants predicted 11 points (equivalent to BBC) received an unconditional offer. Around one in ten applicants predicted 6 points or fewer (equivalent to DDD or below), and around one in 20 applicants predicted 18 points (equivalent to A*A*A*) received an unconditional offer.”

Jess Moody tweeted a SWOT analysis from 2014 from the Guide produced by the SPA (Supporting Professionalism in Admissions) National expert Think Tank.  Interestingly this guide also included some advice (which does not appear to be being followed consistently):

  • Type of acceptance – it would be inappropriate to add conditions to an unconditional offer, including type of acceptance as a condition, but providers will presumably want to avoid all these offers becoming applicants’ insurance. Much of the guidance available for applicants suggests applicants choose a lower offer as insurance, so providers may need to consider what strengths incentivise placing them as firm without affecting the character of the offer itself. [and this is the section of unconditional offer making that UCAS reports is growing fastest]
  • Published criteria – to be transparent, providers should publish the criteria for making unconditional offers: these will need to be clear in order to minimise complaints, appeals or calls for similar treatment from those not eligible.
  • Inadvertent discrimination – it is highly likely some groups will be advantaged over others by this approach, so providers should consider what steps to take in advance to limit discrimination, unnecessary barriers and unfairness, what procedures to have in place to consider mitigating circumstances in cycle, and what monitoring to undertake to review afterwards.
  • Reputational impact – how this approach will be perceived within schools/colleges and by applicants themselves could affect perceptions of the HE provider, its academic standing and its recruitment health. Negative perceptions could significantly undermine recruitment strategies and have a longer term impact in advisors’ minds. A clear communication strategy may help. Understanding the effect on key feeder schools/colleges would be useful, particularly if some would not benefit from the approach. Assume the press will take an interest and be prepared for queries.
  • Student performance – there should be a thorough risk analysis of any impact on students’ A-Level or other examination performance. It is quite possible that the risk to high achieving students is minimal; that a conditional offer is not their main driver and they would most likely continue to revise hard and perform as well. However, this cannot be assumed to be a constant across all students and the varying risk for different groups or for different levels of achievement should be analysed. It may also be worth considering whether there may be any progression issues in cases where students do decide to drop one or more of their examinations, or simply underperform in them, and if so whether there are any support arrangements required to ensure such complacency does not persist into their HE studies and that it does not hinder future career prospects.

Potentially the important section of this report is section 6 – the impact on A level grades.

  • “Previous research by UCAS4 revealed how 18 year old applicants studying for A levels while applying to university tend to achieve, on average, grades lower than those they were predicted to achieve. Typically, among applicants who are studying for three or more A levels, achieved grades tend to be between one and two grades lower across their A levels, than those they were predicted to get”…” In each year, a greater percentage of applicants missed their predicted attainment than met or exceeded it. Furthermore, in each year, the percentage of applicants who meet or exceed their predicted grades has decreased. Since 2013, the percentage of applicants who miss their predicted grades by more than 3 A level points has increased, with nearly one in four applicants missing their predicted grades by this margin in 2018”.
  • “Many factors are associated with the probability of an applicant not achieving their predicted attainment. The most important factors affecting attainment include prior attainment at GCSE and equivalent level, the predicted A level grades, and the subjects being studied, the type of school attended, and various background characteristics of the applicants. Holding an unconditional firm offer was also shown to affect attainment, with those holding an unconditional firm offer found to have a higher probability of missing their predicted attainment by two or more grades. This was the case even after controlling for many of the other factors associated with A level attainment.”

But there is an alternative modelling approach in Annex A to the report which suggests thatA.2 Less than 2 per cent of applicants who missed their predicted A levels by two or more grades in 2018, did so as a result of holding an unconditional firm”

So what does all this mean – that you can’t generalise about “bums on seats” and poor quality universities filling spaces on poor quality courses with students who aren’t up to it and shouldn’t really be there, with all the consequent hype about negative impact on quality of teaching in universities etc. that we reported last week.  Because the “conditional unconditional” offers are being made to mid-range students – not just “anyone”.  It is hard to argue that BBB students are low potential students who are being “bribed” into taking up a university place that they will not be able to make the most of.  Which is where the bums on seats argument always goes – people taking up places they shouldn’t have been offered, doing useless courses at poor universities, etc. etc.  BBB offers don’t look like that.

We have not seen (other than anecdotal) evidence for the long term impact of dropping grades at A level – that would need to control for prior attainment and other factors – as well as for patterns over over-prediction by schools.  These and other issues were described in a blog for Wonkhe by David Kernohan in August.

UCAS have the following conclusion:  The analysis cannot stop here. In accordance with good practice, many universities and colleges are tracking the progress and outcomes of students admitted with unconditional offers, and benchmarking them against students admitted to the same programmes through conditional offers. As this evidence base builds, providers should share their findings, to enable a nuanced debate about the future use of unconditional offers to young people.”

There is a blog here from the VC of Portsmouth University that responds to the negative press:

  • “If our outputs are good – if our graduates succeed in life and work – who cares whether they arrive because of unconditional offers or AAA offers? Equally, if we recruit students who are not successful we will be judged accordingly.
  • The government’s approach is akin to assessing the quality of gyms on the basis of the fitness of their members when they join. They would only admit very fit people in the first place and this would clearly not measure the benefits of going to the gym. It would more reliably measure prior attainment and social background.
  • Most importantly, if the government is prescriptive about universities’ admissions criteria, it will increase the risk that many students who can benefit from university will not be allowed to go. Who benefits from this?
  • The general principle is clear: universities should be held to account on how well our students do during their studies and after they leave, not on how well they do before they arrive. This is the only way to determine whether public investment in universities is value for money.”

This is clearly a debate that will continue to run….

Graduate outcomes

On Tuesday the negative headlines were all about the latest IFS analysis of salary data – “the impact of undergraduate degrees on early-career earnings”.  Although this may be a misleading title – the report itself says that there is not necessarily a causal link….

Main findings (from DODs)

  • Those who attend HE earn a lot more on average than those who do not. At age 29 the average man who attended HE earns around 25% more than the average man (with five A*-C GCSEs) who did not. For women the gap is more than 50%.
  • A large portion of this difference can be explained by differences in pre-university characteristics: a typical HE student has higher prior attainment and is more likely to have come from a richer family than someone who does not attend. They would therefore be expected to earn more, even had they not gone to university.
  • Once we account for differences in pre-university characteristics, we estimate the average impact of attending HE on earnings at age 29 to be 26% for women and 6% for men. If we focus on the impact of graduating, these returns rise to 28% and 8% respectively.
  • There is strong evidence that the earnings of men who attend HE continue to grow faster than their non-HE counterparts after age 30. For women, the divergent trends in earnings by education type after age 30 are less clear.
  • Subject choice appears to be a very important determinant of returns. For men, studying creative arts, English or philosophy actually result in lower earnings on average at age 29 than people with similar background characteristics who did not go to HE at all. By contrast, studying medicine or economics appears to increase earnings by more than 20%. For women, there are no subjects that have negative average returns
  • We estimate that 67% of men and 99% of women (85% of students) attended universities that have significantly positive returns on average by age 29.

In accompaniment to this report, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has also released a statement, outlining that despite the vast majority of graduates earning more at the age of 29 than those who do not go to university,

  • “there are still cases where students aren’t necessarily choosing the institution (or course) that will deliver the best returns”.
  • The Office for Students, the new regulator we have set up to look out for students’ interests, has the power to crack down on institutions delivering poor outcomes for students. The graduate earnings premium could be even higher if all prospective students have the best information possible about where and what they study when making choices. The research we’re publishing today, alongside other data like the Teaching Excellence Framework and our Open Data prize, will help make this a reality.”

Sample press coverage:

BBC: This latest report could raise some very awkward questions. Is it reasonable to charge students £9,500 regardless of course or university when there are such different outcomes in earnings? And is it sustainable to have such a high level of fee and debt, when for so many, particularly men, the returns can be marginal or non-existent?  [of course the graduates don’t have to pay it back, under the current system, but it may (and obviously is) prompt the government to ask whether they should fund them]

The Independent: Male students at a top university receive hardly any boost to their future earnings compared with peers who chose to avoid higher education altogether, government figures suggest.  The University of Glasgow, a member of the Russell Group which represents the most selective universities in the UK, makes no significantly positive returns for male attendees, the data finds. It comes as Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) research shows one in three male students attend an institution that gives them no significant advantage in terms of salary over their non-graduate peers.

Some interesting points from the report:

  • The returns to HE also differ considerably for different types of students . Attending HE only increases the age 29 earnings of lower prior attainment men (based on GCSE grades) without a STEM A-level by 4%. This compares to 20% for their peers who also do not have a STEM A-level but have high GCSE grades. The return is low because students with lower prior attainment are more likely to take low-returning subjects like creative arts, communications and sport science, and are more likely to attend lower-returning universities.  However, this is not the only explanation: even when they study the same subject or at the same type of university as their peers who have higher prior attainment, they experience lower returns.
  • This is a particularly important when considering the impacts of expansion in the HE system: in our period of study, 70% of all students with five A*-C GCSEs that did not attend university fell within this lower prior attainment, without STEM A-level group.
  • Men with higher prior attainment and a STEM A-level have an estimated return of 5%, which might be lower than expected. This is hugely varied: studying law, medicine or economics increases their earnings by around 20%, and the return to attending a Russell Group for this group is around 10%. On the other hand, studying arts English, communications, psychology, languages and history, or attending Post-1992 or Other universities actually appears to result in lower earnings for this group than they would have achieved had they not gone to university (of course, these individuals may be making these choices for reasons other than to try to maximise their earnings). These particular estimates should be treated with caution, as overall only 5% of individuals in this group do not go to HE, and they are likely to be quite unusual – indeed, they have very high average earnings of around £40,000 per year by age 29.
  • Among women, the overall returns to HE are high for all groups, though some similar patterns emerge. Higher prior attainment women without a STEM A-level have higher returns than their lower attainment peers. Unlike for men, there is little evidence of lower prior attainment women without a STEM A-level experiencing lower returns when studying the same subject as their higher attaining peers. Instead, the lower returns for this group appear to be driven by a higher propensity to study lower (although still significantly positive) returning subjects such as social care, sociology or education, and because they are more likely to attend lower-returning universities.

They also note:

  • It is important to highlight one of the drawbacks of our data: we are not able to observe hours worked, and so instead we investigate annual earnings. This is likely to be particularly important in our estimates of the returns to HE for women, which are likely to at least partly reflect the fact that women who attend HE are much less likely to work part-time and so have higher earnings directly as a result of working more hours
  • There are three main caveats that should be attached to our results, however.
    • First, the results should not be interpreted as definitively causal. Whilst we are able to move beyond the existing literature by making use of rich data and sophisticated estimation techniques, unobservable differences that could affect earnings may remain between individuals taking different education options, such as different preferences over, for example, potential career paths or different levels of passion or enthusiasm for working and studying. Generally speaking, the academic literature that has looked at this issue finds the potential bias to be relatively small when thinking about overall returns (Card, 1999), but to be larger when looking at different subjects and institutions Kirkeboen et al., 2016; Andrews et al., 2017).
    • Second, we are only able to look directly at earnings up to age 29, which is clearly very early in the careers of graduates. We provide evidence to show that the earnings differential between graduates and non-graduates is still growing at that point, which suggests our estimated returns are likely to understate the potential lifetime differences in earnings between graduates and non-graduates.
    • Third, our estimates of the returns to HE are solely pecuniary. Whilst these are likely to be a major component of the return to HE, we are not estimating non-pecuniary returns, such as improved health, a more pleasant work environment, reduced crime or increased civic participation

Wonkhe analysis by David Kernohan:

  • But it is Sam Gyimah’s interventionist language that worries me most. If he expects OfS to intervene based on these findings (which was the impression he gave me) then he needs to be clear that an age 29 salary detriment is due mostly or entirely to the quality of HE provision. Without controlling for region or qualification status, and without a proper historical treatment of the data, this assertion can’t safely be made. We are seeing the effects of poor quality salary data in policy already – as institutions like the University of Bolton would perhaps most easily address OfS registration conditions by upping sticks and moving to Bloomsbury.
  • Statements and press releases have included, at least in passing, the idea that salary might not be the only measure of higher education success. The idea of hard-working nurses and diligent social workers – or the artists and writers that contribute to our idea of a civilisation – is waved at us as a token alternative to a purely salary driven metric. But without the corollary that they should perhaps earn more, and that in many cases it is within the gift of the government to make that happen.
  • I’ve always held the position that this is interesting research data, but it is not useful for policy making or application decision making. But Sam Gyimah feels it is “better than nothing” for both those use cases. It isn’t – it is actively unhelpful. For all the prestige that the IFS brand offers, this is political data designed to act as a signal in the still fondly hoped for HE market.

Alternative funding systems

So while the focus on value for money continues, HEPI have published a paper on a possible alternative structure by Johnny Rich:

  • In order to balance the cost more fairly between students, taxpayers and employers, the paper proposes that, instead of students borrowing money to pay for tuition, businesses should pay a levy for each graduate they employ. The amounts would be equivalent to the student loan repayments made under the current funding system in England.
  • Revenue from graduate levies would be paid directly to the higher education institution where each graduate studied. Institutions would be financially sustainable because they would share an investment in the future employability of their students, rather than because they maximise their student intake.
  • The paper has been written in a personal capacity by Johnny Rich, a higher education specialist who is also Chief Executive of Push, a not-for-profit outreach organisation, and the Engineering Professors’ Council.
  • Rich also argues for a redistribution of funds between higher education institutions based on their ability to attract and support students from poorer backgrounds. This would give institutions an incentive to support social mobility and ensure access money is spent more effectively.

The BBC cover it here

Policy – the future?

Dods Political Consultants have produced a series of guides exploring what can be expected from political developments in the following areas over the next six months. Internal readers should click here to link to the guides which cover:

  • Business and Employment
  • Health and Social Care
  • Justice and Home Affairs
  • Defence, International Development and Foreign Affairs
  • Environment and Rural Affairs
  • Energy and Utilities
  • Financial Services
  • Housing, Communities and Local Government
  • Science, Technology and Digital
  • Transport and Infrastructure
  • Welfare

Brexit update

The latest update from UUKi looks so far positive – we quote below

Withdrawal agreement – The Withdrawal Agreement, concluded two weeks ago, confirms that (if the agreement is ratified) the UK stays in Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe and during the transition period, and nothing changes in the immigration rules for EEA citizens or for UK nationals in EU member states, who retain their legal status as EU citizens.  The Withdrawal Agreement still needs to be approved and ratified by both the EU – at the emergency EU Council summit on November 25 and by the European Parliament – and also by the UK Parliament, and that is, of course, by no means guaranteed. Attached you will find an e-mail from UUK Chief Executive, Alistair Jarvis.

 Political declaration for a future UK-EU relationship and the successor programme – The draft political declaration for a future UK-EU relationship has been ‘agreed in principle’ today. The full document is available here. This document creates the basis for future participation in EU programmes such as Erasmus and Horizon 2020 and shows a willingness on both sides for this to happen (11). Although it recognises that free movement will end there is an agreement to work towards visa-free travel for ‘short-term visits’ (52) and to consider conditions for entry and stay purposes such as ‘research, study, training and youth exchanges’ (53).

UUK is in regular contact with the UK Government, EU officials and European stakeholders to stress the importance of the successor programme to the sector and our strong desire to associate. The European Commission adopted its proposal for the successor scheme to Erasmus+ in May, and the European Parliament has since published its response to the proposal. Attached you’ll find an overview of the amendments the Parliament proposed. You can find the full report here. The main amendments the Parliament has proposed are to:

  • Keep the name Erasmus+ (instead of Erasmus)
  • Triple the budget to € 47 billion (the Commission’s proposal was to double to € 30 billion)
  • Include extra measures and methods to ensure more inclusion in the new programme such as having national agencies develop a multiannual national strategy to foster inclusion
  • Start using Structural Funds to finance high-quality proposals that cannot be financed by Erasmus due to lack of budget, without the need to submit a new application

Current resources:

In the meantime, UUK has published a briefing on “no-Deal” Brexit.

