Category / Student Engagement

June Monthly Update for (PGR) Researcher Development, Culture and Community

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Check out the June e-newsletter.

All ‘monthly update for researcher development, culture and community’ e-newsletters are available in a dedicated content area on the Doctoral College Researcher Development Programme Brightspace unit.

If you have any questions about the e-newsletter or would like to feature content, please contact Natalie [Doctoral College Programme Manager].

HE policy update for the w/e 2nd June 2023

This is your half term catch up policy update.

Regulatory

OfS: Freedom of Speech

Following the passage of the new law, the OfS has announced the appointment of Professor Arif Ahmed as the first Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom.  Professor Ahmed chose the Times to write about his appointment, so we turn to Wonkhe for a perspective.  For Wonkhe, Jim Dickinson focuses on the potential conflicts and challenges with balancing free speech and academic freedom with equality rights, and as an example, highlights Professor Ahmed’s previously stated position on the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which conflicts with the government’s position (and specifically the position of the current Secretary of State for  Education).  You will recall Michelle Donelan getting herself in a muddle over this issue too.   It’s going to be interesting to watch this unfold.  As Jane learned a long time ago, hard cases make bad law…and it seems a lot of the cases are going to be hard.

The work of the OfS: Minister Halfon examined

The Lords Industry and Regulators Committee conducted it’s final session examining the work of the OfS by interviewing FE and HE Minister Robert Halfon alongside Anne Spinali, Director of Higher Education Reform and Funding at the DfE. Alongside the probe into the OfS the session is useful to highlight the latest ministerial thinking on the key issues facing the sector today.

HE Financial health

The Chair opened the session by highlighting the concerns the HE sector had reported over financial sustainability, loss of Horizon funding, dependency on international students and how these combine to create other vulnerabilities. Halfon listed the various income sources of HE institutions (e.g. tuition fees, other income, research grants, funding body grants, investment, donations and endowment) highlighting that universities get up to just under £40 billion…among 400 registered institutions. That is not a small sum of money…We also know that 75% of universities are in good financial condition. The question I would ask…is why the vast majority of universities are able to be in good financial health while a few are not… Later in the session he implied this is due to the management and leadership of these particular institutions.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges of Covid, the cost of living, energy bills and so on, on the whole, given the current context that we are in, HE—higher education—is not doing too badly financially. If you…look at the funding that HE has got compared to the funding that further education has got over the last few years, there is no comparison. Halfon also confirmed he thinks the OfS’ risk based approach to monitoring is the right approach and he continued his predecessor’s party line that The priority of the Government when it comes to financial difficulties at universities must be to look after the students. That is where I believe a government intervention would be, if there was severe financial difficulty for a particular higher education institution, to make sure that they had a provider to go to. Halfon also reminded the Committee that during Covid there was precedent through the HE restructuring fund. However, he also implied he didn’t subscribe to the concept that some universities were too big to fail and that he, personally, preferred mobile, agile universities.

Anne Spinali noted that some universities with financial concerns approached the DfE before they took the matter up with the OfS.

Financial sustainability came up time and again throughout the session, however, Halfon held firm that he thinks the sector is in a good position, even if time lags may be masking how many will become unsustainable in the medium term:

  • Given the current circumstances, given that universities get £40 billion from a variety of sources, given that 75% of them have a surplus and given everything else that is going on in the economy and the public sector, HE is in a fairly strong position compared with other parts of the public sector.
  • I will always welcome and champion more resources for HE and FE, of course, but I want more funding for skills… I want to ask, “What’s the best way to ensure that we have more qualified people who get good, skilled jobs at the end of their education?” That is the way I look at it. I look at it not as “university, university, university” but as “skills, skills, skills”.

On the freezing of tuition fees (and real terms decrease in their value): …if the economy improves, we get back into surplus again, we get rid of our deficit, we get down the £2 trillion debt and we pay back the £400 billion that we spent during Covid, maybe…we will have more money and will be able to increase tuition fees. However, I am not an advocate of increasing tuition fees. It would hit the student, importantly, at a time when things are very difficult. That does not mean that they are never going to go up but the approach of the Government has been the right one.

International Students  – a conflicting view?

Halfon stated he is very supportive of international students. I think that they are a good thing…my wife was an international student. Halfon spoke of the benefits international students bring aside from finance they are examples of soft power as well as being worth 25 billion quid to our economy…I do not see having too many international students as a risk.

Halfon also stated he does not believe there is a dependency on international students and that their numbers will not decline:

  • Given that 76% of students are domestic, I do not necessarily think that it is the problem that some people view it as…I do not see this as a problem in the way that may be felt by yourself. It is a good thing, especially given the current financial context we are in.. It is worth £25 billion; the ambition is that it will be worth £35 billion by 2030. That is very significant. If you look at the cost benefit of those international students, it outweighs the issues you may raise, such as that we have an unsustainable model.
  • We also have a cost of living crisis. The last thing I can do is go and tell students that we are going to raise their tuition fees. I feel a lot of pressure in the House of Commons from Members on all sides about why we did not raise the maintenance grant or maintenance loan higher than we did… Nevertheless, you have to be fair to students and to the taxpayer.
  • Given the financial situation that we are in, if universities are getting cross-subsidisation from international students, that is not a bad thing. I agree with you that it is dangerous to rely on one or two countries. We are doing a lot of work on diversification there… I worry about dependency on one or two countries. A lot more work needs to be done.

Halfon reveals his preferred vision for future HE institutions

  • The underlying part of your question is perhaps not even about the loan system but about whether the funding of universities and their business model should be done differently. That may be right. It requires a lot of thinking and work to see whether the current system is sustainable…
  • …my dream university of the future is the Dyson Institute. The reason for that is that it has a business on-site. It does research. It does vocational degree apprenticeships. The people who complete them get jobs in Dyson afterwards. It is very agile; I would like to see a lot more of that. That is a sustainable model for the future. I also want to do more to encourage degree apprenticeships because, again, you then avoid the whole issue of tuition fees.
  • …my dream would be to have 50% of our students doing degree apprenticeships one day. They help the disadvantaged. They build our skills base. They guarantee jobs for people who complete them. Now, we have Russell group universities as well as traditional vocational universities doing them.
  • It is not just for STEM, by the way. You could have one easily in the creative industries. You could have the British Museum doing the same thing, for example, where people can study archaeology or curating or whatever it may be. If I was thinking of universities in the 21st century, it would be more on that model.
  • …the [Halfon’s] vision is clear: it is jobs, skills and social justice. It does what it says on the tin. In my view, apart from the stuff that it does brilliantly already—research, et cetera—the engine of HE should be geared towards those purposes. That is the strategy of the Government.

Regulatory burden

Anne Spinali: There is a difference between institutional autonomy being impinged and regulatory burden…Both the OfS and the department are absolutely clear that institutional autonomy is paramount. Whether the regulatory burden is proportionate is a question for the OfS. It has recognised that it could do more to tackle this and is actively looking at areas where it could reduce its regulatory activity by taking a more risk-based approach. Halfon felt the OfS regulatory requirements were not onerous for a university, but, that universities also fall under the regulation of a range of institutions are regulated by a range of organisations (page 16) whereas Halfon would prefer a more streamlined model. However, Halfon did express disapproval at the OfS digital uploading system: I definitely think that that has to go. On minimising regulatory burden we also heard that the Government are considering a third category of registration for the lifelong loan entitlement which draws on existing material to reduce the regulatory burden.

Halfon: In my view, it [OfS] should be there partially to protect the autonomy of universities. The Government do not always get their way. They [OfS] are perfectly able to refuse to adopt the guidance that we suggest.

Sector relations with OfS: In response to Lord Reay’s question of whether the OfS was distant and often combative and the HE relationship characterised by a lack of trust Halfon stated: there needs to be much more informal engagement between the OfS and HE because, in my six months in the job, that has come up time and again. That would be beneficial. To be fair to the OfS, it does a lot of round tables and a lot of events with universities. It is not perfect but, inevitably, you are going to have some difficulties because of what the OfS is tasked to do.

Value for money: Halfon – I have a really firm view: in terms of HE and value for money, it must be about outcomes and jobs with good skills and progression. Otherwise, if you do not achieve what you should afterwards, what is the point of spending all that time at university and taking out the loan? Halfon also mentioned transparency with fees and ensuring students understand what they are getting for their money on application, including in person teaching.

OfS fees: Halfon refused to be drawn on the 13% OfS fee increase. He stated OfS reduced their fees in 2021-22 but they are inevitably going to have to go up because of the QAA coming in but we are consulting with government and the OfS… We will make an announcement on it in the very near future.

The announcement came shortly after the session – we’ve covered it here.

Robert Halfon has also written to the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee giving further background and justification for Tuesday’s announcement of a sizable increase to OfS registration fees for 2023–24.

We also learnt, from Anne Spinali, that the DfE has quarterly discussions with the OfS on its efficiency, its spend and how it is discharging its responsibilities with regard to the spend. The economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the way in which it discharges its responsibilities, and what it does with its £26 million of fees, are monitored really actively. It is robustly challenged on resources associated with activities. It is a difficult challenge and discussion sometimes in terms of the level of resources needed to carry out the whole breadth of activities that the OfS has to carry out.

For more detail see the – Transcript, watch the session on Parliament TV or review the inquiry information.

Financial sustainability (OfS)

The OfS published their annual financial sustainability report updating on the financial health of the HE sector. If finds that university finances are generally in good order but that there are growing risks to the sector’s finances such as the over-reliance on international student recruitment, sustainability of pension schemes, investment in facilities and environmental policies and inflationary pressures. Belying this headline statement, however, is a more mixed picture of the financial performance of different universities. The OfS also wrote to 23 HEIs who have high student recruitment from China urging them to have contingency plans in place in case recruitment patterns change and there is a sudden drop in income from overseas students.

  • Income – sector growth across the next three years (£40.8 billion in 2021-22 to £50.1 billion forecast in 2025-26).
  • Improved cash flow and surplus, but the sector is forecasting a decline in financial performance and strength in 2022-23, with costs increasing at a faster rate than income and a significant dip in the income and expenditure surplus.
  • In 2021-22 total HE course fees and education contracts were reported at £22.5 billion (+8.8%). Fee income is forecast to increase to £29.3 billion by 2025-26, with a 17.5% forecast rise in student numbers between 2021-22 and 2025-26 across all levels of study. However, this trend varies significantly between different universities and colleges.
  • Total non-EU (overseas) tuition fee income was reported at £7.8 billion in 2021-22 (+25%). This is consistent with strong growth in overseas fees in recent years. Non-EU fee income as a proportion of total income is forecast to increase from 19.3% in 2021-22 to 24% in 2025-26, which the report states highlights the sector’s increasing reliance on fees income from non-EU students to sustain their activities.
  • Overall cash flow and short-term investments are reported as £16.6 billion for 2021-22 (+10% on 2020-21).

The key risks are:

  • impact of inflation on costs and challenges in growing income to meet increasing costs
  • increasing reliance on fees from overseas students in some higher education provider’s business plans, especially students from China or any individual country
  • challenges in meeting investment needs for facilities and environmental policies.

And it’s not all about China, the OfS says:

 … Teaching-intensive providers can be particularly reliant on tuition fees from students. In recent years, many have successfully increased their recruitment of overseas students, particularly from India and Nigeria, onto postgraduate and undergraduate courses. These providers also face significant staff and pensions costs. In the event of a reduction in the total numbers of students coming to the UK from China, it may be that research-intensive providers are able to attract UK and international students away from teaching-intensive providers

In response to these risks and financial pressures the OfS says they anticipate providers may adopt certain behaviours (which they’ll be keeping an eye on if the impact on student choice and experience):

  • closing courses which are less financially sustainable
  • rebalancing recruitment from UK students to overseas students
  • reducing research activity where funding may not cover the full cost of research
  • pursuing strategic mergers and/or collaborations or sharing resources and centralising costs
  • changes to course delivery models – including standardisation in academic subjects, more online and distance learning
  • increases in specialisation – we may see a concentration of more providers with academic specialisms or niches, with the aim of reducing competition risks.
  • Seeking to diversify commercial income streams – from activity that is not teaching or research
  • reducing the size and complexity of estates

Susan Lapworth, OfS chief executive, said: Universities and colleges have weathered storms over recent years, and most remain in good financial health. This new analysis shows that they are confident that income and student numbers will continue to grow. However, cost pressures are having a substantial impact, with an expected reduction in financial performance across the sector in the short-term…‘For a small number of institutions the financial picture is of particular concern and we will continue to focus our attention on those cases. But all institutions will continue to face financial challenges, with a number of risks present at the same time for many.

…we continue to have concerns that some universities have become too reliant on fee income from international students, with students from one country sometimes a significant part of the financial model.

You may also be interested in this Research Professional article: A fine balance.

More coverage in: The Guardiani News, and Wonkhe.

OfS Registration Fee hike

The Government has supported (and legislated for) an 18%[1] fee hike that universities will pay the OfS to maintain their registration as a provider of HE. Many institutions will now pay £170,344 each year and the largest universities will pay £214,485. Across all providers it will generate £4.96 million for the OfS. Universities Minister wrote to the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee (who are running an inquiry into the work of the OfS) to justify the increase. His justifications stated the OfS will be undertaking significant and important new work, including:

  • The implementation of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023, to ensure that freedom of speech is protected and promoted within higher education (guidance, consultation on complaints scheme, developing new registration conditions and making changes to the regulatory framework)
  • Following the de-designation of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) as the designated quality body under HERA, the OfS has taken on functions relating to the assessment of quality and standards. his fee increase will enable the OfS to fund the infrastructure costs associated with the performance of these assessment functions
  • Preparing for the implementation of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement

Halfon stated: I want to assure you that the government has not taken this decision lightly. I understand the financial pressure the sector is currently facing. As a result, my Department will be providing £1.5 million of additional funding to the OfS this year, to help cover its costs and prevent these from being passed on to the sector in full. Earlier he reminded that the OfS has not had a registration fee increase since 2018, when it was set up, and delivered a 3% reduction in 2021.

Wonkhe say:

  • For a sector facing a real terms freeze in fee income it does feel a little tone deaf to be seeking an increase substantially above the rate of inflation. 
  • To a sector struggling with soaring inflation, rising costs, and income streams that are at best stable this will be a difficult pill to swallow. 
  • There were always limitations to farming the cost of regulation to providers that receive large amounts of their funding from the public purse – it is an inefficient model and one that has never met the running costs of the OfS. Announcing this in the current financial climate pours petrol onto the already flammable state of relations between the regulator and the sector it manages.

Once it’s published we’ll scour the Lords Committee report to see what their reaction to the fee hike is.

[1] Percentage rise in fees: Wonkhe modelling shows 18%, Halfon’s letter states 0-12% per provider

Graduate outcomes

HESA have published the Graduate Outcomes data for students who graduated in 2020/21. The headline is positive on full time employment (up 4%).

Of course, as we know, the OfS metric is “highly skilled employment and further study” – we will have to wait a bit longer for that analysis.  Wonkhe have an article on why comparability of data on employment outcomes is a real issue.

International

International Students: Economic benefits

HEPI and partners published the third iteration of The benefits and costs of international higher education students to the UK economy. The research sought to quantify the economic benefits – less any costs – of international students and family members living and studying in the UK. The report demonstrates growth in the financial worth of international students.

The modelling includes tuition fee income, living expenditure, and indirect income from family and friends visiting the UK – tax revenue, longer-term investment, soft power, and cultural value are not included in the analysis.

  • 4 in 10 first year students in London are international
  • Some areas benefit more financially from international students, outside of London this includes Glasgow, Nottingham and Newcastle.
  • On average, each parliamentary constituency in the UK is £58 million better off because of international students – equivalent to approximately £560 per citizen.
  • Even when accounting for dependants and other costs, international students are a huge net contributor to the UK economy. Every 11 non-EU students generates £1 million worth of net economic impact for the UK economy.
  • The estimated total benefit to the UK economy from 2021/22 first-year international students over the duration of their studies was approximately £41.9bn, while the estimated total costs were £4.4bn. This implies a benefit-to-cost ratio of 9.4.
  • The net economic impact per student was estimated to be £125,000 per EU domiciled student, and £96,000 per non-EU student. In other words, every 9 EU students and every 11 non-EU students generate £1m worth of net economic impact for the UK economy over the duration of their studies.
  • Reflecting the 40% increase in the number of international students between 2018/19 and 2021/22, the net economic impact has increased from £28.2bn for the 2018/19 cohort to £37.4bn for the 2021/22 cohort (a 33% increase in real terms). The impact has also increased by 58% in real terms since 2015/16 (from £23.6bn in 2015/16 to £37.4bn in 2021/22).

The Russell Group published their response to the report.

HEPI also have some short commentary setting out the policy position on each of the areas of contention for international students.

Growth in international student recruitment:

  • The UK is an attractive destination for international students because of the global recognition of UK qualifications, teaching in English, and our one-year Masters courses are particularly popular.
  • Between 2010 and 2016, there was no growth in international student numbers, as Home Office policies worked to limit incoming students.
  • In 2019, the Government launched the International Education Strategy with a national target to increase the number of international students in the UK. The target was exceed well ahead of the deadline.

Post-study work visas: Post-study work rights were introduced in Scotland in 2005, adopted UK-wide in 2008, abolished in 2012, reintroduced in 2021, and the certainty of their future is…well…uncertain. HEPI write: post-study work rights affect the pipeline of talent flowing into the UK as well as the ability of employers to find and recruit the high-level and niche skills they so desperately need.

Diversifying student cohorts: institutions have been expected to widen their geographical base beyond China and East Asia…institutions have sought to broaden their intakes by recruiting more international students from other parts of the world, especially India and Nigeria. Yet the response of policymakers to this shift has not always been positive, for example because students from these regions are typically older and have a higher likelihood of bringing dependants with them.

International Students: Dependants’ visas

It was been trailed for weeks and finally we’ve had the official announcement that taught postgraduate students will not be permitted to bring their dependants into the country. This decision is part of Home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s, measures to reduce net migration. Here are all the measure in brief:

  • Removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.
  • Removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed.
  • Reviewing the maintenance requirements for students and dependants.
  • Steps to clamp down on unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education.
  • Better communicating immigration rules to the higher education sector and to international students.
  • Improved and more targeted enforcement activity.

The restrictions commence in January 2024, impacting the January starters in the 2023/24 academic year.

Braverman stated:

  • Around 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022, a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019, when the Government’s commitment to lower net migration was made
  • We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK. Therefore, our intention is to work with universities over the course of the next year to design an alternative approach that ensures that the best and the brightest students can bring dependants to our world leading universities, while continuing to reduce net migration. We will bring in this system as soon as possible, after thorough consultation with the sector and key stakeholders.
  • This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK. Now is the time for us to make these changes to ensure an impact on net migration as soon as possible. We expect this package to have a tangible impact on net migration. Taken together with the easing of temporary factors, we expect net migration to fall to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term.
  • …The Government will seek to continue to strike the balance between reducing overall net migration with ensuring that businesses have the skills they need and we continue to support economic growth. Those affected by this package will predominantly be dependants of students who make a more limited contribution to the economy than students… 

Read more: The BBC have coverage of the announcement, Wonkhe have a blog: everything we know about the new plans, i News has an opinion piece and there’s are parliamentary questions – Overseas student visas and adequacy of support for families moving on a student visa.

Research Professional cover the latest Transparent Approach to Costing (Trac) statistics which they state reveal just how reliant higher education institutions are on fees from overseas students in Deficits grow for research and teaching home students. Wonkhe cover the same topic with a different take: David Kernohan is depressed by how little we know about how much it costs universities to provide higher education.  Also, an interesting exchange on the topic during Urgent Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Do give it a read if you’re interested in this area.

More broadly on international student benefits is this Wonkhe blog: International and transnational education bring cultural, economic, and reputational benefits to the UK. University of London vice chancellor Wendy Thomson asks why the government isn’t over the moon.

Finally, the Government has now published the latest migration figures for the year ending March 2023. Total long-term immigration to the UK was around 1.2 million in 2022, and emigration was 557,000, so net migration settled at 606,000 (source). There is quite a lot of information of interest relating to students spread across multiple sources so we’ve popped it into this separate document. It covers the facts on study visas, extensions of temporary stay, and the migrant journey (who arrives, how long they stay, and when they leave). Enjoy!

International: Confucius Institutes

If you followed Rishi’s leadership campaign with an avid eye you’ll have spotted he committed to closing the 30 Chinese state-sponsored Confucius Institutes across the UK. However, the Government have U-turned stating it would be “disproportionate” to ban the institutes. Some Conservative Members have been outspoken in their disapproval of the U turn.

Dods report that Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns hit out in response to the news arguing that powers established recently under the new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 “must be deployed if evidence of free speech stifled by CCP indoctrinators on our campuses.”

The BBC have a write up, including this from the Government:

  • We recognise concerns about overseas interference in our higher education sector, including through Confucius Institutes, and regularly assess the risks facing academia.
  • We are taking action to remove any government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK, but currently judge that it would be disproportionate to ban them.
  • Like any international body operating in the UK, Confucius Institutes need to operate transparently and within the law, and with a full commitment to our values of openness and freedom of expression.

As we mentioned earlier, this week the OfS wrote to 30 UK HE providers regarding their high recruitment levels of Chinese students. The letter advised contingency planning should a drop in income occur suddenly. Also, the OfS published their annual financial sustainability report (we’ve explored it here.)

Research

Health Security: The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published a 10-year strategy detailing how science can save more lives and contribute to the UK’s ambition to be a global science superpower. It highlights how UKHSA’s scientific capabilities (including genomics, vaccine evaluation, surveillance, data science, diagnostics and toxicology) will be deployed to prepare for future health security hazards, respond to current threats, protect livelihoods and build the UK’s health security capacity. More here. UKHSA have stated they are actively seeking partners across government, industry and academia in pursuit of the ambitions in this Strategy. 

Concordats: The second phase of the (UUK, UKRI & Wellcome Trust) Concordats and Agreements Review has reported, much shorter info here.

Net zero: The National Audit Office published Support for innovation to deliver net zero. The report addresses the approach in the £4.2 billion investment in research and innovation to deliver net zero. It argues that further action is needed to strengthen governance and delivery mechanisms to achieve value for money.

UKRI: UKRI launched a stakeholder perceptions survey which they state will act as a benchmark for the funding body to understand how their stakeholders perceive UKRI and its role within the system. The survey is here.

Research infrastructure: DSIT and UKRI announced details of the £103 million investment to expand and upgrade the UK’s research infrastructure. It’s not all new money, the funding divides as:

  • £79.3m as part of the £150m announcement, to address the impacts of the ongoing delay in UK association to the EU’s Horizon Europe programme
  • £23.7m as part of the £370m announcement to forge a better Britain through investment in science and technology

The 13 universities who will receive the equipment/lab investment have already been chosen. More on the funding here.

Windsor Framework: Responsibility for the delivery of the Windsor Framework will be transferred from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to sit alongside the existing Northern Ireland Unit in the Cabinet Office. The Foreign Secretary remains responsible for UK/EU relations and will continue as co-chair of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement Partnership Council and Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee – the body that oversees the UK and EU implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Parliamentary question on research infrastructure: increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20 billion per annum by 2024/2025. The total allocation for UK Research and Innovation over the period 2022-2025 is £25.1 billion. This includes £3 billion of investment in infrastructure projects, including £481 million for the new UKRI Infrastructure Fund. This will finance cutting-edge research infrastructure, delivering a step-change in the capabilities available to the next generation of researchers and innovators whilst supporting scientific breakthroughs.

Statutory duty of care for HE students

The House of Commons Petitions Committee held three sessions on the proposed statutory duty of care for HE students. Witnesses included Lee Fryatt, the petition creator, people with lived experience, representatives from Student Minds, NUS, PAPYRUS, AMOSSHE and UUK among others.

The Committee sessions explored whether universities should have a statutory duty of care to protect students at risk of suicide or other serious mental health problems. The sessions included advocacy for the duty of care; the reason for student suicide and views on the proposed statutory duty of care; and questioned sector representatives on their views plus the efficacy and future trajectory of existing suicide prevention and mental health frameworks. We have a summary of all three sessions here.

In advance of the session the House of Commons Library provided a briefing on student mental health.

Also on mental health from Wonkhe: The proportion of higher education providers with a mental health or wellbeing strategy increased from 52 per cent in 2019 to 66 per cent in 2022, according to a report from IFF Research for the Department for Education. 66 per cent of higher education institutions had a policy on student suicide prevention, alongside 54 per cent of FE colleges and just 42 per cent of private providers. On the site today I consider the report in light of calls for a statutory duty of care.

Student loan cap – 7.1%

Following the market rate fluctuation the Government has announced the student loan interest rate cap will now be 7.1% for all plan 2 (undergraduate) and plan 3 (postgraduate) loans, and plan 5 (undergraduate) loans. This applies until 31 August 2023 (or until future market changes prompt an announcement on a new cap level). You can see how 7.1% compares to previous in the written ministerial statement. The student loan interest rates from September 2023 will be announced closer to the time.

Access & Participation

TASO published the summary report Evaluating multi-intervention outreach and mentoring programmes with the aim of advancing the evidence base and improving practice across the sector. Recommendations:

  • Universities should adopt TASO’s Mapping Outcomes and Activities Tool (MOAT),
  • Multi-intervention outreach incorporates multiple elements. To rigorously evaluate the impact of these programmes, HEPs should identify the value of each element by using TASO’s Enhanced Theory of Change tool to map how it is anticipated that individual activities will influence outcomes.
  • Also multi-intervention outreach programmes may be reaching students who are already highly likely to enter HE and highly selective universities. They further suggest that the true value of the programmes may lie in informing student choice about where and what to study, rather than whether to attend. Better pre-entry preparation may also result in higher rates of continuation and success once on the course. HEPs should scrutinise the rationale and assumptions behind their programmes to ensure that evaluation outcomes are well-matched to the activities they run
  • Use behavioural and survey outcomes to mitigate for low response rates/small samples
  • To improve response rates, HEPs should offer appropriate compensation to thank students for their time, such as entry into a prize draw or a small value voucher
  • HEIs should use local evaluations as a blueprint to explore randomised controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs as part of their evaluation approach for multi-intervention outreach

And there’s another report: Understanding online mentoring delivered as part of multi-intervention outreach programmes

Wonkhe summarise both reports: Three randomised controlled trials at universities in England found that the programmes did not have an effect on student enrolment into higher education, though a final evaluation is still forthcoming. A separate study of online mentoring as part of outreach found that engagement with such programmes should not only be measured by the number of messages participants send – number of days engaged was a more robust measure.

Increasing access to HE

The OfS has published two reports on increasing access to HE covering collaborative partnerships and an evaluation of Uni Connect phase 3. You can read a summary of both here.

Labour’s Policy Programme

After the clearest indication yet from Keir Starmer a few weeks ago that the Labour policy  on abolishing fees was going to be dropped, when he announced a “review” with the aim of finding an arrangement that would be fairer, the party have now made an interim announcement that they would reverse the latest changes, which will apply to students who start university in September – the bigger review of policy is still ongoing.

The Guardian piece  quotes from a Times story that is behind a paywall:

  • Labour has promised to reverse changes to the student loan system being plannedby the Conservative government in a way that could reduce monthly repayments for graduates.
  • Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said on Friday the tuition fees system was “broken”, but repeated the insistence by her party leader, Keir Starmer, that Labourwould not be able to afford to scrap fees altogether.
  • Starmer’s decision to drop the promise to end feessparked anger among students and on the Labour left. But Phillipson’s comments in the Times give the first sense of how the party may seek to win those voters back. Phillipson said: “The Conservative tuition fees system has long been broken, and their latest set of reforms will make it worse.”
  • She added: “Plenty of proposals have been put forward for how the government could make the system fairer and more progressive, including modelling showing that the government could reduce the monthly repayments for every single new graduate without adding a penny to government borrowing or general taxation – Labour will not be increasing government spending on this.”
  • Under the plans announced by the Treasury last year, graduates will have to start repaying their loans when they earn £25,000, rather than £27,295, and will have to continue repaying for a maximum of 40 years rather than 30. Interest rates will be cut for new borrowers and tuition fees capped at £9,250 for another two years.
  • The measures are predicted to double the number of graduates who pay off their loans in full, and save the government tens of billions of pounds. But lower earners will have to pay significantly more, thanks to the reduction in the lower repayment threshold.

Labour published their draft policy programme. It’s best thought of as a pre-manifesto but two steps removed. Within it, of interest to HE, is:

Give genuine choice of further and higher education

  • Ensure all learners have a genuine choice of first class further and higher education
  • Encourage a thriving college and independent training sector that can provide high quality vocational courses, including apprenticeships, fosters a love of learning, links students with exciting job opportunities through excellent careers advice, and works with businesses to meet local skills needs.
  • Reform broken tuition fees system for university funding, ensuring that people from every background and all parts of our country have the opportunity to study at Britain’s world-class universities

Work with businesses, workers, and universities to grow the high-tech, competitive industries of the future:

  • Ensure our world-class researchers and businesses have the data and computing infrastructure they need to compete internationally
  • Ensure our intellectual property system is fit for the digital age
  • Look at ways to close the digital divide. Improve digital education in schools and upskill the workforce

Introduce an industrial strategy and support firms

  • Introduce an industrial strategy based on a genuine partnership with businesses, workers, unions and universities, with four central goals: delivering clean power by 2030, caring for the future, harnessing data for the public good and building a resilient economy
  • Aim for at least 3% of GDP across the public and private sectors to be invested in research and development
  • Ensure the funding system can act with the agility, speed and predictability required to win the race for the industries of the future

Deliver landmark shift in skills provision

  • Deliver a landmark shift in skills provision and give people the tools they need in the workplaces of the future
  • Devolve adult education and skills budgets; reform the apprenticeships levy into a ‘growth and skills levy’ across all nations
  • Establish a new expert body – Skills England – to oversee the English national skills effort of the coming decade, which will pull together the expertise of trade associations, employers from large and small companies, representatives of trade unions, central and local government and further and higher education

Tackle NHS staffing issues

  • Double the number of medical school places to 15,000 a year
  • Train 10,000 new nurses and midwives each year
  • Double the number of district nurses qualifying every year
  • Train 5,000 new health visitors a year

Also Labour favours economic devolution, voting for 16 and 17 year olds, and abolishing the House of Lords.

There’s also a relevant Wonkhe blog:  A Labour government may not mean the sector relationship reset that many are hoping for. Public First associate director Jess Lister cautions against raising expectations.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Campus fatigue: The QAA published Student experience and expectations of teaching and learning relating to post-pandemic students and trends. Wonkhe have a neat synopsis on part of the report: The pandemic appears to have created a “fatigue” amongst students to proactively engage with enrichment activities traditionally linked to campus life, student halls or SUs. It has also caused many students to feel isolated and to miss out on developing peer group friendships and relationships with academics, triggering an increased demand for mental health and well-being support… half of survey respondents found it not at all or only slightly important to spend time at university outside of timetabled hours – students most commonly were on campus two or three times a week, with 15.1 per cent having a commute of between one and two hours, and 4.4 per cent more than two hours.

Student rentals: Wonkhe – A renter’s reform bill has been published – and given the good news for tenants, some fear landlords will sell up. Jim Dickinson weighs up their case.

Apprenticeships: Wonkhe – The total number of apprenticeship starts has fallen significantly since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, according to new analysis published by think tank Policy Exchange. Since 2015, the number of apprenticeship starts for 16-18 year-olds has fallen by 41 per cent, for 19-24 year-olds by 31 per cent, and 26 per cent for those over 25 years old. The sharpest falls recorded were for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds… The authors do not believe that the sharp decline in starts is due to a lack of demand… Instead they point to a lack of supply, and a lack of transparency and poor understanding of the levy’s purposes – leading to a significant amount of the Levy returning to the Treasury rather than being spent on apprenticeships. They argue that for businesses to make better use of the levy system, there needs to be more flexibility, shorter courses, and less bureaucracy.

Working conditions: HEPI published a new report benchmarking the pay and benefits of academics and exploring whether academics have better or worse working conditions than other professionals.

Free Speech: Research Professional – News is out on the “chilling effect” of university failures to support free speech on campus. The Office for Students released yesterday its update on institutions’ compliance with the Prevent duty to monitor potential radicalisation on campus. And this includes figures on the number of speakers and events cancelled over the past year. See this Research Professional article: Fewer than 1% of English university speakers ‘cancelled’.

The latest OfS data show that during 2021-22, some 31,545 speakers or events were approved in English universities and colleges, and 260 planned events did not go ahead—just under one per cent of the total. Another 475 went ahead with some mitigation.

Most [of the events that did not go ahead] were rejected for procedural reasons, such as failing to submit a request on time. David Smy, director of monitoring and intervention at the OfS, said: “While this data suggests that the overwhelming majority of events with external speakers went ahead as planned—which is welcome—the data may not provide the full picture. The data does not capture decisions not to invite speakers in the first place or voluntary withdrawal of requests for approval. We recognise that this could be masking cases where event organisers or speakers feel unable to proceed with the event they had planned.” Surely the OfS is not about to make use of new advances in artificial intelligence that make mind-reading a possibility?

Transnational education: OfS published an insight brief on Transnational Education. In 2021-22, 146 English universities and colleges taught 455,000 students outside the UK. 69% were undergraduates, 31% were postgraduates.

  • 27% were taught by overseas partner organisations
  • 25% were taught by distance, flexible or distributed learning
  • 6% studied at English universities’ overseas branch campuses
  • 42% were covered by other arrangements, including collaborative provision.

52% lived in Asia – 61,505 (14% overall) were based in China. Malaysia (9%) and Sri Lanka (8%) had the second highest proportion of students.

Lots more interesting content in the full insight brief.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update w/e 12th May 2023

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

Elections

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

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

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

Impact of requiring voter ID

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

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

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

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

Student Voting

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

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

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

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

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

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

International Student visa restrictions

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

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

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

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

Fees & Funding

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

We start with a couple of interesting Wonkhe blogs:

Labour’s HE Fee Policy

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

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

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

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

Landmark divergence in Welsh HE policy

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

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

The BBC cover the announcement.

How should universities be funded?

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

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

Parliamentary News

HE (Freedom of Speech) Act

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

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

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

Lifelong Learning

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

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

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

Regulatory – OfS

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

The main themes within the review are data and metrics:

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

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

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

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

UKRI will:

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

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

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

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

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

Research England (RE) note points raised:

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

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

However, RE will consider how to manage:

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

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

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

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

Forthcoming actions

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

Useful links:

Research integrity

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

This report finds and recommends:

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

Further information links:

Research – quick news

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

Students: Parliamentary Questions

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

Other news

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

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

Parliamentary Question – the cost of training doctors and nurses.

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

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

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

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

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HE policy update for the w/e 28th April 2023

Tuition fees – here to stay?

Sir Keir Starmer has announced that Labour are reviewing what to do about tuition fees if they win the general election next year (widely expected in autumn 2024, latest it can be is January 2025) giving a clear indication in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that the previous policy of abolishing fees will not survive because of costs concern.  The narrative was all about replacing it with something fairer – does that mean a graduate tax is the most likely outcome (which is, arguably what we already nearly have).  He also acknowledged that the current system is not working for universities, although a blanket freedom to raise fees, or even an increased cap, might not be what he meant.  They will be doing a review ahead of publishing their manifesto – so more news to follow.

Nurse Review: RDI organisational landscape report

The Government published Sir Paul Nurse’s final report on his Research, development and innovation (RDI) organisational landscape: an independent review. It’s a 163 page behemoth that was commissioned in 2021 to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to make recommendations for improvement of the RDI landscape, with a primary focus on researchers and RDI funded by the public purse. It also comments on how the various RDI organisations interact with and support industry, commerce, and society more generally.

It speaks of a patchwork of funders and sometimes short-term public policy priorities and initiatives. These are part of the significant problems that the Nurse Review identifies and Sir Paul calls for the governance to step away from further piecemeal changes and urges Government to consider the Review as a whole rather than a pick and mix assortment to be selected from. Government has a very important long-term role to play in bringing this about. It will require increased investment, reduced policy volatility, a clear focus on optimising and implementing change, good data collection, and a long-lasting, consistent, systematic approach to policy development and safeguarding of the RDI landscape.

Concerns include

  • underinvestment in R&D (confirmation of R&D spend figures due late 2023).
  • ensuring the pursuit of research is the pursuit of truth. Recommendations aim to strengthen: high research quality; agility and flexibility in approach; permeability between sectors, disciplines and organisations; transparency and navigability for those seeking to engage with R&D; a skilled workforce; inspirational leadership; a good research culture embracing ethical behaviour; strong international collaboration; and financial sustainability.
  • political interest can have the unintended consequence of driving policy volatility and short-term policymaking, and recent years have seen an increasing turnover of new initiatives, schemes and programmes which are not always properly integrated with one another. This undermines development of RDI, particularly within the application part of the research spectrum, which can have a negative effect on private investment.
  • The UK RDI landscape is hard to navigate – defects in permeability and inter-sectoral collaboration may be contributing to the UK’s present weak productivity.
  • the financial sustainability of public research funding – The future success of UK RDI is explicitly contingent upon the Government’s commitment to grow investment in RDI. There is a pressing need for more complete ‘end-to-end’ funding of research activities beyond Independent Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape 8 direct research costs, including adequate support for administrative services, sophisticated technical cores and facilities, and for ‘well-found’ laboratories
  • university research has been sustained partly through increasing reliance on cross-subsidy from commercial sources – The excellent UK universities should receive increased support for the outstanding research they can deliver, to ensure that they are competitive with universities in other countries
  • Excessive bureaucracy – Checks and balances on organisations using public research funding are important, but the operations of research funders and RPOs are hindered by excessive bureaucracy, with too much emphasis on audit-oriented reviewing and reporting rather than the quality of the research being produced…Much of this bureaucracy has its origin in Government controls and rules, particularly from the Treasury…These ways of working, combined with deficiencies in ‘end-to-end’ research funding have led to long-standing inefficiencies, wasting both money and researchers’ time. The problem of excessive bureaucracy has also been independently verified by the 2021 Review of Research Bureaucracy, led by Professor Adam Tickell, and the 2022 Review of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), led by Sir David Grant.

The report concludes:

The financial sustainability of the public research funding for universities needs to be urgently addressed. ‘End-to-end’ research support has four components: direct research costs; administrative services; technical facilities; and laboratory facilities. The present funding arrangements do not provide adequate support for all these components, and need to be overhauled to ensure that they do so. Proper ‘end-to end’ funding is required in universities to fully support research activities with mechanisms that do not have perverse incentives or outcomes, and that better consider the quality and not just the quantity of research delivered. There needs to be a detailed review of response-mode and competitive grants, full Economic Costing (fEC) and Quality-related Research Funding (QR), and where necessary, these funding mechanisms should be reformed or replaced. The present underpinning of UK university research by other commercial income sources, notably fees paid by international students, is valuable, but care is needed as such sources are not always reliable and sustainable.

Government response

Michelle Donelan wrote to Sir Paul to warmly welcome the report:

  • the importance of this Review cannot be understated. You have eloquently demonstrated the potential that science, innovation and technology have to change our world and improve all of our lives. To maximise these benefits you make a strong case for the vital role of effective leadership and co-ordination. I strongly agree, and this is why the Prime Minister has recently established a new department in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. I am delighted to have the privilege of leading the department to deliver on the UK’s mission to become the most innovative economy in the world and a Science and Technology Superpower. I am confident that this Review will play a foundational role in shaping and delivering that vision. I look forward to working with you to ensure the UK can be at the forefront of critical and emerging fields of science and technology.
  • My department will swiftly respond with a package of measures that take account of your advice and I hope to publish that shortly. I am confident that the report’s recommendations offer important ways to further support the world-leading research organisations based in the UK, future-proofing the existing system and helping to support important societal goals around net zero and improving the nation’s health.

The Government also confirm here that they will respond to the [Nurse] Review’s recommendations in the coming months.

Recommendations – full list

  1. Government should take account of the true cost of ‘end-to-end’ research activity to generate a sustainable RDI endeavour.Government, working with UKRI and the UK higher education funding bodies, should review and when necessary reform competitive and response-mode grant funding, QR (and Devolved Administration equivalents), and full economic costings (fEC), and replace them with improved mechanisms. Overall objectives should be to optimise research delivery, remove perverse incentives and outcomes, and ensure the longer-term sustainability of the research system.
  2. Universities should develop plans to optimise their operationsin support of research, to empower researchers and reduce their administrative loads, and to improve the quality of support services, core technical facilities, and well-found laboratory buildings and infrastructures. Government, working with UKRI, the UK higher education funding bodies and the wider sector, should consider more transparent mechanisms to provide assurance and accountability on QR funding.
  3. Government departments should clarify the missions of their individual public sector research establishments (PRSEs), allow them greater freedom of action, and ensure their effectiveness.Departments should improve internal awareness of PSREs’ capabilities, and use PSREs to inform RDI strategy and policy making, working within and across departments. Permeability and agility would be further improved by increasing the visibility, interactions and partnerships between PSREs, and between PSREs and the rest of the RDI landscape, including commercial organisations. Funding streams for PSREs need to be protected and reformed to ensure long-term sustainability. Constraints, which appear to have their origins in the Treasury, over funding, pay and other conditions of working should be reduced. The reforms of funding proposed for the universities should also be applied to PSREs. PSREs should be stringently reviewed, and those that have outlived their purpose or are not working effectively should be reformed, reduced or closed, and any savings generated recycled into Government R&D budgets.
  4. Institutes and units need sustained financial support, including un-hypothecated funding, to ensure ‘end-to-end’ research support.The funding arrangements of recently established institutes and units, particularly the ‘hub and spoke’ models, must be reviewed to make sure that they are fit for purpose. The reforms of funding proposed for the universities should also take account of the needs of institutes and units. Institutes and units need a well-defined mission and purpose, and should be given the autonomy and funding necessary to achieve their objectives, which may be time limited. There need to be clear and agreed mechanisms by which institutes and units can be adapted, reduced or closed when necessary.
  5. Institutes and units must have high quality administrative as well as scientific leadership.They generally benefit from being co-located with other research performing organisations (RPOs), but if their overall administration is the responsibility of another co-located or funding organisation, rigorous contractual arrangements must be in place to ensure independence of operation and quality of service.
  6. New research institutes and units should be considered when strategic RDI priorities best supported by focused research missions are identifiedby Government, UKRI and other funders. Possible examples include enhanced activities in climate change and its mitigation, antimicrobial resistance, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence. Themes should be identified through mapping and reviewing, taking account of emerging technologies, scientific areas, and Government priorities. Pre-existing institutes and units could be merged and expanded to create new institutes, and consideration should be given to co-location and co-funding with other RPOs. Establishment of new institutes and units should follow the principles outlined in the Review.
  7. Government and the charitable sector should work togetherto ensure that ‘end-to-end’ funding is provided for research supported by philanthropy.
  8. Support for research undertaken by galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and the heritage and cultural sectors should be increased, and support for long-neglected collections-based research put in place.
  9. Coherence between translational research organisations, including those embedded within other RPOs, and the rest of the landscape should be increased.Government is advised to optimise translational research organisations by increasing their number, widening access and promoting the benefits of translational research capability, including regionally. Government should explore routes by which RPOs across the RDI landscape, including PSREs, can contribute to translational activities.
  10. Government should use its convening power to create a favourable environment for business to invest in RDI, tackling causes identified by this Review as holding back further business investment, and where expedient, providing financial support. Examples of such support are funding which leverages private investment or promotes collaboration between industry and the rest of the RDI landscape.
  11. To understand the benefits of RDI for commercial activities and the economy, a culture change promoting openness, mutual respect, closer interaction, collaboration, and permeability of ideas, technologies and people has to occurin both business and academia. Government has a role in conveying the benefits of RDI investment to businesses, shareholders and academia, embracing practices from countries with high business RDI investment rates. Mechanisms to deliver this should be explored and implemented.
  12. Government should take particular responsibility for driving RDI that provides societal benefit as well as economic growth.Examples are health care delivery, equitable regional economic growth throughout the UK, and the delivery of net zero. Where appropriate, public-private partnerships should be encouraged.
  13. Government and RPOs should partner with local communities to support RDI relevant to their needs, to bring about more equitable regional economic growth based on local expertise and demands and driven by community benefit as well as academic criteria. Universities and other RPOs should support their local community and economy by enhancing their role as an information nexus and by helping local industries link to research capabilities wherever they are in the UK.
  14. There is an urgent problem with the current mechanisms for clinician scientists to effectively develop and undertake their research careers.The Government, taking into account devolved competencies, must rectify this to both improve the ability of the NHS to deliver more effective health care and to help the UK economy.
  15. Government must work with UKRI and the wider RDI community toconsider more stable and properly costed funding structures, aimed at ensuring the quality of the existing landscape and its sustainability.
  16. Government must increase its long-term commitment to invest more in RDI.In addition to reviewing incentives in public funding for university research, Government should review the balance of funding across the landscape, and explore how planned increases in RDI public funding can provide more un-hypothecated core funding for RPOs to allow them to deliver their mission more effectively, to promote collaboration and interaction across RDI sectors, and to empower local RPO leadership and researchers.
  17. Government should ensure that international collaboration is protected and encouraged, and should resolve problems damaging the UK RDI landscape’s international links. This is particularly relevant to our close scientific collaborators in the EU, and it is essential that the UK associates with Horizon Europe. Government should take action, including consultation with devolved administrations, if its broader policy objectives on areas such as immigration, ODA and education are hindering wider objectives for long-term RDI policy. The UK should consider opportunities to hostnew intergovernmental multinationally funded institutes and international research infrastructures.
  18. DSIT should define the overall architecture and governance for cross-Government RDI policy, setting out accountabilities from Cabinet and below. This should include the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), as well as other key RDI spending departments, UKRI and other funders, to ensure roles are complementary, and to improve alignment on policies.
  19. From Cabinet level downwards, all interested parties in Government must take responsibility for the high level and effective safeguarding of the future success of the UK RDI landscape.This oversight should include an authoritative working group set up by DSIT, operating across Government, the RPOs and the funding organisations, which will take long-term responsibility for implementation of the recommendations of this Review.
  20. Government should establish a research vision and strategy including long-term programmatic, infrastructure and technological initiatives, which is especially relevant at the applied end of the research spectrum. This will give RPOs, investors and global companies the confidence to invest, operate and interact with the UK RDI landscape.
  21. Government needs to develop effective mapping of UK RDI, covering the missions, financial investment in different sectors, research capabilities, and locations of RPOs, and also monitor international RDI activities to identify successful features and models. DSIT, working with UKRI and other interests across Government, could carry out this function. An agreed shared picture of the RDI landscape should be produced, together with a commitment to regularly update it.
  22. Government should increase efforts to link the different elements of the UK RDI landscape together with the commercial, industrial and societal components that benefit from research.To spread the benefits of research through communities across the UK, partnerships, collaborations and interactions must be built so that all components are mutually aware, and permeable with respect to ideas, information, technologies and people.
  23. Government must replace frequent, repetitive, and multi-layered reporting and audit by Government departments and UKRI with a culture of confidence and earned trust, as also referenced by the Independent Review of Research Bureaucracy. Reporting and reviewing of RPOs should focus on the quality and appropriateness of the research being carried out. The framework by which ARIA will operate should be applied to other components of the RDI landscape.
  24. Public sector controls which reduce the agility and performance of RPOs need to be reformed.Salaries must be internationally competitive. Where Government-imposed pay limitations are damaging the mission of an RPO, they must be revised, and the decision-making mechanisms made more flexible.
  25. Government should ensure that there is a well-trained RDI workforce available at all levels, and long-term educational planning to ensure a future pipeline of researchers and technicians.Career pathways for those roles that underpin effective research delivery, including technicians and project and programme managers, should be strengthened so the importance of these roles is better recognised. Training and career structures for early career researchers, including PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and starting faculty, need to be reviewed and reformed. Career path diversity and permeability between different RPOs should be encouraged.

Blogs:

Parliamentary News

Ministerial Change: Michelle Donelan has temporarily stepped away from her role as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology for her maternity leave. On leaving Donelan tweeted a series of items to highlight the achievements she and colleagues have accomplished whilst she has been in role. It’s a quick reminder on the latest Government policies within science and tech.

Donelan’s SoS role is being covered by Chloe Smith (former work and pensions secretary). Chloe is the daughter of a teacher (mum) and furniture designer (dad). She is a graduate of York University and has held school governance roles. Chloe worked as a Business Consultant for Deloitte UK. She sees herself as a progressive Conservative and is a member of the Tory Reform Group (more on the Left of the Party), voted to Remain in the EU and has announced she will not seek re-election as a MP at the next general election.

Free Speech – imminent: The Free Speech Bill will return to the Commons following the latest Lords amendments on Tuesday 2 May. At a Westminster event last Wednesday a Parliamentarian indicated that this could be it and the Bill may well soon become an Act. There is still widespread concern about the Bill within the sector, primarily because it is unclear how the different provisions within the Bill, such as academic freedom, will play out in practice. The Westminster event highlighted that even Parliamentary Members, expert sector and legal bodies, and University representatives do not interpret aspects of the Bill in the same way. The Bill adds to a complex legislative background where many other Acts influence the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ should the Free Speech Bill be enacted in its current form. The first few cases brought under the legislation will be crucial in determining how the potential Act will change behaviour in the sector.

As a recap the final stages (ping pong) of the Bill centred on the argument over the inclusion of the statutory tort allowing those who think their free speech rights have been infringed to bring a legal claim for damages against a university or a students’ union. The Lords removed it, the Commons added it back in. Currently a compromise has been reached with the tort as a watered down backstop – included in the Bill as a means of last recourse after complaints processes have been exhausted.

Education Committee: Mohammad Yasin has joined the Education Select Committee. Mohammad is a Labour MP who has demonstrated a keen interest in securing better funding for education, social services and healthcare provision. Chair of the Commons Education Committee Robin Walker has announced his decision to stand down from Parliament at the next General Election. New Chairs of select committees are elected after each general election so this isn’t big news. We simply know there won’t be any continuity between the Chairs and therefore the focus of the business will likely change to a greater degree as a new Chair with new priorities will be selected.

DSIT is being beefed up with three additional ministers:

  • Julia Lopez Minister of State for Data and Digital Infrastructure, she also retains her role in DCMS (media, tourism and creative industries). Her responsibilities include Digital infrastructure/ telecoms; data, including Data Protection and Digital Information Bill; data security; Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO); Ofcom.  However, she is about to go on maternity leave, so her role will be covered by John Whittingdale. Whittingdale was a DCMS Minister during 2021.
  • Viscount Camrose (Jonathan Berry) appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for AI and Intellectual Property and Government Spokesperson in the Lords. This is his first ministerial position. He has sat in the Lords since his by-election win in March 2022.
  • Stuart Andrew MP appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Gambling and Civil Society; Minister for Equalities covering: sport; gambling and lotteries; civil society and youth; ceremonials, including Coronation; major events, including Eurovision and City of Culture.

Select Committees will reform (from 26 April) to model the new Government departmental structure:

  • The International Trade Committee will be dissolved – its scrutiny function will transfer to the BEIS Committee.
  • The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee will become the Business and Trade Committee, and will scrutinise the work of DBT.
  • The Science and Technology Committee (not currently a departmental select committee) will now be renamed the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, and will now scrutinise the work of DSI (i.e. now be a departmental select committee).
  • The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee will become the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and will scrutinise the work of DCMS. Which makes one wonder why DCMS is retaining its former name. Incidentally if you’re interested in the forthcoming policy priorities check out their newly published ARI.
  • A new Energy Security and Net Zero Committee will be established as the Trade Committee is being abolished the SNP will Chair this new committee.

Financial health of HE sector: Wonkhe report on the House of Lords debate on financial pressures in higher education. Lord Knight of Weymouth opening proceedings with the observation that “it appears that the university business model is teetering.” For the government, Baroness Barran argued that “we know that the finances of HE providers are sound when we look at this at a sector level,” though recognised the uneven impact of cost pressures. She drew attention to OfS’ forthcoming report on the financial health of the sector, due next month. You can read the report on Hansard.

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

It’s a busy time for HE in Westminster because the Lifelong Learning Bill will proceed through the final legislative Commons stages shortly. We wrote about this Bill extensively in this policy update in March and this is the one that is intended to fundamentally change how the HE sector delivers or packages their provision.

Upon completion the Bill will move to the House of Lords for their scrutiny. Two key amendments have been tabled for the final Commons stages. One seeks to prevent variable fees being changed based on course or subject. The second proposes that one credit equates to 10 learning hours.

For a catch up on the Bill this Library briefing is useful. The briefing also sets out a timeline for the next steps for implementation:

  • The roll-out of the LLE will include:
    • From 2025, full courses formerly funded by the higher education student finance system and full courses formerly funded through Advanced Learner Loans that can demonstrate learner demand and employer endorsement.
    • From 2025, modules of some “job-specific” technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5, including Higher Technical Qualifications.
    • From 2027, modular student finance will be extended to levels 4 to 6where the Government “can be confident of positive student outcomes”.
  • In autumn 2023, the Government will publish details on the courses eligible for additional entitlement under the LLE, and the principles for calculating the residual entitlement for returning eligible learners.
  • In December 2023, the Government will review qualifications currently funded by Advanced Learner Loans (ALLs) to determine which ones should be included within the scope of the LLE.
  • By “late 2023”, the Government will provide an update on Sharia-compliant student finance.
  • The Office for Students (OfS) will consult “in due course” on the development and introduction of a new third registration category for providers offering LLE-funded course and modules.

Source

The sector reaction to the Bill has been cautiously positive. The Library reports:

  • The planned removal of ELQ restrictions and the expansion of maintenance support for living costs to level 4 and 5 subjects was welcomed by many across the education and employment sectors as an important way to ensure learners could access funding to retrain, develop their careers, and fill skills gaps in the economy.
  • The Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), David Hughes, welcomed the LLE as a potential “game changer”. However, he argued modular learning needs to become more mainstream, and the LLE alone would not change the behaviours and priorities of the vast majority of learners focussed on achieving a traditional undergraduate degree above all else.
  • The decision to cap eligibility for the LLE at age 60 has also been described as an “ageist strategy”, while the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), Jo Grady, has said more funding was neededso learners could stay in their studies and not leave because of financial reasons, and to ensure providers can adapt courses for modular learning.

For more on the full ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ at each stage of parliamentary consideration of the Bill see this separate briefing.

Wonkhe Blog: Including postgraduate study in the LLE could be expensive, but leaving it out carries risk. Mark Bennett weighs up the potential options and outcomes.

Research

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published making Innovation Matter: How the UK can benefit from spreading and using innovative ideas. It aims to bring together insights and analyse innovation enablers and barriers. Here are the most relevant key points:

  • Innovation diffusion and adoption (IDA) takes place within a fragmented, complex and poorly intra-connected ecosystem. There are many different stakeholders, organisations and structures influencing IDA. Funding, praise, status and incentives are often centred around having and owning an idea as opposed to its successful application at scale.
  • A lack of incentive is compounded by the different skillsets required to support an idea through the early majority stage of innovation. Academic know-how must be combined with entrepreneurial vision, appetite for risk, investment, marketing, sales, logistics and customer service. Taken together otherwise successful innovations fail to make it beyond early adoption because stakeholders are not properly incentivised to go to market and/or do not have the skills to do so.
  • Government and Business have already acted to address this issue with a wide range of institutions, accelerators, funds and initiatives to support innovation. Whatever the merits of existing and planned initiatives it is clear from both international experience and domestic data that more can be done, particularly around identifying priorities and challenges, setting out roadmaps with clear direction, using its buying power as anchor customers, and creating the right funding and regulatory environment to enable innovation to thrive.

Opportunities to better understand and improve IDA include:

  1. Inspire stakeholders and communities to address key innovation challengesin an open and inclusive way, giving them freedom to experiment, with Government taking more of the lead by setting concrete direction.
  2. Invest in skills(both innovation skills and specialist skills such as in STEM, business, research and professional expertise) and drive collaboration at all levels, including leadership and skills development.
  3. Broaden the diversityof participation and perspectives and build trust.
  4. Develop a more joined-up ‘supply chain’ approach, with cross-sector fertilisation of ideas and technologies, and place-based specialisms, creating ‘hubs’.
  5. Increase funding for diffusion and adoption activitiessuch as improving public sector procurement with multi-year grants for innovations that ensure emphasis on IDA.
  6. Target supportfor IDA activities, including better metrics.

Science and Technology Framework (and friends)

Recent weeks have seen the publication of a melting pot of various Government strategies, funding initiatives and policy declarations. We try to bring them all together (relatively) simply under the banner of the new Science and Technology Framework.

Published a couple weeks ago the Government’s Science and Technology Framework for the UK sets out the vision for the UK to be a science superpower by 2030. It seeks to identify critical technologies, invest in R&D, develop talent, build international relationships, and do better in communicating the UK’s R&D strengths. The new measures sitting alongside the framework are backed by £500 million of funding.

The Framework is owned by DSIT but will be a coordinated cross-government approach. Here are the 10 key actions:

  • identifying, pursuing and achieving strategic advantage in the technologies that are most critical to achieving UK objectives
  • showcasing the UK’s science and technology strengths and ambitions at home and abroad to attract talent, investment and boost our global influence
  • boosting private and public investment in research and development for economic growth and better productivity
  • building on the UK’s already enviable talent and skills base
  • financing innovative science and technology start-ups and companies
  • capitalising on the UK government’s buying power to boost innovation and growth through public sector procurement
  • shaping the global science and tech landscape through strategic international engagement, diplomacy and partnerships
  • ensuring researchers have access to the best physical and digital infrastructure for R&D that attracts talent, investment and discoveries
  • leveraging post-Brexit freedoms to create world-leading pro-innovation regulation and influence global technical standards
  • creating a pro-innovation culture throughout the UK’s public sector to improve the way our public services run

Here’s the funding and policy breakdown:

  • £250 million in 3 transformational technologies (AI, quantum technologies and engineering biology) to support industry to tackle the biggest global challenges
  • (e.g. climate change and health care). Also part of the framework are semiconductors and future telecoms. More detail on these priorities can be found within the related International Technology Strategy.
  • The Nurse Independent Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscapeand implementing the recommendations to make the most of the UK’s research organisations, ensuring they are effective, sustainable and responsive to global challenges.
  • Testing different models of funding science, to support a range of innovative institutional models, such as Focused Research Organisations (known as FROs), working with industry and philanthropic partners to open up new funding for UK research. For example, this could include working with a range of partners to increase investment in the world leading UK Biobank, to support the continued revolution in genetic science
  • £50 million co-investment in science from the private sector to drive the discoveries of the future.
  • £117 million of existing funding to create new PhDs for AI researchers and £8 million to find the next generation of AI leaders around the world to do their research in the UK.
  • £50 million uplift to World Class Labs funding to help research institutes and universities to improve facilities so UK researchers have access to the best labs and equipment they need to keep producing world-class science, opening up entirely new avenues for economic growth and job creation.
  • £10 million uplift to the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund, totalling £50 million, to boost the UK’s next tech and science start-ups.
  • Set up an Exascale supercomputer facility – the most powerful compute capability which could solve problems as complex as nuclear fusion – as well as a programme to provide dedicated compute capacity for important AI research, as part of the response to the Future of Compute Review.
  • £9 million to support the establishment of a quantum computing research centre by PsiQuantum in Daresbury in the North-West.
  • Also within this overall policy context is the UKRI’s International Science Partnerships Fund which will support close working with international partners to address global challenges, build knowledge and develop the technologies of tomorrow. More info here; the four themes: resilient planet; transformative technologies; healthy people, animals and plants; tomorrow’s talent. Also the Japan-UK research collaboration in neuroscience, neurodegenerative diseases and dementia; clean energy and climate change with Australia, Canada and the US; and partnership with South Korea for digital health, clean energy, advanced manufacturing and materials, future mobility and smart cities.
  • Horizon Europe doesn’t get a mention in the framework – and the Opposition asks why in this parliamentary question.
  • Here is Donelan’s Written Ministerial Statement providing a Science and Technology update. It covers the framework and wider policy matters.
  • Finally, Sir Patrick Vallance’s Pro-innovation Regulation of Technologies Review: life sciences – while currently at interim findings stage the Government committed to supporting all of Patrick’s recommendations in the March 2023 budget, including providing clarity on the Intellectual Property rules. If you need a refresher browse through our write up in this policy update.

Not particularly insightful, but nonetheless entertaining, was the Opposition’s response to the publication of the Science and Technology Framework. Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, highlighted the turnover of nine science ministers in the last five years and stated the country deserved a science framework “with a longer shelf-life than a lettuce”.