If the Brexit negotiations end without a deal in place, then: 

  • there would be great uncertainty on whether any commitments agreed as part of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement on citizens’ rights and continued participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ still apply
  • there would be no agreement on implementing a transition period between the date of Brexit and 31 December 2020, during which time it was envisioned that freedom of movement would essentially still apply
  • there would be no certainty on what the UK’s future relationship with the EU would look like, including in areas like the mobility of citizens and access to EU programmes

Any impact from a no deal Brexit could result in the following outcomes taking effect on 29 March 2019:

  • the residency and work rights of EU nationals already working in universities would be unclear EU nationals 
  • entering the UK could be treated as third country nationals, subject to non-EEA immigration rules and requirements 
  • the UK’s ability to participate in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ could cease, because there would be no legal obligation for the UK to pay any financial settlement on exit 
  • the continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications covered by the current EU Directive would be uncertain

The government has already committed to a number of stability measures beyond March 2019 (including technical notices) that UUK has actively lobbied for. These are set out below. 

  • EU citizens’ rights: the Prime Minister has said that “even in the event of no deal” the rights of EU citizens living in the UK “will be protected”. The UK government has committed to the roll out of the EU settlement scheme in advance of the March 2019, indicating a possible direction of travel in the event of a no deal.
  • Horizon 2020: in July 2018, the UK government extended a commitment to underwrite payments of Horizon 2020 awardsso that it covers grant applications for funding streams open to third country participation (i.e. multi-beneficiary grants) that are submitted after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. In September 2018, UKRI launched an online portal for UK based recipients of Horizon 2020 funding to log details of their grants.
  • Structural Funds: the same government guarantee of EU funding also underwrites the UK’s allocation for structural and investment fund projects under the EU budget period to 2020, and managing authorities will continue to sign new projects until programme closure. 
  • Erasmus+: In July 2018, the UK government extended a commitment on EU funding to also underwrite the payments of all competitive grants to include centralised Erasmus+ actions (e.g. collaborative projects). On mobility specifically, the government has also agreed to extend its underwrite, although subject to agreement with the EU, until the end of 2020, as set out in the government’s Technical Notice on Erasmus+ in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal.
  • EU student fee status/financial support: governments across the UK have confirmed that EU students starting a course in 2019/20 (the first cycle post-Brexit) will still be eligible for home fee status and for financial support as per existing rules. These announcements have not been caveated as being subject a Brexit deal being agreed, and UUK has been informed by the Department for Education that these commitments (for England) would be honoured even in the event of no deal. 
  • Qualifications recognition: the Brexit White Paper states that the government wants to establish a system on mutual recognition of professional qualifications (MRPQ) that covers the same range of professions as the existing MRPQ Directive. 

Further, UUK suggests that universities consider taking the following action in order to prepare for a possible no deal scenario: 

  • speaking with European partners regularly to share understanding of the impact of no deal and collaboratively plan for such an outcome
  • being mindful of how courses are described to prospective students in terms of fee/loan status and qualifications recognition 
  • working with existing staff with non-UK nationalities and considering communication to this group around the publication of the EU Settlement Scheme 
  • These suggested actions are set out in more detail in the following section, covering: EU citizens’ rights and migration rules; participation in the Horizon 2020, Erasmus+ and Structural Funds programmes, and on student fees and qualifications. 

Grade inflation

In a week of difficult headlines for the sector, the second set were about grade inflation.

UUK issued a report: from the press release:

 “A wide range of factors behind the increase in the number of graduates receiving first and upper-second class degrees.  This report by UUK, GuildHE and QAA, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, on behalf of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) looked at the reasons behind the increase in the number of graduates receiving first and upper-second class degrees.

Key findings show that a wide range of factors could be driving the increase in upper degrees, including additional investment in teaching and learning and heightened student motivation. However, there is a risk that a continued increase in the number of top degrees may undermine confidence in the value of a degree from a UK university, making the classification system less useful for employers and students.” 

  • The average percentage of upper degrees awarded by an institution in 2016/17 was 74%, ranging from 52% to 94%.
  • The average percentage point change in the proportion of upper degrees between 2010/11 and 2016/17 was 11 points, ranging from a fall of 11 points to an increase of 34 points. There was an increase in the proportion of firsts, from 15% to 25%.
  • Over half (54%) of institutions had an increase in the proportion of upper degrees of 10 points of more between 2010/11 and 2016/17

And this is a real risk, as the report says:

Online polling of 2,063 UK adults by BritainThinks for UUK in May 2018 provides further indication of public attitudes towards the value of a university education within this context:

  • 5% agreed that ‘being a graduate is less impressive now because more people have degrees than in the past’.
  • 61% agreed that ‘a university degree is only worth doing if it will help you get a better job’.
  • 55% agree that ‘people going to universities can get better jobs than those who don’t’

Is it really grade inflation?

“Grade inflation has been defined as ‘an upward shift in [student grades] over an extended period of time without a corresponding increase in student achievement’ (Rosovsky and Hartley 2002: 4). Applied to the UK, this would mean an increase in upper degree awards without improvement in student attainment. Quality assurance systems aim to maintain the integrity and consistency of standards, for example through internal moderation and external examining. However, the charge of grade inflation implies that these processes do not counter (or are imbued by) educational cultures and/or financial and market incentives that have softened rigour.

Proving whether the upward trend in grades is inflation or as a result of improvement in student performance is highly complex and imbued by debates between different educational philosophies. To test whether grade inflation is real requires accurate knowledge of a student’s divergence from an expected outcome, while accounting for the impact of teaching and learning and student motivation on attainment.”

There is lengthy analysis of many factors which are relevant to assessment and it is worth a read if you are interested in this area.

The recommendation is that: “Higher education institutions should make a statement of intent to protect the value of qualifications over time by:

  • Publishing analysis of institutional degree outcomes, supported by appropriate external assurance, in a ‘degree outcomes statement’ or equivalent.
  • Publishing and explaining the design of the degree classification algorithm, including where it deviates from accepted norms of practice.
  • Ensuring that assessment criteria meet and exceed sector reference points and reviewing the use of data in quality assurance processes.
  • Supporting the professional development of academics working as external examiners to help maintain standards and the value of qualifications.
  • Reviewing the structure of the degree classification system to ensure that it remains useful for students and employers.”

“The statement should be taken forward through a UK-wide consultation by UKSCA, including appropriate national approaches and variations. The consultation should aim to establish a common framework for taking forward the statement including:

  • a framework for institutional review of practice and data
  • common principles for algorithm practice
  • a shared sector metric on degree outcomes
  • recognition of a common description of degree classification criteria
  • terms of reference for a review of the classification system
  • a timeline for action”

Reporting: the Guardian

This consultation has been announced and will run until 8th February 2019 – BU will prepare an institutional response.

And remember that the current year 4 TEF includes grade inflation data, which will be published for all institutions in January.

Consultations & Inquiries

Click here to view the updated consultation and inquiries tracker. Email us on if you want to chat or contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

From Wonkhe:

  • The father of former student Ed Farmer, who died while taking part in a student society initiation, has called for students involved in future ceremonies to be expelled. The Independent, the BBC, The Telegraph, the Guardian and the Mail Online all have the story.
  • David Gardner argues in the Financial Times that universities “risk their reputations through links to repressive regimes”.

From Research Professional: Observers of how universities are thought of outside the academic bubble would do well to listen to the phone-in on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2, on the subject of unconditional offers.  While people who work in higher education (and early-morning policy journalists) might scratch their heads and wonder why the government would want to push a clearly doomed policy like accelerated degrees, the discussion on Vine’s programme shows how discontent over university funding has gone mainstream. Higher education funding policy is now at the mercy of different varieties of populism, and universities will find that very difficult to combat from the quadrangle or the boardroom.


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#TalkBU next Thursday (6 December) – Are you a Phoebe or a Monica? Improving your ability to communicate

#TalkBU is a monthly lunchtime seminar on Talbot Campus, open to all students and staff at Bournemouth University and free to attend. Come along to learn, discuss and engage in a 20-30 minute presentation by an academic or guest speaker talking about their research and findings, with a Q&A to finish. 

Being able to understand the characteristics and behaviours of different types of personality can help you understand the people you are interacting with, as well as yourself. Join us in the exploration of personality profiles, using Jelly Babies to help change the way you view people.

In this talk, Amanda Wilding, will be discussing her research, which centres around understanding different personalities and the benefit this can have to our social interactions

When: 6th December 2018

Where: FG04, Ground Floor, Fusion Building

Register here to attend

HE Policy update for the w/e 23rd November 2018

Considering we were late and included much of Monday’s news in the last update, this is a bumper update for you.  Lots of data and lots of speculation about fees etc.  We have managed to avoid the B word this week – as you will have had enough of it from all the other news sources.


Sophie Bradfield, the Policy & Campaigns Coordinator for SUBU, returns with another guest piece for us this week

Sutton Trust has published research today on graduate internships detailing that “39% of graduates in their twenties have done an internship, including almost half (46%) of young graduates under 24.” These statistics have a direct correspondence with research published in a Lancaster University HECSU-funded Graduate Resilience Project in 2016, looking at how students transition after graduating, where “45% of respondents identified a concern that they lacked relevant experience.” Pairing this with the competition for graduate jobs, it’s of no surprise that so many students seek to undertake internships. At BU gaining placements and real-world experience is a unique selling point and as BU proudly states on the placement information page “90% of our graduates have relevant work experience and this can give you a real head start in the competitive jobs market.” The Students’ Union at Bournemouth University (SUBU) is in absolute agreement that offering opportunities to gain experience can really help students to stand out from the crowd; learn transferable skills for employment; and increase employability and so we have a lot of extra-curricular opportunities on offer for students and collaborate with BU on a number of joint projects including recruiting paid students to be on programme review panels.


HE policy update for the w/e 9th November 2018

Two major reports out this week covering value for money and international students plus all the excitement and intense debate from Wonkfest. Enjoy!

Value for Money in HE

The Education Select Committee have published their inquiry report on Value for Money in Higher Education. The committee calls on both universities and the Government to ensure better outcomes for students, expand degree apprenticeships, make university more accessible to a more diverse range of students and tackle Vice-Chancellor pay. Here are the key recommendations taken from the report:

Value for Money for Students and the Tax Payer

  • Every higher education institution should publish a breakdown of how tuition fees are spent on their websites by end 2018. The OfS should intervene if this deadline is not met.
  • Self-regulated senior management pay is unacceptable. The OfS should publish strict criteria for universities on acceptable levels of pay that could be linked to average staff pay, performance and other measures that the Office for Students sees fit.

The Quality of HE

  • The Committee welcomed the independent review of TEF and recommended it focus on how the exercise is used by students to inform and improve choice. The review must include an assessment of how TEF is used in post-16 careers advice.
  • Institutions should move away from a linear approach to degrees, and enable more part-time, mature and disadvantaged students to study in higher education. The Committee recommended that the Government’s current post-18 review develop a funding model which allows a range of flexible options including credit transfer and ‘hopping on and off’ learning. More flexible approaches to higher education should be supplemented by the option for undergraduates of studying for two-year accelerated degrees alongside the traditional three-year model. However, The introduction of two-year degrees must not create a two-tier system where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged to take them on the basis of cost.


  • The Committee expressed extreme disappointment in the response from the Institute for Apprenticeships to widespread concerns from the higher education sector on the future of degree apprenticeships. The report urges the Institute to make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority. Degree qualifications must be retained in apprenticeship standards, and the Institute must remove the bureaucratic hurdles which universities are facing.
  • The Committee believes some of the money which is currently allocated by the Office for Students for widening access could be better spent on the development and promotion of degree apprenticeships and support for degree apprentices to climb the ladder of opportunity.
  • The implementation of T-Level qualifications from 2020 could offer improved access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Government should engage with universities and UCAS in order to determine an appropriate tariff weighting prior to the introduction of T-levels.

Social Justice

  • The Office for Students must clamp down on the rise in unconditional offers. Their steep increase is detrimental to the interests of students and undermines the higher education system as a whole.
  • The Committee recommends a move away from the simple use of entry tariffs as a league table measure towards contextual admissions, foundation courses and other routes to entry. Institutions should state their contextualisation policies in their application information.

Graduate Employability

  • Student choice is central to the debate over value for money in higher education. Our inquiry found a woeful lack of pre-application and career information, advice and guidance, particularly awareness of degree apprenticeships. The Government’s current post-18 review must look at routes into higher education, and the quality of careers advice which students receive.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, Learning and Work Institute, talks of value beyond fee calculations, stating:

  • Today’s report from the Education Select Committee on Value for Money in Higher Education places a welcome focus on the need for greater flexibility within the higher education offer. It rightly recognises that the ‘one size fits all’ approach of 3 year full-time study often excludes those who need to balance learning with work or caring responsibilities, or with poor health or disability.
  • In the context of an ever-changing economy, where people need to learn and develop their skills throughout their lives, Learning and Work Institute have repeatedly argued that the collapse in part-time and mature learners is disastrous. The recommendations made to create more flexible models of study, grow degree apprenticeships and re-instate maintenance grants have the potential to help turn around this decline.
  • While much of the public debate around higher education focuses on tuition fees, this report helpfully recognises that value is not just about cost. The Committee’s call for greater transparency on the returns to higher education, notably through earnings and employment outcomes is important in supporting learners to make good choices.
  • Taken together, the report provides a welcome steer to the forthcoming Augar review that higher education needs to be more inclusive, and deliver a better deal for all of its learners.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Exec OfS, stated:

  • “We are already responding specifically to a number of areas highlighted in the report. We are preparing a new approach to significantly reduce gaps in access, success and progression for disadvantaged students. Through the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes framework (TEF) we promote excellent teaching and improve information for students including student employment outcomes.”

She went on to state OFS support for degree apprenticeships, the analysis of unconditional offers and the impact this has on students, and to reiterate messaging around VC’s pay.

Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Select Committee who produced the Value for Money report writes a short piece in the Guardian to defend the Committee’s recommendations. This is the Guardian piece he responded to.

Research Professional write: Universities may find a much-needed friend in the Commons education committee.

Accelerated Degrees

As the Value for Money report places emphasis on flexibility of learning design and accelerated options a recent IFF Research report is being circulated which considers the attractiveness of accelerated provision to international students. 59% of the international students surveyed hadn’t heard of accelerated degrees, but once explained 44% stated they would consider studying through accelerated provision. You can read a short summary of the research here.

16-19 Funding

Meanwhile the House of Commons Library has produced a briefing paper on changes in 16-19 education funding since 2010. It details the reforms and changes to the funding approach in the period and cautions against comparing funding over time. It lists the four main issues that have recently caused discontent within 16-19 funding circles:

  • The overall level of funding and the lower level of 16-19 per student funding compared to per student funding in secondary and higher education.
  • Underspends on the 16-19 education budget in 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17.
  • The absence of a VAT refund scheme for sixth form colleges (such a scheme exists for schools and academies).
  • The funding requirement that students who have not attained certain GCSE grades in maths and English must continue to study those subjects post-16.

The Library produces these briefings to ensure that parliamentarians have sufficient background and brief on a topic to ensure informed discussion within the Houses. There was an Education Select Committee hearing on school and college funding on Tuesday (contact Sarah if you would like a summary of the session). The select committee content is timely and comes at a time when the HE sector is awaiting the outcomes of the post-18 review of education and funding.


Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec of Universities UK, took to the press this week to respond to last week’s rumours that the Government were considering cutting HE fees as part of their review of post-18 funding and education. Alistair argues against fee cuts stating it would throw social mobility into reverse. He goes on:

  • Without a cast-iron guarantee that Treasury cash will cover the shortfall, we may once again see a cap on numbers that will be a lid on aspiration. It will mean bigger class sizes, poorer facilities and less student choice. It will weaken research and throw into doubt hopes that the UK will become a high-productivity, high-wage economy

He restates familiar points that highlight that fee cuts will benefit mid-high income graduates only. He highlights the 82% increase in disadvantaged students commencing university since the fee introduction.

  • “A cut in fees without the funding gap being met in full would be a political, educational and academic dead end. Some institutions could close, excluding tens of thousands of disadvantaged students. Most universities would face serious funding problems. The world-class education they provide, and which students expect, would be compromised.
  • Any reduction in funding would damage universities’ ability to deliver the skills that 21st-century businesses need. The UK already faces a talent deficit of between 600,000 and 1.2 million skilled workers by 2030. Teaching cannot be separated from research. Fewer academics will mean fewer discoveries.”

Martin Lewis continues his campaign to prepare parents for the financial contribution they are expected to make to top up their children’s living costs while at University. He has released a video warning parents and the article gives indicative levels of how much parents might have to save:

  • “This is a warning for parents of all teenagers. Now over 50% of our young people go on to university. And while you commonly hear that you don’t need to pay for that upfront, it’s no longer true – there is a hidden parental contribution.
  • …students get a living loan too, but the thing they don’t tell you is it’s means tested, and therefore the gap between the full loan and the amount you get is effectively a parental contribution…the impact is huge; the amount of living loan the student gets is reduced from family income of £25,000 and by the time you reach around £60,000 depending on circumstances, the amount they get is halved.
  • My problem though is when students receive their living loan letter, it tells them the amount of loan you’re getting: “You’re going to get £5,000 for your living loan.” What it doesn’t do though is tell them: “The full loan is £10,000. The reason you are only getting £5,000 is because of that means testing – the gap of £5,000 is effectively the parental contribution.”
  • So if your family income is over around £60,000, start preparing to save £15,000. If your total family income is under £25,000, you don’t need to save anything. If your family income is in the middle, £45,000, you want to be saving around £7,500 for your kids to go to university.”

OfS approach to insolvent providers

No bail out

In the policy update last week under the heading of Boom and bust we described how the recruitment crisis has allegedly left some universities on the brink of insolvency. This week Michael Barber, Chair of the OfS, has reiterated messages that the OfS will not rescue failing institutions:

  • “Universities make a huge contribution to students and the wider economy. Nobody wants to see them fail. However, bailouts would neither be good for students nor fair for taxpayers. It would just delay the inevitable.
  • We will not bail out universities or other course providers in financial difficulty…it would be irresponsible to give more public money to people who are demonstrably unable to manage their institution in a sustainable way. Nor would it be responsible to sit and wait for institutions to run into difficulty, or to leave students in the lurch once it occurs.
  • This doesn’t mean that we would do nothing if a university failed…Where failure is a possibility, we will work to protect the student interest…Our core principle is that students should be able to continue and complete their studies where they want. If this is not possible, they should be compensated.” Source

While the message is clear, others within the sector seem to be adding caveats to this hard line approach.  Wonkhe report that Gyimah had a softer message than Barber. Gyimah stated “there’s a difference between messing up your business model and the result of policy decisions”. (He was talking about the Open University).  Gyimah responded that cases would “be considered one-by-one”.

Sam also announced DfE were looking at student accommodation costs and didn’t rule out the possibility of rent controls. Watch the full footage of Sam Gyimah in conversation with Mark Leach of Wonkhe (here) and read an analysis here.

Meanwhile the Huff Post spills the beans that one of the HE provider’s reported to be in financial jeopardy isn’t on the OfS’s new register because the OfS is overwhelmed by the volume of new providers attempting to join the register. The article suggests this leaves students in a dire position without financial protection because the student protection plan isn’t in force. Excerpt:

  • Yet the OfS refused to comment when asked by HuffPost UK about what it would do should an institution fail before it was fully registered. It said instead that it would seek to use powers held by the defunct Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which it replaced.

Research Professional provides an alternative viewpoint to in their article What is the regulator for? arguing that

  • “any newspaper could have run a headline about universities being in financial difficulties at any point in the past 25 years. For a long time, the Higher Education Funding Council for England kept a register of institutions at risk. Up to a dozen universities were said to be on it at any given time.”

Free Speech

Michael Barber also spoke on free speech at Wonkfest (his slides) stating that the focus on no platforming invited speakers is

  • only one part of the issue. It is also about diversity of perspective in seminars and lectures, about the way in which unpopular ideas are debated rather than suppressed.”
  • “There is a tendency currently to suggest that students should be protected from ideas that they may make them feel ‘uncomfortable.’ – Barber notes a US, not UK example – I also want to be sure it is not where we are headed because it is to totally miss the point; when students are faced with such ideas, universities should teach them to listen, to understand and then argue with vigour a different case if they wish to. The way to combat speech that is challenging and unpopular is to confront it, not suppress it. The way to deal with discomfort is to develop the resilience to overcome it not to hide or flee from it. Indeed, I would argue that feeling uncomfortable is an essential ingredient of learning and the pursuit of truth.”
  • “I often hear people say that free speech is not really an issue in our universities – that it has been overstated by the media or politicians. This is not an issue that can be quantified by the number of instances that make the headlines or the instances of no-platforming, although it is right to track those. Rather it is a fundamental matter of what our universities are for. Free speech is one of the most precious freedoms ever established, and universities above all should be places where it is cherished. The OfS will be an unashamed champion of free speech.”

Sam Gyimah has been the subject of media and sector derision in the past over some of his unsubstantiated claims (for example see here, here and here) particularly while championing Free Speech. In a parliamentary question this week he reiterates Barber’s message that it isn’t about identifying and counting contraventions of free speech, nor books removed from libraries, but the more intangible elements of censorship within the delivery of education:

Q – Jo Stevens: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the oral contribution of the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, of 17 May 2018, Official Report, column 241WH, what information his Department holds on the (a) number of speaking events blocked by a university or students’ union, (b) books removed from university libraries and (c) changes to courses due to changes in equalities guidance.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The information requested is not held centrally. The department does not collect data on the number of speaking events blocked by a University or Students’ Union, books removed from university libraries and changes to courses due to changes in equalities guidance
  • As set out in a statement on 17 May, we do not believe that measuring free speech on campus by events that happen is sufficient, as this does not evidence self-censorship or those events that do not happen in the first place. We are committed to defending free speech on campus to avoid a culture of censorship which risks leading to those outcomes to which the question refers. Comprehensive guidance on Freedom of Speech for the higher education sector is due to be published by the end of the year.

Gyimah also talked of the monoculture on campus with some students and staff shying away from discussing race and gender issues. Meanwhile Research Professional state the free speech debate has been around since the 1960’s.

International Students

The International Students APPG (all party parliamentary group) ran the inquiry A sustainable future for international students in the UK which explored the opportunities and challenges surrounding international students. (Find BU’s response to the inquiry on this webpage.) Their inquiry has concluded and they have published their report (press release here).
Note: this APPG report is separate from the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) report on international students. Whilst some of the content is very similar there are key differences, for example the MAC report did not recommend removing students from the net migration figures.

Here are the report’s recommendations:

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GOVERNMENT –  The APPG recommends that a cross-departmental group establishes a clear and ambitious target to grow international student numbers, supported by a cross-departmental strategy and a commitment to remove students from the target to reduce net migration.

  1. The Government should offer a clearly labelled and attractive post-study work visa which allows up to two years of work experience in the UK.
  2. The Government should pursue an EU deal for unrestricted movement of students and researchers, as part of a close relationship with European universities and provide urgent clarity for EU nationals studying and researching in the UK on what changes they will experience in visa and funding rights.
  3. Immigration rules should facilitate and encourage students to study in the UK and at multiple study levels within the UK education system.
  4. The Government should promote and protect the diversity of the UK education offer including small, specialist, vocational and further education providers within the proposed recruitment strategy.
  5. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration should conduct an independent review of credibility interviews within the student immigration system to ensure the system is fit for purpose, cost-effective relative to current risk and does not limit the diversity of international students in the UK.
  6. The UK Government should work closely with devolved and regional governments to support growth in international student numbers, protect local courses and institutions which are dependent on international students, and support regional and national initiatives which enhance the benefit of international education such as work experience schemes and industry engagement.
  7. The Government should accurately track data on education as an export and as an economic value, including at a national, regional and local level. Government should include education in their trade strategy when approaching bi-lateral agreements.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UNIVERSITIES, COLLEGES AND SCHOOLS – Education institutions should share best practice across the education sector to enhance internationalisation strategies through maximising the advantages and benefits of having a diverse body of international students, as well as support more UK students to study abroad.


  1. Messages for international students regarding the UK should be welcoming, clear, simple and consistent. These should be developed in cooperation between the government and the education sector.
  2. The UK should establish an international graduate and alumni strategy which would support international students for employment opportunities in their home country to boost UK soft power, research and trade and support greater engagement with alumni by universities, business and government. Activities to track the long-term employment destination of international graduates should be intensified.
  1. Education institutions, local government and local business should come together to attract, plan for, support and integrate international students in the local community.

Paul Blomfield MP, who is the co-chair of the International Students APPG stated:

  • “Increasingly restrictive policies and procedures over the last eight years have discouraged many international students from applying to the UK.
  • We need to press the reset button, establish an ambitious strategy to increase recruitment, put new policies in place, and send out a clear message that international students are welcome in the UK.
  • Our report offers a way forward for the Government, and a route-map to renewed competitiveness for our world-class universities and colleges. I urge Ministers to look carefully at our recommendations and step up to the challenge.”

The Russell Group response to APPG report welcomed the recommendations and emphasised post-study options and streamlined visas as vital:

  • “…an important part of this offer are the opportunities available to graduates to transition to work once their studies are complete. This is an area where the UK is lagging, and we hope that Ministers will seek to address this by improving the UK’s post-study work offer at the earliest opportunity.
  • Alongside this, we would urge the Government to consider the importance of having a proportionate, streamlined system for student visas. Making visa applications straightforward, user-friendly and cost effective will help improve student experience and generate a welcoming image of the UK.”

Lord Bilimoria writes for The Guardian: International students are abandoning Britain – we must stem the tide. 

Last week there was a parliamentary question on post-study work visas which didn’t sound promising:

Q – Gregory Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will introduce a Global Graduate Talent visa to allow international students sponsored by a UK university to work in the UK for a limited period following their graduation. [LINK]

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recently published its review of the impact of International Students in the UK. The MAC made several recommendations regarding port study work, though they did not recommend a separate post study work visa. We will be carefully considering the recommendations made in the report and will be responding in due course.

Students’ unions are in need of radical, systemic reform? Or are they?

This week we’re very excited to bring you an exclusive from our new guest writer, Sophie Bradfield. Sophie is the Policy & Campaigns Coordinator for SUBU and attended the big HE sector and policy event – Wonkfest – in London this week.  Sophie writes:

It was fantastic to work with the Wonkhe team to facilitate sessions at Wonkfest and attend some too. One which attracted my attention, unsurprisingly, was a debate on student union reform. The debate titled ‘Students’ unions are in need of radical, systemic reform? Or are they?’ had two speakers: Iain Mansfield- former senior civil servant in the DfE when TEF was designed; and Jim Dickinson- a big name in the Student Union movement as a formerly long-standing senior director at the National Union of Students.

As many will know, the purpose of Students’ Unions (SUs) was enshrined in the 1994 Education Act to act as ‘a representative body whose principal purposes include representing the generality of students.’ Almost every university has a students’ union and many, but not all, are affiliated to the National Union of Students- a membership organisation that nationally represents the collective student voice. As a staff member in a students’ union, I found it interesting to hear Iain’s viewpoints but it seemed that his knowledge and experience of students’ unions was limited. His argument assumed that all SUs think and act the same however just as each higher education institution is unique, so too, are the students’ unions.

With a plethora of damning media articles, comments from politicians and misunderstandings about safe space policies and ‘no platform’ policies, it’s not surprising that the debate turned to issues of freedom of speech and concern about students ‘banning’ speakers. Perhaps it’s also not surprising that the debate continues on this despite little to no evidence turning up from a freedom of information request by the BBC. In fact it was found, that cases where events have been cancelled, has been down to security costs rather than ‘no platforming’.

Iain argued passionately that Students’ Unions forcibly enrol students without any meaningful way of them ‘opting-out’ such as remuneration of fees, and explained this is problematic as SUs aren’t representative with low election turnouts. It was pointed out by a member of the audience that under new data protection regulations, students need to opt-in to SUs to receive correspondence. Jim also noted that opt-outs with a financial incentive would become an issue, leading new students to get back their £20-30 without knowing all of the benefits that being part of an SU brings. SUs help students to build their social capital; gain a sense of community and build meaningful relationships with other students; give them a platform to influence and improve their student experience; and enable them to learn how to solve their own issues collectively through democratic deliberation. Jim also explained that democratic participation isn’t just about election turnout; the representative legitimacy of SUs is demonstrated through a number of ways as student leaders run through many different levels. For example the student rep system, of which Bournemouth’s is nationally award-winning, has 575 elected student reps with multiple representatives for each programme, particularly for larger courses.

The debate concluded that whilst Students’ Unions are independent from their institutions, they occupy the same space and work closely, through their elected officers, with the institution on deliberative policy making on day-to-day educational issues such as assessment and feedback, for the benefit of students. If any reforms are needed across the movement, as a whole, it’s to focus more on these educational issues and move away from big political issues. It was noted that SU officers are also challenged by representing increasing student numbers, with bigger constituencies than many local councillors. An ongoing challenge for SUs is communicating the existence and purpose of a students’ union to students and the wider public, so students can make the most of all the civic and developmental opportunities that SUs provide.

More on Wonkfest

We’ve been name dropping Wonkfest throughout this update. It was a two-day policy and sector event that took place in London this week covering a myriad of topics. Such was the excitement of the attendees at Wonkfest that some Tweets started trending nationally.

BU was well represented with Mandi Barron leading the session Crisis, what crisis? Is student mental health really a “no brainer”?, Debbie Holley was on the panel for Teaching can’t be measured and frameworks are for fools and SUBU’s Sophie facilitating several key sessions.

Search Twitter using #WonkFest18 or backtrack through the action here.

Using this link scroll down to the section Questions for Sam Gyimah where he ‘defines’ a good degree that would be a good investment and suggests that setting fees for STEM courses even higher than the current £1,250 limit wouldn’t deter students but may actually make them more attractive to applicants. It’s an interestingly different approach to Labour’s plans to woo the youth voters and parents with free tuition fees.

Scroll down even further to Sam Gyimah – in Conversation with Mark Leach and you’ll find Sam’s unconvinced by post-qualification admissions and that accommodation costs are the primary issue students raise with him.

Here’s the summary from the Can teaching really be measured?  session (provided by Wonkhe).

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is one of the hottest issues in higher education in the moment – but is it capable of actually improving the quality of teaching?

The statutory independent review on TEF is due to be set up before the end of 2018 so we put together an expert panel to read the runes.

Wonkhe’s own David Kernohan was chairing the session – here’s his take:

  • The panel was clear we need to ask students about their learning and listen to their answers. Metrics will always be a part of the picture, but a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the needs and aspirations of undergraduates is an essential first step in improving teaching and the student experience.
  • The dual role of TEF (enhancement and information) is becoming more confused with many institutions hiring data scientists and not educational developers. It was noted that we sit at an important part of the life of the TEF, with the statutory review just round the corner – which again needs to involve the student voice as a fundamental point.
  • But, following the Augar review, the role of the OfS may change again – perhaps returning to a funding role?

The session provoked quite a debate online too with many pertinent Tweets.

Follow this link (which requires oodles of scrolling down) to read the summaries for:

  • Mandi’s Barron’s session on the student mental health crisis debate
  • Rankings, tables, metrics
  • The state of campus morale – and what we can do
  • Policy & politics of HE (Fiscal illusions and political delusions)
  • A session on putting impact before everything else – how do we help academics to not be pointless.
  • Win –wins in social mobility

Thirsty for more?

BU has an institutional subscription to Wonkhe so if you would like an emailed daily digest rather than waiting for all your policy news through this weekly BU policy update contact and we’ll sign you up.

Brexit: Research

A parliamentary question digging into where the money for guarantee funding will come from:

Q – Daniel Zeichner: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the funding allocated by the EU to underwrite successful bids by UK organisations to competitive EU grant programmes, including Horizon2020, will be funded from (a) UKRI’s annual budget allocation or (b) additional funding allocated by his Department in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. [LINK]

A – Elizabeth Truss:

  • If the UK leaves the EU next year without a deal, HM Treasury will make additional funding available to departments to cover projects under the HMG Guarantee, which includes Horizon 2020. Relevant departments will then be responsible for allocating this funding to UK organisations.

Grade Inflation

A guest writer on the HEPI blog explores grade inflation Agatha Christie style looking at the cumulative effects of inadvertent collusion as a response to increased competition. The article is far more entertaining than my description, although it doesn’t explore the counterarguments to its supposition.

Access and Participation – Social Mobility

Partnership to support schools – On Tuesday the DfE issued guidance information for schools and universities to form partnerships to share expertise and resources to maximise educational outcomes and improve opportunities for young people within their area.

Disability – Sam Gyimah confirmed that research on the Disabled Students’ Allowance is expected to culminated in December and be published shortly after.