Horizon

Always in the news but no real movement is the latest on Horizon association. The Windsor Framework resuscitated hope in what had become a Horizon dead duck. The rhetoric from the research associated Government departments continues to indicate progress and the assumption that association is still on the table and desired by both sides.

Here’s the short version of all the recent noise:

  • The Government announced another extension (until 30 June 2023) to the financial guarantee to the UK’s Horizon Europe scheme so that eligible and successful bids for calls closing by the deadline will continue to be guaranteed funding. (The particulars are on the UKRI website.) It’s a short extension so speculation (and hope) abounds about what might happen afterwards – June isn’t far off on the horizon.
  • Greg Clark (Chair of Science and Tech Committee, and ex-BEIS long standing Secretary of State) is feeling impatient and spoke out urging the Government to accelerate negotiations leading to Horizon Europe association (after the Committee received a dreary letter from DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan following the clawback of £1.65 billion of research funds to the central Government pot in February).
  • Following the funding clawback Clark challenged Donelan during the Science and Technology Framework announcements. He called on Donelan to confirm when fresh negotiations for Horizon association would begin and how long until the Government throws in the towel and falls back on Plan B. Finally, he questioned what mechanisms were in place to ensure that, in areas such as batteries, that there was a united and coherent approach across Government, so investors know what the policy is and who to get deal with. Donelan responded to confirm the same level of funding would be available to researchers if Horizon association isn’t achieved: …funding remains available to finalise association with EU programmes. In the event that we do not associate, UK researchers and businesses will receive at least as much as they would have through Horizon over the spending review period. (Hansard.)
  • Wonkhe tell us that (then) Scottish Minister for HE & FE Jamie Hepburn made some good point in his letterto Michelle Donelan urging for Horizon Europe association to be secured. He expresses concern that the UK government “appears to be working on the assumption that if we succeed in associating to the Horizon Europe programme, participation will be costed from the point of re-entry,” arguing that this has never been guaranteed. A good point!
  • For completeness here are the transitional measures the Government put in place during July 2022 to stop UK research falling into the lack of Horizon abyss.
  • Finally, Horizon featured in the first ever DSIT oral questions. Discouraging, but not unexpected, was confirmation that the government’s position was unchanged, and discussions are ongoing.

Parliamentary Questions:

Quick Research News

  • UKRI has publishedits EDI strategy, setting out four strategic objectives to achieve its aim of fostering a research and innovation system “by everyone, for everyone”. (Wonkhe)
  • (Not) Levelling up: The R&D funding ecosystem just isn’t designed to level up the country. James Coe investigates where R&D funding is spent and what that means for levelling up. (Wonkhe Blog.)
  • Recognition: Wonkhe report that Science Europe, which represents research organisations around Europe including UKRI, has released recommendations on recognition systems in research and case studies of good practice. It has also become a signatory of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).
  • India cooperation: Wonkhe report that the UK signed a memorandum of understanding with India at yesterday’s UK-India Science Innovation Council meeting in Parliament. The agreement is intended to “remove red tape” to enable more efficient and effective joint research projects into major issues such as climate change, decarbonisation, pandemic preparedness, and artificial intelligence – among other programmes. Science Minister George Freeman believes this move will create skilled jobs and drive economic growth. India was also named as a partner for the UK’s International Science Partnerships Fund which will see £5 million UK funding – to be matched by India – for research into Farmed Animal Diseases and Health, and £3.3 million UK funding – also to be matched by India – towards a technology and skills partnership programme.
  • AI: The Government has announced the creation of a new Foundation Model Taskforce which will be responsible for accelerating the UK’s capability in a rapidly emerging type of artificial intelligence (AI). The Taskforce will be backed by £100m in funding, and modelled on the success of the COVID-19 Vaccines Taskforce – its main aim will be to develop the safe and reliable use of these AI systems across the economy to ensure the UK is globally competitive in this technology. Foundation models – including large language models such as ChatGPT and Google Bard – are a category of AI trained on huge volumes of data such as text, images, video or audio to gain broad and sophisticated capabilities across many tasks. The Government say that, in areas such as healthcare, this technology has potential to speed up diagnoses, drug discovery and development, and that in education it could transform teachers’ day-to-day work by freeing up more time. The Taskforce, announced as part of the Integrated Review Refresh last month, will bring together government and industry experts and report directly to the Prime Minister and Technology Secretary. The Taskforce’s expert Chair is yet to be appointed (announcement due summer 2023).
  • Horizon Europe related parliamentary questions: UK funding share; the costs of Pioneer (the alternative programme); where the Pioneer funding is coming from; the negotiating position for UK contributions to Horizon Europe. On this last question Minister George Freeman stated: The Government are discussing association to Horizon Europe with the EU and hope our negotiations will be successful. That is our preference. We will not be providing a running commentary on these discussions. Association would need to be on the basis of a good deal for the UK’s researchers, businesses and taxpayers. If we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms, we will implement Pioneer – our bold, ambitious alternative.
  • George Freeman’s (Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation) responsibilities have been confirmed. They include:
    • international science and research
    • domestic science and research ecosystem, including university research and public sector research establishments (PSREs)
    • Horizon Europe
    • R&D People and Culture Strategy
    • Innovation Strategy
    • space sector
    • life sciences
    • quantum
    • engineering biology
    • place and levelling up
    • regulation of innovation​​, including the Regulatory Horizon Council
  • Research Professional has a quick read on the links between universities, place and inward investment (particularly in light of the Budget’s Investment Zones announcements).
  • REF: The Research Excellence Framework (REF) encourages “higher quantity and lower quality” of academic output, according to a study from a group of researchers led by Queen Mary, University of London’s Moqi Groen-Xu. The research found that papers published in the run-up to REF deadlines generally received fewer citations and were more likely to be retracted than those published after REF assessments. The authors call for better support for long-term exploratory research. (Wonkhe.)
  • The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has published a report on diversity in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In the report Dods tell us that MPs highlight the underrepresentation of people from Black Caribbean backgrounds, and others, across all STEM subjects throughout education and work. A low uptake of physics and computer science in girls at school as well as persistent issues with women’s career progression in STEM also stand out. MPs say it is “sadly notable” that many of the conclusions from a predecessor Committee’s 2014 report on women in science could still apply today. The Committee recommends a series of changes to education policy, following the Prime Minister’s commitment to grow STEM pupil numbers. MPs call on the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to make improving diversity and inclusion in STEM part of its mission, and to set out how it intends to achieve this.
  • Michelle Donelan introduced the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill
  • AI & Data Science Scholarships: The OfS confirmed £8.1 million new funding from DSIT and the Office for Artificial Intelligence for universities to deliver AI and data science scholarships to underrepresented groups. The funding runs from April 2023 for one year, with a possible additional one year extension. The programme has run before and the interim report found the scholarships attracted a diverse student profile. However, the in the previous iteration more scholarships were awarded to international students as the scheme progressed and recently UK students received less than half of scholarships. On outcomes most students quickly secured jobs that specialise in or use data and/or AI. DSIT also published an AI regulation white paper. Secretary of State, Michelle Donelan, made a ministerial statement here.

Parliamentary Questions:

Students

Sharia Compliant Finance

Previously DLUHC appointed an Independent Faith Engagement Adviser to review how the Government should engage with faith groups in England. The Adviser, Colin Bloom, recently published the review report. The report includes a recommendation for Sharia compliant finance and places a firm timescale on the Government:

  • Government should accelerate proposals to introduce Sharia-compliant student loanson equalities grounds. Faith-sensitive student finance should be made available from the beginning of academic year 2024-25.

Sharia compliant finance feels like one of the slowest progress policy priorities within HE. The Government first proposed a student finance product consistent with Muslim beliefs regarding interest-bearing loans in 2013. The Higher Education Research Act, passed in 2017, allows the Government to introduce such a product in England, but it has yet to do so. The issue has been raised in Parliament a number of times, with the delay described as “shameful” by Lord Sharkey.

Following the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) Consultation the Government announced Sharia compliant finance would not be ready as part of the LLE launch in 2025 but that the Government remained committed to delivering such a product “as soon as possible after 2025”. A parliamentary Library briefing on the topic informs that findings from the Muslim Census study suggest over 12,000 students per year are affected (deterred from taking out loans which acts as a barrier to entering HE or causes financial hardship).

It remains to be seen whether Bloom’s timescale will be met by the Government – it seems unlikely given the Government have already ruled out including Sharia compliant finance within LLE in 2025.

On other student finance matters Wonkhe have a new blog – As the state reduces its support for students in real terms, Jim Dickinson considers the role of institutional student finance measures in addressing the cost of living crisis.

Spiking

The Labour party intend to make spiking a specific offence if they are elected to government. It would form part of several measures aiming to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG) and broaden the Labour party’s “tough on crime” credentials. Dods report that the Home Affairs Committee previously recommended the creation of a new standalone offence, however the Government’s response to the inquiry’s findings suggested this wasn’t necessary as there were already measures and guidance in place to improve reporting, data collection and police response to incidents. The Committee’s inquiry focused heavily on night-time venues, and heard from many in the university sector about the prevalence and nature of spiking on campuses. UUK also published a practice note for HEIs to support their response to spiking.

Student Accommodation

Wonkhe – Over half of students living in the private rented sector have experienced damp or mould on walls or ceilings, and half say their accommodation is poorly insulated, according to a new report from SOS-UK in partnership with Universities UK. Homes Fit for Study 2023. Universities UK has published a note on how universities can support students facing fuel poverty. ITV news has some experiences from students up on YouTube.

Duty of Care

The petition to Parliament for universities to have a legal duty of care for students (started by the families of student’s who took their own lives) has reached a significant threshold and the matter will be debated on Monday 5 June.  Previously the Government responded to this petition:

  • Higher Education providers do have a general duty of care to deliver educational and pastoral services to the standard of an ordinarily competent institution and, in carrying out these services, they are expected to act reasonably to protect the health, safety and welfare of their students. This can be summed up as providers owing a duty of care to not cause harm to their students through the university’s own actions.
  • Over the last decade, higher education providers have devoted considerable resources to their student support services, and a good deal of support is now widely provided to students who struggle with their mental health. However, tragically suicides do still occur in higher education, and investigations into the circumstances of such deaths have sometimes shown the support offered by the university was not all it might have been. We have encouraged universities to learn from such cases and redouble their prevention efforts. 

We’ll bring you the outcome of the debate after it takes place.

Cost of living

The APPG for Students published their Report of the Inquiry into the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students. They conclude that most students are facing significant financial pressures, with some groups particularly hard hit, risking academic outcomes and participation in the extra-curricular activities that are so valuable for future careers. We are concerned that this is unfair on a generation of students already affected by the pandemic, and risks widening inequality.

Alongside reports of students cutting back on meals and other essentials, as many other people, we were struck by evidence of the additional hours many students were working to cover their costs and the development of a ‘grab and go’ approach to their qualifications, as they can no longer invest time and energy in participating in all the other aspects of student life that prepare them for employment, having an impact not just on the tertiary education sector, but on a generation of working adults.

The inadequacies of relying on current hardship measures are acknowledged:

…we must not only provide students with the necessary immediate financial assistance – through increased hardship funding and restoring maintenance loan entitlements – but also to address issues in the student funding system which have seen student support incrementally reduced in real terms over several years and reduced resilience as inflation has risen sharply over the last two years. We have noted the increase in university support and believe that there is more that could be done to ensure all students are helped but recognise that current services are designed to help small numbers of students in emergencies, and not hardship experienced by a large proportion of the student body.

The APPG calls on the Government to provide a financial solution:                                                                                                                

We recognise the demands and pressures across every area of government spending but feel that our recommendations for both an immediate spending commitment to support students who have been placed in significant financial hardship, as well as longer-term changes are needed for both current and prospective students.

The OfS published an insight brief – Studying during rises in the cost of living. They conclude: Universities, colleges and students’ unions have worked innovatively and at speed to help alleviate these pressures, with additional help from government for their hardship funds. These responses have been diverse, and the support available has varied from university to university. The mitigating activities…may not all be sustainable over a long period. It’s worth a scan through to read the box sections covering actions by universities (financial needs, warm spaces, food needs).

  • Part time work dramas: 30% of students are unsuccessful in finding part-time work because of their scheduled classes.
  • 72% report that their timetable stopped them securing more hours at work.
  • 76% found it challenging to attend scheduled teaching on time – due to classes scheduled at inconvenient times of the day, not having enough time to get from one class to another, not being able to find the lecture room or seminar location.
  • Asked why they had a job, 52% of student said it was to fund their basic lifestyle (pay for rent, utilities, food, etc.), 49% blamed the rising cost of living, 33% wanted to fund a comfortable lifestyle (pay for night outs, clothes, holidays, etc) – given the percentages don’t tall presumably students could select multiple categories for the reason to work.
  • 53% of students have a part time job alongside their studies. 32% do not have a job but would like one and 5% full time.
    Source – FE News

Cost of living blogs:

Students: Quick links

Wonkhe content:

Parliamentary Questions

Admissions

Wonkhe report on the House of Commons Education Committee’s latest report – The future of post-16 qualifications which calls on the government to pause the withdrawal of funding for existing level 3 technical qualifications (such as BTECs) until evidence is available that T Levels are more effective at meeting student and employer needs and promoting social mobility. The report notes that universities are often requiring applicants to offer A levels alongside T levels (the latter being nominally equivalent to three A levels), and calls on DfE to work with universities to avoid “unreasonable” entry requirements. The report is covered on BBC News.

Wonkhe: Fewer significantly disadvantaged and economically precarious students are entering higher education in England – and they are less likely to complete their degree and progress to skilled employment or further study than their peers, new data from the Office for Students (OfS) shows. CEED, one of its new and updated key performance measures, shows that 53.6 per cent of the most significantly disadvantaged students progress to further study or skilled jobs, compared with 68.4 per cent of students who are neither “significantly disadvantaged” nor “economically precarious”. 49,600 students categorised as significantly disadvantaged entered in 2021/22, a decrease from 51,100 in the previous year. KPM 8, which measures the proportion of subjects taught and the number of higher education providers (relative to population) in each English region, shows that the North East has the lowest level of subject diversity in the country for full time students, and KPM 7 on Degree attainment by ethnicity shows that students receiving first class degrees in 2021-22 was 15 percentage points lower than the proportion for all students.

Access & Participation

Advance HE has published the Disabled Student Commitment which was developed by the OfS funded independent strategy group the Disabled Students’ Commission. The Commitment draws on three years of consultation with disabled students and sets out a framework of 43 recommendations for HEIs, Government, funders, agencies, regulators and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies. It highlights expectations for information sharing and consent and offers guidance on key touchpoints of the HE journey, outlining the commitments that HEIs and others should make to give disabled students confidence their needs and expectations will be met.

Professor Geoff Layer, chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission, said: We have developed this Commitment because disabled students have told us they want communication, consistency, certainty and choice. The Commitment is a call to the sector and sector bodies to make the step-change required to create a more inclusive environment. We need to create a sense of belonging in which students are able to focus on what they went into higher education for, and not spend untold hours fighting their way through the system.

Professor Layer said the Commission was asking providers to work in partnership with their disabled students on a statement of commitment which should be updated annually and published on their website, alongside a logo of the Disabled Student Commitment so that disabled students and applicants have confidence in the system, allowing them to get on with their education.

New data dashboard and risks plan for A&P

OfS published new data on HE access and participation. The completion rates data highlight:

  • 6% of students from the most deprived backgrounds completed their course (92% from the most advantaged group)
  • 5% of students eligible for free school meals completed their course (91% non-free school meals)
  • 7% of black students completed their course (88.5% of white students)

There is lots more to explore in the data dashboard.

OfS also published their new Equality of Opportunity Risk Register (EORR) and expect universities to consider the listed range of equality risks when planning. It includes risks relating to the perception that HE might not be right for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, or concerns about academic and personal support for those at university, students’ mental health, the continuing impact of the pandemic on education opportunities, and pressures on living costs.

OfS has also published the outcome and analysis of responses to their consultation on a new approach to regulating equality of opportunity plus a commentary from OfS Fair Access and Participation Director.

Impact of online teaching on student outcomes

TASO published online teaching and learning – lessons from the pandemic. Executive summary here; rapid evidence review here.

Here are their key findings:

  • Existing evidence is mixed; there are a small number of studies which suggest online teaching and learning can maintain or improve outcomes for some groups, but overall, the move to online learning appears associated with worse student outcomes.
  • Pre-pandemic literature (compared to purely online learning) suggests ‘blended’ learning (e.g., a combination of face-to-face and online learning) is more likely to improve student attainment. Whereas the literature produced during the pandemic demonstrates that the rapid shift to an online format had a negative impact on student outcomes.
  • In the post-pandemic literature, there is some evidence that, prior to applying any type of ‘no detriment’ control in an attempt to account for the impact of the pandemic on students’ performance, learners from low-income backgrounds and academically at-risk students may be most likely to be negatively impacted by the shift online. However, this was not universal in the case studies they reviewed.
  • Course design is an important factor to consider when planning online learning, as its efficacy is highly dependent on a number of design choices. However, this planning was not possible with the emergency switch to remote learning, where the priority was to adapt promptly to unforeseen crisis circumstances.
  • Design features – the existing evidence suggests that courses which encourage active engagement through planned student-student interactions and opportunities for feedback between teaching staff and students increase student attainment.
  • Digital poverty is thought to be the largest barrier to the success of online teaching and learning and will most likely disproportionately impact disadvantaged groups. Students from more privileged backgrounds may have better access to the internet and more sophisticated devices.

Recommendations:

  1. The design of online courses is important: A concerted effort should be made to design online courses rather than simply moving face-to-face materials into the online environment. Effective design features include:
    1. Coordinated student-to-student interaction via discussion boards and chat rooms.
    2. Feedback between teaching staff and students.
    3. Appropriate frequency and timing of online teaching and assessment to avoid student fatigue.
  2. HEIs should make use of their institutional data and differing pedagogical approaches to design and conduct evaluations that allow us to draw strong conclusions about what works in the UK context. Our data analysis provides a foundation and blueprint for future work of this sort.
  3. As students from disadvantaged backgrounds may be more likely to be adversely impacted by the shift to online teaching, learning and assessment, future research should focus on their experiences and outcomes.

A & P Blogs:

Graduate Careers

Wonkhe report on the Institute of Student Employers’ annual report on development programmes for graduates and apprentices. 54% of employers surveyed agreed that graduates were “career ready” at the point of hire (31% unsure). The report covered 162 responses from student employers who collectively hired over 26,000 graduates in 2021–22.

HESA published National Careers Week: Career trends of graduates from the class of 2019/20

Careers: Wonkhe blog – The idea that a postdoc is a route to an academic career downplays other career possibilities. Lucy Williams and James Howard have been helping postdocs prosper with tailored advice and support.

International

Wonkhe report that:  there has been a 65% increase in the number of international students at English higher education providers over the past four years, with growth of over 100,000 in the past year alone. The figures come from the delayed Office for Students’ Higher Education Students Early Statistics survey (HESES), which provides an early indication of the number of higher education students studying in 2022-23.

They also show that the home v international split for postgraduates in the English system is now roughly 50:50, and that providers are forecasting that circa 320k students will not complete by the end of the year, up from 300k a year ago.

Blog: New English student numbers figures show how rapidly universities are changing size and shape. David Kernohan and Jim Dickinson consider if the regulation can keep up

Scottish Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training Jamie Hepburn answered questions on international students and accommodation.

Wonkhe: Home Office proposals to limit the number of international student dependant visas are receiving a “major pushback” from the Treasury, i News reports. It says Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is resisting Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s proposals, arguing they would inflict “major damage” on the British economy.

HEPI

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a range of interesting blogs and briefings recently. You may be interested in:

Degree Apprenticeships

  • The OfS confirmed £16m of recurrent fundingto expand the development and delivery of HE qualifications, of which £8m will support the development of Level 6 degree apprenticeship training programmes and £8m to increase the provision of Level 4 and 5 qualifications.  Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said: Degree apprenticeships offer people of all backgrounds an alternative route to achieving their career goals than doing a traditional three-year degree. They enable students to earn while they learn the skills needed to build a successful career. I’m delighted that the OfS is continuing to support and encourage HE providers to expand their degree and degree level apprenticeship offer…This investment will help us continue to build a skills and apprenticeship nation and extend the ladder of opportunity to even more people.
  • Wonkhe report that the Independent has been investigatinghow some universities are still using the apprenticeship levy to part-fund MBAs.
  • The Science Industry Partnership published a manifesto for skills in the science industries. The report outlines four priorities for technical education and workplace learning. It includes making the apprenticeship levy work for employers and increasing equity through diverse career pathways.
  • The UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities published their evidence-led policy priority calls which they believe are essential to equalising opportunities in society. They call for:
    • reform to apprenticeship rules to ringfence a proportion of the levy for young people with lower qualification levels, they also entertain that if other changes were made levy funds could be entirely ringfenced for school leavers. This to reduce the number of apprenticeships going to existing employees instead of other internal training.
    • Expand accountability to all providers of post-16 education to help reduce NEET rates. To make these metrics meaningful and minimise ‘gaming’, providers should be compared against other providers offering similar courses, in areas with similar socio-economic characteristics.
    • Introduce an annual “Social Mobility Scorecard” for universities, showing the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending each university, and the earnings associated with each degree. This should be released by the government to confer official status…There is wide variation in earnings across different degrees, and disadvantaged students are less likely to attend those with high labour market returns, even when they have the qualifications to get in. If we judge universities and courses based only on their outcomes, rather than their intake, their contribution to social mobility will be limited.
    • Introduce a post-qualification applications (PQA) system for post-18 education (including further education) so that students would make applications after they sit exams and receive the results. A PQA system could be achieved with minimal disruption to the school year (or college/university start date), by condensing the exam period to four weeks (as was planned during the pandemic), and accelerating marking to 7-8 weeks. Examinations would take place in early May. Students would then return to school, receiving results in mid-July, in time for an in-school ‘applications week’. Universities and colleges would have over a month to process and make offers at the end of August, and students would then have time to accept their favoured choice… allowing students to make these life changing applications based on full information.
  • Finally, UCAS stated they’re collaborating with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) to enable apprenticeships to qualify for UCAS points. They anticipate UCAS points may be attached to apprenticeships by the end of 2023. Dods report: The plans represent another step on UCAS’ bid to give parity between apprenticeships and other post-16 study routes, however it is not yet clear how many points apprenticeships may be eligible for, or whether they will secure as many as other level 3 routes. The Department for Education said that offering the ability to apply for apprenticeships through UCAS from 2024 is part of a wider ambition to develop a “one-stop-shop” for education and training options that it hopes will eventually include apprenticeships, T Levels, skills bootcamps, higher technical qualifications and degree apprenticeships.

Other news

The DfE published a policy paper on the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI), including large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT or Google Bard, within the education sector. Snippets:

  • Although generative AI is not new, recent advances and public access to the technology mean that the general public can now use this technology to produce AI-generated content. This poses opportunities and challenges for the education sector.
  • When used appropriately, technology (including generative AI), has the potential to reduce workload across the education sector, and free up time, allowing a focus on delivering excellent teaching.
  • Schools, colleges and universities, as well as awarding organisations need to continue to take reasonable steps where applicable to prevent malpractice, including malpractice involving use of generative AI and other emerging technologies.
  • The education sector must continue to protect its data, resources, staff and students, in particular:
    • Personal and sensitive data must be protected and therefore must not be entered into generative AI tools.
    • Education institutions should review and strengthen their cyber security, particularly as generative AI could increase the sophistication and credibility of attacks.
    • Education institutions must continue to protect their students from harmful content online, including that which might be produced by generative AI.

Strategic Skills planning: The DfE Unit for Future Skills published the UK labour market projections up to 2035 (national, regional and local). You can display the data by LEP or other choices and it provides information to support local skills plans, careers guidance, and provides a projected picture of the type of jobs in the UK labour market (and the skills needed) up to 2035. Data here.

Carbon capture curriculum: The Scottish Affairs Committee has published a report on hydrogen and carbon capture in Scotland. It warns that the UK will fail to meet its net zero targets, and transition away from fossil fuels, unless carbon capture is rolled out at scale. The report calls for the UK and Scottish Governments should jointly set out work they are undertaking to ensure that colleges, training providers and businesses within the hydrogen and CCUS sectors are able to offer appropriate routes into employment and training, and providing this information should be viewed as a priority.

President UUK: UUK announced that Professor Dame Sally Mapstone FRSE, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of University of St Andrews, has been elected as its next President. The role runs for two academic years from 1 August 2023 and is elected through a ballot of UUK’s 140 members. Dame Sally will succeed current President, Professor Steve West CBE, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol. Before her appointment as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews in 2016, Dame Sally lectured and held several leadership roles at the University of Oxford, including Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Personnel and Equality and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education. She has served as a Board Member of UUK since 2016 including currently as Vice-President for Scotland, by virtue of being Convener of Universities Scotland.

Late retirement: The Times reports that graduates could work longer under plans to allow people in manual jobs to claim their state pensions earlier (Wonkhe).

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BU PhD student publishes in The Conversation

Congratulations the Abier Hamidi, PhD student in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences (FHSS) whose PhD work was published in The Conversation this week (24 April) under the title Social media now trumps traditional family networks in Libya – my Facebook survey reached 446,000 women.  Her piece in The Conversation on the recruitment of female participants for a PhD study in a rather patriarchal society brings together issues of anonymity, gender, and wider social culture.

This is Abier’s PhD research is supervised by Dr. Pramod Regmi, Senior Lecturer in International Health and the Global Engagement Lead in the Department of Nursing Sciences, and Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen in the Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health (CMMPH).

Congratulations!

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

 

April Update for (PGR) Researcher Development, Culture and Community

Desk set up with plant, light, note pad, mouse, keyboard and computer screen.

Check out the April e-newsletter.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 27th February 2023

Parliamentary News

DESNZ, DSIT and DBT

No it’s not an attack of the sneezes, it’s the PM’s reorganisation of the Government departments. Gone is the recognisable department of Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy. Instead it has morphed into three:

  • Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ)
  • Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT)
  • Department for Business and Trade (DBT),

And the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been refocused (more on this below)

DSIT: The reformed ex-BEIS departments clearly reflect the Government’s priorities and direction of travel over successive Prime Ministers. The agenda for an innovation economy and translating research into business gains is clear. Of course, underlying it all is the need to improve the UK’s economic success trajectory.

The key change to HE policy relevance is the DSIT which once again brings a more coherent approach to research and innovation. The positioning means R&I is siloed away from Education, however, ex-HE Minister Michelle Donelan will head up this department as Secretary of State bringing her expertise and adherence to cross-departmental party lines with her.

Formally the DSIT’s responsibilities include:

  • Optimise R&D investment to support areas of UK strength,
  • Increase the amount of private R&D funding for innovation purposes
  • Promote a diverse research and innovation system that connects discovery to new companies, growth and jobs – including by delivering world-class physical and digital infrastructure (such as gigabit broadband ), making the UK the best place to start and grow a technology business and developing and attracting top talent
  • Focus on innovation in public services (NHS, Schools) and develop STEM capability
  • Strengthen international collaboration and ensure our researchers are able to continue to work with leading scientists in Europe and around the world.
  • Deliver key legislative and regulatory reforms to drive competition and promote innovation, including the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill and our pro-innovation approach to regulating AI. Also to push the Online Safety Bill through the legislative process.

ARIA, UKRI, the Met Office, the UK Space Agency; the Intellectual Property office, and Building Digital UK will all sit under the new Department (which will devolve their funding settlements). As will GO Science and the Council for Science and Technology.

DSIT will progress the Online Safety Bill and Data Protection and Digital Information Bill that were previously led by DCMS and under Donelan’s stewardship.

George Freeman (previously science minister) will retain a role in the department and Paul Scully (previously Under-Secretary of State for tech and the digital economy) also joins the brief. This smooth transition of recently experienced ministerial staff and priorities suggests some stability for the new department and that Rishi will expect his team to hit the ground running, particularly with the legislation already passing through the Houses. Emphasising this are the top level civil servants previous Digital and Media Director-General, Susannah Storey, and the previous Director of Media and the Creative Industries, Robert Specterman-Green.

The DSIT’s website is already up and running – you can view it here (and spot the stories they’ve moved across from BEIS).

DCMS: The slimmed down DCMS moves focus to support the UK’s strengths in culture, media and sport but is no longer responsible for digital policy. This includes:

  • updating the UK’s broadcasting and media system,
  • increasing investment in grassroots sports and delivering reforms to football governance—a Football White Paper is expected soon
  • and completing the long-awaited review of the Gambling Act.

Former DLUHC minister Lucy Frazer leads the lean and mean DMCS. Supporting here are Julia Lopez (previous Minister of State for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure), Stuart Andrew (previous Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism and Civil Society and the Minister for Equalities), and Lord Parkinson (previously a DCMS Under-Secretary of State) looks to be tipped for the Government’s Lords Spokesperson for both DCMS and DSIT.

Dods says: Removing management of digital policy, including the complicated online safety legislation, could give DCMS more bandwidth to concentrate on other areas where it has been slower than expected to deliver. But time will tell if that proves to be an effective division of labour given the importance of digital to broadcasting and media. Questions remain about the outlook for the Media Bill since the Government ditched plans to sell Channel 4.

Contact the policy team if you’d like more information on the Dept for Energy Security and Net Zero or the Department for Business and Trade. Alternatively you can read each Department’s priorities here.

Overall: Overall the reorganisation seeks to provide focussed teams in key policy areas rather than the larger broad departmental remits of recent years. With the election looming Rishi may be hoping these teams fly in and make quick wins that bode well for the Conservatives in the polls. A danger for Rishi is the departments overlap unhelpfully or further constrain policy progress and policy direction due to their new siloed structure. As always there will be competition for the Treasury’s resources and much may come down to budget. The continuation of several key ministers into the new departments may also signal that Rishi believes these personalities will toe the party line and put career enhancement in.

Party plans

Politically the next general election is continually on the mind of all the parliamentary parties. Labour have been upfront about their campaign recently in their attempt to woo Scottish voters away from the SNP since Nicola Sturgeon announced she would step down.