Targets – This week there were two parliamentary questions on the new OfS access and participation targets:

Q – Baroness Royall Of Blaisdon: What criteria they will use to measure the effectiveness of the mechanisms for meeting the new access and participation targets proposed by the Office for Students. [LINK]

A- Viscount Younger Of Leckie:

  • The Office for Students (OfS), as the new independent regulator for higher education, has recently consulted the sector on a new approach to regulating higher education (HE) providers’ progress on widening access and successful participation in HE. The OfS is expected to respond to the consultation later this year.
  • We would expect the OfS to keep any new approach under review, to assess its effectiveness in achieving our goals for improved access and participation in HE by under-represented groups.
  • The OfS brings together the levers of both funding and the arrangements for agreeing and monitoring Higher Education providers’ Access and Participation plans to seek continuous improvement in this area. OfS also now has access to a range of sanctions to address concerns about a lack of progress on access and participation.

Q – Baroness Royall Of Blaisdon: What assessment they have made of the case for providing higher education providers with access to free school meals data at the start of the undergraduate admissions cycle as part of measures to widen access to higher education. [LINK]

A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie:

  • Widening participation is a priority for this government. We want to ensure that everyone with talent and potential to succeed in higher education has the opportunity to do so, regardless of background, ethnicity or where they grew up. Higher education institutions play an important role in achieving this goal through their outreach and widening participation work.
  • Government has already made available school level data on pupils eligible for free school meals through the ‘Find and compare schools in England’ service and I encourage universities to make use of this. This is available at: .
  • Universities should also continue to work directly with schools and third sector organisations to spot and nurture talent early. I have asked Department for Education officials to look at ways the department can support the sector, to identify talented pupils and to help assist in targeting outreach activity.

Estranged Students – Previously we reported the Student Loans Company had come under heavy fire after it analysed the social media profiles of students claiming to be estranged to discover if they had any familial contact. This week Sam Gyimah’s response to a parliamentary question defends the Student Loans Company use of personal social media profiles to determine estrangement status. He describes the practice as: “a proportionate and effective way of detecting and preventing certain types of fraud.”

Care Leavers – The recent Covenant launch has prompted renewed interest in Care Leavers within Parliament, however, it is disappointing that the Minister’s response only references the Covenant and not the work of other sector bodies or university approaches in response to this parliamentary question:

Q – Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to widen access to university for children who have been in care.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • I want to ensure that all care leavers with the potential to benefit from higher education are encouraged to apply. Guidance issued by the Office for Students (OfS) to universities on completing access and participation plans identifies care leavers as a key target group whose needs their plans should address. Last week, we launched the Care Leaver Covenant, which will provide a way for organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors – including universities – to set out what support they provide to care leavers.
  • Universities are being asked to work with children in care and care leavers, to encourage them to apply and to provide them with additional support through the application process. A number of universities have already signed the covenant, including Leeds, Liverpool and Bradford; and we will continue to work closely with the OfS to encourage all universities to sign it.

Social Mobility in Counties – A Report by the County All Party Parliamentary Group, supported by the County Councils Network and Localis – This is a long report so please contact us if you would like to read it in full.  The report found that the perception of counties as affluent areas has masked deep-seated socio-economic challenges and deprivation in shire counties, while the additional costs of delivering rural services are also not fully recognised in the way funding is allocated to councils. Eight of the ten least socially mobile areas in England are county areas, and are overwhelmingly rural and coastal.

The report outlines that councils in London receive £482 per head, whilst metropolitan boroughs and cities receive £351 per head, compared to £182 per person for public services in county areas. This historically lower funding for public services and infrastructure is an increasing issue at a time when councils are having to re-route funding for social services and care for the elderly, and is hampering efforts by county authorities to provide vital services that promote and support social mobility such as bus routes, public transport, youth centres and libraries. The report finds that transport networks in particular are a major hindrance to social mobility in counties.

Q – Peter Aldous

It was great that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government were able to attend last Wednesday’s launch of the county all-party parliamentary group’s report on social mobility in county areas. Will my right hon. Friend work with the APPG to implement the report’s 11 recommendations, which will do so much to ensure that young people across the country have the opportunity to realise their full potential?

A – James Brokenshire

  • That sense of social justice to which my hon. Friend alludes and which was in the report profoundly reflects the Government’s aspirations and intent to see a country that works for everyone. I look forward to continuing to work with him and the APPG in considering the fair funding review and other steps to ensure that we realise that aspiration.

Source: Topical Questions


Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. Email us on if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • Brexit: EU Student exchanges and funding for university research
  • The State of competition in the digital economy

Other news

Family Connections: A new guest blog on Wonkhe explores how the volume and quality of connection with family members whilst the student is geographically distant during their studies supports students. For those with previous strong bonds with their family daily contact reduced stress and supported them through the difficult times. However, for others who deliberately chose to unlace the apron strings they felt the distance helped them to focus on their academic studies, although the research mentions many still had access to a family safety net if needed. The blog paints a different picture for estranged and care experienced students who lacked financial or emotional support which was exacerbated during times of challenge. The authors urge the sector to recognise the emotional buffer a family can provide and the knock on effects for those without support (“family disadvantaged”) who may experience loneliness, increased poor mental health and lower academic success.

CBI: CBI have published Educating for the Modern World. It notes that while links between business and education remain strong progress has stalled with gaps in understanding a major obstacle. The report notes 46% of businesses understand the new GCSE grades. It explores technical education, which is highly valued, but beset with apprenticeship vacancies, funding rule headaches, and mixed feelings towards T levels.

University graduates are valued, with graduates continuing to have higher levels of employment, lower levels of economic inactivity and higher earnings on average, compared to non-graduates. An overwhelming majority of businesses (79%) regarded a 2:1 undergraduate degree (or above) as a good measure of academic ability, despite increasing numbers of 2:1 and above classifications being awarded.

John Cope Head of Education & Skills, CBI said:  “Employers expect to recruit more people over the coming years but worry there aren’t enough skilled people to fill the vacancies.”

The CBI states four priorities it will work on:

  • Ensure the education system prepares young people for the modern world and work
  • Harness the power of business to improve the education and skills system
  • Create the rights conditions for lifelong learning
  • Champion our world-class education institutions, including schools, colleges, and universities.

Commenting on the CBI report Alastair Jarvis, Chief Exec of UUK, stated:

“Universities are working with businesses to meet employers’ needs, and it is also important for the government to support universities to offer more flexible courses. We need to be able to meet the needs of part-time and mature learners if we are going to raise the overall level of skills in the workforce.”

Mental Health: A parliamentary question response on tools to support mental health within schools.  Also in The Guardian this week James Murray, the father of Ben a student at Bristol who committed suicide, talks about how a building pattern of data could have triggered a warning and intervention system that may have saved his son’s life.

T levels: On T levels Anne Milton was questioned about enduring public awareness. She responded:

  • Our T level communications campaign will launch in 2019, ensuring that parents, teachers, students and the wider public know about T levels and where they fit among other choices after GCSEs. The campaign will be extended over time as T levels are rolled out more widely. We are working closely with the 2020 providers on this campaign, which will include resources to support regional communications.
  • We have provided £5 million to the National Apprenticeship Service, who have widened their remit to provide an advice and support service for employers, which includes raising awareness and promoting the benefits of T levels and industry placements to employers.
  • Information about the grading system for the component parts of T levels was confirmed in the government’s response to the T level consultation in May this year. We recognise the need to promote awareness and understanding of this as part of our communications to students, parents and employers.

PGT Satisfaction: Advance HE’s postgraduate taught experience survey was issued a few weeks ago but is now available for general download here. Their news story focuses only their high response rate and high levels of satisfaction (89%). Follow this link to read the key findings.

Graduate Outcomes: A new Wonkhe blog explores the new Graduate Outcomes (replaces DLHE) survey  noting concerns that the response rate may drop (perhaps even by 30%); that careers services may want to visibly support new graduates approaching the survey date in a more noticeable way than previously to maximise positive results; discusses a change of tack for alumni services; how the change of date will affect the outcomes data particularly for different courses such as teachers. The author also notes concern that an over-focus on data will lead to institutions cutting courses because their lower outcomes data may lead to unpopularity and unviability – cue the headlines that not enough universities offer a particular course and there is no a workforce gap. The blog then highlights the positives – a richer data set, longer support for graduates and a reduction in gaming tactics. Read Graduate Outcomes: necessity is the mother of invention for the detail.


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HE policy update for the w/e 2nd November 2018

The Budget

As previously trailed in the media the Autumn Budget was focused on demonstrating the end of austerity. There wasn’t much in the way of HE announcements, however paperwork released with the budget confirms that the Government intends to continue to freeze the maximum tuition fees at the current £9,250 level (UUK report this means £200 million less funding for the sector by 2023-24). Previously announced increases to research and development funding (£1.6 billion more) were reiterated:

  • £1.1 billion through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund
  • £120 million through Strength in Places fund
  • £150 million for research fellowship schemes
  • Funding for 10 university enterprise zones, and for catapult centres

Of the above £50 million is committed to Artificial Intelligence to attract and retain the world’s top talent through the Alan Turing Institute AI Fellowships. The first fellows are expected to be in place by Autumn 2019.

Additional funding for mental health was also announced. Alongside this was one-off capital investment for schools (£400 million) and £10 million to trial the regional retention of early career maths and physics teachers. On apprenticeship training contributions the Chancellor reduced the contribution SMEs have to pay to 5% (from 10%). Finally, private providers will be afforded the same VAT exempt status as public universities (source).

However, this could all change if Brexit isn’t delivered as currently intended (Research Professional call it The Phantom Budget).

In the debates Greg Clark said that the two core themes of the Budget were repairing the economy from the effects of the financial crash and preparing the country economically for Brexit. Following questions he reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to zero-emissions cars and sustainable sources of energy, including marine energy – which is currently lagging behind. Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Opposition claimed the schools funding announced was insulting and that much of the Budget’s other spending commitments were repackaged money from prior announcements. Research Professional agree with the repackaging comment stating that only £55 million of the £1.6 billion is new money:

David Davies (Conservative) spoke about the University loans system, he said it had failed to deliver a market in university education, with the least valuable courses at the worst universities costing precisely the same as the most valuable course at the most prestigious university. He said the whole system needed to be revamped and turned into a proper graduate-contribution system with honest accounting, clear rules and no retrospective changes to the interest rates or other terms. Long term he felt the UK should move away from loans all together and that would have a liberating psychological impact on young people.

A contribution from one of our local MPs, Richard Drax (South Dorset), was to praise the mandatory rate relief on public toilets as a means of empowering young and old people to be more active.

This parliamentary question delves into the spending breakdown of the 2018 budget research promises.

Student Loan Sales – Research Professional say:  Meanwhile, there is also confirmation in the red book that further tranches of the existing student loan book are to be sold off.

  • “In December 2017 the government completed the first in its programme of sales of pre-2012 income-contingent student loans, expected to raise £12bn by 2021-22,” it says. “The sale raised £1.7bn, reducing PSND [public sector net debt], and was assessed as value for money by the National Audit Office. The government will now extend the sales programme by a further year, increasing total proceeds to £15bn.”
  • When selling student loans, ministers are basically trading in an uncertain money flow for an upfront but smaller sum. The NAO may have described the first sale of the loan book as “value for money”, but plenty of others have not, because they disagree with UK government definitions of success in this area.
  • Indeed, in an analysis published yesterday, the Office for Budget Responsibility says: “The sale of the first tranche of Plan 1 loans…involved the government exchanging loans with a face value of £3.5bn for £1.7bn in upfront cash.
  • “Only part of the £1.8bn difference reflected the size of the expected write-offs. This does not strengthen the public finances in any meaningful sense—it is simply an alternative way to finance the budget deficit, and a relatively expensive one at that given current borrowing costs.” Not necessarily such great value, then.
  • And here is the rub, as Hamlet might have said: the Office for Budget Responsibility has costed the “fiscal illusion” of the student loan book presentation in 2018-19 at a £12.3bn positive variance for the Treasury. If this were to be presented as a direct cost in the public accounts, it would all but wipe out the fiscal windfall of reduced public sector borrowing requirements, which is now covering the government’s promises on funding for the NHS, universal credit and the “end of austerity”.
  • The Office for Budget Responsibility says that the presentation of student loans in the public accounts would flatter the deficit to the tune of £17.1bn by 2023-24. You can see why the government is keen not to talk about this openly, preferring the euphemism of an international conference on the valuation of human capital. Never mind Brexit, the student loan book on its own has the potential to sink this budget forecast.

Boom and bust…

When the OfS was a twinkle in Jo Johnson’s eye. the then Universities Minister) was keen to show he could play hard ball and willing to let struggling universities dissolve into insolvency.

It is reported this week that the removal of the student number cap has hit some universities harder than others. There has been fiercer competition for the same pool of students, set within the backdrop of a population drop in the number of young entrants. The result has been a shift with some students on lower expected grades finding they can trade up to access medium or high tariff institutions.  The Times reports that Surrey and Swansea have doubled their undergraduate numbers and Coventry, Reading and Aston have expanded above 50% growth.

The press has reported that the less successful institutions are turning to unconditional offers to increase recruitment (it’s not clear whether there is such a straightforward link between unconditional offers and “bums on seats”, despite what the Minister says, but UCAS are preparing a report on it).

Meanwhile Brexit and unwelcoming messages on immigration and the hostile environment, coupled with the removal of post-study work visas for international students are factors too.

In the last 18 months Universities have been facing challenges from MPs on issues such as quality, free speech, and graduate outcomes and have been berated (by some) for surviving and flourishing during the period of austerity. The rhetoric surrounding the current review of Post-18 funding suggests a rebalancing of funding and refocus towards technical education, refreshed apprenticeships and alternatives to the HE route – potentially further reducing the pool of young people choosing to progress to university. Meanwhile the January 2019 UCAS deadline looms…

The press has trailed several stories of unnamed universities who are struggling financially and at risk of closure (see iNews). The Daily Mail report three universities – one in the North West and two on the South Coast and cites location as a reason they are unable to attract students in high enough numbers. The article says that in 2016-17 19 English universities were in deficit, most of which are former polytechnics. There were only 7 in deficit in 2015-16. The Daily Mail’s tone is to let the struggling institution’s go bust.  Wonkhe also comment on the universities in deficit stating that since the 2012 higher fees 17 universities have had a 10% decline in student numbers, and 5 universities’ recruitment intake is down by 20%. The Times suggests ‘more than a dozen’ universities are on the brink. The article goes on to name London Met (35% decline), the University of East London and Kingston University (26% decline), Southampton Solent and Cumbria (24% decline), Bedfordshire and Huddersfield (18% decline) – the declines are all measured since the introduction of higher fees.

Some media reports note the shock an area would undergo should a university close through bankruptcy. Matt Waddup, UCU said:

  • “Along with schools and colleges, universities are the beating heart of their local communities and it is difficult to overstate just how important the spending power of staff and students is for local economies.” (Source.)

The Times reports Alan Palmer from MillionPlus picking up on the dire consequences for social mobility within an area:

  • “Universities are vital investors in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, providing not just educational opportunities to people who thought higher education was out of reach for them, but research expertise to support local businesses to grow and to create new jobs.”

Vital to an institution’s acceptance on the OfS register of HE providers is a student protection plan which outlines the arrangements for students should the institution have to shut. However, iNews quote Mary Curnock Cook (previous UCAS Chief Executive) who doesn’t believe the student protection plans will adequately safeguard students, she said: “a student protection plan will do little to offer additional assurance to students”.

The BBC explore Would a university really be allowed to go bust?

  • The government has to say that it would allow universities to crash – otherwise it would in effect be offering a blank cheque…But it would be a brave education minister who would let it happen, without stepping in with emergency bailouts, merger deals, property sell-offs or new management…Imagine the wrath of students and their parents if they had been allowed to start a course at a university, when the minister knew it was in serious financial trouble. There would be legal challenges, campaigns by local MPs and businesses, battles over fee refunds, and accusations about why the government didn’t act to prevent a collapse. There is a deep inherent contradiction in creating a market with the risk of financial extinction, but also keeping information away from students who are being asked to invest their future.

The BBC piece goes on to dissect the ramifications for the rest of the HE sector suggesting it might lead to an overall downturn in numbers:

  • The word that’s being mentioned is “contagion”. A bit like a banking collapse, a university going bust would send a shockwave through the rest of the sector, threatening confidence in other institutions. Applications to other universities might tumble, putting other places at risk and raising questions about the wider student finance system in which millions of people are borrowing and repaying. Lenders who assumed that universities were a safe bet might get nervous and reduce the credit on which other universities are relying. Those living on a deficit would find themselves in deeper water… Universities will also be deeply anxious about perception. If they’re seen to be financially at risk it would be a killer blow to recruitment and the perception would soon become a dangerous reality.