Labour has also shown more willing to be drawn on their potential manifesto content through media appearances and comment. This week they published their new ‘national missions’ for the UK upon which their manifesto priorities will hang. They are:

  1. Economy: To deliver the highest sustained growth in the G7.
  2. Health: Build an NHS fit for the future – through science and innovation, and reforming the social care system.
  3. Crime: Make Britain’s streets safe – reforming police and criminal justice system, tackling VAWG, stopping criminals getting away with it.
  4. Education: Break down barriers to opportunity – reforming childcare and education, raising standards, preparing young people for work and for life.
  5. Climate: Making Britain a clean energy superpower.

And a selection of snippets from the accompanying statements:

  • Everything will not be fixed by simply spending more money.
  • Growth must be powered by good jobs and productivity in every part of the country.
  • Pledged to reform apprenticeships, and a new childcare system.
  • Will embrace technology, innovation and science, will reform the planning system to help businesses.
  • Will use levers like procurement to build up supply chains to protect from security threats.
  • For the coming months, the whole Shadow Cabinet will be looking at how they can bring these missions alive, as well as how to make them “vehicles of hope”.

STEM returner campaign

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the government launched a pilot initiative to bring people back into STEM careers. STEM ReCharge provides support and training to technology and engineering returners (and their employers) in the Midlands and the North of England. The scheme will be run by Women Returners and STEM Returners and target those who have taken lengthy career breaks e.g. for caring responsibilities. The pilot will hit several key policy areas by bringing people back into the workforce, boosting numbers of STEM workers and plugging industry skills gaps, and increasing diversity in this key UK industry.

Research

  • The ARIA framework has been published setting out how ARIA will operate and its relationship with the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).
  • Professor Dame Angela McLean has been appointed as the new Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA). She’s the first woman to hold the role and will take over from Sir Patrick Valance when his term ends on 1 April. Angela was previous the CSA for the Minister of Defence. Here’s an explainer if you’re unfamiliar with the role:
    • The GCSA provides independent scientific advice to the Prime Minister and members of cabinet, advises the government on aspects of policy on science and technology and aims to ensure the quality and use of scientific evidence and advice in government policy making.
    • The GCSA is also Head of the Government Science and Engineering Profession and is part of the executive team of the newly formed Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.
    • Chief Scientific Advisers (CSA) and the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisers work three days per week for their Government department, with the remaining two days to continue their substantive role in academia or industry. Angela is a Professor of Mathematical Biology at Oxford University. Her research interests are the use of mathematical models to aid understanding of the evolution and spread of infectious agents. She is also interested in the use of natural science evidence in formulating public policy.
  • The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) announced the establishment of a Taskforceto tackle barriers to mobility of research staff between universities and businesses. The Taskforce will explore how much researchers move across sectors, demonstrate the benefits of mobility, identify obstacles limiting movement, and make best practice recommendations. The Taskforce is expected to report in the summer.
    Research England Executive Chair Professor Dame Jessica Corner said: Without movement both ways between industry and academia, we risk stifling creativity and innovation in both sectors. We also limit the potential to increase R&D in the UK and the related growth and productivity gains from this, as well as broader societal prosperity.
    If we are to promote economic and social growth, then we need to make the most of the talented individuals we have. Improving mobility of people will improve the flow of knowledge and innovation to where it is most needed. I look forward to hearing how businesses and universities can address their barriers and enablers.

R&D Fraud – legislation underway

  • The Economic Affairs Finance Bill Sub-Committee published Research and development tax relief and expenditure creditThe Sub-Committee’s inquiries (apart of legislative scrutiny) focused on technical issues of tax administration, clarification, and simplification rather than on rates or incidence of tax. It covered the escalation in the abuse of R&D tax relief which has led to a loss of revenue (£469 million). The Bill proposes legislative changes to combat this abuse. You can read all 56 recommendations from page 64 of the report.
  • Lord Leigh of Hurley, Chair of the Economic Affairs Finance Bill Sub-Committee, said: The Government should use its review of R&D tax relief as an opportunity to look beyond the initial measures within the draft Bill and hold an open-ended consultation on how the scheme can be improved. This will be integral to future proofing the UK’s competitiveness as a hub of R&D activity.

Horizon – delayed; Plan B – delayed

  • Research Professional are frank about the possibility of either Horizon affiliation or Plan B happening anytime soon:
  • Science minister George Freeman…took to social mediato call for the need “to get on and deploy the £4.5bn we would have received from Horizon this Comprehensive Spending Review”. He suggested that the much-vaunted plan B be put in action while the UK continues to push for association to the EU’s R&D programme.
  • Freeman warned that if the money was not used, the business department would have to bid again to the Treasury for the £4.5bn. The minister described plan B as a carefully designed “one-off boost to our global R&D” while the UK prepares for association with Horizon.
  • “Waiting for the EU to unblock us,” Freeman said, would result in “continued uncertainty” and a “damaging narrative of decline”, as well as a “growing brain drain” and “loss of vital time in the increasingly competitive global race for science and technology leadership”. Freeman’s avowed frustration is not quite the boosterism of science superpowers and the innovation nation we have heard so often from ministers.
  • Are we any closer to association or plan B? Even if prime minister Rishi Sunak were to secure a deal with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol, he still has to sell it to Ulster unionists and the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs.
  • Freeman’s comments on Sunday do not suggest that there is agreement in government on when to press the button on plan B. It is almost as if Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt would prefer not to spend the money—funny that.

Other news

  • Open data: Wonkhe blog: Daniel Keirs makes the case that the future of research data will be open and available, but it will require sustained commitment and collaboration from the research community.
  • Research hub: The Department for Transport has launched an application process to become a new research hub to help tackle decarbonisation and improve transport resilience. Decarbonisation Minister, Jesse Norman, pledged £10 million in funding for the centre, which will establish a UK centre of excellence for transport innovation. Currently, transport accounts for 27% of the UK’s emissions and the government aim for the Net Zero Transport for a Resilient Future Hub to drive decarbonisation solutions, such as greater use of recycled materials and reducing the carbon footprint of repairs and maintenance. The hub will also develop and implement innovative ideas to ensure future transport is resilient and meets the challenges of climate adaption, such as changes to weather and water levels. It will focus on the UK’s transport sector’s needs over the next 25 years as the government works to meet its 2050 net zero goals, helping to ensure the sector can build UK skills, jobs and innovation. The hub is funded at 80% from Government and 20% from the winning institution.
  • Research impact: If you missed January’s HEPI webinar discussing open access and spreading the impact of research you can watch the recording here.
  • REF impact case study data: The British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences have launchedresearch into what REF impact study case data can tell us about the contribution of the arts, humanities and social sciences to the wellbeing of society, culture and the economy. The research is intended to provide a robust evidence base on which the higher education sector and policymakers can build to articulate the value of research and its impact on society (Wonkhe).
  • HEPI and UPP Foundation’s recent public opinion polling, Public Attitudes to Higher Education 2022, finds:
    • 77% of respondents agree that universities are important to research and innovation
    • 57% agree universities are important to the UK economy as a whole.
    • Support for public investment is also high – half of people (50%) agree that university research should receive funding from the taxpayer.

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

The OfS launched a consultation to tackle harassment and sexual conduct in HE. They propose a new condition of registration which would:

  • introduce mandatory training for students and staff, including bystander training for potential witnesses to raise awareness of and prevent sexual misconduct
  • require a provider to publish a ‘single document setting out how the will make a significant and credible difference in tackling harassment and sexual misconduct, also how to report cases of harassment and sexual misconduct, and explain how students will be supported through the process
  • ban the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of harassment and sexual misconduct, and any enforcement of existing non-disclosure agreements.

Universities will also be required to comply with the requirements in a way that is consistent with principles for freedom of speech within the law. Press release here.

Instead of a new register the OfS is also considering an outright ban on relationships in some circumstances.

The topic has sparked much debate on social media: the 1752 Group are a campaign group in this area. They suggest that while the steps taken by the OfS will make people, especially survivors of abusive relationships feel better, and may discourage some behaviour that is inappropriate, and prohibiting (if they go for that option) sends a clear message on boundaries, these changes won’t “fix” anything because the worst abusers will carry on anyway and (in the case of a register) prevent reporting.  They also note that some universities already have these policies.  Overall they support a ban despite the problems with it.

Contact us if you wish to respond to the consultation or provide further comment.

Wonkhe blogs:

International

The discussion on international students has barely been out of the news for the last six months. Here’s a roundup of the key issues:

  • International students are the joint responsibility of the DfE and the Home Office – and their priorities don’t always align.
  • It’s hard to think of a more confusing approach to policy than the one relating to international students taken by successive Conservative-led governments of the past 13 years (Research Professional).
  • The period since David Cameron replaced Gordon Brown as prime minister has seen the abolition of the post-study work visa in 2012, and its reintroduction seven years laterEU students, meanwhile, have seen their entitlement to domestic tuition fee rates thrown out following Brexit, while the number of students coming to the UK from India and China has steadily risen
  • The international education strategy set out to educate 600,000 international students a year within a decade, and was achieved within four years…However, the achievement of this target appears only to have caused concern in some Westminster corridors…we are back to square one, with widespread reports of a battle between the Department for Education and the Home Office over the latter’s mooted plan to slash the graduate visa entitlement once again.
  • There is also concern that international students are bringing some family members with them when they come to study. Surely we can accept that some people might have husbands, wives and children that they wish to remain close to while studying for three years?
  • On the flip side PM Rishi Sunak is planning to permit international students to work longer hours than their current visa (limited to 20 hours) entitles – in aim of addressing systemic vacancies which are damaging the economy. The Times notes: The idea risks running up against Suella Braverman’s determination to reduce the number of foreign students. Although the measure would not directly increase the number, the home secretary is likely to be wary of measures that will make such visas more attractive to those wanting to come to Britain to work. The change would be helpful for students struggling with their finances, however, universities discourage excessive paid work as it impacts to students’ engagement with their studies. And The Times highlights: Academic administrators are also wary of British students working more, fearing it will create an “uneven playing field” where the affluent have more time for studies.
  • The PM’s intention dovetails with other rumblings about students working more hours. A Guardian article, written by the Resolution Foundation, suggests: Generally, I lean towards it being good for the youth to do some paid work early (obviously not to an extreme where it will affect their education). They get to meet the real world in all its glamour – in my case a pub’s dishwasher and sink. And it leads to better wages and employability later in life. While they’re talking about all students, not just international, the article also notes that student part time working has declined – the employment rate of 18-to-19-year-olds studying for degrees fell by 25% between 2001 and 2018.

However, cuts are on the Horizon (if the Home Office wins):

  • The Times also reports that Braverman has drawn up proposals to reduce the number [of students] to meet Sunak’s pledge to cut overall immigration after net migration hit a record-high of 504,000 last year. International students made up 476,000 of the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in the year to last June. The proposal has not been sent to the Home Office yet.
  • Also that she has drawn up a plan that would reduce the time foreign students can stay in the UK after finishing their course from two years to six monthsThis may only be applied if they haven’t found a job within six months though. However, it has also been written that the Braverman intends to ban international students from changing to a work visa until they have finished their course. And that these changes would ensure that only the most highly trained and skilled foreign students were able to stay in the UK. (More here, and iNews cover it here.)
  • (UUK International respond to the visa-cuts speculation calling for a “stable and well managed policy” regarding international student visas.)
  • The Times also states: There are concerns that Britain has been too successful at attracting foreign students. Following statistics published this week showing that the number of foreign students had reached 680,000, Rishi Sunak ordered the Home Office and the Department for Education to submit proposals for how the government could reduce their numbers without harming the sector or the economy. Presumably the concerned haven’t seen the statistics from the last few years which sees the UK as slipping down the table in the number of international students attracted in comparison to other countries.
  • Slightly reassuring is that the DfE sees overseas student fees as a vital way of financing universities, while the business department believes they contribute to Britain’s strength in key industries. (THE opinion piece from Russell Group: The Home Office must stop reheating ruinous ideas on student immigration – Cutting off a £26 billion UK success story at the knees would be self-inflicted economic vandalism, says Tim Bradshaw. However, Wonkhe say the DfE are pushing back against some Home Office policies but not others.

The last word goes to Research Professional: So it seems that we want students to come here and spend their money on tuition fees, accommodation, NHS surcharges and food and drink. We also want them to take jobs in hospitality and other industries that have for some reason (what could it be?) become short-staffed in the past seven years or so. But we don’t want them to stay on after they graduate, even though we have educated them to a high level, and God forbid they should bring their spouse along. Talk about having your cake and eating it.

Any government with any sense of context would learn the lessons of its own record over the past decade and a bit. They know what happens if they remove the post-study work visa, for crying out loud, because they already did it and had to do a U-turn a few years later.

International Student Experience

  • The OfS published – Working in partnership to improve international student integration and experience: Evaluation report. Wonkhe summarise: The report notes that full integration of international students depends on a number of factors, including practical challenges around living in a foreign country, differences in academic norms, and language barriers – all of which can contribute to “an overall feeling of disorientation”. Findings were based on 23 “substantial” responses to a call for evidence (out of a total of 63), a survey of 1,425 international students, and a literature review.
  • OfS also published an advice briefing on: Supporting international students.
  • THE piece: Flair for care– An international student’s experience can be very positive with mindful handling every step of the way, says Preeti Aghalayam.

Quick News:

  • International Commission: Chris Skidmore MP and Lord Jo Johnson (both former Universities ministers) continue to lead the way in international students. You can watch the recording of the latest International HE Commission session on the true value of international students here.
  • Also referencing Jo Johnson is this THE article: Not like it used to be. British politics is suffering from a “weakening consensus” on the benefits international students bring to the country, former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone has warned.

Resources

Did you miss the HEPI webinar with Kaplan on international students and the Graduate Route visa? If so you can watch here. You can also read a briefing: Not heard of this – Employers’ perceptions of the UK’s Graduate Route visa

Students

Student Loans

Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System and Student Finance, announced an additional temporary cap to the Post-2012 undergraduate and postgraduate student loan interest rates. From 1-31 March 2023 the maximum interest rate will be 6.9% for all post-2012 (Plan 2) and postgraduate (Plan 3) loans. From 1 June 2023 to 31 August 2023, the maximum interest rate will be 7.3%. However, depending on the Prevailing Market Rate the government may announce further caps to apply during this period.

DfE Equity Analysis of maintenance loans

The DfE published their equality impact assessment for HE student finance 2023/24 concluding students are losing out:

  • Our overall assessment is that these proposed changes will overall have a negative impact for students with and without protected characteristics. This is because a 13.7% increase would be required to maintain the value of loans and grants for living and other costs in real terms using the 2020/21 academic year as a baseline, as measured by CPI1, due to the recent spike in inflation. Therefore a 2.8%2 increase in maximum support for 2023/24 will not restore the erosion in purchasing power since 2020/21 and is unlikely to prevent a further erosion in purchasing power by the start of the 2023/24 academic year.
  • increases in maximum loans and grants for 2021/22 and 2022/23 have not maintained their value in real terms.

Table 1 on page 13 highlights that the two highest inflationary changes are housing (26.6%) and food (16.4%).

  • As a result, many students, including from groups who share protected characteristics and from disadvantaged groups, will not be able to make the same spending decisions as they did previously with regards accommodation, travel, food, entertainment and course related items such as books and equipment, the costs of which will have been rising over time.
  • Specific groups of students are adversely affected by the changes due to them being overrepresented in the loan borrowing population:
  • Females
  • Mature students
  • Low-income groups of students [particularly because in 2022 there were record numbers of students including those from deprived background].
  • Students from minority ethnic backgrounds

(See pages 18-19 for the detail on each of these groups.)

The analysis also noted that debt-adverse students may chose not to participate in HE due to financial considerations.

On the publication of the analysis Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, commented: The fact that the DfE’s own equality assessment says uplifting maintenance loans by just 2.8% next year will have a negative impact on students underlines how flawed the system is. But what’s worse is that the Department responsible and the regulator which is supposed to be on the side of students just seem to be shrugging their shoulders. Let’s be clear: the Government has a choice, it is actively choosing to ignore its own analysis…and this choice will leave students out of pocket by over £1,500.

Wonkhe have a blog: the government’s own equality analysis of changes to student finance.

Maintenance Grants / Student Costs

HEPI and UPP Foundation reported on their recent public opinion polling, Public Attitudes to Higher Education 2022, regarding maintenance grants:

  • Two-thirds (64%) of public support the reintroduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students
  • 57% agreed the Government should provide additional support to students to help them with the cost of living, however:
  • only 10% of respondents put students among the top three groups they would prioritise for support with the cost of living (top 3 were those on minimum wage, pensions, families with young children)
  • 71% believe the cost-of-living crisis will deter people from going to university over the next two years – but only 26% think that fewer people should be going to university
  • 63% believe that ‘students should expect to work part time to cover their living costs while at university.’
  • 57% of respondents believed freedom of speech is currently under at least some threat (16% no threat)

However:

  • 22% agreed with the statement ‘a university degree is a waste of time’ (rose to 32% among 18-to-24 year olds)
  • 58% agreed ‘a university degree does not prepare students for the real world’.
  • Note: Only 18% of respondents had visited a university in the existing academic year, and over half of those from the lowest social grades (DE) had never visited a university at all.

Disproportionate Impacts

John Blake (OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation) John Blake blogs for Wonkhe on the initial findings of the cost of living crisis on students: Opportunity costs: The differential impact of cost-of-living pressures on students. Excerpts:

  • There is particular concern that those student groupsalready facing the greatest risks to equality of opportunity are experiencing greater levels of hardship.
  • 91 per cent of higher education students were ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ concerned about the rising cost of living.
  • More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of survey participants were concerned that the rising cost of living may affect how well they do in their studies.
  • Nearly one in five said they had considered pausing their course and resuming it next year.
  • Thirty-four per cent of respondents reported that they are less likely to consider further study.

OfS intend to publish an Insight brief on the topic before Easter.

Parliament: Student cost of living arose in the recent Education topical questions – the Minister neatly side stepped the issue focussing on the support the Government already provide.

Estranged Students

Student Loan Company (SLC) data notes applications from estranged students have increased. Wonkhe analyse the increase (blog) finding that increases are likely due to:

  • That UCAS added a tickbox for estranged students to the application last year – meaning that the quality of data has improved as applicants are now directed to declare their status.
  • Awareness raising within the sector coupled with highlighting the benefits of declaring their status
  • Flexibility – SLC has changed the processes slightly to be more flexible (evidence burden to prove estrangement; encouraging applications even if they don’t 100% meet the criteria; ability to declare estrangement at any point in the year).

So, the rise in numbers of estranged students, while sad that many students find themselves in this situation, is more indicative of the success of UCAS and StandAlone raising awareness of the help and support available, and initiatives such as the StandAlone Pledge, which features in Estranged Student Solidarity Week on campuses around the nations, in getting the correct information to the right applicants.

However, Wonkhe notes: To end on a slightly depressing note – the figure is not necessarily a cause for celebration as those within the figures have not necessarily actually been awarded full means-tested funding on the basis that they are irreconcilably estranged from their parents. The figures are figures to show who has ticked the estranged box as a part of the application process to SLC.

It would be good to see data showing how many received full financial support because simply having more students at university isn’t really the aim here. It’s understanding their needs and ratifying the support they need, ensuring they fulfil their potential – that’s the aim.

Cost of Living

The ONS (Office for National Statistics) published updated experiment statistics on the behaviours, plans, opinions and well-being of students related to the cost of living, with findings drawn from the Student Cost of Living Insights Study (SCoLIS).  The findings are consistent with the earlier study in November 2022 (except in the one case noted below where matters have worsened).

  • 92% of HE students reported that their cost of living has increased compared with last year
  • 91% were somewhat or very worried about the rising cost of living
  • 49% of students felt they had financial difficulties (33% minor difficulties, 16% major financial difficulties)
  • 68% of respondents received student loan; of those, 58% said it did not cover their living costs, while one in four (25%) said it just covered their living costs.
  • In response to the rising cost of living, 30% of students had taken on new debt (this is a significant increase from the November study). Of those taking on new debt 71% reported they did so because their student loan was not enough to support their living costs.
  • 78% were concerned that the rising cost of living may affect how well they do in their studies; one-third (35%) reported they are now less likely to do further study after their course has completed.
  • The average level of life satisfaction among higher education students (5.8) was significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (6.9).
  • Around 46% of students reported their mental health and well-being had worsened since the start of the autumn term 2022; this is similar to students in early November 2022 (45%).

Disabled Students

TASO (the what-works centre, Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) published  a summary report: What works to reduce equality gaps for disabled students which evaluates the effectiveness of university interventions which aimed to address inequalities. The report covers a wide range of subject material from leadership buy-in and support, to entering HE, to assistive technologies. It’s a useful source of information on a number of matters in addition to the assessment of intervention evidence. For example, it provides the below categorisation of student disability.

Overall the report finds gaps in the evidence in demonstrating what works to improve outcomes for disabled students and page 12 onwards sets out six recommendations to address the evaluation gaps.

Key points:

  • Limited causal evidence of what works to address inequalities for disabled students
  • A lack of consistency in data collection methods making comparisons between HE institutions difficult
  • Disability inclusion requires a comprehensive institutional approach, but there is a lack of evidence on the impact of each part – including leadership, training and support, communication, and staff and student voice.
  • Despite the legal requirements and funding there is little research on the effectiveness of reasonable adjustments.
  • The review found evidence that transition support to help disabled students into HE can be effective for enabling disability inclusion.

Recommendations:

  • More and better evaluation of interventions to address inequalities for disabled students in HE are needed.
  • Effective and consistent data collection is required to understand and address inequalities in HE and therefore must be improved.
  • Better evidence is needed on reasonable adjustments: on how they are delivered and their impact on disability inclusion.
  • Scrutiny is needed of ‘whole institution’ approaches to tackling disability inclusion and whether they are having an impact.
  • Access and Participation Plans (APPs) should be monitored in terms of how far they commit to addressing disability inequalities, and whether and how they will evaluate such commitments.

To take matters forward TASO will partner with two independent evaluators and four HEIs to continue to understand and build the evidence base for what works to support disabled students.

Dr Eliza Kozman, Deputy Director, TASO stated:

  • Despite best intentions to improve disability inclusion in universities and colleges across the country, we’re still very much in the dark about what works. This is particularly concerning given the rapid rise in young people reporting a disability and the persistent equality gaps in degree outcomes and employment rates for disabled students.
  • I encourage all higher education providers to take heed of the recommendations outlined in today’s report. We need to work in partnership with disabled students to better understand their needs, further develop the evidence base on what works and ensure efforts across the sector are not made in vain.

International

The latest International HE Commission evidence session covered the International Student Voice and how institutional policy should change to better support international students in the UK. If you missed it you can watch the 1 hour session here.

The Commission summarise the session:

  • The student panel explored rhetoric versus reality for international students in the UK. There was recognition of the benefits of the independent study style and how this supported personal and academic development.  The opportunity to learn from other people and cultures was also welcomed, but a concern that students felt ‘othered’ by the host community – that more focus on creating a sense of a coherent student community would benefit all students.  The importance of actively fostering positive identities and focussing on the contribution of international students rather than their economic value was repeatedly emphasised.  Any focus on economic returns needed to include the student view of return on investment.
  • In discussion of what universities could do to encourage a sense of “belonging” – it was noted that clearer structures for achieving academic success and for building social connections and cross-cultural communities were essential. It was also recognised that integration doesn’t “just happen” on campus, it needs to be facilitated and curated by universities. It was also noted that work opportunities can also a significant contribution to socialisation. More broadly, the need for greater pastoral support was reiterated, and within that systematic measures to address issues of financial hardship.

The Commission also announced eight new commissioners, including its first two student commissioners:

  • Professor Shitij Kapur – President and Principal, Kings College London
  • Professor Andrea Nolan – Convener of the International Committee of Universities Scotland and Principal & Vice Chancellor, Edinburgh Napier University
  • Lucy Stonehill – CEO, BridgeU
  • Sanam Arora – Founder and Chair, National Indian Students and Alumni Union
  • Wendy Alexander – VP International, University of Dundee, Professor of International Education, Higher Education Trade & Investment Envoy, British Council Trustee
  • Katie Normington – Midlands Enterprise Universities Board Member and VC, De Montfort University
  • Sára Kozáková (Student Commissioner) – Co-Chair of UKCISA’s Student Advisory Group and currently perusing a master’s degree at Newcastle University after completing her UG study at Portsmouth University.
  • Siqi Jia (Student Commissioner) – A recent University of Glasgow graduate, currently working for Deloitte with a strong focus in the employability area

The future for the Commission is unclear because it was established and is chaired by (former universities minister) Chris Skidmore. However, Chris has confirmed he will stand down as an MP at the next election.

Other news

Creative sector: The House of Lords Communication and Digital Committee reported on the challenges facing the UK’s creative sector and spoke out against the DfE’s sweeping rhetoric about low value courses arguing that the Government’s policy is hinder the creative industries. Wonkhe have a blog.

Admissions: Parliamentary Question – Ensuring AI admissions software does not undermine the fairness of the HE application cycle.

Inquiries and Consultations

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE Policy update for the w/e 3rd February 2023

office fNews galore. We cover all the major news and provide short commentary and links on the specialist interest topics.

Party politics: tertiary reform?

The next general election is constantly on the minds of policy makers. Last week Kier Starmer rowed back from Labour’s traditional position of abolishing HE tuition fees. This week attention has turned to what could be learnt from Wales’ review and reform of education which has resulted in a joined up tertiary education system. Andy Westwood writes for Wonkhe suggesting that Wales could be a blueprint for policy and suggesting Labour should prioritise tertiary reform over tuition fees.

Some snippets to whet your interest:

  • While the higher education funding system looks unsustainable in its current form and surely can’t survive the next Parliament without reform, it does not follow that it is sensible to try and fix it in isolation from other parts. 
  • …there is likely to be a series of policy priorities that will affect both colleges and universities as Labour draw up its manifesto, alongside any potential plan to reform tuition fees and higher education funding. But designing centralised policy solutions separately – e.g. by focusing solely on full-time university tuition fees but not on lifelong learning, apprenticeships or day-to-day funding for FE will only bake in the silos and systemic incoherence that cause so many problems for people, places and businesses.
  • The Welsh model, if not perfect, is certainly better than that currently in England…, we have three competing and very different systems – a centralised funding and management body (ESFA) running (and underfunding) FE, as well as schools, a market regulator (OfS) and an entirely separate and different system for apprenticeships (IFATE). Adult learning remains a poor relation and a low priority for each. The three funding systems are also different – direct funding and loans but managed places, uncapped markets with tuition fee loans, employer levies and grants (and limited access across routes to means-tested maintenance)…it is complex and counterproductive. And both in part and overall, it is failing.

Chris Millward (former Director for Fair Access at OfS) agrees with Westwood and is keen to bring technical and academic together in a cohesive tertiary system. He also suggests Government could reduce regulation in the areas that are a priority such as higher and degree apprenticeships, modular (shorter) learning, and advanced technical or research courses. Especially if they’re in geographical areas where the Government wants to drive growth and attract investment by aligning skills and innovation around a university presence. Finally, he suggests increasing fees (only by inflation) where institutions can demonstrate excellence beyond a threshold (I.e. we’re back to TEF related increases – which the House of Lords originally threw out). You can read Millward’s blog for Research Professional in full here.

Lifelong Learning

Earlier this week THE reported the Government were considering uncontroversial legislation surrounding the Lifelong Learning loan entitlements. These loans allow students to borrow up to the equivalent of four years’ worth of student loan funding across their whole life to spend as they will including on shorter or modular courses (more here). The loans are expected to be particularly attractive to mature students who wish to retrain or change careers (assuming they don’t already have a degree). Previous PM Boris Johnson pledged to introduce the LLE by 2025.

The background:

  • In May 2022, the government said in the Queen’s Speech that it would introduce a higher education bill to implement the LLE in England and, “subject to consultation”, a minimum entry requirement (MER) for individuals to be eligible for student loans, as well as student number controls (SNCs).
  • After that consultation [results promised soon], the Department for Education was said to favour capping numbers on courses using outcomes measures including the proportion of graduates going into “managerial or professional employment”, and an MER set at two E grades at A level. However, ministers changed and current HE Minister Halfon is said to be far less supportive of MER plans. Other sector commentators are also opposed: Any move to reopen the door to minimum entry requirements or student recruitment limits would be extremely concerning and against modern universities’ core principles of inclusion, aspiration and the power of education to transform lives (Rachel Hewitt, Chief Executive of MillionPlus).
  • Lord Johnson of Marylebone, the Conservative former universities minister, said Ministers must rethink their approach and allow “much greater flexibility in terms of what courses will be eligible for LLE funding…Learners wanting to access specific skills do not necessarily want or need courses that are simply credit-bearing modules of existing qualifications…The DfE needs to ensure that learners have a much broader choice of courses and credentials – credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing – if the LLE is to fulfil its potential. Lord Johnson was also an opponent to student number controls while he was HE Minister.

The rumours were correct! The Government introduced the Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill on Wednesday. The Bill aims to build upon previous legislation and provides the legal framework to underpin credit-based learning, set fee limits and update legislation in relation to the Access and Participation Plans. It:

  • Introduces a new fee limit method which limits the amount a provider can charge for a course or module based on credits. This means the amount a provider can charge a student is proportionate, whether the student takes up a short course, a module or a traditional full course.
  • Enables the Secretary of State to set maximum chargeable credits per course year, so that students are not being charged disproportionately for whatever course they wish to undertake.
  • Introduces the concept of ‘course year’ as opposed to an ‘academic year’, to allow fee limits to apply with greater precision according to when the course actually starts. This aims to support more flexible patterns of study.

The Bill’s financial commitments remain as expected – students may receive a loan entitlement, equivalent to four years of post-18 study (£37,000 in today’s fees) which can be used over their working lives. This will be available for both modules of courses and full courses, whether in college or at university. If will fund provision between level 4 and 6 so first degrees, higher technical qualifications, HNCs and HNDs.

Wonkhe add: It is recognised that not all courses fit a credit-based modular model – nursing is cited as one example of a “non-credit-bearing” course that will be funded at a “default” level equivalent to a standard number of credits. Prices for all credits will vary depending on institutional registration, TEF award, access and participation plan status, and specific fee limit designation as of now – there will also be separate credit values for placements, study abroad, and credit transfer. Of course, Wonkhe also has a new blog on the topic.

Commenting on the Bill’s introduction Dr Arti Saraswat, AoC HE Senior Policy Manager, makes some good points:

  • Implementing this by 2025 will be challenging and will depend on publishing a detailed rule book, putting the correct systems in place and, most importantly, ensuring programmes are ready so that students can enrol on courses on a more modular basis. Ensuring the scheme has been tested through a thorough pilot process will be vital to building trust in the new system.
  • There is still work needed to explain who will be eligible for the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, where they will be able to use it and how those institutions will be regulated. Colleges already have a track record of teaching HE on a more part-time, flexible and individualized basis to adult learners but this activity has diminished in recent years creating a genuine challenge in rebuilding capacity, at a time when the UK needs higher skills to boost productivity and grow the economy.
  • There are wider challenges involved in reinvigorating adult higher education. The LLE and credit-based student loans are important technical fixes but are not enough on their own. Access to maintenance support is essential to ensure students can afford to study on a flexible basis.

Research

There is lots of research related news. Here are a series of links and blogs which cover the main announcements.

Innovation vision: Last Friday Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set out his goals for the UK. On research and innovation he included:

  • UK world leader in digital and tech, green and clean energy sector, and creative industries
    • Created more tech unicorns than France and Germany combined
    • Fintech in the UK attracted more funding than anywhere in the world outside of the US
    • UK Covid vaccine has saved more than 6m lives around the globe
    • Largest offshore windfarm in the world
  • Golden thread running through industries in the UK – innovation
    • UK ranks 4thglobally in innovation index, responsible for all the productivity growth
  • Hunt asked innovators to the help the UK achieve something both ambitious and strategic
    • He wants the UK to be the next Silicon Valley and for the world’s tech entrepreneurs and life science innovators to come to the UK
    • UK universities, financial sector, and government will back them
    • Government determined to make the UK a tech superpower
  • Confidence in the future starts with honesty in the present
    • UK weakness: poor productivity, skills gaps, over concentration of wealth in the SE
    • Brexit opportunity – make Brexit a catalyst for bold choices
  • Plan for growth – not a series of announcements, but a framework for policies in the future

And lots more:

  • Research Professional: the growing tensions around spinouts at British universities.
  • Impact data contribution to society: The British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences have launchedresearch into what REF impact study case data can tell us about the contribution of the arts, humanities and social sciences to the wellbeing of society, culture and the economy. The research is intended to provide a robust evidence base on which the higher education sector and policymakers can build to articulate the value of research and its impact on society. (Wonkhe 26/01).
  • The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committeehas published a report on research and development tax relief and expenditure credit
  • 45 UK researchers were successful in winning grants from the European Research Council recent round. UKRI’s Horizon Europe guarantee covers the funds while association is still up in the air
  • Policy influencing: HEPI published a report on how policymakers currently interact with research and how researchers lobby policymakers.
  • Lost money:Top UK economists have criticised £6 million a year in “perverse” quality-related cuts to their field, part of more than £100 million lost in the social sciences more broadly, despite a sharp improvement in Research Excellence Framework ratings. (THE)
  • Women’s Health Strategy for England – implementation.
  • Research security: article in The Times; Wonkhe blog
  • Intellectual Property: The N8 Research Partnership – an alliance of eight universities in the north of England – has delivereda statement on rights retention, strongly recommending that researchers “do not by default transfer intellectual property rights to publishers and instead use a rights retention statement as standard practice.” (Wonkhe)
  • ARIA: We’ve been writing about ARIA for so long that it feels like old news. However, it’s only right to mention the Government has now formally launched ARIA and it was legally established on 25 January. The link contains basic information about the purpose of ARIA and Wonkhe inform that Five new members have been appointed to the board, including former chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Kate Bingham and new Chief Financial and Operations Officer Antonia Jenkinson and that ARIA also announcedthat it would begin recruiting programme directors in the week of 6 February.
  • NHS Clinical Research at risk: The Lords Science and Technology Committee wroteto the Steve Barclay (Minister for Health and Social Care) warning that the current state of clinical research, pressures on the NHS, and a declining workforce is putting the future of clinical research in the NHS in jeopardy. The committee also emphasised that without urgent action patients will miss out on innovative treatments and the UK will miss out on economic growth. This webpage gives the best summary of the situation and the Committee’s recommendations which include mention of universities. Postdoctoral career insecurity is also mentioned and the Committee recommend offering longer contracts with the expectation of permanent positions to follow.
  • International collaboration: New Wonkhe blog – Becoming a science superpower relies not only on national research capacity but finding reliable international partners.
  • Research catapults: A new blog on Wonkhe – Catapults in context – Catapults are getting more funding and more political attention. But what do they do and what are they for?
  • Innovation: UKRI announced their cross-research council responsive mode pilot scheme which offers funding for interdisciplinary ideas that transcend, combine or significantly span disciplines. The full fund is worth £32.5 million and UKRI intend to make 26 awards.
  • R&D tax credits for small and medium sized enterprises are still contentious and Shadow BEIS Minister Chi Onwurah voiced concerns during oral questions: AMLo Biosciences is a Newcastle University spin-out whose groundbreaking research will save lives by making cancer diagnosis easier and more accurate. AMLo spends millions on research and reinvests all its research and development tax credits into R&D. The Government’s tax credit changes will halve what AMLo can claim, meaning less research and fewer new jobs. Its investors may ask for it to move abroad, where R&D is cheaper. Many Members have similar examples in their constituencies. Will the Minister explain why the Government issued no guidance, gave no support and had no consultation on the changes to SME R&D tax credits? Does he accept that whether in respect of hospitality heating bills or spin-out science spend, the Government are abandoning small businesses? Kevin Hollinrake (Small Business Minister) responded on behalf of the Government suggesting that the Government are trying to fix the problem: Clearly, we have to balance the interests of the taxpayer with the interests of small business. We have to make sure that the money that is being utilised for R&D is properly spent, and there were concerns about abuse of the small business R&D scheme. It is good that the Treasury is now looking into the matter and looking to move towards a simplified universal scheme, which I would welcome and on which there is a consultation. I absolutely agree that we need to make sure we have the right support for research and development in this country, not least for SMEs.

Parliamentary Questions:

  • ARIA funding flexibility.
  • Monitoring the UK’s innovation clusters
  • Confirmation of the total Government spend on R&I in 2018 as £12,765 million, 2019 as £13,542 and 2020 as £15,266
  • Horizon Europe: If the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, the Government will be ready with a comprehensive alternative, including a suite of transitional measures and longer-term programmes, funded from the budget set aside for association to European programmes. As stated in my speech at Onward UK on 11 Jan 2023, these programmes will enable the UK to meet its global Science Superpower and Innovation Nation ambitions. Details of the transitional measures have already been published, and the Department will publish more detailed proposals on the longer-term programmes in due course.

Regulatory: OfS under fire

Matt Western has been demonstrating his worth as Shadow HE Minister recently by asking a series of useful parliamentary questions. This includes Matt questioning Minister Halfon on whether the OfS will increase the registration fee for universities (because the fee is set by DfE). Halfon’s response:

  • No final decision has been made on any fee increase. The department is currently considering the level those fees should be set at for the 2023/24 academic year, to ensure that the OfS can perform its important functions effectively, ensuring students receive high quality education and value for money.
  • This includes continuing investigations to address pockets of low quality HE provision and deliver new duties under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

It’s this last element that’s the kicker because fee increases are expected to be tied to the newer closer regulatory interventions on course quality and free speech.

You’ll recall a couple of weeks ago that the mission groups wrote to a select committee urging them to look how OfS regulate the sector. The Russell Group have spoken out again, on the same issue because the proposed increase in registration fees is of 13-15% whilst student maintenance loans were only uplifted by 2.8%. Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group stated:

  • We’ve been clear with Department for Education that, before any increase in the Office for Students’ fees is considered, the regulator should demonstrate clearly how this extra funding will bring genuine benefit to students and how it plans to show that it is itself operating in the most efficient and effective way… It’s a frankly bizarre move given the perspective of the maintenance loan uplift, and also because it is not clear if the Office for Students has actually asked for this level of increase. Instead, the 13% figure seems to be coming more from political angles and linked primarily to responsibilities the Office for Students may get if and when the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill becomes law.
  • Instead of bumping up its fees…the Office for Students should be cutting them, and substantially…
  • while Parliament wrestles with the closing stages of the Free Speech Bill, maybe it should instead put a little more effort into scrutinising existing legislation and the priorities of the Government, its departments and the regulator with respect to students as they try to stay focused on their studies while their maintenance loans run out.

Dr Tim Bradshaw wrote further on the topic in a HEPI blog and you can also read the Russell Group’s analysis on student losses as maintenance loans fail to keep up with inflation here.

Another corker from Matt Western that the Government slightly sidestepped is whether the OfS Director for Free Speech will commit to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. All HE institutions have been pushed hard in recent years to sign up to the definition. Minister Coutinho stated: … We remain committed to the IHRA definition and our belief that providers should adopt it… The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will require reasonably practicable steps to be taken to secure freedom of speech within the law. The Director will oversee the free speech functions in that context.

The OfS, who haven’t been sitting idly by whilst the Russell Group launched their offensive. On Friday Wonkhe reported that: The Office for Students (OfS) is seen by providers as “seeking conflict”, lacking independence from government, and poor at communicating, according to findings of independent research into its relationship with the sector. As a result it has set out plans to “refresh” its engagement with providers – a blog from chief executive Susan Lapworth sets out actions including better communication channels, careful consideration of consultation lengths, and visits to institutions to “improve mutual understanding”.

The research that Wonkhe mentioned was actually published in July and this entertaining Wonkhe blog picks out the highlights from the research feedback. Seven months passed in which OfS had plenty of time to ruminate on their response/action and on Thursday Susan Lapworth published her own blog setting out what OfS would do. Here’s a comment from ‘Andy’ about Susan’s blog (published on Wonkhe):

  • The blog follows Susan Lapworth’s now traditional approach of apologising for the fact that the sector doesn’t understand the OfS, and promising to try and explain more clearly why everything they do is excellent, while not engaging with any substantive criticisms or issues. Coming across, as always, as someone very much untroubled by doubt.
  • The blog also comes with the function to comment but, as always, even mildly critical comments are not published (which is perhaps why the blogs never have any comments on them).
  • There are, as the article gently implies, no obvious signs that anything is going to get any better.

TEF: Finally the last thing anyone who was involved in the recent TEF exercise will want to read about now is…well…TEF. There is an easy read blog (yes it’s Wonkhe again) which contemplates TEF 4.0 and considers whether to embrace it or firmly place one’s head in the sand. Enjoy!

Students

Student Affordability

  • Reassurance from Paul Blomfield MP who chairs the APPG for Students writing about why students should be a priority in cost of living discussions within Parliament.
  • A useful Commons Library briefing the value of student maintenance support details how student maintenance support levels have changed over time and explores whether it’s enough, parental contributions and eligibility. A key point is that the real terms value of loans reduce by 7% in the current academic year and 4% for 2023/24 with the impact that the reduction is larger than any real cuts seen in student support going back to the early 1960s.
  • Parliamentary question confirming there are no plans to offer a repayment holiday on student loans when a graduate falls on hard times.
  • Scotland have suspended their student rent cap stating it had limited impact on annual rents set on the basis of an academic year.
  • Jersey have confirmed that the previous temporary (2022) increase in student maintenance will become permanent. However, the administration are coming under fire because the funding arrangements for next academic year haven’t yet been released.
  • Wonkhe report that Rising costs are “ruining” the university experience by 54 per cent of students, according to new pollingon the cost of living. Seven in ten have considered dropping out, with 37 per cent of these citing living costs as the main reason. The survey, conducted by Opinium on behalf of higher education software provider TechnologyOne, covered a representative sample of more than 1,000 university students across the UK in December and January.

Additional Hardship Funding: In our recent policy update we covered the announcement of additional student hardship funding for 2022-23. Overall there is £11.1m through full-time student premium, £1.6m through the part-time student premium, and £2.3m through the disabled students’ premium.The OfS has now shared allocations with providers and tasked them to consider how to distribute the additional funds. What is interesting policy wise is that Wonkhe highlight that the money is a redistribution of funds which were originally designed to support preparation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and “emergent priorities” funding. So, another Government initiative that under Rishi’s administration the brakes have been applied to (just lightly). This slowdown could mean that the PM is taking a more considered approach to previous policy initiatives rather than steamrollering them out…or if could just mean a general election is looming on the who-knows-how distant horizon.

Student Accommodation: Wonkhe cover resistance to the Government’s plan to abolish fixed term tenancies: A group of universities, student accommodation providers, and landlord bodies have written to the government warning against the abolition of fixed-term tenancies for students renting privately. The letter, co-signed by Universities UK chief executive Vivienne Stern, argues that the introduction of open-ended tenancies to the student housing market, as proposed by the government, will “undermine the stability and proper functioning of the sector” which is “dependent on property being available at the start of the academic year”. The Telegraph reports on the letter.

Quick news and blogs

Admissions: BTEC still under threat

  • Opposition to the removal of funding for some vocational qualifications continues. The Lords have been vocal in their opposition and a cross-party group urged Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to withdraw plansto cut funding for recently reformed applied general qualifications, such as BTECs.
  • Recent analysis from the Protect Student Choice campaignrevealed more than half of the 134 qualifications currently available (undertaken by 200,000 pupils) and included in the DfE’s performance league tables would be ineligible for funding from 2025.
  • The letter to Minister Keegan included high profile figures such as previous Education Secretaries of State David Blunkett and Ken Baker, former Education (and HE) ministers David Willetts and Jo Johnson, the Deputy Speaker of the Lords Sue Garden, and Labour peer Mike Watson. The letter highlights that previously they had been assured that only a small proportion of the applied generals would be removed, which is why they had supported the Skills Bill. It also states that qualifications to be defunded, which include health and social care, science, IT and business, are popular with students, respected by employers and valued by universities and states that removing them will have a disastrous impact on social mobility, economic growth and our public services. The Peers call on Keegan to remove the qualifications from the scope of the level 3 review and reforms, which are being cut to streamline the current offering and make way for new T Levels.
  • In other House of Lords news a rather eminent group of Peers has come together to launch a select committee on 11-16 year olds’ Education with reference to the skills necessary for the digital and green economy. Former HE Minister Lord Jo Johnson will chair the Committee and you can view the other Members here. The calibre of Peers participating makes this committee one to watch. They include a former education secretary, a Teachers Union general secretary, the Lords deputy Speaker, president of the Independent Schools Association, co-chair of the engineering APPG, and several party education spokespersons.

HESA statistics | Grade inflation (deflation)

It’s always an interesting half hour to peruse the HESA data releases. This time it’s the first look at the overall 2021/22 student statistics. For ease of reading we’ve popped the overall key points here. They cover student numbers and characteristics including disability, ethnicity, deprivation, religion, and age; by subject (spoiler – languages are down again); and qualifications awarded. HESA also published an insight brief – some interesting points:

  • A decrease in EU enrolment coupled with an increase in non-EU international numbers – unsurprisingly there may be a link with the end of home fee eligibility for EU students and the introduction of the Graduate route visa scheme.
  • A decrease – although not to pre-pandemic numbers – in the number of students being awarded first class honours, following a surge in high grades during the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years. The government will be pleased although they want it to go back to pre-pandemic as a start and maybe further.
  • An increase in students studying abroad as pandemic-era travel restrictions were lifted.
  • A decrease – although not to pre-pandemic levels – in students living in their parents’ or guardians’ home, following an increase during the height of the pandemic. (Remember this data is before current cost of living concerns.) This is interesting because we wondered if there would be a permanent shift, it seems not but cost of living may mean this changes again.

Wonkhe have a blog on the data release.

On the topic of grade inflation OfS Chief Executive, Susan Lapworth, stated: Today’s figures show a welcome decrease back towards pre-pandemic levels in the proportion of first class degrees awarded to students graduating in the 2021-22 academic year…Left unchecked, grade inflation can erode public trust and it is important that the OfS can and does intervene where it has concerns about the credibility of degrees. Universities and colleges understand that they must ensure that the degrees they award are credible and properly represent students’ achievement. This is the way to maintain the confidence of students, employers and the wider public in higher education qualifications.

Susan also mentioned the UUK and GuildHE initiative which aimed to increase transparency in degree awards: Last year, members of Universities UK and GuildHE committed to address the rising proportion of first class and upper second degrees and pledged to return to pre-pandemic levels of grading. We welcomed that commitment and will continue to monitor trends in classifications to understand factors that may contribute to the sector’s performance.

UUK has a good explainer about the initiative on their website (stick with it through all the drop down clicks): How universities are turning the corner on grade inflation.

If you’re interested in the latest statistics on HE staff from HESA you can read the analysis here.

ChatGPT

ChatGPT was THE topic of conversation over the last few weeks. Here’s a selection of links which vary in their focus and take on the topic.

Inquiries and Consultations

  • Here is the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current calls.
  • Other news
  • Targets and measures: Wonkhe blog –  the unique strengths of higher education are at risk from the excessive standardisation of targets and performance measures.
  • Emerging Tech: Previous universities minister Chris Skidmore has been appointed to support Sir Patrick Vallance’s work to accelerate the development of emerging tech. Chris will work on green industries. Skidmore will be stepping down as an MP at the next election
  • Degree apprenticeships: Wonkhe tell us Universities UK has released a ten point plan on how to grow degree apprenticeship provision, calling on government to review the costs and burden of regulation – the scale and complexity of which currently “creates a potential barrier to entry” – and reopen the register of apprenticeship training providers, so that universities new to delivering degree apprenticeships “can take the first step to be able to deliver them”. Also: Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon praised universities’ role in promoting degree apprenticeships – including excellent Ofsted inspection reports, which he noted as confirming his belief that universities “are brilliantly placed to deliver these unique programmes”. And we have a Parliamentary Question: Promoting degree apprenticeships to disadvantaged young people.
  • Health workforce: The Welsh government has announced an expansion in training places for the health professional workforce in Wales, with £281.98 million to be invested in 2023-24, an eight per cent increase from the current year. The funding includes £7.14 million for medical training places. (Wonkhe.)
  • Refugee/asylum access to HE: Wonkhe report that a new online portal has launched to promote opportunities for refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK to access university. The Displaced Student Opportunities UK website – created by Refugee Education UK, Student Action for Refugees, and Universities of Sanctuary – is intended to showcase academic scholarships, grants, short courses and mentoring for displaced students.
  • Minimum entry requirements (or limiting student numbers): there is an interesting THE article Second chances. It covers the Netherlands universities who may revert to using lotteries to decide which students are admitted to fixed-capacity programmes. Supporters say we do believe it would promote equity between students. Interesting, but this approach isn’t (currently) being considered for UK HE policy.
  • THE has an article on the MPs who also work in Universities. It’s mainly concerned with the impact of second earnings but does mention how having an MP on staff, even temporarily, could be a lobbying route. This Evening Standard article quantifies the detail a little more on second earnings noting former PMs within the top earners but unfortunately doesn’t dish on how much universities are paying their parliamentarians.
  • Carbon footprint: The Government wants HE (and FE) to publish carbon footprint data by 2025 but there isn’t a reliable data collection system in place. Wonkhe: Enter the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) and a Standardised Carbon Emissions Reporting Framework agreed in consultation with every relevant sector group you can imagine. It’s a voluntary, consensual requirement that will align with an updated and streamlined HESA estates management record and aims to meet providers where they are in terms of collection and reporting. Here’s the blog.
  • New Uni: Blackpool to receive £40 million to build a new carbon neutral university.
  • Turing troubles: Opinion piece in THE on the problems with the Turing Scheme. The authors recommend offering funding more promptly and flexibly.
  • Contract cheating: Wonkhe blog – Daniel Sokol describes a case of blackmail by an essay mill and proposes a new approach to how universities should handle such cases.
  • Student dropout: Wonkhe blog – What sort of support should be offered when students drop out of university? Stephen Eccles shoots and scores.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

 

HE policy update for the w/e20th January 2023

The view from the DfE

For the first time since he was appointed, the Minster for Skills, further and Higher Education has written to the sector.  The tone is more positive than we have become used to, it didn’t arrive on a Friday at 5pm, and it was fairly focussed.  It is clear where the focus is, and no surprise either, given Halfon’s known views aired as chair of the Education Committee.  Skills, technical education and social justice, including of course accepting T-levels in admissions, and please can we do more apprenticeships.  Wonkhe have a view here.

Tuition Fees

Kier Starmer has statedhe wants to see change” on tuition fees that “he doesn’t think it works”. He qualified the statement making clear while he supports the original Labour policy of abolishing tuition fees in principle it would be too detrimental to the economy to carry it out: “ there are good Labour things that we would want to do but because of the damage the Tories have done we won’t be able to do”. He said instead his focus, if elected, would be on “stabilising the economy and growing it” and on restoring and reforming public services. He did not categorically say Labour would not maintain their free tuition fees pledge at the next election but it sounds like he is laying the ground.

There’s a Guardian article here. It’s estimated that abolishing tuition fees would cost around £6 billion per year.

Research

  • The PM spoke about plans to build an innovative economy and emphasised the increase in R&D funding to £20 billion to enhance our world leading strengths in AI, life sciences, quantum computing, financial services, and green technology.
  • Science minister George Freeman gave a keynote addressScience Superpower: The UK’s Global Science Strategy beyond Horizon Europe. He has also spoken out on Horizon Europe stating that both prime minister Rishi Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt agreed that two years’ exclusion from the EU’s Horizon Europe R&D programme was “long enough” (source: Politics podcast). He also stated that if Britain was permanently excluded from the EU science schemes it would need to focus on specific research challenges where it can lead multinational consortia – There is a “huge opportunity” for the U.K. in these areas because Brexit allows the country to become “a global testbed” and regulate in an “agile” and “responsive” way, the science minister said (Politico). Also the Minister stated: As part of its “Plan B” if excluded from EU science, the U.K. would also channel more funding toward fellowships for foreign researchers, “moonshots” on cutting-edge technology areas, and global collaborations. He continued: “There’s a possibility if we move with bold vision … the European Union will see that we are committed to doing this and I think it’s more likely that they will pick up the phone and say, ‘look, come back in and let’s do the ERC [European Research Council] together’ and learn from some of the things that we are doing.”
  • Parliamentary question on medical innovation.
  • The Treasury has opened a consultationseeking views on the design of a single, simplified research and development (R&D) tax relief scheme, merging the existing research and development expenditure credit (RDEC) and the small and medium enterprise (SME) R&D relief.

Regulatory

The Russell Group, MillionPlus, GuildHE, and University Alliance banded together and wrote a coordinated letter to the Education Select Committee asking them to consider a new inquiry reviewing the into the operation and performance of the Office for Students (OfS). They ask the Committee to assess whether the OfS has succeeded in the role parliament envisaged for it in HERA, whether it has the confidence of the sector in the way it carries out its regulatory duties, how it has supported students and how it performs relative to standards set out in the Regulators’ Code.

It acknowledges the DfE review of HERA but states the depth of scrutiny failed to reflect the significance of the legislation and highlights the Government’s research based reviews emphasising there has been no equivalent review of the OfS. The letter also emphasises the student voice. Of course, the OfS itself has often justified choices and aligned itself with its perceived view of students. So this seems a reasonable request to the Committee. The inquiry would also allow universities and other HE providers regulated by OfS to share their opinion of OfS effectiveness and operational decisions.

Concerns raised in the letter:

  • The letter touches on technical issues and concerns that OfS may become the permanent Designated Quality Body. The need for an independent body to assess quality and standards was stressed by the Lords during the passage of HERA and ultimately resulted in the Government amendment to introduce the DQB function. The letter states: If the OfS were to take on DQB responsibilities permanently it would lead to a loss of independent oversight of quality assurance in England and go against international standards.
  • The letter also raises concerns that the OfS is not implementing a fully risk-based approach, that it is not genuinely independent and that it is failing to meet standards we would expect from the Regulators’ Code. The letter states the regulatory burden continues to be unnecessary limiting the full funding that could be spent on a quality experience for students.
  • Critique is levied because the OfS’ operation does not align with the [Regulators’] Code…the absence of mechanisms for the Regulator to gain structured feedback from providers on its own performance (as highlighted in a recent report by the National Audit Office).
  • Finally the letter concludes that a review is timely as the OfS is about to take on additional responsibilities due to the HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

It’s a powerful letter but what will it achieve? Select committees are not obliged to respond to requests they investigate a matter through an inquiry, they may also have a full programme (6 open inquiries, 2 about to conclude), or think this is not a priority. Or they may dismiss it as the sector moaning about regulation, which is a sign that regulation is working.  Also, while Parliament and Government are separate entities so the Committee can do thing the Government might not like, the Chair is a Tory and the Government are unlikely to be happy about a free for all picking holes in their regulator of choice, particularly during a pre-election period when Rishi is trying to maintain stability whilst building his party’s standing alongside governing the country.

However, to receive a joint letter from 4 mission groups is a significant occurrence and parliament is careful to understand the opinions of the populace. So, at the least, they will consider it.

What might happen?

If they choose to run an inquiry they may elect to hold oral evidence only. If they were to open for written evidence they might anticipate an unmanageable deluge of written as everyone piles in with their grumbles. Inviting limited speakers – perhaps one from each mission group and some from alternative HE providers under the regulation of the OfS and potentially student representatives – might help manage volume.

If the Committee did open for written evidence what form would the terms of reference take? Presumably the Committee wouldn’t draw them directly from the mission group letter but they need a narrow focus to avoid opening up a wider can of worms. The alternative is to keep an inquiry focussed on only one or two aspects. Or to not run an inquiry at all – they might to state that the DfE analysis is sufficient or find it isn’t their place due to a technicality in law or parliamentary procedure.

Even if an inquiry is run it might not achieve all the outcomes the mission group colleagues are hoping for. Particularly because even if the Committee find OfS is not performing well and make recommendations to Government the Government is free to ignore them and pursue their own course of action.

No matter what the outcome it is exciting to see the sector united and lobbying on their own behalf rather than passively accepting (and moaning) about the state of affairs. It has long been a criticism of the HE sector that we were not united in action nor coordinated in pushing back against HE decisions and regulation. Certainly the response to this call for an inquiry will be closely watched by the sector, Parliament and Government.

Parliamentary Question: DfE will not publish the impact assessment relating to OfS regulatory framework fees charged to providers.

Students

Mental Health:

Research Professional: a study has found that students’ risk of mental health problems differs depending on which subject they study. The study was undertaken in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and has a relatively limited sample.

Loans/Cost of Living

The Russell Group spoke out to warn that students in England could lose as much as £1,500 a year if maintenance loans do not keep up with inflation – highlighting students will drop out as they are unable to afford to stay in HE. The Russell Group laid the blame with the DfE stating they use out-of-date projections to calculate annual increases to maintenance loans – resulting in a significant real-term cut.

Russell Group chief executive, Dr Tim Bradshaw, said: Students are struggling with the rising cost of living and while our members are doing what they can to help, including investing millions of pounds in hardship support, we are concerned about the impact on students’ wellbeing and their studies. It’s particularly frustrating to see those challenges exacerbated by the use of a model that means students are set to be £1,500 worse off next year, especially when it can be so easily fixed and it relates to a loan that is paid back by the student.

Meanwhile the Government announced a change to the pre-2012 student loan interest rate. This plan 1 loan allows for interest rate changes as the bank Base Rate changes. The interest rate for these loans has increased to 4.5% (because the bank Base Rate changed to 3.5% in December 2022). Plan 2 and postgraduate loans remain at 6.5% until 28 Feb 2023.

However, on 11 January the Government announced the Cost of living boost for students: Financial package to help students with living costs and a further freeze on tuition fees. This includes freezing tuition fees for 2 years to reduce student debt levels (on top of the existing 6 year freeze on tuition fees)[1] and providing additional financial support for students in need. The additional monies are £15 million distributed through hardship funding, on top of the £261 million that is distributed for hardship annually to providers. HE providers will decide how to distribute their share of the additional funds to best meet their students’ needs. The Government also confirmed that the maximum loans and grants supporting both undergraduate and postgraduate with living and other costs will be increased by 2.8% for 2023/24. Minister Halfon also confirmed that students starting Higher Technical Qualifications in 2023/24 would also qualify for fee and maintenance loans for the first time.

Millionplus responded to the 2.8% living cost increase: The Government’s 2.8% uplift in maintenance loans equates to a significant real-terms cut in student support. Universities will continue to support their students through the cost of living crisis, but with their budgets also stretched they can only do so much. While the £15m additional hardship funding will help to support this work, more action is needed to support students.

Last October our Learning With the Lights Off report highlighted that 300,000 students, disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, are at risk of severe financial hardship because of the cost of living crisis. The choice between completing your studies or eating is no real choice at all, but that could be the situation many find themselves in. The funding arrangements announced today will do little to alleviate that stark choice.

The Russell Group were similarly unimpressed – Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: It is disappointing that the DfE has failed to deliver a meaningful increase to maintenance loans or take the opportunity to address some of the flaws in the forecasting process to ensure they keep up with rising costs, despite warnings that students would be left £1500 worse off next year. Reversing the real terms cut in the value of the loan since 2020/21 would be a simple fix that would provide much needed immediate support for living costs and would be paid back by the student. 

NUS: The NUS welcomes any additional money and the Government’s recognition that students are in a precarious position due to spiralling inflation and costs…But while any increase in loans and hardship funds is welcome, we believe it is too little, too late. The Government needs to put in place a proper funding package to secure student finances and ensure all students can meet their potential…The government must go further to protect students in the long term, by increasing the value of the maintenance package, implementing a rent freeze and further controls on spiralling student rent, reducing transport costs and increasing the minimum wage for apprentices and young people…The 2.8% increase in the maintenance loan for 2023/24 is woefully inadequate and will leave students over £1,500 worse off than they would have been if student support was tied to inflation. More than a quarter of students are living on less than £50 a month after rent and bills. If maintenance support continues to lag behind inflation, the number of students in poverty is only going to increase.

The regulatory context: the OfS have weighed in with some research and John Blake has pointed out the potential impact on equality of opportunityAlthough they clearly have an interest, given the access and participation agenda it is not clear what they can do about it – but there are some hints at the end of the blog:

  • We will be publishing an Insight briefin the next couple of months summarising our cost-of-living polling and roundtable discussions. By highlighting practical approaches taken within the sector, we hope it will be a useful contribution to the growing body of evidence on this subject.
  • This evidence will also feed into our work on risks to equality of opportunity. Later this year, the OfS will be publishing an equality of opportunity risk register. The register, which is an important part of our access and participation reforms, will identify key sector-level risks to equality of opportunity in higher education and highlight student groups most affected by each risk. There’s a good chance cost of living will be on the register.
  • We will also be publishing updated guidance for providers on preparing their access and participation plans. In the meantime, in line with the existing guidanceI would encourage providers to continue to engage with their students to ensure their voice on this, as on other issues, is heard. Listening to, partnering with and understanding the views of underrepresented students can lead to improved strategies and activities that support these students to succeed.