Note: the link to the Daily Mail article requires the reader to scroll down until they reach the text in the blue box entitled Unpopular universities on brink of going bust. The Daily Mail have a separate scathing comment piece on all things wrong with universities (and why they should be allowed to go bust if they can’t make the numbers add up).

Social Mobility

Social Mobility Commission – If you’ve been following the recent parliamentary questions you will be aware that MPs have been clamouring to find out who the newly appointed Social Mobility Commissioners are. The members of the previous Commission all resigned in protest at the Government’s lack of progress and commitment to the social mobility changes they sought to achieve. Dame Martina Milburn was appointed as the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission earlier this year and she will be assisted by the 12 Commissioners announced this week:

  • Alastair da Costa, Chair of Capital City College Group
  • Liz Williams, Group Director of Digital Society at BT
  • Farrah Storr, Editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan
  • Harvey Matthewson, Volunteer, and part-time Sales Assistant at Marks & Spencer
  • Jessica Oghenegweke, Project co-ordinator at the Diana Award
  • Jody Walker, Senior Vice President at TJX Europe (TK Maxx and Home Sense in the UK)
  • Pippa Dunn, Founder of Broody, helping entrepreneurs and start ups
  • Saeed Atcha, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Xplode magazine
  • Sam Friedman, Associate Professor in Sociology at London School of Economics
  • Sammy Wright, Vice Principal of Southmoor Academy, Sunderland
  • Sandra Wallace, Managing Partner UK and Joint Managing Director Europe at DLA Piper
  • Steven Cooper, Outgoing Chief Executive Officer of Barclaycard Business

The Government’s news story says: Their appointments build on Dame Martina’s vision to bring greater ethnic, gender and age diversity to Commission by tapping into a diverse range of backgrounds. The Social Mobility Commission will be officially relaunched on 11 December.

On the appointments Damian Hinds, Education Secretary, said:

  • This new team of commissioners brings together established business men and women, policy makers, academics and young people all with important perspectives to bring. The Social Mobility Commission will benefit from the expertise of this diverse mix of individuals, all of whom will bring their own unique stamp to what social mobility means in their lives.

Dame Martina said:

  • I am delighted to welcome a record number of Social Mobility Commissioners who will work to make England a fairer society… Many of our new Commissioners had modest starts in life and know the barriers that young people must overcome to become successful. They are also individuals with the skills, resources, and energy to drive real change around the country, united by a passion for fairness and an ability to make a real difference to people’s lives.

This link describes the Social Mobility Commission’s role and responsibilities and this is the best page to use if you wish to follow the work of the Social Mobility Commission.

Education Spend – Social Economic Differences eradicated – The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a briefing note on Social Economic Differences in Total Education Spending in England. Dods say that the report finds differences in funding by social class have now vanished. Changes to the distribution of school funding, increased staying-on rates and reforms to HE funding mean that there was no difference in the amount of public money spent in total on educating the poorest and richest pupils who were taking their GCSEs in 2010. This has happened despite the facts that richer pupils remain much more likely to enrol in HE and that public subsidy for HE remains substantial.

The report also finds that, since 2010, the funding system has become even more beneficial to lower-income students relative to the better off. This is partly because of school funding reforms, partly because post-16 participation rates have risen, and partly because funding for school sixth forms (where better-off children are more likely to study) has been cut relative to funding for colleges (which are more likely to serve poorer students).

The key findings are:

  • Socio-economic differences in total education funding had evaporated by 2010. Amongst pupils taking their GCSEs in Summer 2010, those in the richest and poorest socio-economic quintiles received about £73,000 in total funding across all stages of education
  • School funding has become much more targeted towards poorer pupils. In 2003, there was already a £3,500 funding advantage in total school funding in favour of pupils from poorer families (looking over 12 years of schooling). As a result of various reforms to the school funding system, this grew to £9,500 by 2010, with pupils in the poorest quintile experiencing about £57,700 of school funding in total.
  • Participation in 16–18 education is now near universal. In 2003, pupils from richer families were about 11 percentage points more likely to stay in post-16 education than those from poorer families. By 2010, participation was over 95% amongst all groups, reducing this gap to 2 percentage points.
  • This change in participation has more than halved the socio-economic gap in post-16 funding. In 2003, pupils from richer families ended up receiving about £2,800 more in total post-16 spending than those from poorer families. For pupils taking their GCSEs in Summer 2010, this gap had shrunk to £1,200.
  • Children from poorer families are much more likely to attend colleges rather than school sixth forms. Amongst those taking their GCSEs in Summer 2010, about 58% of pupils from poorer families attended a further education or sixthform college as opposed to 21% who attended a school sixth form.
  • Socio-economic gaps in higher education participation narrowed over the 2000s. Amongst pupils taking their GCSEs in 2003, children from richer families were about 33 percentage points more likely to go on to higher education. The participation gap narrowed slightly to about 28 percentage points for pupils taking their GCSEs in Summer 2010.
  • Pupils from richer families benefit more from long-run public subsidies to higher education. This is because they are more than twice as likely to go to higher education.
  • Pupils from richer families would benefit more from the abolition of tuition fees
  • Reforms since 2010 are likely to have increased total funding in favour of pupils from poorer backgrounds. Reforms to post-16 funding have tended to favour colleges, which poorer pupils are more likely to attend, rather than school sixth forms.

IFS conclude that, the shift in the pattern of total education spending by socio-economic group and phase of education fits well with the recommendations from the latest academic work on the effects of education resources. However, it is therefore disappointing that these seemingly positive changes in the distribution of education funding do not seem to have translated into big reductions in the attainment gap between richer and poorer pupils. These differences in participation remain substantial, at over 25 percentage points between pupils from richer and poorer backgrounds.

Both the Guardian and Politics Home cover this story.

Care Leavers Covenant – Last week we anticipated the launch of the Care Leavers Covenant. The Covenant is a promise made by private, public or voluntary organisations to provide support for care leavers aged 16-25 to help them to live independently. The Covenant, run by Spectra First, is part of the government’s ambition to improve care leavers’ outcomes so they go on to lead happy and successful lives. More than 50 businesses, charities and every Government department in England are reported to have signed up. In addition to the private and voluntary sector offers of support, the package of support for care leavers includes:

  • 12-month internships from each Government department in Whitehall with over 100 starting in January 2019;
  • Support from universities, such as bursaries and accommodation, with Cambridge, Leeds, and Manchester cited as ‘committing to supporting care leavers’. This package is in response to data stating only 6% of care leavers aged 19 to 21 go on to higher education. (Research Professional have more on the 9 universities supporting the Covenant);
  • Resources and tools from Barclays Life Skills to help care leavers to manage their money better, as they often lack the safety net of financial support from their families.

The Guardian article: There’s a lot of stigma: why do so few care leavers go to university? touches on the immediate challenges facing care leavers. Sadly the article doesn’t tackle unconditional offers –  which in the past were oft awarded to care leavers to provide certainties around accommodation and progression allowing them to leave prior care arrangements behind with sufficient security to access HE. It is a shame that this should be lost in the general

Student Loans Company

The Student Loans Company (SLC) has been in the spotlight since Steve Lamey left the organisation in 2017. The Education Select Committee questioned the new Chief Executive Paula Sussex this week in an accountability hearing about the organisation’s leadership and governance, fraudulent claims, overpayments and improvements made. BU readers can access a summary of the session provided by Dods political monitoring consultants here. The session didn’t shy away from recent controversy including the SLC’s use of social media to determine whether estranged student claimants really were estranged from their families. The Tab has the SLC ‘spying’ story here.


OfS Commitment to (good) Mental Health – Nicola Dandridge spoke at the all-party parliamentary group for students this week focussing on supporting students’ mental health. She said mental health is a priority for the OfS and they will work to improve support for students by:

  • challenging registered providers to improve their support for their students’ mental health, for example through access and participation plans
  • funding activities that directly support students, including a guide to help universities prevent student suicides, and the £6 million Challenge Competition for innovative projects to combat the rise in student mental health issues
  • delivering a £1.5 million collaboration with Research England that will support postgraduate research students
  • working in partnership with providers, charities and other organisations to encourage good practice through the University Mental Health Charter and the Universities UK Mental Health in HE Advisory Group
  • improving the data and evidence around what the problems are, what causes them and what works best to address them, such as new analysis published today that shows how different characteristics impact on graduates’ anxiety, life satisfaction and happiness.

Nicola said:

  • “All students deserve to get the support they need to cope with times of mental ill health and distress. But there are times when that support does not get to where it is needed, when it is needed. Every time I meet with groups of students and student unions, the challenge of mental health is raised, and the members of the OfS Student Panel have also raised it as a priority. I know many universities and colleges are already working hard to improve their support services for mental health and wellbeing, but all have a responsibility to provide the right support for mental health and wellbeing. Mental health and wellbeing are complex issues, but universities are full of people who excel at working with complexity. So I believe that – with the challenge and support provided by the OfS – higher education providers can and will address these issues, so as to enable their students to flourish and unlock their potential.

OfS blog: Work effectively with partners to support students’ mental health, regulator tells universities.

Wellbeing – the latest – A new blog on student and graduate subjective wellbeing this week considers how it will be measured in future iterations of the Graduate Outcomes survey. The blog talks of actions universities can take and how the Graduate Outcomes data can be combined and compared with other sources.

Also this week Guild HE published Wellbeing in HE which describes what member institutions are doing to support student wellbeing:

  • the research finds that approaches to supporting long-term well-being are variable, with both areas of good practice, and capacity for improvement It…highlights the importance of developing holistic strategies, which support students throughout higher education, from their academic experiences to their accommodation and social opportunities.

Mental Health APPG – Psychology Graduates – The all-party parliamentary group for Mental Health met this week to debate the APPG’s recent report:  Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. They welcomed the £2billion funding for mental health announced in the Budget. Graduates featured twice in the debate as a potential solution to the workforce crisis via the creation of new roles and routes into mental health employment.

Jeff Smith (Labour) said:

  • Health Education England’s plan commits to 19,000 more people working in mental health by 2021, but between March 2017 and March 2018 the number of mental health staff in the NHS increased by just 915 people. That does not look like progress is on target…There is a huge interest in mental health among young adults. Until we undertook the report, I did not realise that psychology was the third most popular undergraduate course for students starting university in 2016. We should make it easier for those capable, ambitious and keen graduates to work in NHS mental health services. …[Dr Poulter] made the point earlier that recruiting more psychologists for specific therapies, such as dialectical behaviour therapy or cognitive analytic therapy, would mean that people had a wider choice about the type of therapy they received, instead of, as often happens, just being prescribed cognitive behavioural therapyif they are able to get a prescription at allbecause it is the only therapy available.

Helen Whately (Conservative) said:

  • Secondly, the question of workforce came up time and again as the biggest barrier to achieving the ambitions of the five year forward view for mental health. There is a desperate need to train, recruit and retain more staff at every level. We simply cannot make meaningful improvements to services without the staff to deliver them; there must be new routes into the NHS workforce, making use of psychology graduates—as has been mentioned—and psychotherapists, and bringing in more people with lived experience of mental illness, who do valuable work.


There are not any open consultations and inquiries relevant to BU at the moment. You can view the current consultation tracker and email us on if you’d like to discuss anything related to consultations and inquiries.

Forthcoming: The Education Select Committee’s report following their inquiry into Value for Money will be issued on Monday 5th November. Leaked content suggests it’ll be an interesting read with features on fees transparency and degree apprenticeships possibly creating a big bang!

Other news

Free Speech: And just because we couldn’t bring you a policy update without mentioning free speech Vice have an article highlighting Sam Gyimah’s claims that haven’t been substantiated and suggesting that seeing universities as a ‘marketplace of ideas’ ironically serves right wing political aims.

Sam’s Apps and Gender Gaps: Earlier this year Sam Gyimah launched a £125,000 competition for companies to develop apps and digital tools to help prospective students make better decisions about which institution to study at, through the LEO (graduate outcomes) data. The Minister has unveiled the final five prototype apps and websites from his competition but not yet announced the two finalists will receive an additional £150,000 each to develop their design into a final product. The media covering the apps include: ITV and the Independent. Sam was inspired to create his app competition by the  IFS research which revealed particular sets of graduates have poor economic employment outcomes.

Sam’s competition has been criticised by some within the HE sector because it fails to recognise the non-HE dependant factors which influence the LEO data. Adding to this is a new report out by LSE which predicts a widening of the gender pay gap gulf:

  • Girls born in 2000 are aspiring to do jobs that are paid 31 per cent lower than males…on the other hand, [boys] have higher aspirations than previous male generations in terms of income, to the point where the gender pay gap could actually become larger than it is at present if these aspirations are fulfilled.
  • The study concludes that a persistent lack of women in highly paid jobs in areas such as science, technology, engineering, finance and politics is due to girls internalising social norms, rather than a result of their innate preferences. This conclusion emerges from the researchers finding that time, rather than childhood factors, is what has altered the tendency for males and females to choose different types of jobs.  Social movements or campaigns are essential to encourage girls to aim higher, it suggests.
  • Boys’ current aspirations, from those born in 2000, are increasingly geared towards jobs with “significantly higher levels of competitiveness and larger incomes” compared to previous generations and their current female peers.

The paper’s author, Dr Grace Lordan of LSE’s Psychological and Behavioural Science Department, said:

  • “More and more we actively encourage our girls to pursue occupations that are currently dominated by males. However, boys are rarely encouraged to pursue occupations where females have had higher shares. The asymmetry of the gender revolution needs to be considered. This becomes more important given that we expect jobs that are traditionally female to expand over the next decades – for example, the nursing and caring professions.” 

Source:  Dods report on – Cross Cohort Evidence on Gendered Sorting Patterns in the UK: The Importance of Societal Movements versus Childhood Variables  by Grace Lordan of LSE ‘s Psychological and Behavioural Science Department LSE ‘s Centre for Economic Performance and IZA and Warn N.Lekfuangfu of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok is a working paper published by IZA Institute of Economics.

Board diversity: Wonkhe report on Advance HE release of two new frameworks to support diversity in higher education providers’ board level recruitment.

  • The Board Recruitment Framework is designed to support institutions in recruiting board members, with guidance on best practice in producing inclusive materials that encourage a diverse range of applicants and don’t inadvertently exclude people.
  • The Diversity Principles Framework offers guidance for higher education providers and executive search firms working together on board appointments. It’s one of the outputs from the 2017-18 board diversification project funded by HEFCE and others. The push for recruiters to support diversity came from 2017 research by Simonetta Manfredi.

Gap Years: An unusual parliamentary question on gap years:

Q – Grahame Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of gap years in improving educational outcomes for students.

A – Sam Gyimah: The department has not made any recent assessment of the effectiveness of gap years in improving educational outcomes for students. In 2012, we published a study that examined the characteristics of gap-year takers, their motivations, what they did and what effect it had on their longer-term outcomes: LINK

ESRC new appointees: Research Professional report  on the two senior professors from University College London and the University of Sussex will be in charge of strategy and research at the Economic and Social Research Council.

Immigration: Research Professional investigate the proposed Tier 2 visa changes and find thousands of university staff would have been ineligible to work in Britain on the minimum salary threshold criterion.


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FHSS student awarded Chiropractor of the Year 2018-19

Congratulations to Amy Miller!   At the British Chiropractic Council’s annual conference 13-14th October, Bournemouth University PhD student Amy Miller was awarded the British Chiropractic Association’s award of ‘Chiropractor of the Year 2018-19’ for her contributions to research and engagement. 

Amy is based in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences  (FHSS).  Her PhD is investigating an inter-professional student-led breastfeeding clinic for student learning, and breastfeeding outcomes and experiences.  Amy is supervised by Associate Professor Sue Way, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery Dr. Alison Taylor and Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen all based in the Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health (CMMPH). The British Chiropractic Association’s award for Chiropractor of the Year recognises individuals who have made a significant contribution to the profession.



There will be no Doctoral College PGR Conference this academic year, but worry not…

The Postgraduate Research Live Exhibition is your opportunity to showcase your research this academic year.

Calling all PGRs (MRes, PhD, Professional Doctorates alike)! Exhibit your research or research journey at this PGR Live Exhibition on Wednesday 5 December, followed by a free festive social for PGRs and Supervisors.

This is your opportunity to display your research to all of BU in creative and innovative ways during this open live exhibition.

Only 1 week left to apply.

Follow this link for full details on how to submit, joint submissions are accepted.

Please contact Natalie Stewart if you have any questions.

Please contact your student representatives about faculty run PGR conferences which may be scheduled for this academic year.

HE Policy Update for the w/e 19th October 2018

Policy impact – some steps you can take and why it’s a good idea (despite appearances)

We wrote a blog on this topic  – you can read it here.

Choosing a university

The Ofs have published a survey that shows the role of parents and friends in applicant decision making.  There’s a big research paper by CFE Research.  

The OfS respond to the survey:

  • There are a huge number of different things that you could consider when thinking about higher education. And as CFE emphasised, ‘there are limits to the amount of information processing that people can undertake’. Often when we’re faced with more information than we feel we can process, we just switch off because it is overwhelming. The solution is not to throw more and more information out there, but to support and empower people to find the information that is important to them and to make sense of it.
  • We’ve started work shaping and defining what our approach to improving information, advice and guidance will look like. It is vital that our approach in this area draws on the best and most reliable evidence. Most importantly, this will mean adopting an approach informed by an understanding of how people make decisions in the real world, supported by the latest thinking and technology. It will be rooted in behavioural psychology approaches, and driven by research and collaboration directly with students and those who advise them.
  • We are taking the first steps in developing a new resource to better support decision making about higher education. This new resource would help students navigate and understand available information and data, and would be integrated with other key sources of information. It would use personalisation to ensure that students can quickly identify and find the information that is most important for them. This would be combined with carefully designed data visualisations that would make engagement with key datasets easier.
  • Our aim is to create a resource that can support a seamless journey through available information and which responds to individual needs. This is an ambitious project, but our research shows that it is needed. The next steps will be to build on the research we have already carried out with prospective students, parents and teachers, and develop prototypes to test with them. If the outcomes of this testing give us a clear way forward, we will begin building the new resource in the spring.

Sector issues: Graduate Outcomes

Prospects have published a series of reports on graduate outcomes since September.

What do graduates do? draws on DLHE data to take a first look at the outcomes of first degree completers in the six months after completing their studies. It breaks the degrees down into sensible programme groups and dissects the outcomes for each. It looks at the 2016/17 year noting the political volatility surrounding early Brexit and the snap general election. There is a good introduction section which gives an overview:  The graduate labour market remains robust and by some measures is as strong as it has been for some time. Some details on the destination of first-degree graduates:

Page 14 talks of the valuing of work placements and page 15 has an interesting discourse on social mobility and the influence of careers provision, including how universities may need to brand their careers provision differently to attract those from lower social economic groups who had a disappointing or negative prior experience of careers support.

Wonkhe summarise the report:
[It] finds the graduate unemployment rate to be 5.1%, the lowest in 39 years.
Starting salaries for graduates rose 2.9% over the last year, from £21,776 to £22,399.
Plus there are 7,895 more graduates in professional roles. Skills shortages appear to have helped job prospects, especially in fields such as IT, engineering, accountancy and marketing.

However, there were small but increasing numbers of graduates on zero-hours contracts – 4% of those employed, up from 3.6% last year. Retail employs the highest number of graduates in non-graduate roles. While 12.8% of graduates went to work in retail, around two-thirds of them were in jobs below a professional level.

Wonkhe also have a guest blog on the report written by Charlie Ball, Prospects’ Head of HE Intelligence.


Prospects also published Graduate resilience in the labour market (in conjunction with Lancaster University) which explores graduate ‘resilience’, specifically looking at how students transition after graduating. It explains that developing a graduate’s commercial awareness and improving their connection with employers could ensure they are prepared to make the transition from university into the workplace, and meet the demands of employers. And that: recommendations are made to improve marketing strategy, student engagement and developing graduate confidence.

The key findings in this report are:

  • 57% of respondents stated that confidence issues affected their transition after graduating.
  • 45% were concerned over a lack of relevant experience.
  • 43% of respondents felt they lacked soft skills.
  • There was a difference between genders, with women more likely to report they lack of relevant experience and soft skills.
  • There is a disparity between faculties regarding their graduates’ resilience.
  • There is little connection between having a 2.2 degree and unemployment/underemployment.
  • Graduates with a 2.1 classification were most likely to be unemployed in this study.
  • Of the seven students who identified as having a disability, 86% reported issues with confidence, 43% felt they lacked relevant experience and 71% felt they lacked softer skills.

Teaching Employability

What’s the best way to teach employability? draws on a study at Essex University to consider whether generic or bespoke discipline specific employability modules are most effective. The study found negative results and concluded there were no significant advantages in contextualising employability teaching as opposed to a standard generic approach:

  • No improvement in student engagement, performance, satisfaction or inclination to take work experience was evident following the completion of a degree-specific credit bearing module.
  • Integrating intellectual degree content into employability modules was neither useful nor valued by students.
  • Students reported a preference for the more practical rather than intellectual aspects of the teaching.
  • Students showed no preference for a contextualised rather than pure employability module.

However, the students did like:

  • Providing graduates with labour market information relevant to their degree was met with positive response.
  • Students also valued recruitment tips and meeting professionals and employers.

Transitioning from study to work

Finally, in partnership with the University of Salford, What factors contribute to a successful graduate transition?, looks into humanities, arts and creative arts graduates to better understand what the transition from university into the workforce is really like for graduates. They state: Finishing university represents a massive change for individuals as they leave the security of their student identity. This can be a turbulent time of adjustment, but research indicates that there is steady improvement in the circumstances of graduates in the first two years after completing their degrees.

Universities can support graduate transition in many ways, for example by ensuring careers support is still available for graduates, as well as embedding a strong infrastructure that helps students understand career planning and employability before they leave.

The key findings are:

  • Movement and change is commonplace in early graduate careers: 58.9% of graduates changed their job and/or career status between 6 and 16 months after graduating.
  • Changes in career ideas after graduating is normal: at 16 months post-graduation, only 25.9% stated their career plans hadn’t changed since finishing university.
  • Many graduates are proactive when faced with initial challenges in finding fulfilling work; examples include moving into self-employment, undertaking further study, and venturing overseas.
  • The support of family and friends is vital for graduates, as well as engaging in career conversations with people they trust.
  • Location matters. Those living in small towns with fewer graduate opportunities can feel stuck if they feel there are fewer suitable opportunities.
  • Career attitudes are influenced by graduates’ social background, e.g. 91% of higher-class respondents were confident discussing their skills/strengths and 85% were confident at an interview; in comparison, just 68% of lower-class graduates agreed to both those statements.
  • Gender differences were also evident. For example, men (81%) report greater confidence at interviews than women (75%), but 83% of women said they were proactive in taking action about their career in contrast to 56% of men.
  • Graduates can sometimes blame themselves incorrectly when a hoped-for career doesn’t materialise quickly. Graduates need to be aware of wider labour market issues that may make a certain career harder to get into.
  • Graduates need support to reflect on how their degree-level skills and knowledge can transfer into areas of work unrelated to their degree subject.

There is a separate report on the transition from PhD study to employment.

National Hate Crime Awareness Week

As National Hate Crime Awareness Week begins, Yvonne Hawkins explains in a new blog post how the Office for Students is working with universities and colleges, students and others to eradicate hate crime on campus.

Student safeguarding and welfare is a priority for the Office for Students. We are shining a spotlight on key issues, support improvements in policy and practice, and identify ‘what works’ to ensure that interventions and initiatives deliver maximum impact and benefit.

Fees and funding: FE Spending

Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to highlight the stark disparity between funding for pre- and post-16 education and urge the Government to ‘look very carefully’ at the core level of funding for FE ahead of the Budget and Spending Review.

In a letter to the Chancellor Halfon states that ‘it cannot be right that a funding ‘dip’ exists for students between the ages of 16 and 18, only to rise again in higher education’. He continues that ‘successive governments have failed to give further education the recognition it deserves for the role it pays in our national productivity puzzle’.

The Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the level and distribution of school and college funding and last week heard from a panel on the current issues faced by the FE sector.

Q – Grahame Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the press Association of Colleges’ release entitled AoC update on college pay, published in July 2018, if he will he take steps to close the £7000 a year pay disparity between teachers working in further education colleges compared with their counterparts in schools.

A – Anne Milton:

  •  The further education (FE) sector – including FE colleges – has a different legal status and relationship to the government when compared with schools. FE colleges are private sector institutions, independent of the government. It is for individual FE employers to agree local pay structures with unions, based on local needs.
  • The department values all of our teachers and leaders in FE who change lives for the better. Since 2013, we have invested over £120 million in the FE workforce, including investing in workforce development through the independent Education and Training Foundation (ETF).
  • Having enough highly-skilled FE teachers in place to deliver high-quality, work-relevant skills training is essential, particularly for the successful delivery of T Levels and apprenticeships. This is why we have committed up to £20 million to help providers, teachers and leaders prepare to deliver T Levels. This includes launching Taking Teaching Further, a £5 million programme to attract industry professionals to teach in FE.
  • FE providers help to make sure people have the skills they need to get on in life, which is why we have protected base rate funding for 16 to 19 year olds until 2020. However, we acknowledge that FE faces cost pressures. This is why the department has been actively engaging with the sector to look closely at how we fund providers to ensure that the system supports sustainable, high-quality education. We will be looking carefully at these issues in the Spending Review.

Q – Grahame Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the validity of the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies 2018 annual report on education spending in England that funding for further education has been reduced more than other areas of education since 2010.

A – Anne Milton:

  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies report uses published data on funding and student numbers to derive a trend in real terms expenditure per student. Their report shows that funding for school pupils aged 5 to 16 will be more than 50% higher in real terms per pupil in 2020 than in 2000. The government chose to prioritise pre-16 schooling because that is absolutely fundamental to later learning and achievement.
  • We have protected the base rate of funding for 16 to 19 year olds for all types of providers until 2020. Our commitment to the 16 to 19 sector has contributed to the current record high proportion of 16 and 17 year olds who are participating in education or apprenticeships.
  • We are investing in the sector to support providers to deliver the new T level qualifications from 2020. This will mean an additional £500 million every year once they are fully rolled out. We recently announced a further £38 million for the first wave of T level providers to invest in equipment and facilities to support the roll-out of T levels.
  • We are currently considering the efficiency and resilience of the further education sector and assessing how far existing funding and regulatory structures meet the costs of delivering quality further education.

Adult learning – changes afoot

Currently progressing through Parliament are a set of Statutory Instruments which aim to transfer adult education functions of the Secretary of State for Education to Combined authorities. This applies to Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Tees Valley, the West Midlands, and the West of England who all have an elected metro mayor. These statutory instruments will devolve control of the adult education budget from the Government to each combined authority from August 2019, meaning from the 2019/20 academic year, Mayors and Combined Authorities would be responsible for adult education funding, and management for learners.

This may be of interest locally when Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch combine.

Proposed transferred functions:

  • education and training for persons aged 19 or over and others subject to adult detention
  • provision of facilities to support the learning aims of those aged 19 or over
  • payment of tuition fees
  • functions related to apprenticeship training
  • functions related to persons subject to adult detention

Joint responsibility between Secretary of State and Combined Authority for:

  • encouragement of education and training for persons aged 19 or over and others subject to adult detention
  • provision of financial resources

Access and Participation

The Government has published the final research report Implementation of Opportunity Areas: An Independent Evaluation which aim to improve social mobility. The area delivery plans can be viewed here. The nearest opportunity area to BU is West Somerset: their plan.

HEPI issued a policy note by Professor John Raferty ex-VC of London Met University who reflects on turning around a struggling institution and focuses on his social mobility mission including increasing the number of his institution’s BME students entering highly skilled graduate employment by an increase of 56%..

Parliamentary Questions

This week there was a parliamentary question on the requirement for HE provisions to work with Electoral Registration Officers to support students to register to vote and respond to requests for information. A question on comparative take up of engineering and physics careers by gender and divided between Scotland and England (the Minister didn’t compare).  Another Brexit and Horizon 2020 question (with a familiar response) and one on the Russel Group favoured European Skills Passport.

On mental health in Universities:

Q – Luciana Berger: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will meet the Secretary of State for Education to discuss mental health in universities. [177826]

A – Matt Hancock:

  • The Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education continue to work closely on the needs of all young people, including university students.
  • The University Mental Health Charter announced in June 2018 is backed by the Government and led by the sector, and will drive up standards in promoting student and staff mental health and wellbeing. The Charter, which will reward institutions that deliver improved student mental health outcomes, will develop in an iterative process, shaped by co-production with students, staff and partner organisations. Prospective students and their families will be able to identify providers who

Want more?

BU has subscriptions with Wonkhe and Research Professional who send out daily news and updates on all the latest happenings. If you would like to subscribe to either (or both) to stay more current throughout the week contact and we’ll sign you up. Happy reading!


Here is the link to all BU’s consultation responses. Recent submissions cover Access and Participation, the REF guidance, and Student Numbers.

Other news

Contract Cheating: The Conversation talks plagiarism and considers whether international students are more at risk.

Loneliness: The Government have published their loneliness strategy ‘a connected society’ with schools and the education sector centre stage in its aims to enable meaningful social interactions. Key points:

  • A review of best practice to identify and support young carers
  • DfE partnering with the National Apprenticeships Service to encourage employers to offer placements to young people with SEN or disabilities
  • DfE publishing guidance for schools on maximising the use of their premises for beneficial community purposes
  • Embed loneliness into the relationships education curriculum in schools
  • DfE commitment to improve mental health support for students in HE, and establish a working group with the sector to review support for students transitioning into university


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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 5th October 2018

Conservative Party Conference

The Conference ended with the PM’s speech, in which she declared the end of austerity and tried to fight back on Brexit.  This came after a predictably colourful speech from Boris Johnson calling for the party to be more positive – and #chuckchequers.  Neither talked about HE.

Education was on the agenda at the conference, though.  Damien Hinds gave a speech mainly focusing on schools.  He listed three key imperatives (all Ps):

  • Progress – “each generation should have better opportunities than the last and every year we need to raise our sights higher and we need to reach wider”
  • The prospects and prosperity of the country – productivity depends on education of this generation
  • Preparedness – being ready for an uncertain world. He mentioned global trade and technological change

And to deal with these challenges, he said that the plan was to focus on:

  • Academic standards (and there is an ongoing row about his statistics)
  • Basic essential skills (32 primary schools and 21 colleges to be centres of excellence for early literacy and post 16 Maths)
  • Behaviour management (£10m to support best practice in this area)
  • And of course, vocational and technical education (and announced a £38m capital pot for investment in colleges delivering T-levels)
  • Careers advice – doubling the number of trained careers leaders in schools
  • Reviewing level 4 and level 5 qualifications that are the direct alternative to university (this is not new, see below)

He also talked about character, workplace skills and extra-curricular activities.

  • “..we need to move forwards with our reforms. We need to ensure that the vocational and the technical, are absolutely on a par with the academic. We need to make sure that we extend our reforms in all regions, in all parts of the country. That all parts of our society have equal opportunity, that everywhere we see raised expectations and raised aspirations, and when that happens, then we will be able to say, this is a world class education for everyone.”

Level 4 and 5 qualifications have been discussed a lot recently  – see the August report  by Professor Dave Phoenix, VC of South Bank University has written for HEPI “Filling in the biggest skills gap: Increasing learning at Levels 4 and 5”.

The DfE are conducting a review of classroom-based, level 4 & 5 technical education launched in October 2017 (interim findings here) which will inform the ongoing Review of Post-18 Education.

Industrial Strategy – Creative Industries

A new £8 million funding competition will enable virtual, augmented and mixed reality experiences – also known as immersive content – to be created faster and more efficiently by UK content creators.  The competition is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s audience of the future programme. Up to £33 million is available to develop new products and services that exploit immersive technologies.  Funding is provided by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK.


Also while the Conservative Party Conference was going on, announcements were made about future immigration rules post Brexit.

From Dods:  a White Paper outlining how the system will work to be published in the autumn, ahead of legislation next year. The proposals largely mirror the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee from September, and offer no preferential treatment for EEA citizens coming to the country. Notably, there is a commitment under the new system not to cap the number of student visas. (there is currently no such cap)

Under the proposals:

  • The passports of short-stay tourists and business people from all “low-risk” countries would be scanned at e-gates – currently only EU citizens can do this
  • Security and criminal records checks would be carried out before visits, similar to the system of prior authorisation in the US
  • Workers wanting to stay for longer periods would need a minimum salary, to “ensure they are not competing with people already in the UK”
  • Successful applicants for high-skilled work would be able to bring their immediate family, but only if sponsored by their future employers
  • The new system will not cap the number of student visas

Theresa May said:

  • “The new skills-based system will make sure low-skilled immigration is brought down and set the UK on the path to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, as we promised. At the same time we are training up British people for the skilled jobs of the future.”
  • “Two years ago, the British public voted to leave the European Union and take back control of our borders. When we leave we will bring in a new immigration system that ends freedom of movement once and for all. It will be a system that looks across the globe and attracts the people with the skills we need. Crucially it will be fair to ordinary working people. For too long people have felt they have been ignored on immigration and that politicians have not taken their concerns seriously enough.”