Not a level playing field: For 2023-24 the Welsh Government has announced it will uplift the value of maintenance support (9.4%) with an average award of £11,720. It will apply to students who are already on a degree course. The higher support will be awarded to all Welsh students wherever they study in the UK for both part and full time study. English students will only benefit from the 2.8% increase detailed above. Wonkhe have an informative blog with comparisons. The uplift for Welsh postgraduate students and disabled students is more modest at 1.4%. Wonkhe say: The discrepancy is grounded in the use of an Office for Budget Responsibility projection of inflation in 2024 – although Wales is using a lower figure to that used in England’s maintenance uplift announced last week. The full detail on these changes to Welsh student finance is here.

Graduate Outcomes: An Institute for Fiscal Studies report suggests that young people who graduated into the pandemic suffered no lasting effects on careers, but the next two waves of graduates face a double whammy. The research found that:

  • The cohort that graduated in 2020, particularly those with university degrees, initially experienced worse outcomes. They struggled to find work immediately after graduation and were less likely to receive on-the-job training, and those with degrees started in lower-paid occupations than previous cohorts.
  • However, the rapid economic recovery and boom in jobs vacancies allowed them to quickly recover lost ground. One to two years into their careers, they do not appear to have lower employment rates or worse job quality than previous cohorts.
  • The cohorts that entered the labour market in 2019 and 2021 fared no worse than previous cohorts across a number of job quality measures. Up to one year after graduation (and up to two years for the 2019 cohort), they were no less likely to be in full-time, permanent jobs, to work in high-paid or professional occupations, to receive on-the-job training, or to work for a large firm.
  • There were no significant differences by parental background on these measures of job quality – perhaps surprising given the lack of formal internships over the pandemic.

The report does note, however, that this doesn’t mean the pandemic cohorts earnings won’t stagnate and that some of the pandemic’s negative effects may not have materialised yet.

There are increased concerns for the vulnerability of the students about to graduate as the labour market cools and because the final years of education were disrupted by the pandemic and the predicted forthcoming prolonged recession makes for a difficult graduate job market.

NUS – antisemitism

The National Union of Students (NUS) published Independent investigation into allegations of antisemitism within NUS by Rebecca Tuck KC which was commissions after a series of allegations and parliamentary pressure during the latter half of 2022. It highlights poor relations and that Jewish students may not feel comfortable attending NUS events and that across the last 17 years Jewish students have perceived this culture as hostile. She also states that antisemitism was not limited to Israeli-related examples such as holding Jewish students responsible for the acts of the Israeli state or comparing Israeli policy to Nazism, but has also seen the employing of ancient antisemitic tropes, from blood libels to Rothschild conspiracies.

Tuck also did not concur with concerns over the IHRA definition of antisemitism (see page 109 for the detail). She concludes I do not consider that revisiting the definition of antisemitism is going to move the NUS towards more meaningful, and less harmful engagement between students on the topic of Israel/Palestine.

Recommendations (see page 112 onwards for the detail):

  • Advisory panel
  • Record keeping
  • Due diligence for election candidates
  • Review complaints process
  • Antisemitism training
  • Create materials to lead the way – exploring “example models of dialogue around Israel/Palestine and disseminate good practice”.
  • Experienced facilitator to support discussion about Israel/Palestine for next 2 years
  • Revive ARAF committee (Anti Racist Anti-Fascist)
  • Surveying Jewish students
  • Consider an external speaker policy
  • Governance review

NUS responded that the report: is a detailed and shocking account of antisemitism within the student movement. It is a truly difficult read for all of us but we welcome the clarity it brings to enable us to act with confidence to tackle antisemitism head on.  There is no place for antisemitism within NUS and we are committed to ensuring that Jewish students feel safe and welcome in every corner of our movement.   

Our priority now is to take forward the recommendations from Rebecca Tuck KC’s independent report to tackle antisemitism in all its forms across the breadth and depth of NUS.  

We have developed an action plan which will help us achieve this, but it is vital that we listen and learn from others, which is why we are setting up an Advisory Panel to scrutinise this plan and oversee its implementation.  

Matt Western, Shadow HE Minister responded: Many of the findings in Rebecca Tuck KC’s independent Report are deeply worrying and should concern us all. Antisemitism has no place in society and must be stamped out wherever it is found. I am pleased to see the NUS accept the findings of the Report and recognise the need for change. Students deserve to feel safe, supported, and welcome on campus. I look forward to seeing the NUS implement their action plan over the coming weeks, working with the Jewish student community.

Parliamentary Questions

 Degree/Higher apprenticeships

The DfE published apprenticeships statistics (England only). Degree and higher apprenticeships continue to make up substantial proportion of apprenticeships starts but figures are relatively stable between years.

  • Advanced apprenticeships accounted for nearly a half of starts (43.3% or 151,300 starts).
  • Higher apprenticeships accounted for nearly a third of starts (30.5% or 106,400 starts).
  • Under 19s accounted for 22.2% of starts (77,500).
  • Starts supported by Apprenticeship Service Account (ASA) levy funds accounted for 64.6% (225,600).
  • Starts at Level 6 and 7 increased by 10.3% to 43,200 in 2021/22. This represents 12.4% of all starts reported for 2021/22.  There were 39,200 Level 6 and 7 starts in the same period last year (12.2% of starts in the same period).

Value for money

The Education Select Committee quizzed Minister Robert Halfon. Halfon emphasised the importance of career training, and championing apprenticeships and skills and promoting lifelong learning. He stated the need to increase investment in skills and to explore data that looked for skills deficits as well as looking at deficits in specific regional areas. He also referenced investing in T-levels and specifically focussed on employer engagement.

Specifically on HE Committee member Miriam Cates MP compared the funding of FE and HE querying whether HE provided value for money. The minister stated he welcomed the impact and successes of both sectors and suggested that he wanted the sector to focus on social justice and bringing the most disadvantaged the opportunities to get enter higher or further education. However, Cates pressed on stating the need for a full review of joined up education post-16, not just 16 to 18, asserting that the investment in higher education did not result in the relative job prosperity after.

Admissions

Minister Halfon provided an update statement on the rationalisation of pre-HE qualifications. He highlighted how qualifications which overlapped with T levels have been removed (excluding A levels which remain). However the alternative academic and technical qualification within scope of the Government’s review will need to demonstrate that they serve a clear and distinct purpose and meet new quality and funding criteria to continue to be publicly funded from 2025. This has an impact on HE because courses that include progression to HE will be under the microscope. The ministerial statement confirmed such courses must demonstrate evidence of demand and a clear statement of why the qualification is needed as well as meet regulatory requirements.

Finally the Minister states: Our reforms do not constitute a binary choice between T Levels and A levels. We have listened to feedback and recognise the need for additional qualifications, including alternative qualifications such as some BTECs designed to be taken as part of a mixed study programme including A levels. These alternative qualifications are an important part of how we will support diverse student needs and deliver skills that employers need for a productive future economy, in areas that A levels and T Levels do not cover. In addition, the T Level Transition Programme provides a high-quality route onto T Levels, for students who would benefit from the additional study time and preparation that it will give them before they start their T Level.

In a parliamentary question this week Minister Halfon highlighted that UCAS expect the number of UK and overseas HE applicants will reach one million by 2026/27 (see page 3).

Access and Participation

There was a good ding dong in the Lords as peers pushed the Minister over Social Mobility Commission issues on 12 January – read this short text for more details.  Previously Katharine Birbalsingh then Chair of the Social Mobility Commission announced she was stepping down as Chair because her controversial opinions were doing more harm than good, and placed the commission in jeopardy. Catherine was informally called ‘Britain’s strictest headteacher’ and a right-wing culture warrior. She spoke about her decision to stand down is Schools Week stating she brought with her too much baggage. Deputy Commissioner Alun Francis again steps up as interim Chair. Research Professional covered the story in a short article. Katherine’s letters can be read here.

Social Mobility Commission (SMC) catch up:
In 2022 the SMC set out a fresh approach to social mobility, moving away from the notion that social mobility should just be about the “long” upward mobility from the bottom into the top.

In June the SMC published their State of the Nation annual report. The report showcased their new Social Mobility Index, a rigorous new framework for measuring social mobility over time. Each year, they will report on mobility outcomes, intermediate outcomes, and the drivers of social mobility (the background conditions that enable social mobility to happen).

2023 will see the publication of the next State of the Nation report, in which the SMC will also overlay these metrics by UK regions, and give additional breakdowns by other characteristics including sex, ethnicity and disability. These breakdowns will connect personal characteristics to a place, and can help to inform early thinking about policy solutions.

Appointment: Professor John McKendrick has been appointed as the new Commissioner for Fair Access to Higher Education in Scotland.

Parliamentary Question: Supporting foster care young people in university

International

Wonkhe: further signs that a crackdown on international students is coming,

HEPI published a new policy note which they state reveals a lack of understanding among employers of the post-study work rights of international students in the UK, despite the fact the Graduate Route visa could offer the answer to many current skills shortages.

Other news

Block teaching: THE article on block teaching – Brick by brick: Advocates of “block teaching” are teaming up in a new association in an attempt to hasten its adoption by universities worldwide.

Diversity: THE article: The term “BAME” hides the nuanced identities of academics of colour. EDI efforts must be intersectional if they’re to nurture all marginalised groups, write four female academics in the UK.

Funding boost for 16-19 providers: On 9 January the government announced  increased funding rates  worth an additional £125 million for providers delivering 16-19 education from 2023/24. Minister Halfon has long been a supporter of increased funding for FE and this funding decision may demonstrate his effective campaigning in this area, alongside a PM who states education is why he got into politics.

PMQs – Social Mobility: David Johnson MP raised about universities and employers playing their part in ensuring social mobility during week’s parliamentary questions. PM Sunak responded that the Social Mobility Commission was promoting social mobility in the UK and provided toolkits to employers.

Training investment: The CBI Education & Skills survey revealed that fewer employers are prepared to increase the investment in the training of their employee during the next year. Intention to support increased training has fallen from 53% in 2021 to 38% currently. The data also revealed that few employers are aware of the Government’s schemes for training such as the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, Local Skills Improvement Plans, or T levels. However, 75% of firms supported extending the Apprenticeship Levy to other forms of accredited/regulated training.

Free Speech keen to appoint: Research Professional state the Telegraph reports that a shortlist has been drawn up for the position of free speech tsar at the Office for Students—this is despite the government’s bill not yet having achieved royal assent. The paper reports that the shortlist for the £99,164-a-year job at the OfS includes Higher Education Policy Institute director Nick Hillman. However, The Telegraph describes University of Cambridge philosophy professor and Spiked Online columnist Arif Ahmed as the “frontrunner” to land the role.

And we have another OfS blog on free speech

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

[1] The last change was in 2017 when the cap that applies to most courses was increased from £9000 to £9250

HE Policy Update w/e 21st December 2022

There’s something for everyone in this final policy update of 2022. Although things have calmed down a bit as we approach the festive period there is still lots of news. We’ve kept matters as light as possible for you with links to more information for those that wish to read more. Here’s wishing you all a relaxing break, happy Christmas and a good start to the New Year.

Parliamentary News

Parliamentary session to continue: It’s been confirmed that the King’s Speech (and therefore, the State Opening of Parliament in 2023) will be delayed allowing more time for the Government to pass its legislative agenda. This is because when the Parliamentary session is closed any outstanding legislation drops away automatically unless a carry-over motion is passed to enable it to continue. (You’ll recall the Freedom of Speech (HE) Bill was carried over from the previous session because the Government is determined to get it on the statute books). The monarch then re-opens parliament with a speech setting out the Government’s legislative plans for the coming months. The Government indicated they plan to dissolve Parliament in Autumn 2023 meaning the new parliamentary session may begin in November 2023. The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “The programme is very full and to make sure we have the time we need to get through the packed agenda the Prime Minister wants to deliver, the session will run until autumn 2023.” A cynic might mention it’s also getting awfully close to the next general election. Both Houses will return from recess on the 9 January.

HE priorities: Education Select Committee session: HE Minister Robert Halfon was examined by the Education select committee and HE received a brief mention. Miriam Cates MP queried whether HE funded provided value for money considering the lower funding settlement received by FE institutions. Halfon stated he welcomed the impact and successes of both sectors and suggested that he wanted the sector to focus on social justice and bringing the most disadvantaged the opportunities to get enter higher or further education. This is a personal agenda for Halfon and he has been very open about his interest in social justice, social mobility and accessibility/performance of HE institutions in supporting disadvantage. Cates was unimpressed with Halfon’s response and pressed for a full review of joined up education post-16, not just 16 to 18, stating that the investment in HE did pay off in terms of jobs and prosperity.

Spring budget announced: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will deliver the Spring Budget on 15 March 2023. This fulfils the obligation to produce two forecasts in a financial year (required by law).

HERA – the Christmas edition

The DfE published their policy paper assessing the Higher Education and Research Act 2017: post-legislative scrutiny. HERA was a major change to HE operations and was pushed through the Commons (against substantial Lords backlash) by Jo Johnson in 2017. It established the OfS and UKRI in their current form.

Although the paper seems to have come out of the blue the DfE are expected to do this for each major piece of legislation within their remit after the first 5 years. As the paper is written for the Education select committee we may well see a new inquiry in this field in the new year.

Even if you’re not interested in the paper per se it has an interesting synopsis of the sector from page 8 onwards. And what is a Christmas edition of anything without a review of the major occurrences over the last (5) years? Here are the ‘high’lights we’ve contended with:

  • Left EU
  • Global pandemic and all that implied: changed social and economic environment and remote/hybrid/blended learning
  • New regulatory and funding system
  • Revolving door for ministers each with their own stamp on specific priorities (printing and accommodation costs, free speech, antisemitism, university advertising, post qualification admissions, the role of universities in school performance
  • All the big things: disadvantage, quality and outcomes, Lifelong Loan Entitlements, degree apprenticeships, T levels, broader structural HE reform. Cue the adverts… phew!

On the paper Wonkhe say: It is meant to properly reflect on the act – what has worked, what hasn’t, and what needs to change, with a view to making sure we have the best law we can. The publication we got made a start – and there are some eyebrow-raising lines in there about the way the underlying assumptions and government policy have shifted, often quite radically. They have a blog for those who enjoy Wonkhe’s analyses: David Kernohan wonders if we really have the system that was asked for.

HEPI have a related blog: Have the Higher Education & Research Act and the Office for Students delivered for new and ‘challenger’ providers?

Regulatory & Free Speech

HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill

The HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill received its third reading in the House of Lords. The Lords made more amendments and have passed it back to the House of Commons. So we are now in the final stage of ‘ping pong’ where the Commons and Lords tussle over the ultimate wording before the Bill passes to the King for Royal Assent.

The Third Reading was a calm affair but the Lords didn’t roll over. Minister for the School System and Student Finance, Baroness Barran, stated she was pleased to have introduced a definition of “freedom of speech” to the Bill and that this was one of the many important clarifications as a result of their discussions in the House (during Report Stage). She also confirmed they had avoided inadvertently giving alumni the same protections as current students and had clarified that the new power given to the OfS to give guidance on supporting freedom of speech was not related to the duty on higher education providers and their constituent colleges to promote the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom. She recognised as a breakthrough the banning of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual misconduct, abuse or harassment, or other forms of bullying. However, the proposed right to bring a civil claim in the courts against universities remains a big bone of contention. The Peers voted to remove it during the Report Stage and Baroness Barran said the Government would “reflect on this verdict and the arguments advanced to support it very carefully indeed.”

Lord Wallace spoke about the appointment of the new OfS free speech director. He asked the Government to “take particular care in finding a candidate for that position who will be accepted—possibly even welcomed—by the sector he or she sets out to regulate.” This reminds us of the controversy of partisan appointments that dogged Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Lord Wallace also drew attention to the outstanding question of the degree of overlap between this Bill, the recent National Security and Investment Act and the current National Security Bill, all of which imposed new duties and reporting requirements on universities. This has still not been fully resolved.

Baroness Thornton, Shadow Equalities Spokesperson, said “the jury it still out” on whether the Bill was necessary at all, but she was confident the legislation was being sent back to the Commons in an improved state. She drew attention to other outstanding matters, such as the role of the students’ unions. She also agreed with concerns around the risk of duplicating security regulations, and the risk that the Bill might pose to the business community, the commercial relations and the trading futures of universities.

Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Affiliated) said she hoped the Commons would “restore some version of Clause 4 and material remedies for victims of cancel culture on campus”.

OfS Annual Review: The OfS published its annual review. In her commentary of the report, OfS Chief Executive Susan Lapworth, sets out the key OfS priorities for 2023 including how tackling poor quality provision, ensuring students from all backgrounds are able to enter higher education and succeed in their studies, and protecting freedom of speech on campus are the key priorities for the OfS in 2023.

Parliamentary Questions: Regulatory

Matt Western (Shadow Universities Minister) asked some interesting questions regarding OfS funding:

In response to a parliamentary question Robert Halfon (Universities Minister) confirmed that the department’s priorities for higher education are consistent with those set out in guidance to the Office for Students (OfS) earlier this year. This includes a continued focus on delivering the government’s skills mission, driving up quality and ensuring equality of opportunity and real social mobility for students. The Government will only issue the OfS with new guidance for the current financial year if new issues or priorities emerge. 

Matt Western also asked: whether a review of the potential changes required to the admissions system for HE course in advance of the delivery of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (2024/25) has been conducted.  Robert Halfon responded:

  • To support the design and delivery of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) from 2025, the department will continue to engage with sector bodies across both further education and higher education, as well as the Student Loans Company and regulatory bodies.
  • On admissions, the department is continuing to work with UCAS and sector bodies to improve transparency, reduce the use of unconditional offers, and reform the personal statement to improve fairness for applicants of all backgrounds.
  • The LLE consultation and other ongoing engagements are an important part of delivering a transformation of student finance. The department is carefully considering the contributions and will publish a response in due course.

Research

Pro-innovation regulation

The Treasury published a policy paper: Pro-Innovation Regulation of Technologies Project: Terms of Reference which announces a review considering how to regulate emerging technologies.

Pro-innovation regulation focuses on ensuring that we can safely and ethically accelerate the development, testing, route to market and uptake of new technology products. It should give confidence to innovators. This is key to making the UK an attractive destination for R&D projects, manufacturing and investment, and ensuring we can realise the economic and social benefits of new technologies as quickly as possible.

The Treasury also announced the appointment of five industry experts to help accelerate the development and deployment of emerging technologies in the following key UK growth sectors:

  • digital technology
  • green industries
  • life sciences
  • advanced manufacturing
  • creative industries.

Experts will collaborate with industry and Sir Patrick Vallance to advise on new rules that use regulatory freedom to promote innovation.  The aim of the review is to establish the UK as the best regulated economy ensuring that industry and investors have the certainty needed to drive innovation, investment and growth through anticipating new developments in emerging technologies. The experts are:

Matt Clifford, Chair of the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), and Priya Lakhani OBE, a member of the AI Council, have been appointed to support work to harness new digital technology such as artificial intelligence.

Sir John Bell, sits on Genomics England’s board of directors, and Camilla Fleetcroft, Eclevar UK’s Vice-President of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs, will work on cultivating the life sciences sector and help drive the next generation of discoveries, such as delivering genomics-enabled clinical trials.

Jane Toogood, Chief Executive of Catalyst Technologies at Johnson Matthey, will take forward work on building green industries like hydrogen and battery development in the UK.

Future Research Assessment Programme

UKRI/Research England published three reports on the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP). Taken together the reports speak out against a fully metricised system for the next REF but do suggest ways in which AI might support low risk areas of the exercise. The reports are:

  • Harnessing the metric tide: indicators, infrastructures and priorities for responsible research assessment in the UK
  • Responsible use of technology in research assessment
  • REF outputs analysis: maximising the use of REF data

Quick news:

Horizon Europe extension: The Government announced an extension to the support provided to UK Horizon Europe applicants, originally launched in November 2021. The extension will ensure that eligible, successful UK applicants will continue to be guaranteed funding. The guarantee will be in place to cover all Horizon Europe calls that close on or before 31 March 2023. Eligible, successful applicants to Horizon Europe will receive the full value of their funding at their UK host institution for the lifetime of their grant. Successful awardees do not need to leave the UK to receive this funding, which will provide reassurance for future collaborations, and support UK researchers whether association is confirmed, or otherwise.

Science Minister, George Freeman, has been busy recently:

Wonkhe blog: The International Science Partnerships Fund is out, and James Coe thinks it has implications for UK research post Horizon.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee wrote to the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation George Freeman with the findings of its inquiry into people and skills in UK STEM. And THE has a blog on the topic: Academic careers: Teetering progress: A House of Lords committee has warned that the precarity of academic careers is exacerbating the UK’s growing skills gap in STEM.

HEPI blog: Research Leadership Matters: Agility, Alignment, Ambition

Graduate outcomes and employment

Sir John Holman, Independent Strategic Adviser on Careers Guidance wrote to DfE and DWP Minister regarding England’s careers guidance system.The letter summarises his recommendations for the future of the careers guidance system. It draws upon 18 months’ of consultation and conversations with careers practitioners and sector representatives, employers, schools, colleges, local bodies and a range of other interested parties, as well as a review of available evidence from the DfE, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the wider sector. You can read Holman’s recommendations (9 Strategic Principles) here. It’s worth a read, put it on your January list! HE and Skills Minister Robert Halfon welcomed the recommendations and stated he will consider them carefully – and that the Department will publish more information on future plans for the careers guidance system “in due course”.

Graduate employment: A catch up on the news that graduate employers aren’t focussed on degree outcome grade. The Times broke the story. Quickly followed up by Research Professional: The Times reports that fewer than half of graduate employers asked recruits for a 2:1 this year, according to a report by the Institute of Student Employers. And by Wonkhe: For the first time, less than half of graduate employers require a 2:1, new findings from the Institute for Student Employers suggest. The data from its 2022 student recruitment survey – drawn from 168 responses covering 32,110 hires, with larger organisations somewhat overrepresented – saw only 48% of responding employers having such a stipulation for graduate roles, down from 57% in 2021.

Data: The DfE released a new type of LEO data dashboard (and a report) looking at the earnings of individuals post GCSE over a 15 year period. Socioeconomic, demographic and education factors are within the data providing a granular picture. It isn’t directly comparable with the Graduate Outcomes data the HE sector routinely uses as there are small methodological differences, not least the inclusion of non-graduates. The box on page 23 explains the differences.  However, it provides a comparator for graduate and non-graduates of the same age (rather than mixed ages with all of the same graduation cohort). For the data buffs page 22 onwards explains the graduate/non-graduate comparators re: the value of a degree.

Key points:

  • People have diverse employment pathways in their 15 years. Taking into account the 50 most common pathways only accounts for 31% of individuals.
  • The report aims to show how education and labour market activities and outcomes differ for different groups of individuals despite similar education levels. Particularly, to see how education and labour market outcomes differ for graduates and non-graduates with different individual characteristics.
  • Higher proportions of individuals completing a degree are in employment, having higher average earnings than those without a degree and with lower proportions claiming out of work benefits.
  • Higher levels of education lead to better labour market outcomes for all. This compares like with like so an individual with SEN or who was in receipt of free school meals (FSM) has a better labour market outcome than their SEN/FSM counterpart who left education at a lower level.
  • However, when the comparison is not like with like certain groups have lower labour market outcome than others. Although in these cases those completing a degree have better labour market outcomes than their comparators who do not have a degree. For example, there are higher proportions of graduates that were FSM eligible in employment and lower proportions claiming benefits than non-FSM eligible nongraduates. Of those in employment, the FSM eligible graduates earn around £5,000 more per year than non-FSM eligible nongraduates and their earnings potential seem to have different trajectories.
  • For a few select sub-groups a higher education level does not always lead to better labour market outcomes than their peers with a lower education level. For example, individuals with a SEN statement even with a degree tend not to outperform those without SEN who only studied to a lower educational level.
  • There is considerable difference in the earnings trajectories and outcomes for graduate and non-graduate individuals in employment (see Figure 15 below). There is a £10,000 difference in annual average earnings for graduates and non-graduates in employment 15 years after finishing KS4 (for most graduates this is around 8 to 10 years after graduation). Though the curve for graduates flattens after a sharp increase as more graduates join the labour market, it continues to increase at a faster rate than that for non-graduates

The Institute for Fiscal Studies analysed the data in more depth using measures to control multiple background characteristics. They found prior attainment and subject of study at HE level to be very important in determining [financial] returns to degrees. Similarly, this report finds:

  • Those with poorer attainment at KS4 that go on to complete a degree do not have better labour market outcomes than individuals with better KS4 attainment that do not complete a degree. This is also the case for SEN statemented individuals when compared with those not identified with SEN.  However, every other sub-group that completed a degree benefits from the better labour market outcomes due to the degree premium. Table 14 below illustrates this for SEN individuals. If you are interested in this sectionality do read the key findings, paragraph 159 on page 86 onwards as they cover all the groups with lower outcomes in a more granular way.
  • Black and minority ethnic groups tend to have higher levels of post 16 education, when compared with those from the White British group, yet not necessarily better labour market outcomes
  • The report states it is novel in that it analyses the data by SEN, first language and school type (in relation to employment outcomes and benefit claims).
  • Graduates are more likely to be employed than non-graduates, however, there is an interesting regional effect (see Table 18 below). Bear in mind this is based on the individual’s current region (which is not necessarily their key stage 4 region) – yet the rankings by region for those completing a level 3 are exactly the same in table 19 on page 80 – suggesting it’s a regional thing more than a graduate thing

HEPI

HEPI published many interesting papers and blogs over the autumn semester. Here are the most relevant and recent apart from those featured elsewhere:

 Students are evenly split on whether or not they regard it as the responsibility of their higher education institution to find them a job, with one-quarter (34%) believing it is and only a slightly lower proportion (30%) saying it is not.

 Most students look to their careers service to offer help with finding an internship or placement (63%), writing their curriculum vitae (63%), interview preparation (61%), finding a career (60%) and hosting careers fairs (52%). Providing mentoring and life skills also has substantial support (49%) while far fewer students expect help with finding a holiday job (22%).

 A majority of students (53%) think ‘all university courses should be designed mainly with future employment in mind’ and a further 37% say ‘some university courses should be’. Very few students say only ‘a small proportion’ (4%) or no university course (4%) should have a focus on employment.

 However, over half of students oppose the proposal in England of providing reduced access to student finance to those opting for courses with poor employment prospects; 53% ‘strongly disagree’ and an additional 16% ‘disagree’.

 Nearly one-half of students are either ‘very confident’ (14%) or ‘quite confident’ (32%) that they are likely to find their desired job on graduation but a substantial minority are ‘quite unconfident’ (21%) or ‘very unconfident’ (9%).

 When it comes to the type of employer, many students say they do not mind (34%) what size their future employer is. Among those with a preference, a similar proportion chose larger employers (28%) with 250 or more staff than small-to-medium sized enterprises (31%) with 249 staff or fewer.

 More students prefer employers who consider characteristics such as work experience and extra-curricular activities (41%) than prefer employers who mostly care about degree results (30%).

 When asked what they regard as ‘the best definition of a “graduate-level job”‘, students split three ways: 30% say a graduate-level job is one where an employer requires applicants to have a degree; 29% say it is one that is officially classified as ‘graduate-level’; and 26% say it is a position that pays above the student loan repayment threshold.

 Nearly half of students are either ‘very confident’ (16%) or ‘quite confident’ (31%) that they will secure a graduate-level role, while 17% are ‘quite unconfident’ and 8% are ‘very unconfident’.

 Around half (49%) of students have not used their careers service to date, which is slightly higher than the proportion who have (43%).

 Those who have used a careers service are more satisfied than unsatisfied, with 59% saying they were ‘very happy’ or ‘quite happy’ with the service they received. However, 13% were ‘quite unhappy’ and 7% were ‘very unhappy’.

 Those who have not used their careers service were given an opportunity to explain why. Some said they do not know what their careers service has to offer, some believe the careers service would not support their specific career needs and some feel they are too early in their course to consider career planning.

 Students want a single digital learning platform that is easy to use.

The vast majority (87%) of students would like to see digital learning resources streamlined onto a single platform with one, intuitive user experience, where texts are easily readable and navigable. The platform should be compatible across a range of devices and accessible on- and off-campus.

Students want to be able to access digital resources without waiting lists.

Nearly all (95%) of students say digital copies of their course books should be available to them at the point of need, without waiting lists.

Although many students say that they do not worry about being able to access course books through the library when they need them, 59% of students who are impacted by such worries say the wider availability of digital resources would improve their mental health.

Students want digital recordings of their lectures.

The most in-demand digital learning resource is lecture recordings. Students want to see recordings uploaded onto a single, user-friendly platform and for them to be made available for the duration of their courses.

HE Sector Resource

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published its fifth annual report on education spending in England. Here’s the summary of HE spending provided by Dods Political Intelligence:

  • Up-front spending on teaching resources per higher education student has continued to decline steadily, standing at £9,300 per year for the 2022–23 university entry cohort. That is around £1,700 less per year in real terms than for 2012–13 entrants, largely because the cap on tuition fees is now 18% lower in real terms than it was in 2012–13.
  • The nominal freeze in fees is set to continue for another two years, adding to other financial pressures on universities. The most important pressure in the near term is likely to be the cost of any settlement with staff over pay and pensions.
  • A major package of student loans reforms was announced in February and has substantially reduced the expected long-run cost of higher education, shifting a larger share of the cost onto graduates themselves. Changes to future repayment thresholds mean most students from the 2012 to 2022 university entry cohorts can expect to repay substantially more, with middle-earning graduates hit hardest.
  • From the 2023 entry cohort onwards, a lower repayment threshold, a longer repayment period and a lower interest rate mean most students can expect to repay their loans in full and to repay roughly the same amount as they borrowed in real terms. High earners will no longer pay off more than they borrowed, and only low-earning graduates’ loans will be subsidised by the taxpayer.
  • For current students, higher-than-expected inflation has eroded the real value of maintenance loans. Students in 2022–23 will be entitled to borrow 10% less towards their living costs than they were in 2020–21, a cut equivalent to £90 a month for the poorest students. Without a change in policy, living cost support for future students will be permanently lower, causing hardship for some.