And meanwhile, at the conference, the Home Secretary announced a new “British values” test for those applying for UK citizenship, which will be “significantly tougher” than the current test, which he said was like a pub quiz, and would be accompanied by strengthened English language tests.

Degree apprenticeships

The Office for Students (OfS) has published new analysis of degree apprenticeships.

  • Compared with other levels of apprenticeships and higher education generally there were relatively few degree apprentices in 2016-17, but the number of starts are growing. In 2016-17 there were 2,580 degree apprentices registered in higher education, of which 1,750 started their apprenticeship that year.
  • The two most popular degree apprenticeships are:
    • Chartered Manager – 34 per cent of entrants
    • Digital and Technology Solutions Professional – 29 per cent of entrants.
  • Most of the degree apprenticeships currently available are within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subject grouping. Within the arts, humanities and social sciences subject areas, the majority of degree apprentices are taking chartered management courses.
  • There was a roughly equal number of young and mature entrants undertaking degree apprenticeships, with young students (entrants under 21) more likely to be going into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) apprenticeships.
  • There were more males entering degree apprenticeships than females, but relative to similar higher education courses there is a slightly lower proportion of males.
  • Apprenticeships at all levels had lower proportions of entrants from minority ethnic groups, than entrants to similar higher education courses.
  • Apprenticeships have a lower proportion of entrants with a declared disability than entrants to higher education.
  • The North West and North East of England have the highest proportion of the working age population entering degree apprenticeships, with London having the lowest density.

30 per cent of degree apprenticeship entrants come from areas underrepresented in higher education, slightly higher than the proportion entering similar full-time higher education courses (26 per cent).

Graduate Outcomes and Employability

The Office for Students (OfS), has launched its first Challenge Competition, inviting providers to develop and implement projects to identify ways of supporting the transition to highly skilled employment and improving outcomes for graduates who seek employment in their home region.

The OfS intends to support a range of projects that will deliver innovative approaches for graduates and particular student groups, to contribute to improved outcomes and local prosperity. Through this process we want to identify:

  • what interventions work best in a variety of different regional and local contexts to support progression into highly skilled employment
  • what interventions work best for different types of students and graduates
  • findings that can continue to shape sector-wide debate and inform interventions to capitalise on graduate skills and knowledge for the benefit of individuals and for economic prosperity.

Providers with successful bids will be expected to form a network to share, discuss and disseminate key information among themselves and with the OfS, strategic partners, and the wider sector as required.

Metrics and ratings – graduate salaries

From Wonkhe: ONS has released its annual estimates of the value of the UK’s “human capital” – and if you like to promote higher education on the basis of pay premia, it’s not great news for the sector. The headline news is that back in 2004 the average premium for “first and other degrees” was 41%, but by 2017, it had reduced to 24%. The same has happened for “masters and doctorates” – where the pay premia has declined from 69% in 2004 to 48% in 2017. Although the premia for graduates is still significant, the downward trend will provide ammo to those who argue that “too many people are going to university”, ONS says that “one explanation for this could be a large increase in the proportion of the population with a university degree”.

Metrics and ratings – Learning gain

On Wonhke, David Kernohan wrote on 30th September about learning gain “Plenty ventured, but what was gained?”.

  • David notes: Some projects have held final conferences and events. Others (notably two large scale national projects) either concluded early or have never been publicly spoken of.  It’s a far from glorious end to an initiative that set out with a great deal of ambition – to measure “the distance travelled: the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development demonstrated by students at two points in time” – a goal that would probably represent the most significant finding in the history of educational research.

The learning gain projects were expected to lead to discussions about a new TEF metric for learning gain – or at least to a set of tools and methodologies that providers would over time start to adopt to support their TEF submissions –because learning gain is an important element of the TEF, but one that it is not currently reflected in the metrics.

  • So the article continues: Project after project reported issues with lack of engagement from students and staff. Why would a student complete a test or exercise that had no bearing on their degree, and that was of uncertain benefit? And why would an academic recommend such a course of action to their students while unsure of the underpinning motivation?
  • And David concludes: …learning gain is measurable. But it is measurable only in terms of the way an individual student understands their own learning. Interventions like learning diaries and reflective writing can prove very useful to students making sense of their own progress. What learning gain may not be is comparable – which on the face of it makes perfect sense. In what world could we say that a student of economics has learned the same quanta of learning as a student of the piano?

And so on 2nd October, Yvonne Hawkins of the OfS responded, also on Wonkhe:

  • he’s wrong to say that the programme is coming to an end – the first phase has concluded, and planning for a second phase that draws on the learning from phase one is already underway. I must also take issue with his rather eeyorish view of the wider learning gain endeavour.

So what are the next steps as set out by the OfS? They are “committed to developing a proxy measure for learning gain”. And it “will form part of a set of seven key performance measures to help us demonstrate progress against our student experience objective”.  And how will they get there?  There will be evaluations of the projects that did go ahead, and then there will be a conference, and recommendations to the OfS board in March 2019 about the next phase of work.

So watch this space….

Freedom of speech

Another week another article on free speech by the Minister– this time on Research Professional to coincide with the Conservative Party Conference.

  • He starts with some context: a cultural shift is taking place, and diversity of thought is becoming harder to find as societal views become highly polarised between the left and the right. A culture of censorship has gradually been creeping in, and a monoculture is now emerging where some views are ‘in’ and others are clearly ‘out’. Social media has exacerbated this trend by giving rise to echo chambers that restrict opposing points of view and legitimise threatening and abusive behaviour.
  • So what is the problem? In universities and colleges, we are witnessing the rise of no-platforming, safe spaces, trigger warnings and protests. These may all be well intended and have their place in fostering free speech, but they are also all too easy to be appropriated as tools to deny a voice to those who hold opinions that go against the sanctioned view.
  • It’s perhaps put in rather strong terms: This is catastrophic for democratic debate and puts at risk the fundamental right to be heard that many have fought and died for.
  • And the example – from 2015: I am increasingly alarmed by reports of individuals and groups preferring to support those who seek to restrict others’ right to speak than to protect the fundamental right for all to be heard. This was the case at Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2015 when the university’s Feminist Society came out in support of the university’s Islamic Society after its members aggressively disrupted a talk by Maryam Namazie, a feminist campaigner and human rights activist.
  • So what next? That is why I am supporting an initiative coordinated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to create new free speech guidance to ensure future generations are exposed, without hindrance, to the stimulating debates that lie at the very core of the university experience.


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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update for the w/e 21st September 2018

Tuition Fees – means testing?

The Higher Education Policy Institute and Canadian Higher Education Strategy Associates have published a joint research paper on means-tested tuition fees for higher education – Targeted Tuition Fees – Is means-testing the answer? It explores the different funding approaches around the world considering the three major approaches to subsiding students in HE:

  • Equal subsidisation, resulting in a system of free tuition
  • Post-hoc subsidy (eg. England) in which those with smaller financial returns pay less
  • Pre-hoc subsidy, in which reductions in net price are given to poorer students, usually through a system of grants

Targeted free tuition starts from the notion that income-contingent fee loans do improve access but don’t do enough to help those from the poorest households, many of which are extremely debt adverse, and it leads to these families ruling out attending HE. Targeted free tuition suggests means testing and offering those on lowest income partial or full exemption from tuition fees.

The report concludes that “targeted free tuition has both an attractive political and economic logic: it provides benefits to those who need it without providing windfall gains to those who do not. Evidence from several countries over many years tells us that students from poorer backgrounds have a higher elasticity of demand than students from wealthier ones. Put simply, there is far more value for money in reducing or eliminating net tuition for low income students than there is in doing so for wealthier ones”.

Nick Hillman (HEPI) spoke on the report during the Today programme on Radio 4 on Thursday.

Means testing tuition fees is another interesting contribution to the Post-18 Review discussion.  It would of course, increase costs, just at the time when the accounting treatment is about to change and the existing costs become more visible.  You’ll remember we reported last week that the Post-18 Review report is delayed awaiting outcomes on the decision of how to account for student loans, but will Phillip Augar use the delay to cogitate further on tuition fees?

There is an interesting debate, though, about the tension between means testing families at one level (as already happens for maintenance loans) and then basing everything on the graduate premium – i.e. the income of the graduate not the family.  The government will say that the current position is fairer because the amount repaid is all based on graduate income, whereas under this system the merchant banker children of WP families would repay nothing.  The opposing side was expressed on Radio 4 by Polly Mackenzie of Demos. She said that technocratic solutions developed by policy wonks would not solve the problem of student finance. That the public were emotionally opposed to debt and the system is too broken to survive, regardless of the merits of rebranding, renaming or tweaking it.

Alex Usher, the Canadian author of the paper writes for Wonkhe in A case for means-tested fees.

While Becca Bland from Stand Alone highlights that students with complex family situations which approach but don’t quite meet categorisation as an independent student fall through the means testing cracks and all too often can’t access sufficient funding to access or complete HE study. See Family means-testing for student loans is not working.

Education Spending

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) released its annual report on England’s education spend. On HE it summarises:

  • Reforms to higher education funding have increased university resources and made little difference to the long-run cost to the public purse. Universities currently receive just over £9,000 per full-time undergraduate student per year to fund their teaching. This is 22% higher than it was in 2011, and nearly 60% more than in 1997. Reforms since 2011 have cut the impact on the headline measure of the government’s deficit by about £6 billion per cohort entering higher education, but the expected long-run cost to the taxpayer has fallen by less than £1 billion.

The report hit the headlines for the decline in FE spending; this heightened the current speculation that FE spend may be addressed through the post-18 tertiary education funding review. Research Professional report that the IFS write a

  •  “key challenge” facing the higher-education system in England is “ensuring the quality of education provided in a market where students lack good information about the return to their degrees”.
  • “The challenge for the government is to define and produce the metrics on which it wants universities to perform, and incentivise universities to take these metrics seriously.”

The article notes that the TEF, which originally planned to link higher tuition fees to outcomes, would have incentivised HE providers to focus more on their performance metrics. However, a respondent from Exeter University challenged the IFS’ statement, saying:

  • All of this is out of touch with the reality of UK universities. In fact we are awash with metrics and we study them obsessively. Even when the TEF was decoupled from financial incentive, we took it no less seriously. Just look at how the results are received – and celebrated, or challenged.”

The key points from the IFS report:

  • 16-18 education has been a big loser from education spending changes over the last 25 years. In 1990-91, spending per student in further education was 50% higher than spending per student in secondary schools. It is now 8% lower in real terms.
  • FE also suffers from dwindling mature student numbers – the total number of adult learners fell from 4 million in 2005 to 2.2 million by 2016, with total funding falling by 45% in real terms over that period. However, spending per learner has remained relatively constant at £1,000 per year
  • 19+ FE is now sharply focussed on apprenticeships – making up almost half of all Level 2 qualifications undertaken by adults, compared to less than 10% in 2005. They also make up about two-thirds of all Level 3 adult learners
  • At the event launching the report panellists debated T-levels concluding that the new qualifications wouldn’t raise per student funding levels for sixth forms and FE colleges. Any additional funding would only cover the increased number of teaching hours required. The panel also debated whether a focus on occupational and technical skills would leave people vulnerable to economic and trade shocks.

Higher Education

  • Universities receive £28,200 per student to fund the cost of teaching their degrees, with 60% rise since 97/98 largely attributable to tuition fee reforms [Note: this is likely the average tuition fee value across the full duration of a degree, it doesn’t divide perfectly to the £9,250 fee level because fee levels vary for longer four year degrees and placement years.]
  • The expected long run taxpayer cost of providing HE is £8.5bn per cohort. Since 2011 the £6bn reduction in the teaching grant only translates into £800m of savings per cohort, because:
  • The lowest earning 40% of graduates repay £3,000 less student loan over their lifetime than had they started in 2011 (owing to the higher repayment threshold).

Responding to the IFS report Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders, played on the gulf between FE and HE funding levels:

  • “Parents will be horrified to learn of the damage that has been done to sixth forms and colleges by severe real-terms cuts in government funding. They may also wonder why the basic rate of funding for each of these students is just £4,000 compared to tuition fees at university which can be as high as £9,250. [Is Geoff touching on dangerous ground here? Few people want to take out loans to access FE provision!]
  • There is no rhyme or reason for the extremely low level of funding for 16-18 year-olds, and without the additional investment that is desperately needed more courses and student support services will have to be cut in addition to those which have already been lost. It is a crucial phase of education in which young people take qualifications which are vital to their life chances and they deserve better from a government which constantly talks about social mobility.
  • The government’s under-investment in 16-18 education is part of a wider picture of real-terms cuts to school funding which is putting hard-won standards at risk.”

Other fees and funding news

Mis-sold and overhyped: The Guardian ran a provocative article Mis-sold, expensive and overhyped: why our universities are a con claiming universities haven’t delivered on the social mobility and graduate wage premium that politicians promised. If you read to the end you’ll see the author is actually in favour of scrapping tuition fees and increasing levels of vocational provision.

Transparent Value?: Advance HE blogs How does HE create and demonstrate value? Arguing there is

  • too little focus, for example, on the value created for the economy and society, for research, and for collaborations with business. If value is always reduced to short-term financial value this creates a degree of inequality between different stakeholder groups….. we live in a world where there is no collective understanding of value… The nature of value is changing, and it’s changing higher education’s direction. The blog also tackles what it means to be transparent.

Graduate Employability

The OfS have blogged on improving graduate employability.  They say:

  •  more than a quarter of English graduates say they are over qualified for the jobs they are doing. Yet we know that many businesses also say they struggle to find graduates with the skills necessary to the job. This apparent mismatch between what a university education may deliver and what employers say they need underlines the importance of keeping employability in sharp focus throughout students’ experience of higher education.

The blog goes on to highlight the OfS consultation which sets out tough targets for improving employment gaps.  The OfS call for more work placement opportunities:

  • Many employers are now offering degree apprenticeships and this is important and welcome. But we also need more work placement opportunities. It cannot be right that so many students, especially those on courses with little vocational element and those without the right networks, have no access to good work placements or holiday internships while they are studying. This means they are more likely to face a cycle of internships, too often unpaid, after they graduate before they are able to get lasting graduate employment.

Apart from calling for more work-based time the blog’s advice for improving graduate employability is limited to stating:

  • Students need to take up every opportunity available to them during their time in higher education to help improve their employability and get a rewarding job.

The blog also announced that the OfS will launch a competition in October for projects testing ways of improving progression outcomes for commuter graduates (who remain in their home town during study and after graduation).

Pre-degree technical internship – Research Professional writes about a Danish trial scheme which gives students work experience in technical subjects before they commence at university. The scheme consists of a four-week internship undertaken before the degree start date which provides insight into how the learning and knowledge will be applied in practice The trial aims to reduce high dropout rates of 20% on Danish technical courses, with dropout soaring to 30% for students with lower graded prior academic qualifications.

Gender Pay Gap – The Telegraph highlighted how the gender pay gap is apparent even at lower levels of qualification. In women choose lower-wage apprenticeships than men the Telegraph describes how the professions with a dominant female workforce are lower paid, for example women tend towards lower paid child development careers whereas engineering and construction receive higher remuneration.


UCAS have published their latest 2018 cycle acceptance figures which sum up the confirmation and clearing period, key points:

  • In England, a record 33.5 per cent of the 18 year old population have now been accepted through UCAS.
  • 60,100 people have been accepted through Clearing in total so far, 150 more than the equivalent point last year, and a new record. Of those, 45,690 people were placed after applying through the main scheme (compared to 46,310 in 2017), and a record 14,410 applied directly to Clearing (compared to 13,640 at the same point last year).
  • A total of 30,350 EU students have been accepted (up 2 per cent on 2017), alongside a record 38,330 (up 4 per cent) from outside the EU.
  • The total number of UK applicants now placed is 426,730, down 3 per cent on 2017, although this comes alongside a 2.5 per cent drop in the number of 18 year olds in the UK population.
  • 495,410 people are now placed in full-time UK higher education through UCAS so far, a decrease of 2 per cent on the same point last year.