Admissions, Access & Participation

Disabled students: Wonkhe blog – Endless reports have promised progress on access failures for disabled students – but how much difference has been made? Meg Darroch and Jim Dickinson take some regulatory ideas for a spin.

Disadvantage gaps: The Education Policy Institute published a report on the disadvantage gaps in England during 2021. It finds that much of the reduction in the disadvantage gap over the last decade has been reversed during the pandemic. The report mainly focuses on key stage 4 and 16-19 education. If this report was of interest you may also be interested in Ofsted’s annual report,

HEPI blog: Designing outreach with people of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller heritage – a lesson in critical unlearning and Raising institutional aspirations for supporting Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showmen and Boater students in higher education

HEPI blog: Why every university needs an advisor for care leavers and estranged students

Admissions:

HE – massification

Research Professional ran a thought-provoking article describing how the massification of HE has resulted in an unequal and divided workforce as graduate culture permeates companies. It describes ways to rebalance HE to provide vocationally oriented degrees – but this isn’t article just trumpeting skills, it believes HE should be universally funded and as natural as completing secondary schooling. It supports levelling up – although not in quite the same style as the Government originally intended through technologically advanced regions. Also: At the same time, there would need to be a corresponding growth in graduate jobs. This would involve spinouts and cooperative ventures with research universities, incentivised through their endowments to build these kind of links. Regional government would need to be involved in planning health, care and education systems, and the supply of graduate jobs in the health and education sectors would need to be underwritten before graduate employment in private and not-for-profit sectors caught up. It’s alternative in its solutions and it is easy to dismiss the article but closer readers may find aspects that resonate.

International

Transnational £: DfE estimates of the value of transnational education (TNE) for 2020 (this includes education programmes that take place outside the UK, through partner institutions or distance learning or international campuses).

  • Total UK revenue estimated to be £25.6 billion in 2020, an increase of 0.8% since 2019 in current prices.
  • HE was the main contributor with £19.5 billion of export revenue – equating to a share of 76.3% of the value of total exports, representing an increase of 6.3 ppts from 2019.
  • In 2020, international (EU and non-EU) Higher Education students at UK universities generated an estimated £18.0 billion in exports through living expenditure and tuition fees (£15.9 billion in 2019), which accounts for around 70.2% of the total value of education exports and TNE activity (62.6% in 2019).

The National Statistician, Sir Ian Diamond, has explained why international students are included in the net migration figures.

  • The United Nations definition of a long-term migrant is: “A person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year (12 months), so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence.” International students will typically live in the UK for more than a year, and so meet the definition of a long-term migrant.
  • However, we recognise this definition is narrow and doesn’t always meet user needs. We have plans to explore alternative definitions, including estimating net migration by reason, such as study. This will help provide more context to headline measures of migration, addressing recent findings from the ONS research that most international students will leave the UK after their studies are concluded.

Wonkhe blog – For Nick Isles, recent ministerial comments about international students have been dangerously underinformed.

Parliamentary Questions:

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. There are not any new consultations or inquiries this week.

Other news

Gaming: Grants for R&D and recruitment of video game graduates (parliamentary question).  

OIA appointment: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for HE (OIA) announced the appointment of Helen Megarry as the next Independent Adjudicator. Helen takes up the post in May 2023, and will jointly lead the organisation with Ben Elger, Chief Executive. Megarry is currently the Independent Adjudicator for His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and Valuation Office Agency, and independent reviewer of decisions made under the Windrush Compensation Scheme. She was previously Deputy Housing Ombudsman at the Housing Ombudsman Service, and a Board member of the Ombudsman Association. The current Independent Adjudicator, Felicity Mitchell, will continue to jointly lead the organisation until her term of office concludes at the end of April 2023.

PTES: Earlier this month the 2022 Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey results were released. Research Professional has a nice write up suggesting that satisfaction levels among PGT students have bounced back after hitting record lows during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Power sharing:  Gordon Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future (Labour party) published A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy – a report on devolution and constitutional reform. Key points:

  • A new “constitutional statute” will be written which codifies social rights for citizens and the devolution of power amongst the 4 nations.
  • Local authorities will be given the opportunity to gain new powers from central government.
  • A “suite” of R&D programs will aim to drive growth across England via local growth.
  • The UK Infrastructure Bank will be given an explicit mission to address regional economic inequality in the provision of infrastructure.
  • Local authorities will be given longer term funding settlements
  • Local people will have greater input to local authorities spending priorities.
  • Powers for devolved nations will be broadened
  • Councils of the Nations and Regions and of England will open opportunities for shared decision making from local government, devolved and national government.
  • New rules and enforcement procedures for standards in public life.
  • The House of Lords will be abolished and replaced with an elected 2ndchamber which will focus on protecting the constitution, devolution and standards in public life.

The report was strongly criticised by Plaid Cymru and the SNP.

Consumer Law: New OfS enforcement deal raises consumer law compliance pressure on universities. Higher education providers in the UK need to step up their efforts to protect students’ rights and comply with consumer laws, an expert has said as the Office for Students (OfS) and National Trading Standards announced a new partnership. The OfS’ partnership with National Trading Standards is a sign that the higher education regulator is moving into “regulatory compliance mode”, according to Rami Labib of Pinsent Masons. Read more.

Fees & Funding: Wonkhe blog – It was a trip down memory lane as graduate tax – and all the reasons to reject it – were rehearsed at a sector event. But the sector needs some bigger thinking on fees and funding soon, argues Jim Dickinson.

Enterprise: The All-Party Parliamentary University Group praised the work of the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education in the blog: How can higher education be at the forefront of enterprise and entrepreneurship?

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 17th November 2022

We’re keeping the news as light as possible this week and running a catch-up feature on the important research announcements that didn’t reach you over the summer period.

Autumn statement

You can read the detail behind the headlines on the autumn statement here.

Education Select Committee – new chair

Robin Walker has been elected as the Chair of the Education Committee, beating Caroline Ansell, David Simmonds, and former schools minister Jonathan Gullis. Walker did a stint as Minister of State for School Standards (2021-22) as well as other non-education junior ministerial roles. He’s also participated in APPGs on Apprenticeships, Financial Education for Young People, Youth Employment & Outdoor education, and was recently elected as the vice-Chair for the APPG for Students.

The Education select committee is responsible for scrutinising the work of Government and holding them to account for education matters. In this Walker has stated he is keen to learn from different parts of the UK as well as internationally. He states he will continue Halfon’s (the previous Chair) work on skills, SEN, attendance and levelling up. However, he intends for the Committee to also focus on childcare, safeguarding and the cost pressures facing schools and families. There’s been no mention of HE. Walker has described himself as a constructive critic of the Government and stated he is passionate about creating opportunity for businesses and for people to escape benefit dependency

Walker is from a political family, his father was also an MP. He went to a private school and read history at Oxford, and he interned in a US Congressman’s office. Prior to his political career he ran his own public relations business, staying on as an advisor after his appointment to parliament. Ultimately, he had to resign his advisory position following a complaint that he was contravening lobbying rules. Prior to parliamentary appointment he was also the press agent to previous local Dorset MP Oliver Letwin. He was the first in his family to attend university and his siblings both work in education – one in SEN and the other in a literacy role. He states he is acutely aware of the challenges and costs of childcare. He also supports a rich curriculum and believes schools should teach a wide range of subjects including STEM, creativity, outdoor education, RSHE, languages, and the arts

In his School’s Minister stint he states he: Presided over the return to school after the pandemic; co-wrote the White Paper including the levelling up premium & Education Investment Areas; prioritised deprivation in the funding formula & delivered the largest ever cash increase in schools funding; Co-chaired the Attendance Action Alliance bringing together the Childrens’ Commissioner, schools and councils to tackle severe absence; reformed the National Tutoring Programme to be schools-led; supported early delivery of manifesto pledge on £30k starting salaries for teachers; made preparations for the first successful exam series in 3 years, and previously he launched the Natural History GCSE.

Walker has a clear focus on schools and children. It remains to be seen how quickly he’ll find his feet with the tertiary and skills agenda. The Chair of a select committee is a driving force in what a committee selects for their inquiries. This may mean HE matters feature less or simply continue in the vein Halfon started. Or he may delve into new waters to grasp the agenda. Focussing on deprivation and access to HE would be an obvious starting point.

Research – round up

A round up of the key news and announcements.

Science superpower lacks cape

The Lords Science and Technology Committee published “Science and technology superpower”: more than a slogan?, their report following the inquiry into Delivering a UK science and technology strategy. The report states that the Government’s unfocused strategy means that science policy has been let down by short-termism and a proliferation of disparate strategies without an overarching vision. They go on to state that there are a large number of government bodies with unclear remits and interactions, which means that it is often unclear who owns a specific policy. At the time of writing, there was no science minister, which further blurs lines of accountability. [There is now, although the division of responsibilities between George and Nus has yet to be clarified.]

The report points to the lack of an implementation plan as a key weakness and a barrier to becoming a high-tech, high-growth economy. Of course, with a new PM and even more ministerial changes to come the impetus behind the UK as a science superpower may wane. The Lords call on the incoming Cabinet to maintain the commitment to R&D funding and the focus on science and technology– it will be fundamental to economic growth and improving public services.

The Lords highlight areas of critique:

  • Internationally, the Government’s own-collaborate-access framework was meant to clarify policy on strategic areas of technology, but the Committee thought it was poorly understood and inconsistently applied. The failure to associate with Horizon Europe and cuts to Official Development Assistance have damaged the UK’s reputation as a collaborative partner, and risk damaging its science base.
  • The Government hopes to leverage private sector funding to reach the 2.4% target. It has identified areas for reform, such as public procurement, regulations, and pension rules, but these are perennial suggestions and the Committee was unconvinced that this attempt would more successful. Industry has been insufficiently engaged with the Government’s strategy.

The full recommendations to Government can be read on pages 56-61. The Government was due to respond to the Committee’s report by now. However, given the political disruption it isn’t surprising the response is late.

Baroness Brown of Cambridge Chair of the Committee, reiterates the key points in her statement:

  • The Government has high ambitions for science and technology, which the Committee welcomes…But science policy has been far from perfect. R&D is a long-term endeavour which requires sustained focus and an implementation plan. But we found a plethora of strategies in different areas with little follow-through and less linking them together. There are numerous bodies and organisations with unclear or apparently overlapping responsibilities, and more are being added in the form of the National Science and Technology Council and the Office for Science and Technology Strategy. It is often unclear who is accountable for individual policies, and critically, for delivery. 
  • The Government has suggested areas of reform to increase private sector investment in R&D such as public procurement for innovation, regulatory reform, and R&D tax credits. But these areas are perennial suggestions. New ideas – and specific details – developed with business are needed if this time the outcomes are to be different.
  • “On the international stage, the failure to associate to Horizon Europe, and recent cuts to Official Development] Assistance, have damaged the UK’s reputation. The UK cannot be a science superpower in isolation; relationships must be repaired.
  • UK science and technology remains strong and respected around the world, but they will not deliver their full potential for the UK with an inconsistent and unclear science policy from Government. A new administration must retain the ambition for science and technology and develop a clear plan for delivery.

More superheroes – selecting a cape

Centre-right think tank, Onward, published under the same theme – Rocket science: how can the UK become a science superpower? making recommendations for the UK to become a true “science superpower”. Their researchers identified four characteristics of science superpowers which they say should guide the UK’s own ambitions:

  1. First, science superpowers prioritise academic foundations. That is to say, competitive R&D investment, well-regarded research institutions and strong intellectual property assets.
  2. Second, science superpowers have deep knowledge networks, in that they host the best research, attract the most promising scientists, and lead global regulation of technologies.
  3. The third trait of science superpowers is absorptive capacity: the ability to absorb ideas within the real economy for economic benefit.
  4. Fourth, science superpowers typically exert their scientific influence overseas through technology exports– the sale of high-tech products and services, including intangibles, overseas.

They argue that, to become a science superpower, the UK science ecosystem must be reformed to meet five key tests:

  1. Strategic direction. The Government should be more assertive in deploying R&D funding in areas of UK comparative advantage or to address a strategic weakness.
  2. Applying ourselves. The UK’s higher education system should do much more to encourage application of research, and businesses should respond by increasing their own R&D intensity, increasing demand for scientists within the domestic economy.
  3. Policy certainty. Private investment in R&D should be encouraged by giving businesses simpler, long-term incentives providing a stable policy environment that allows companies to plan investments with certainty.
  4. Relentless adoption.The UK should do more to support businesses and individuals to adopt cutting edge technologies so we can fully realise the benefits of technology.
  5. Exporting influence. UK firms could do much more to export their products overseas, particularly intangibles, and to set standards for future technologies to get ahead of these emerging markets.

Onward’s Head of Science and Technology, Matt Burnett said: The COVID-19 pandemic showed us just how important science is for our health security. We need to seize this moment and invest in science and technology to solve the other problems we face such as climate change and the energy crisis. The new Prime Minister should put science and technology at the top of their agenda, lest we be unprepared for the next global crisis.

Lord Bethell, Minister for Technology, Innovation and Life Sciences (2020-21): Working at the frontline of the pandemic innovation, I realised at first hand the huge power of the science at our great universities, and the lack of depth in our industrial capacity to turn that science into deployable solutions. This report is an excellent start to a conversation about how we can use our traditional strengths at the lab-top to turn Britain emphatically into one of the world’s great science superpowers.

Rt Hon Lord Hague, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (2010-2014): An excellent contribution to what should be our most vital national debate. Ensuring science is at the core of our society and economy is indispensable to the UK’s future prosperity. Failure in this field would be fatal to future growth.

George Freeman, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (2014-16); Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Research and Innovation (2021-22), and now Science Minister again (2022): The path to faster growth and better wages starts and ends with science and innovation. The UK is already a Science Superpower in discovering new ideas and building thriving knowledge networks, but we could do much more to apply them for the benefit of the UK’s strategic and economic priorities. This excellent report sets out a bold plan to lift our scientific ambitions and secure our future – it is essential reading for the new Conservative Prime Minister.

Review of UKRI

The independent review of UKRI, led by David Grant, has been published. The report calls for more effort on realising the benefits of a single body rather than a cluster of research councils. Ministers and UKRI leadership have expressed their support for the review’s 18 recommendations, which include investment in harmonising IT systems, clarifying roles and responsibilities within UKRI and with BEIS, and further focus on demonstrating outcomes from their funding.

Recommendations

  • In delivering its efficiency plan, UKRI should aim for simplicity, integration, harmonisation and agility of its systems. These should be objectives of any monitoring framework or performance indicators used to monitor progress and delivery.
  • In delivering its efficiency plans and developing its operating model, UKRI should clarify the roles and responsibilities between the Corporate Hub and the councils. This process should ask if the right functions are centralised or devolved and should explore appropriate reductions in size, for example in the Corporate Hub.
  • In delivering its efficiency plans, UKRI will need to invest in capability, IT systems and infrastructure in the short term that will improve efficiency in the long term, ensuring that the ambition set out in the UKRI DDaT Strategy 2020-23 is implemented. This will require UKRI to ensure that it retains the right technical and project delivery capability across the organisation.

The interim report was published in January and there’s a thank you letter to David from the Secretary of State. The Government has promised to respond to the specific recommendations within the report later in the year.

Wonkhe have a blog but a reader comment doesn’t agree and believes the blog to be too forgiving of UKRI.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: I welcome Sir David’s recommendations. To support our ambition to establish the UK as a true Science Superpower, we have given UKRI its largest funding settlement ever, with over £25 billion across the next 3 years. Our ambitions for a world-class research and innovation system require a world-class funder, which is why we will work closely with UKRI to deliver these recommendations and ensure they are equipped and ready to support those goals.

Review of Research Bureaucracy

And another independent review, this time led by Professor Adam Tickell (VC, Birmingham) considering Research Bureaucracy. Who was set this agenda:

Unnecessary bureaucracy diverts and hampers research, and the work of individual researchers and research teams. Ultimately, it diminishes the returns from research funding.

You can read a summary of the consultation responses here.

Seven Principles

The Review developed seven principles to cut unnecessary bureaucracy which they state should inform the government response and future action across the sector:

  1. Harmonisation– Reducing the volume of administration through the use of common processes between different funders to make essential work easier.
  2. Simplification– Reducing the complexity of individual processes to address unnecessary bureaucracy.
  3. Proportionality– Ensuring that the obligations placed on researchers and institutions are commensurate with the size of the risk or reward.
  4. Flexibility– Supporting and embracing excellence wherever it is found and not excluding research that does not fit within narrowly defined parameters.
  5. Transparency– Communicating the rationale for systems and processes which have a bureaucratic burden.
  6. Fairness– Developing approaches to systems and processes that support fairness, rather than erode it.
  7. Sustainability– Cutting bureaucracy in ways that avoid destabilising the system to deliver a more efficient system over the long term.

The Review focussed on aspects of the research system where there was consistent feedback on the need and scope for change. As a result the review identified six themes where there is believed to be scope for significant positive change:

  1. Assurance

Information provided to funders and regulators to demonstrate that research is carried out in accordance with funding terms and conditions. The principle of ‘ask once’ should be paramount throughout the assurance system.

Findings

The Review identified the following key issues with regard to assurance bureaucracy:

  • Overall, there are too many requirements relating to assurance bureaucracy and they are often complex and duplicative;
  • Uncertainty in the sector about how to manage assurance issues contributes to risk aversion and over-compliance in institutions’ internal assurance processes;
  • A lack of trust, coordination, partnership working and knowledge exchange on assurance throughout the research sector;
  • An incremental growth of bureaucracy – changing priorities have meant that, over time, new assurance requirements have been introduced. However, few attempts have been made to remove or reduce redundant assurance requirements.

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Government departments that fund research should work together to ensure there is greater alignment of assurance approaches, removing duplication. UKRI should take forward action to achieve greater alignment and coordination across UKRI Councils;
  • Government should facilitate closer working with other funders, including charity funders, to increase coordination and reduce assurance burdens on the sector;
  • Funders and research organisations should develop collective approaches and resources to support institutions in managing their assurance processes; and
  • Funding bodies should explore the function and benefits of self-certification and/or earned autonomy for institutions with a robust track record of assurance
  1. Applying for Funding

Funding applications were one of the most cited causes of unnecessary bureaucracy by organisations and individuals in the Review’s call for evidence.

Findings

  • The Review heard concerns from researchers and research managers about the length and complexity of application processes;
  • The overall success rates for research grant applications are low – often around 20%. Given this, single stage processes which require applicants to provide all the information at the outset mean that for a majority of applicants this information is unused and ultimately wasteful;
  • Two stage application processes may deliver improvements across the system but may present funders with resourcing challenges or take more time and UKRI and others are piloting these approaches now. The Review received a range of views on how best to manage the prospect that more streamlined application processes could lead to higher numbers of applications;
  • There is already evidence of funders tackling these issues in a variety of ways, but there is scope to go much further. 

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Funders should experiment with application processes to reduce burdens for applicants, (including two-stage application processes) where the information required increases in line with the likelihood of being funded;
  • Funders should work together to increase standardisation across their application processes in terms of the use of language and the questions they ask where appropriate. UKRI should facilitate this across Research Councils in the first instance;
  • Funders should review what adaptations will be needed to assessment processes to take account of changes to application models. This should include the information necessary for national security assessments alongside innovative approaches from the use of peer reviewer triage to limit the number of applications requiring full peer review to experimenting with new models such as randomly allocated funding;
  • Funders should ensure that application processes support their commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion;
  • Funders should remove the requirement for letters of support from applications in most circumstances.
  1. Grant Implementation and In-Grant Management

Research is inherently unpredictable so the review suggests areas where more flexibilities may be beneficial, once a research project is underway:

Findings

  • The period between issue of award letter and start of a research project can be too short, leaving little time for procurement, recruitment and financial administration;
  • Conversely, the time taken to get agreement from research funding organisations to changes to a project or to the profile of funding can be too long;
  • It is often unclear to funding recipients what the purpose is of information requested in project monitoring;
  • Contracting and collaboration agreements are a major source of delays because many research organisations prefer to use their own version rather than standard formats such as Brunswick or Lambert Agreements.

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Funders and recipients should ensure there is adequate time for the completion of all necessary tasks (including providing assurance information) between the issue of the award letter and the start of the project;
  • Universities and research organisations should wherever possible use standard templates for contracts and collaboration agreements, recognising that this would not just be faster, but would also facilitate third-party collaborations;
  • Wherever possible, funders should build in flexibilities including no cost extensions within manageable parameters to reduce delays in addressing project changes and the number of queries funders receive;
  • Ethical and other regulatory approvals should be the responsibility of the lead partner on a multi-institution research project and counterparties (including in the NHS) should not require additional duplicative approvals.
  1. Digital Platforms

Every aspect of research bureaucracy depends on digital platforms and the extent of the sector’s reliance on them can heighten the impact of any flaws in their design or function.

Findings

  • There is a challenge in creating digital platforms that are capable of supporting institutional diversity and keeping pace with change in UK research without being overly complex
  • There is scope for greater harmonisation of digital platforms. However, this will also be limited to a degree by the differing nature and objectives of individual funders;
  • Greater inter-operability and data sharing between systems could significantly reduce bureaucracy;
  • There is currently a window of opportunity to deliver vastly improved services across key funders as UKRI, NIHR and Wellcome amongst others move away from older platforms;
  • Funders are continuing to drive forward programmes to reduce bureaucracy in their systems and processes. Through the Simpler and Better Funding programme, UKRI is piloting a new digital platform – UKRI Funding Service – which from 2024 will deliver end to end functionality for all Research Council grant applications.

Recommendations

To address these issues the review recommends that:

  • For the higher education sector, Jisc should lead on the creation of sector-wide groups responsible for overseeing the development and further integration of the research information ecosystem, including research management data;
  • Funders, universities and regulators should ensure interoperability and improved data flows are considered as integral to the design and implementation of any new digital systems;
  • For existing systems, approaches to improving the flow of data between different platforms should be explored using, for example, application programming interfaces, point to point integration and machine learning.
  1. Institutional Bureaucracy

There are strong links between bureaucracy related to requirements of funders, regulators and government and each research institution’s own systems, processes and approaches. Research organisations, particularly universities, need to address their own unnecessary bureaucracy to support the Review’s aim of freeing up researchers to focus on research.

Findings

  • Institutional bureaucracy was the most cited source of unnecessary bureaucracy by individuals in the Review’s call for evidence;
  • There is a culture of risk aversion within universities. Whilst much of this is understandable, it has a negative impact on the processes for decision making;
  • Risk aversion has, in some cases, led to unnecessary approval hierarchies which can cause major delays and operational difficulties;
  • Use of generalist professional services department to provide key elements of research support – for example, legal services – can lead to longer delays because of a lack of familiarity or confidence with handling research grant agreements or contracts.

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Wherever possible, research organisations should examine the feasibility of delegating research-related approvals to research managers and officers who are closer to research;
  • Universities UK should bring universities together to find new platforms and methods for working together on research management issues such as increasing risk appetite, streamlining burdens including through greater  standardisation;
  • If they do not already have them, research organisations should establish “Trusted Funder” policies to enable projects to proceed at risk, within certain parameters.
  1. Communications

There are a number of communications issues in relation to unnecessary bureaucracy. Funders can address antipathy towards necessary bureaucracy by communicating more clearly why it is required and what they do with the information. A lack of clarity can lead to “gold plating” by institutions who are trying to manage regulatory and other requirements.

Findings

  • Frustration with necessary bureaucratic requirements may be related to how widely the rationale and role of particular R&D funding systems and processes are communicated and understood;
  • There is also scope to increase awareness of existing tools and methods that can reduce bureaucratic burdens, e.g. persistent digital identifiers;
  • Uncertainty about the introduction and approach to implementing new requirements could be addressed through proactive communication and engagement by funders and regulators;
  • In addition, the review heard that government and funders could go further to engage with the sector on the specifics around implementation of new requirements to identify the most efficient approach;
  • There were a series of specific concerns with regard to the approach to communications with the sector including use of jargon and inconsistent language, working to ensure communications are received by the right audiences (for example, not just Vice Chancellors or Pro Vice-Chancellors of Research) and timeliness in relation to submission deadlines

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Government, funders and regulators should undertake wide ranging consultation with research organisations prior to the introduction of new regulatory or other requirements;
  • Government and funders should proactively communicate on new and emerging regulatory issues. The Research Collaboration and Advice Team (RCAT)i model providing support on national security matters is good practice in this regard;
  • Funders should ensure important messages about research are sent to research office contacts as well as Vice Chancellor/Pro-Vice Chancellor Research.

What’s next?

The Government should formally respond to the review and likely support certain elements while ignoring others.

The review also said that there should be consideration of the governance and other arrangements needed to ensure the longer-term change required to fully deliver on this vision is in place. Alongside ongoing monitoring and evaluation to keep bureaucracy at bay in the future.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: The work of our exceptional researchers will not reach its full potential while the research system is bound up by excessive red tape. The findings of Professor Tickell’s thorough review shine a light on the huge opportunity for improvements in this field. I am confident this report will act as the stimulus needed for institutions, funding bodies, regulators – and for government – to come together and make the progress required.

Author of the Bureaucracy Review, Professor Adam Tickell, said:

UK research is world-leading, however… there are huge opportunities to improve how our research system works. The Review has unearthed excessive bureaucracy across the system.

It will now take a collective effort involving individuals, institutions, funders, regulators and government to realise the potential benefits of change while ensuring the vital checks and balances in the system are not lost. I hope this report signposts the way forward and provides the impetus needed.

Chief Executive of UK Research & Innovation, Ottoline Leyser, said:

We warmly welcome this thoughtful and excellent review…The review’s recommendations, and the principles that underpin them, strongly align with ongoing work at UKRI, such as our Simple and Better Funding Programme. By working in partnership across the UK research and innovation system we can catalyse transformational change, maximising the value from record-breaking levels of public investment in R&D.

The recommended changes will allow essential research – from healthcare development to studies in environmental science – to be delivered unhindered by excessive red tape, supporting the UK’s ambition to maintain its competitiveness, and secure its position as a science superpower.

The Russell Group respond to both independent reviews, Stephanie Smith, Head of Policy (Research and International) at the Russell Group, said:

Freeing up unnecessary bureaucracy will require a joint effort from all parts of the research system, and the Tickell review makes a number of welcome recommendations to improve coordination and standardisation across the sector, streamline the funding application process and free up time for grant holders to focus on research.

Alongside the Grant review of UKRI, it is positive to see a focus on how we can ensure the UK research sector is as efficient and effective as possible so world class research can thrive and we are ready to tackle the major challenges we face, from productivity to climate change. It is vital that we maintain this momentum and we look forward to working with Government and the wider sector to deliver early action to implement these changes, which will benefit researchers, funders and universities.

Blog: James Coe reviews Adam Tickell’s Independent Review of Research Bureaucracy and finds much to admire – while still being filled with questions on how this relates to the future of research.

Not on the Horizon…

It is incredibly unlikely that the UK will associate to Horizon Europe.

There are no signs of any resolution to the political issues which are preventing association. There is no sign that the UK Government has the ability or desire to resolve them.

And there is no sign of any change in position from the European Union to enable association.(Source.)

While this news didn’t come as a shock to anyone in the summer and it still doesn’t now. However, it is still disappointing to have reached this point. During the summer the Government announced the details of the UK’s plan B (assuming affiliation to the EU research programmes doesn’t make it over the Horizon). All the details are here including this suite of temporary transition measures:

  • the Horizon Europe Guarantee – If we are unable to associate, we will fund applications that are submitted to a Horizon Europe funding call with an EU final call deadline date before the point of non-association, are successful in the EU evaluation and meet the eligibility criteria of the guarantee. This includes those where grant signature dates fall beyond the end of 2022. This would pick up where the current guarantee has left off, so there is no gap, and no eligible successful applications would go unfunded
  • funding for successful, in-flight applications – We will support UK entities with eligible in-flight applications to Horizon Europe (to calls that have closed or are open at the point of non-association, where such applications are not being evaluated by the EC), by assessing such applications domestically, to ensure the best get funded should the EC no longer carry out the evaluation
  • uplifts to existing talent programmes – We will increase funding for our best existing talent schemes covering a broad range of disciplines via National Academies and UKRI. This will be followed by the creation of our bold new UK fellowship and award programme, designed to retain and attract top talent in the UK.
  • uplifts to innovation support – We will increase funding for a range of our best innovation schemes targeted at small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), delivered by Innovate UK, and go on to create exciting new mechanisms, ensuring they are bigger, bolder with less bureaucracy and more flexibility
  • the Talent and Research Stabilisation Fund – We will use formula funding to support a range of eligible UK institutions who have been most affected by the loss of Horizon Europe talent funding. The fund will enable eligible research organisations and universities to support talent retention and target funding vulnerabilities at a local level
  • Third Country Participation – Around two-thirds of Horizon Europe calls are open to UK researchers and companies as Third Country applicants, as part of consortia with at least 3 other applicants from EU member states or associated countries, provided they bring their own funding. As this is a priority for businesses and researchers, the government will fund all eligible UK entities participating in any such consortia signing grant agreements before 31 March 2025.The government will consider our approach to funding for Third Country Participation beyond this date and make an announcement by October 2024

Wonkhe have a blog. And there’s a parliamentary question on the topic:

  • (1) the change in the level of collaborative scientific funding for UK organisations if the UK does not participate in the Horizon Europe programme, and (2) reports that the UK is losing out on £100 million as a result of not participating

Student KE involvement

For anyone playing word bingo with today’s policy update we’re approaching a full house on ‘independent’ reviews. The OfS commissioned independent researchers to conduct an evaluation of the ‘Student engagement in knowledge exchange’ programme. The programme aims to support 20 projects to develop and share understanding of effective practice in student engagement in knowledge exchange, and to inform ongoing policy and investment.

OfS have published three summary reports providing interim findings from the evaluation of projects within the competition, for the reporting periods to May 2021, November 2021 and March 2022.

The final evaluation report is expected to be published next summer (2023).

Research England Funding Budgets 2022-25

The Russell Group issued a statement in response to the Research England funding budgets 2022-25: We particularly welcome the stable allocations over the spending review period which give the sector much needed certainty, and the boost to schemes proven to deliver returns, like the Higher Education Innovation Fund… The increase in quality-related (QR) funding will allow universities to plan long term and pursue high-risk high-reward discovery research – which underpinned breakthroughs in graphene, genomics, and laid the foundations to develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine… However, despite this increase, its value has declined in real terms over the past decade. [The value of QR funding declined by 22% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2020/21.]