Explore the data more through interactive charts here.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: The highest ever proportions of young people from England, Scotland, and Wales have been accepted, and record numbers of people have a place after applying through Clearing, with their exam results in hand. [Interesting given continued calls for a post-qualification admissions process.]

She continues: The enduring global appeal of studying an undergraduate degree in the UK is clear from the growth in international students with a confirmed place, both from within and outside of the EU. The overall fall in acceptances reflects the ongoing decline in the total number of 18 year olds in the UK’s population, which will continue for the next few years, and follows similar patterns to application trends seen earlier in the year.

Wonkhe describes the data in Drama Backstage? Clearing statistics in 2018 and the Independent’s article says Universities feeling the pinch will have taken generous view of entry qualifications to full places.

Nursing recruitment continues to fall, the UCAS figures for England show a further drop of 570 less students for 2018/19. Last week the NHS figures highlighted a crisis with record levels of vacant nursing posts – just in England the NHS is short of 40,000 registered nurses. Lara Carmona, Royal College of Nursing, said:

  • “When there are tens of thousands of vacant nursing jobs, the Government’s own policy is driving down the number of trainees year after year. These figures are a harsh reminder for ministers of the need to properly address the staffing crisis that is putting safe and effective treatment patient care at risk.
  • This piecemeal approach to policy-making is futile. We urgently need comprehensive workforce plans that should safeguard recruitment and retention and that responds to patients needs in each country. This should include incentives to attract more nursing students.
  • The Government must bring forward legislation in England, building on law in Wales and the current draft bill in Scotland, that ensures accountability for safe staffing levels across health and care services.
  • And where is the review of the impact that those 2015 reforms had? [The removal of the nursing bursary and introduction of tuition fees.] The Department of Health and Social Care promised this two years ago and it is high time it was published.”

However, the response to a parliamentary question on Monday saw the Government remain steadfast to the funding changes:

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will make it his policy to reintroduce bursaries for nursing degrees; and if he will make a statement. [172541]

A – Stephen Barclay: The removal of bursaries and introduction of student loans for nursing degrees has increased the number of nursing degree places that are available. Latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service data for September 2018 show that there are still more applicants than places available for nursing courses.

As such we have no plans to reinstate a bursary cap on places, which would limit the number of places available.

Electoral Registration

The Office for Students published Regulatory Advice 11: Guidance for providers about facilitating electoral registration. It requires Universities to work with all geographically relevant Electoral Registrations Officers to provide sufficient student information to maintain the electoral register. Good practice case studies for electoral registration are included at Annex A (pages 7-12).

The Office for Students (OfS) has published Regulatory Advice 11: Guidance for providers about facilitating electoral registration, for registered providers in England. Any provider may be randomly selected for scrutiny, but attention will be focused on those where issues have been raised, in particular from electoral registration officers. Good practice and case studies show how universities should take a risk-based approach on the issue, and also raise awareness of democratic engagement and electoral registration.

Staff Migration

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published their final report on European Economic Area migration within the UK this week. Here are the key points:

Labour Market Impacts:

  • Migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK born workforce
  • Migration is not a major determinate of the wages of UK born workers

Productivity, innovation, investment and training impacts

  • Studies commissioned point towards immigration having a positive impact on productivity but the results are subject to significant uncertainty.
  • High-skilled immigrants make a positive contribution to the levels of innovation in the receiving country.
  • There is no evidence that migration has had a negative impact on the training of the UK-born workforce. Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest that skilled migrants have a positive impact on the quantity of training available to the UK-born workforce.

Public finance and public fund impacts

  • EEA migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. The positive net contribution to the public finances is larger for EU13+ migrants than for NMS migrants.
  • However, net fiscal contribution is strongly related to age and, more importantly, earnings so that a migration policy that selected on those characteristics could produce even higher gains.

Public service impacts

  • EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services.
  • In education, we find no evidence that migration has reduced parental choice in schools or the educational attainment of UK-born children. On average, children with English as an additional language outperform native English speakers.

Summary of recommendations for work migration post-Brexit:

  1. General principle behind migration policy changes should be to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers.
  2. No preference for EU citizens, on the assumption UK immigration policy not included in agreement with EU.
  3. Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General).
  4. Tier 2 (General) to be open to all jobs at RQF3 and above. Shortage Occupation List to be fully reviewed.
  5. Maintain existing salary thresholds for all migrants in Tier 2.
  6. Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge.
  7. Consider abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test. If not abolished, extend the numbers of migrants who are exempt through lowering the salary required for exemption.
  8. Review how the current sponsor licensing system works for small and medium-sized businesses.
  9. Consult more systematically with users of the visa system to ensure it works as smoothly as possible.
  10. For lower-skilled workers avoid Sector-Based Schemes (with the potential exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme)
  11. If an Agricultural Workers scheme is reintroduced, ensure upward pressure on wages via an agricultural minimum wage to encourage increases in productivity.
  12. If a “backstop” is considered necessary to fill low-skilled roles extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme.
  13. Monitor and evaluate the impact of migration policies.
  14. Pay more attention to managing the consequences of migration at a local level.

Following last week’s MAC report on international students the sector has speculated that the above recommendations have been influenced by the Home Office and so are likely to be acted upon. Furthermore, during her interview with Nick Robinson this week the Prime Minister said that an immigration policy will be published later in the Autumn. This may be published as an Immigration white paper (a Government statement of intent in relation to immigration, white papers sometimes invite sector response on some small details or call for public support). The PM has also hinted that EU nationals won’t receive special treatment (which is one of the report’s recommendations) and Sajid Javid has been reported saying that EU nationals will face visas and caps. However, immigration is one of the key Brexit bargaining points, one which David Davis, speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this week, declared wouldn’t be resolved until late on in the negotiation stages.

With the report’s recommendations to support high skilled migration, and previous Governmental assurances towards university academics, the recommendations haven’t sounded any alarms within the HE staff sector. However, universities that rely on EU talent to bolster medium skilled professional roles could face difficulty.

  • Wonkhe report that: An unlikely coalition of 11 right-of-centre think tanks from both sides of the Atlantic has published a joint report – reported in the Sun – calling for the free movement of people between the USA and the UK for anyone with a job offer.
  • The Sun names it an ‘ideal post-Brexit free-trade agreement’. However, the model US trade deal was vehemently opposed by Global Justice Now who state that: trade deals are not the place to negotiate free movement provisions.
  • Universities UK said: “It is good to see the MAC acknowledging many of the positive impacts that skilled European workers have on life in the UK.”
  • The Russell Group was less enthralled stating: “This was a real opportunity to steer the UK towards a more modern and intelligent immigration system, but the recommendations are unimaginative”.

Meanwhile British Future’s National Conversation on Immigration (which Wonkhe says is the biggest ever public immigration consultation – 19,951 respondents) was published this week finding:

  • Only 15% of people feel the Government has managed immigration competently and fairly;
  • Only 13% of people think MPs tell the truth about immigration;
  • Just 17% trust the Government to tell the truth about immigration.

Wonkhe report that: The research concludes that the public wants to hold the government to account for delivering on immigration policy promises, as well as more transparency and democratic engagement on the issue.

The survey also calls for:

  • 3 year plan for migration including measures to increase international student migration
  • Clarity on the status of EU students after Brexit transition
  • Review Tier 4 visa processes
  • Post-study work visa for STEM graduates
  • All universities should produce a community plan, involving university staff and local residents
  • And, a new wave of universities to “spread the benefits that HE brings more widely across the UK”

On the new universities it continues:

  • These institutions should focus on local needs and account for the diverse nature of the places  in which they are established. We recommend that these new institutions specialise in regional economic and cultural strengths and have strong business and community links. They should also be part of a strengthened life-long learning system with clear routes from apprenticeships, through further education and into higher level studies. But these new universities must be new and not repurposed further education colleges.
  • There are a number of ways that a new wave of university building could be financed, so that the burden does not fall on the taxpayer. While students and research grants provide everyday revenue, the capital costs of a new university could be raised through capital markets.
  • There should be clear obligations placed on these new universities to deliver additional courses below degree level, to support lifelong learning, promote good links with employers and to boost the skills of the local population.

International Students

A Research Professional article revisits the MAC Commission’s failure to challenge Theresa May’s refusal to remove international students from the net migration figures. However, it believes Britain’s declining share of the international student market can be saved by the following seven actions:

  • The Home Office should establish a “friendly environment policy” for international students, with improved post-study work options and streamlined visa processes to match our competitors such as Australia.
  • The Department for Education, supported by the Home Office, should roll out an improved Tier 4 pilot based on recruiting from target growth countries such as India and Nigeria.
  • The Home Office must simplify visa procedures and reduce burdens on Tier 4 university sponsors.
  • The Department for International Trade must reinvigorate the “Education is GREAT” campaign, working with universities to maximise impact.
  • The Department for International Development should allocate a proportion of foreign aid spending to providing scholarships and pathway programmes, match-funded by universities.
  • The Home Office and the British Council should review the number and location of English language test centres to attract the brightest and best students, not the richest.
  • The government should immediately announce a continuation of home fee status for EU students in 2020 and beyond.

It concludes: A whole-of-government approach must be adopted and a firm national target for education exports should be set. Education policy and migration policy should support each other in a common commitment to that target. Only then can the UK stay ahead of its competitors in attracting international students and strengthening education exports.

There was also a parliamentary question on last week’s MAC international student’s report:

Q – Steve Double: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, with reference to the Migration Advisory Committee report entitled International Students in the UK, published on 11 September 2018, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of the recommendations in that report; and if he will make statement.

A- Caroline Nokes: We are grateful to the Migrant Advisory Committee for their balanced and comprehensive review into International Students in the UK. We will be carefully considering the recommendations made in the report and will be responding in due course.

Artificial Intelligence

Advent of AI leads to job refocus

The World Economic Forum report The Future of Jobs 2018 believes AI and automation technologies will replace 75 million jobs leading companies to change the human role resulting in 133 million new roles by 2022. The WEF report suggests that full time permanent employment may fall and there would be ‘significant shifts’ in the quality, location and format of new roles. The report highlights skills and the need for companies to invest in upskilling their workforce. Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society at the World Economic Forum, said: While automation could give companies a productivity boost, they need to invest in their employees in order to stay competitive. Meanwhile this CNBC article which describes the WEF report claims that AI and robotics will create 60 million more jobs than they destroy.

A parliamentary question on AI was responded to this week:

Q – Lord Taylor Of Warwick: What assessment they have made of public perceptions of artificial intelligence ; and what measures they will put in place to ensure that the uptake of this technology is done so in a transparent, accountable and ethical manner.

A – Lord Henley: The Government is aware of a broad range of views on the potential of artificial intelligence . The independent review on artificial intelligence in the UK stressed the importance of industry and experts working together to secure and deserve public trust, address public perceptions, gain public confidence, and model how to deliver and demonstrate fair treatment.

The new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), AI Council and Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) were set up to deliver the recommendations of the review, and therefore have a crucial role to play.

Ethical AI safeguards, including transparency and accountability mechanisms, will be scrutinised and improved through the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation – the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The £9m Centre will advise on the safe, ethical and innovative use of data driven tech and help negotiate the potential risks and opportunities for the benefit of consumers.

The UK already has a strong and well respected regulatory environment, which is an integral part of building customer confidence and trust in new innovations. The Government is committed to ensuring that the public continues to be protected as more artificial intelligence applications come into use across different sectors. We believe creating an environment of responsible innovation is the right approach for gaining the public’s trust, and is ultimately good for UK businesses.

Technological Change

Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, spoke on technological change at the autumn party conference:

In the face of relentlessly advancing new technologies, it is easy for people to feel powerless and threatened.  So we have to understand and regulate some of the technologies coming down the track.
Jo Swinson and I are setting up a commission to look at how to turn emerging technologies from a threat into an opportunity.

And if we embrace these technologies, imagine the potential. The potential for robotics in care homes; for machine learning which can detect the first signs of malignant tumour or detect fraud for blockchain which can enable massive, secure, clinical trials and quantum computing which can out-compute computers.  Britain could and should be a leader, investing massively in our science and technology base.


After eight months working together, the UK Parliament and the Devolved Administrations have co-authored a four-page briefing on Research Impact and Legislatures. The work has fed into the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 draft guidelines on submissions and panel criteria. It is also noted that Parliament features in 20% of REF 2014 impact case studies.

Three former Higher Education Academy directors have launched OneHE, a global membership network and collaboration platform focused on effective learning and teaching. It will award innovation grants selected by community vote. UK membership fees start at £3 a month.

Other news

  • Student Accommodation: A Government press release: Savvy students know their renting rights aims to educate students not to put up with dodgy landlords and poor accommodation when the new laws come into force on 1 October. It sets out a checklist of items that students should be aware of and links to the Government’s ‘How to’ guides on renting safely.
  • UCU have published Investigating HE institutions and their views on the Race Equality Charter calling for UKRI to increase the level of an institution’s research funding in recognition of their achievement of the Race Equality Charter. They also recommend an annual audit of the university’s progress in addressing BME attainment gaps. The Mail Online cover the story leading with University professors should be taught about ‘white privilege’ to make campuses more inclusive, union says.
  • And Chris Husbands strikes back in the Guardian article: Other countries are proud of their universities. The UK must be too stating: there’s never been a time when universities have been more important to more people than they are now. Our futures depend on them.
  • Free Speech: Andrew McRae (Exeter University) pushes back to Sam Gyimah highlighting the Conservatives’ failure to uphold free speech in his personal blog – Free speech: whose problem is it really?
  • Mental Health: Sam Gyimah has written to all Vice-Chancellors to urge them to lead the pathway to good student mental health within their institution. However, a Research Professional article criticises the call asking where the research base is to inform such strategic decisions. The writer goes on to state that the UK degree classification system may create stress and replacement with a US grade point average system might be better. She continues there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to tackling student mental health as each institution is different, but universities could help by improving students’ sense of belonging to combat feelings of loneliness.
  • UKRI: Tim Wheeler has been appointed as Director for International within UKRI. Previously Tim was Director for Research and Innovation at NERC, and his role before was Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser (UK Dept for International Development) which included providing science advice to Ministers. Tim remains a visiting professor at the University of Reading.


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BU NCCA Undergraduate Student Success at SIGGRAPH’18

The 45th International Conference & Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques  (SIGGRAPH’18), the international annual conference of the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM, the world’s foremost computing society) was held in Vancouver in August.

Among the work showcased at the conference was the poster “Withering fruits: vegetable matter decay and fungus growth” by Bianca Cirdei  (Computer Visualisation and Animation – CVA, Level 6) from this year’s graduating cohort from the National Centre for Computer Animation (NCCA, Faculty of Media and Communication) and co-authored by Dr Eike Falk Anderson.

Poster presented at SIGGRAPH

The work, which was based on Bianca’s Innovations Project unit results extends and improves existing methods for procedurally simulating decaying fruit for use in computer graphics and visual effects, focusing on artist directability and visual fidelity. As the resulting visuals are quite impressive, this project was also one of the ten submissions featured in the SIGGRAPH’18 posters preview video.

Of the 74 posters presented at this year’s SIGGRAPH conference, 16 submitted posters, including Bianca’s contribution (poster 74), were invited to the first round of the prestigious ACM Student Research Competition (SRC) sponsored by Microsoft. Bianca’s submission was one of only four European semi-finalists and of those the only one from a UK institution. After presenting the work to a panel of experts, the submission made it into the second round and after the ACM Student Research Competition Final Presentation it won first place in the undergraduate category.

1st placed Undergraduate Poster at the SIGGRAPH'18 Student research Competition

After Ben Knowles (with Dr Oleg Fryazinov) who was awarded second place at SIGGRAPH’15 for “Increasing realism of animated grass in real-time game environments“, Teemu Lindborg and Philip Gifford (with Dr Oleg Fryazinov) who were semi-finalists at SIGGRAPH’17 for “Interactive parameterised heterogeneous 3D modelling with signed distance fields” and Quentin Corker-Marin (with Dr Valery Adzhiev and Professor Alexander Pasko) who achieved second place at SIGGRAPH’17 for “Space-time cubification of artistic shapes“, this is the first time that an NCCA student has won first place in this prestigious competition.

The work will now progress to the next stage of the competition, the Grand Finals in 2019, in which the first placed entries from almost 30 major ACM conferences will compete with one another.