ARIA top appointees

Ilan Gur and Matt Clifford MBE were appointed as CEO and Chair of new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA). Ilan Gur (CEO) will set the agency’s agenda, direct its initial funding of high-risk programmes and engage the domestic and international R&D sector. As Chair, Matt Clifford will support the work of the CEO as he takes post on 15 August, acting as the steward for ARIA’s effective governance.

Ilan Gur obtained a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a Schmidt Futures Innovation Fellow, an advisor to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in support of the Moore Inventor Fellowship, and a judge for MIT Technology Review’s TR35 award

Matt Clifford MBE is co-founder and CEO of Entrepreneur First, an international investor in technical talent that has helped to build technological companies worth over $10 billion. Clifford is also co-founder and non-executive director of Code First Girls, has served as a Council Member at Innovate UK, and is a Trustee of the Kennedy Memorial Trust. Before starting Entrepreneur First, Matt worked at McKinsey & Co and earned degrees from the University of Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kwasi Kwarteng (was Business Secretary) said: The appointment of Ilan Gur as ARIA’s first CEO is a huge victory for the future of the agency, and for the UK. He has a distinguished track record in translating exceptional talent and ideas into commercial success, and his leadership will ensure the funding of high-risk programmes that will continue to push the boundaries of science and technology. Under Dr Gur’s leadership and with the support of the brilliant Matt Clifford, ARIA will ensure the benefits of research and development will be felt in our society and economy over the course of generations. By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency has the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow.

ARIA blog: With a new ARIA Chair and Chief Executive in place James Coe argues it’s time for the sector to take a step back and allow the new research funder to succeed or fail on its own terms in a Wonkhe blog. And another blog summing up the key known information about ARIA.

Defence

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the Alan Turing Institute have jointly launched the Defence Centre for AI Research (DCAR), to tackle problems related to advancing artificial intelligence capability.

Research England Executive Chair

Kwasi Kwarteng (was Business Secretary) selected Professor Dame Jessica Corner as the preferred candidate for the role of Executive Chair of Research England. Professor Corner will be responsible for quality related research funding to English universities, largely informed by the results of the Research Excellence Framework exercise, as well as funding for knowledge exchange activities. She will also lead Research England’s role in ensuring the health and stability of English universities in their research and innovation activities. She will be part of the UKRI senior leadership team working closely with UKRI’s Chief Executive, UKRI Board and the other Executive Chairs to collectively oversee UKRI’s strategy, funding programmes and infrastructure.

Professor Corner has a background in nursing and as an academic specialising in cancer palliative care. Recent employment includes Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University of Nottingham. She was awarded a DBE in 2014 for services to Health Care Research and Education and was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2015.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: I am delighted to name Professor Dame Jessica Corner as preferred candidate to steward Research England through the years to come. I look forward to working closely with her and the UKRI leadership team to ensure the continued success of the world leading research carried out by our universities, building on the UK’s reputation as a science superpower.

I would also like to thank Dr David Sweeney for his tireless work for the research sector as inaugural Executive Chair of Research England and previously at HEFCE. I wish him the very best for his retirement.

Professor Jessica Corner said: I am delighted to be chosen as the preferred candidate for the role of Executive Chair of Research England at this time of huge opportunity for the country’s truly outstanding research base…I look forward to supporting our national community of researchers as they continue to explore, discover, and innovate to transform lives across the globe.

Alan Turing Institute: Director of Innovation

Simon Reeve was appointed as Director of Innovation at the Alan Turing Institute. He is the former VP of Technology and Innovation at Lloyd’s Register Group and Director of Commercial Engagement at long-term Turing partner Lloyd’s Register Foundation. He has previously had a relationship with Turing through his work supporting the Foundation-sponsored data-centric engineering programme. As Director of Innovation Reeve will support Turing’s goal to develop solution to problems using AI and data across several areas:

  • Increasing the impact of the Institute in delivering positive change to society through entrepreneurship and commercial application of data science and AI
  • Providing innovation leadership to the Institute’s team and its vibrant partnership network, in cooperation with the executive leadership team, in support of its research and innovation strategy and goals
  • Promoting and facilitating engagement and partnership between the Turing’s community, private and public sector businesses, government, and non-government bodies, to accelerate innovation opportunities, delivering data and artificial intelligence science solutions in support of the Turing’s mission.

Quick research news

  • Government Office for Science – Sir Patrick Vallance to stand down as Government Chief Scientific Adviser at the end of his five-year post in April 2023.
  • Nine new commissioners have been appointed to the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) to serve for four years. Three commissioners, Ms Susan BradfordProfessor Jamie Colemanand Dr Jamie Fraser, whose four-year tenure ended this year, have also been reappointed. The CHM provides independent expert advice to ministers on the safety, quality and efficacy of medicines, and promotes the collection and investigation of information relating to adverse reactions for human medicines. It is an advisory non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care.

The nine new commissioners are:

  • Professor Tony Williams, professor of translational medicine at Southampton University
  • Professor David Hunt, chair of neuroinflammation medicine, Wellcome Trust senior clinical fellow and honorary consultant in neurology, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor David Dockrell, chair of infection medicine/director of the Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Gerri Mortimore, associate professor in post-registration health care, University of Derby
  • Professor Paul Dargan, consultant physician and clinical toxicologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and professor of clinical toxicology at King’s College London
  • Dr Vanessa Raymont, senior clinical researcher, University of Oxford and R&D director and honorary consultant at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Mrs Julia Cons, Independent Chair, National Individual Funding Request Panel for NHS England
  • Professor David Moore, professor of Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Consultant Physician at The Hospital for Tropical Diseases, UCLH.
  • Professor Rui Providencia, associate Professor, Institute of Health Informatics, UCL

Blogs

The QAA released an interesting review of global research and interventions on grade inflation. DK had a read on Wonk Corner.

The first Research England funding allocations since REF 2021 results were published see a welcome increase in income for most providers. James Coe and David Kernohan looked into the details.

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

NEON and the BBC report on the Social Mobility Foundation’s warning that the cost of living could create a “two-tier” university system.

  • The Social Mobility Foundation has said it’s “concerned” those from poorer backgrounds may have to work while affluent peers enjoy the “uni experience”. “It’s never been a level playing field,” Sarah Atkinson, the chief executive says. “But we’re looking at a two-tier system for this cohort,” she adds.
  • Alongside extra work, Sarah says more students from lower socio-economic backgrounds worry about money and live at home while studying .In recent weeks, students’ unions have said they are having to step in to help students cope with the rising costs of food.

Read more from the BBC article here.

Other news & latest reports

Video games degrees: Increasing the number of students studying for a degree in video games.

Graduate underemployment: What is the scale and impact of graduate overqualification in the UK?  looks at how graduate outcomes have changed over the past 30 years, and the job quality of overqualified graduates.

Local Gaps: The Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) has published a report on the educational attainment gap and local economic outcomes, in which they look at how to transform educational opportunities to support inclusive growth.

Economic Growth: UUK published a report exploring ways in which universities can contribute to economic growth, and make several recommendations such as establishing collaborative hubs for skills development, building on the Help to Grow scheme, and the rapid expansion of University Enterprise Zones (UEZ).

Research theft: Research Professional – the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity has warned that cybersecurity researchers will increasingly be at risk of having their findings stolen by third-party actors.

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HE Policy Update w/e 8th November 2022

Parliamentary News

It’s a little unsettling that informing you of the cabinet and leadership changes is becoming a regular feature. After our last update there were more changes.  So here we go again…!

Our new education ministerial team, supporting PM Rishi Sunak, are:

  • Gillian Keegan – SoS for Education
  • Nick Gibb – Minister of State for Schools (DfE)
  • Robert Halfon – Minister of State Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education – (DfE)
  • Claire Coutinho – Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State – Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing (DfE)
  • And Baroness Barran survives yet another reshuffle and has an interesting role – Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Student Finance. The Student Finance part is an addition, and it is interesting that this is not in the Halfon role.
  • Baroness Barran will also continue as the Lords spokesperson for Education.

So we knew Kit Malthouse was out but also goodbye to Kelly Tolhurst, Andrea Jenkyns and Jonathan Gullis.

Robert Halfon’s brief: Minister of State (Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education)

  • overall strategy for post-16 technical education
  • T Levels and transition programme
  • qualifications reviews (levels 3 and below)
  • higher technical education (levels 4 and 5)
  • apprenticeships and traineeships
  • further education workforce and funding
  • Institutes of Technology
  • local skills improvement plans and Local Skills Improvement Fund
  • adult education, including basic skills, the National Skills Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund
  • careers education, information and guidance including the Careers and Enterprise Company
  • technical education in specialist schools
  • relationship with the Office for Students
  • higher education quality and reform
  • Lifelong Loan Entitlement
  • student experience and widening participation in higher education
  • funding for education and training, provision and outcomes for 16- to 19-year-olds
  • college governance and accountability
  • intervention and financial oversight of further education colleges
  • reducing the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training
  • international education strategy and the Turing Scheme

Halfon is well known for his leadership of the Education select committee and was previously the skills minister (2016/17) until he stepped down. He is also scheduled to provide evidence to the Lords Science and Technology Committee next Tuesday for the People and skills in UK STEM inquiry.  Halfon’s promotion also means the Education select committee chair is now vacant. We’ll keep an eye out for news on who will fill this powerful and high profile committee position. Nominations close on 15th November.

Their SpAds (special advisers):

  • Lawrence Abel has been appointed as Special Adviser to the DfE team. He previously served as senior policy and communications adviser to Gillian Keegan whilst she was at the FCDO and as DfE Minister. Previous to this Abel was Keegan’s Parliamentary Assistant.
  • Currently ex-No 10 policy adviser Rory Gribbell remains in post as a DfE SpAd (appointed two months ago under Kit Malthouse).
  • It’s speculated that Abel will hold the media and comms SpAD brief while Gribbell will focus on policy.

Science Minister: George Freeman is back as Minister of State for Science, Technology and Innovation (he held this role under Boris Johnson). Currently Nusrat Ghani also remains as Minister of State for Science and Investment Security. However, Politico suggest only Freeman will retain the science brief once the dust settles:

Both George Freeman and Ghani tweeted that they had been appointed science minister last week — but after some confusion, the PM and the BEIS boss Grant Shapps confirmed the job was Freeman’s. The two issues are said to have left Ghani, who had been appointed science minister under Truss, feeling bruised. Since she had moved in some weeks ago during the previous administration, a compromise was to let her keep the science minister office rather than move all her things. The knock on effect … is that a load of civil servants have to swap offices instead. 

What does it all mean for Education?

There’s an interesting article in The Times about the Education team: Education could be Rishi Sunak’s big revolution, snippets below. Education is a crucial topic at every election so Rishi would be wise to use education to settle the recent turbulent political waters and demonstrate both progress and gain voter’s hearts. Snippets:

  • Gillian Keegan, the new secretary of state — ridiculously, the fifth this year — is a rarity in the Sunak cabinet: she hasn’t sat around that table before. Her appointment suggests a desire to do something different with the department. She left school at 16, became an apprentice at a car plant and went on to have an extremely successful business career in the technology sector. She is the first degree-level apprentice to enter parliament. In the struggle for parity of esteem between academic and technical education, having a secretary of state who went down this route is significant
  • Alongside her are Nick Gibb, returning as schools minister for a third time, and Robert Halfon, the former chairman of the education select committee and a champion of technical education. The other junior minister is Claire Coutinho, who was Sunak’s adviser before becoming an MP. She shares his view that all children should do maths until the age of 18 and is a champion of the £500 million numeracy programme he introduced as chancellor to address the fact that one in five adults lack the numeracy skills expected of a nine-year-old.
  • It is a rare team in that every minister has deeply held views on their assigned subject. The mix of characters — Gibb an advocate of a traditional academic education and Halfon of vocational education — has led some to wonder if the focus will be on skills or knowledge. But this may miss the point. Sunak’s view is that education goes way beyond your school years and that the country must do more to adjust to that new reality.
  • Sunak… regarded UK universities as world class, producing a sizeable number of graduates. The great British problem, he thought, was believing education is something that ends when you enter the workforce.
  • The closest Sunak has come to a personal manifesto is his Mais Lecture back in February, when he focused on adult skills… To improve the skills of the 2030 workforce means training today’s workers now… Any attempt to boost skills by focusing solely on trainees, Sunak argued, will have a limited impact.  He has long bemoaned the fact that British employers spend barely half the European average on training their workers. Only one in five British workers aged 25 to 64 has a technical qualification, a third lower than the OECD average. As chancellor, Sunak used to talk about using the tax system to turn this around. The lecture was overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which occurred on the same day, but this may well prove a significant focus of his premiership.
  • As well as a renewed push on apprenticeships, Sunak wants his education ministers to extend their reach into the workforce. The need for more highly skilled workers is all the greater given that technology is expected to play a far greater role in the economy.
  • The need for in-work training doesn’t carry the same resonance as the familiar arguments over academic selection, the school curriculum and the balance between knowledge and skills. But getting skills right could have a more immediate impact on growth and productivity…

ICYMI: other key ministers:

  • Grant Shapps – Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (was
    Jacob Rees-Mogg)
  • Steve Barclay – Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (was Therese Coffey)
  • Michael Gove – Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations) (was Simon Clarke)
  • Kemi Badenoch – Secretary of State for International Trade; President of the Board of Trade; Minister for Women and Equalities (retained post during leadership change)
  • Therese Coffey – Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (was Ranil Jayawardena)
  • Michelle Donelan – Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (retained post during leadership change)
  • And he’s back as a Minster of State (Minister without Portfolio) including attending Cabinet: Gavin Williamson (although at the time of writing there are questions about how long he will stay in post).

How many did you get on your Cabinet bingo card this time?

Cabinet Committees: National Science and Technology Council

The latest list of Cabinet Committees is here. Notable is that it now includes the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), again. Slightly confusing – this is not the same body as the existing Council for Science and Technology. The cabinet committee NSTC was one of Boris’ innovations (or perhaps that of his adviser of the time Dominic Cummings) to achieve their Britain as a ‘science superpower’ ambition alongside the new Office for Science and Technology Strategy which was headed up by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance. The NSTC was disbanded by Truss during the reduction in the volume of cabinet-level bodies. You’ll recall us highlighting the backlash at this decision from the science sector in a recent policy update. With the Lords Science and Technology Committee requesting the committee be reconvened and a science minister (attending Cabinet) to be appointed. The Truss administration acquiesced  announcing the establishment of a “new” National Science and Technology Council – the “new” part being that it would be chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not the PM as previously, with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster serving as deputy.

However, the reconvened NSTC will return to previous arrangements with the following attendees:

  • Prime Minister (Chair): Rishi Sunak
  • Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Justice: Dominic Raab
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer: Jeremy Hunt
  • Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs: James Cleverley
  • Secretary of State for the Home Department: Suella Braverman
  • Secretary of State for Defence: Ben Wallace
  • Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Deputy Chair): Oliver Dowden
  • Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Grant Shapps
  • Secretary of State for International Trade, and President of the Board of Trade, and Minister for Women and Equalities: Kemi Badenoch
  • Secretary of State for Education: Gillian Keegan
  • Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Michelle Donelan
  • Minister for Science, Research and Innovation: George Freeman

International Students

International students haven’t been far from the news since then Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, made unwelcoming comments about international students at the Conservative Party conference. She suggested that some students were bringing large numbers of dependents with them insinuating this was a backdoor route to increased immigration. Of course, only doctoral students are permitted to bring family members with them. However, the media has been abuzz and the HE policy organisations have regularly espoused the benefits of international students for education and economy alike.

Since Rishi announced his new ministerial education line up there has been a calmer Government rhetoric in relation to international students. Most notably Robert Halfon has been responding to parliamentary questions making it clear that international students are valued. This doesn’t mean the tough immigration stance has disappeared, particularly among some sections of the party. However, for now, Government spin has been gentler.

Meanwhile Chris Skidmore (former Universities minister and co-chair of the University APPG) will launch a new International HE Commission next Monday (14 November). The full details are available through the tabs on the link however the Commission intend to seek to develop a new ‘International Education Strategy 2.0’ to be submitted to the Department of Education as a sector-wide plan for the future. You may recall that Chris launched the first UK International Education Strategy when he was the Minister in 2019.

We have a lot of information but not the full detail. For example the commissioners are expected to be announced late November. We have a timeline for development of the new strategy but, of course, we don’t know what the strategy will say. The Commission will begin running evidence sessions in mid-December and intend to publish their full report in late Spring 2023. This would coincide with the annual update for the Government’s strategy.

Below follow the Commission’s focus questions. There’s certainly some key content the sector will want to follow (and perhaps influence) during the course of the Commission’s work.

The Commission will seek to address multiple opportunities and challenges that international education and future student pathways including:

  • What should a future student number target be set at, given the broader policy and economic objectives of the UK?
  • What are the future target countries that the U.K. should be working with in order to establish or expand future international student pathways? How do these link to international research collaboration and knowledge transfer?
  • How can we ensure that universities do not become over dependent on specific countries for recruitment? What does a sustainable recruitment strategy look like?
  • How should local regions develop tailored local international education strategies and plans to reflect local strengths and priorities?
  • What should a future visa offering for international students look like?
  • How can the U.K. continue to be competitive in its international offer to students, recognising that other countries such as Canada, Australia and the US will also seek to attract students?
  • How can we ensure international students are fully integrated on campus by taking an inclusive approach to international education? How do we ensure that the benefits for domestic students are realised?
  • How can we prioritise student welfare and success so that international students have the best possible experience of life in the U.K.?
  • How can we ensure student numbers are matched with the necessary accommodation and support services?

THE have coverage of the Commission: Keeping up – The UK needs a new international education strategy to provide a “clear vision” for the sector, according to former universities minister Chris Skidmore.

Parliamentary Questions on international students: Discussions with the Home Secretary on the number of international students at UK universities.

Answered (excerpt) By Robert Halfon: The department remains committed to and continues to work towards the ambition in the International Education Strategy, published in 2019 and updated in 2021 and 2022, to host at least 600,000 international students in the UK per year, by 2030… Attracting the brightest students from around the world is good for our universities, delivering growth at home as well as supporting the creation of more university places for UK students. This remains a priority for the department.

Research

Select Committee session: Doctoral students and graduates – opportunities and challenges: The Lords Science and Technology Committee ran sessions focusing on people and skills in UK science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This included a focus on PhD students and graduates, particularly their main opportunities and challenges.

Main challenges: Professor Julia Buckingham CBE: the biggest problem was the insecurity posed by fixed term contracts, she stated she believed that all other problems stemmed from that. That fixed term contracts were not good for individuals or for their research, which required longer periods of time.

Claudia Sarrico answered that the number of doctoral students had been increasing a lot and in many countries they simply cannot stay in academia. Still, there was evidence in many countries that PhD were not as attractive as they used to be for the most talented students.

Precariousness: Viscount Hanworth (Lab) asked what were the main factors that led to a precariousness of PhD in the UK.

Sarrico: The danger was that, the more PhD’s were becoming popular and common, the less they were attractive to the most talented students. There was evidence in France and Japan that the best students were completing Masters but not proceeding to PhDs. Finally, Sarrico said that the quality was also decreasing in PhD’s which was a natural consequence of the fact that it was not the best students that were studying for this degree.

Government’s strategy: Baroness Manningham-Buller (CB) asked if the witnesses were familiar with the Government’s R&D talent strategy.

Buckingham confirmed familiar and replied that in the sector there was a strong feeling that research culture had to be improved. She thought there was a ministerial group looking at the recommendations regarding how the strategy could be implemented.

Sarrico added that it was not about offering long-term contracts to everybody but rather about improving working conditions for everybody and about offering more transparent and clear career prospects.

Making research attractive: Lord Holmes (Con) asked what the Government should do to ensure that the widest group was attracted to undertake and engage in research.

Buckingham replied that there was need for more cross-fertilisation between industry and the private sector and academia. There were already examples of how things had improved in recent years but it was critical to work more on this.

Sarrico agreed and added that socio-economic background also influenced this issue. She also mentioned that there were challenges regarding transparency in recruitment when it came to parts of the private sector

Careers outside academia: Lord Winston (Lab) asked if current graduates were ready for highly skilled careers outside academia. Buckingham: No, she did not think that enough was being done to try prepare students for a career outside academia.

Sarrico said that many countries were doing industrial PhD’s or internships in the public sector in order to encourage PhD students to join careers outside academia. The key was to try to provide a wide range of experiences doctoral and post-doctoral training so that people experience different possibilities.

New research commercialisation unit

The Government launched the “first of its kind” government unit for commercialising research –  the Government Office for Technology Transfer (GOTT). The intention is for the new unit to support the way the government manages and commercialises the (estimated) £106 billion of ‘knowledge assets’ including intellectual property, software and data. GOTT will be led by Dr Alison Campbell (BEIS) who has a cross-government mandate to supercharge the identification, development and exploitation of public sector knowledge assets and to encourage the public sector to be more innovative and entrepreneurial in how it manages its own assets.

Knowledge assets include know-how, data, brands, business processes, expert resources and technology. Technology transfer is about sharing these assets with other organisations to stimulate innovation and the development of new products, processes and services and the creation of new commercial ventures. You can read more here.

Quick News

  • Free-conomicsConservative former science minister George Freeman has warned that cuts to UK research spending, including for association to the EU’s Horizon Europe, will remain a risk if the government “ploughs on with unfunded tax cuts”, despite securing Treasury commitment not to cut the science budget. (THE)
  • The Russell Group calls on Government to prioritise science and innovation-led growth ahead of medium-term fiscal plan.
  • The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a report on research leadership

Parliamentary Questions:

NSS

The OfS have announced the results of the latest consultation on the NSS including plans for changes to the questionnaire for 2023.  The analysis of responses to the consultation is here.. The guidance and the final questionnaire are here.

To reduce the work expected of providers, it has been agreed to continue with the principle that providers in England are not required to promote the 2023 survey to their students

The timetable for NSS 2023 is:

  • All participating providers are asked to review, and where necessary update, their relevant NSS provider contact details by 28 November 2022
  • All participating providers should also submit their completed ‘My survey options’ form by 28 November 2022 through the NSS extranet. This form asks for providers’ preferences for their survey start week and optional questions, and details of any prize draws
  • All providers should populate their NSS 2023 sample templates with the requested contact details for all students on their target list; this is a list of all students eligible for NSS 2023, based on the 2021-22 student data. Details should be supplied by 28 November 2022 via the ‘Upload sample data’ section of the NSS extranet. Any proposed additions to or removals from the target list should follow the process set out by Ipsos, starting in mid-December
  • The NSS will launch on 11 January 2023
  • Fieldwork will take place between 11 January and 30 April 2023 and will be run by Ipsos
  • OfS and UK funding bodies will issue a publication in spring 2023 detailing the plans for NSS 2023 results publication
  • Results will be published on the OfS website in summer 2023
  • Detailed results will be supplied to individual providers through the NSS results portal provided by Texuna Technologies.
  • NSS results at course level will be published on the Discover Uni website

There is a Wonkhe article here which expresses some frustration about the power of the consultation.  We share this view except we cannot understand why 90% of respondents wanted to keep question 27.  Not having it means everyone will have to focus on the detail, which is where the NSS adds value.

  • For example – around ninety per cent of respondents were against the removal of the summative question (current Q27) in England. The justification for removing it is simply that OfS do not use the question within current regulatory approaches. And that’s it. If you want to compare across nations, you’ll need to use some kind of agglomeration of the other questions.
  • A majority of respondents did not see the value in the freedom of expression question – we get an “issue raised by stakeholders” justification without any indication of who those stakeholders might be, or whether this question actually addressed the issues that stakeholders raised.
  • On this, one curiosity is that apparently some students saw freedom of expression as “essential to a sense of inclusion and belonging”. This issue didn’t come up in our recent research, but never mind. You’d think a specific question on inclusion and belonging may be of more use – but the current question 21 (“I feel part of a community of staff and students”) is being removed, with the justification that apparently some students didn’t understand it well enough and it wasn’t really about belonging and inclusion anyway.

Blended learning

Following the publication of revised conditions of relating to the quality of courses which came into force on 1 May 2022, the OfS announced a review of blended learning in higher education which was published in October.

It is worth a read, for the examples included:

Complying with condition B1: Condition B1 states that a high quality academic experience includes ensuring that B1.3.a each higher education course is up-to-date… B1.3.c each higher education course is coherent B1.3.d each higher education course is effectively delivered B1.3.e each higher education course, as appropriate to the subject matter of the course, requires students to develop relevant skills.

We would be likely to have compliance concerns in relation to condition B1, if a provider’s blended learning approach:

  • Uses lecture recordings that are no longer up-to-date when re-used, or are not appropriately informed by subject matter developments, research, industrial and professional developments, or developments in teaching and learning.
  • Does not facilitate feedback for students that is appropriate to the content of their course, such as where dialogue and immediate feedback is required for course content to be effectively delivered.
  • Does not foster collaborative learning among students registered on a course, which may indicate the course is not being effectively delivered.
  • Does not consider changing expectations for students’ digital skills in related disciplines or industries, if this means that a course is no longer up-to-date, or that a course does not require students to develop relevant skills, in a manner appropriate to the subject matter and level of the course.
  • Does not require students to develop practical skills in a manner appropriate to the subject matter and level of the course.
  • Is driven by an arbitrary fixed blend ratio for a course, rather than using the most appropriate delivery method for the subject material. If decisions about the delivery method (for example: online or in-person) are not being made for sound pedagogical reasons, this may indicate that the course is not being effectively delivered.
  • Is driven by limitations in the supply of physical learning resources, including physical locations, which may indicate that a course is not coherent or effectively delivered, as decisions are not being made for sound pedagogical reasons.
  • Is delivered in a way that results in low attendance and engagement that may mean there is an inappropriate balance between delivery methods or between directed and independent work that indicate that the course is not effectively delivered.
  • Is confusing or difficult to manage for students due to insufficient coordination across modules on a course, meaning there is not an appropriate balance between delivery methods, leading to a course not being effectively delivered. j. Contains a volume of recorded online lectures and other digital learning resources that is too high for students to engage with effectively and adversely affects their ability to participate fully in their course. This may indicate that a course is not being effectively delivered.
  • Is not communicated effectively to current or prospective students in terms of the pattern of blended delivery, which may suggest that a course is not coherent or being effectively delivered.

Complying with condition B2: Condition B2 states that providers must take all reasonable steps to ensure: each cohort of students registered on each higher education course receives resources and support which are sufficient for the purpose of ensuring: i. a high quality academic experience for those students; and ii. those students succeed in and beyond higher education;

We would be likely to have compliance concerns relating to a provider’s blended learning approach in relation to condition B2, if a cohort of students:

  • Does not receive adequate access to appropriate physical spaces for students that allow them to access and engage with digital learning. This would be particularly likely if there is evidence that students are not receiving access to physical resources because of pressures on the supply of those resources which the provider could have mitigated.
  • Does not receive adequate access to sufficient hardware, specialist software and IT infrastructure, as appropriate, to access digital content.
  • Does not receive sufficient support to develop the skills students need for effective digital learning and a high quality academic experience.
  • Does not receive, where relevant, well-produced online lectures, instead, for example receiving poorly recorded audio or video which leads to students missing course content or administrative information relating to their course.
  • Receives re-used lecture recordings that contain incorrect and confusing administrative information.
  • Is not provided with appropriately qualified teaching staff, with sufficient digital skills to effectively deliver their course.
  • Does not receive timely and high quality feedback that supports students to engage with their course and understand subject content, as appropriate to the course.
  • Does not receive appropriate support to develop skills to engage with in-person teaching and learning, informed by consideration of the cohort’s academic needs.
  • Does not receive appropriate support to manage their timetables and overcome the challenges of combining online and in-person delivery and the need to balance on-campus and independent work. This may include a failure to support students to develop skills in knowing how long to spend on tasks or how to prioritise work.
  • Does not receive sufficient resources and support that are appropriate to students’ academic needs, (including those which may be linked to students’ protected characteristics), in order to ensure a high quality academic experience.

Students

Growing problemMore than four-fifths of UK students have been affected by mental health difficulties, a survey suggests. (THE)

Student Loans

The DfE confirmed that the current interest rate for pre-2012 income contingent (ICR) student loans will increase to 3.25% (due to changes in the Bank Base Rate). The increase took place at the end of October.

Welsh graduates will remain on their current scheme for a further year. Welsh Education Minister Jeremy Miles said: “It is hugely frustrating that we were given little warning of these significant changes before they were announced”, and that the Treasury “took an extremely long time to communicate the budgetary position.” New borrowers will be subject to the existing terms and conditions. This means Wales will continue to use the £27,295 repayment threshold, not the £25,000 Plan 5 threshold.  Graduates in Wales will repay loans under the 30-year repayment period, not Plan 5’s 40 year repayment period.

Cost of Living Crisis

The Campaign for Learning published a new policy paper examining the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on all aspects of post-16 education. It makes 30 recommendations. Here are the points most relevant to the HE sector:

Maintenance Loans for Full-Time Level 4-6 Students Increased by at Least Earnings Growth in September from 1st January 2023

  • The increase in maintenance loan rates for AY2022/23 by 2% is in effect a real terms cut when inflation is running at 10%. Whilst it is true that maintenance support is not a form of benefit and, as consequence, not linked to the September inflation rate as measured by the CPI, there is a case for uprating maintenance loans above 2% bearing in mind the cost-of-living crisis faced by full-time students.
  • In this context, the Government should increase payments of maintenance loans from 1st January 2023 in line with earnings growth as of September 2022. If earnings growth is 5.5% in September 2022, an extra 3% should be added to maintenance loans given the existing 2% uplift.

Close the Maintenance Gap between Full-Time Higher Education Living at Home and Living Away from Home

  • There is a significant gap in the value of maintenance loans if a full-time student lives with their parents, compared to one who lives away from home.
  • Assuming parental income of £25,000 and study is outside of London, the amount received living at home could be £1,600 less than living away from home. Parents facing a cost-of-living crisis could find supporting a full-time student living at home difficult. Hence, DfE should consider increasing maintenance loan rates to students living at home.

Uprate Part-Time Maintenance Loans for Level 6 Degrees by at Least Earnings Growth in September from 1st January 2023

  • Maintenance loans are currently available to support achievement of a first Level 6 through part-time study. The value of maintenance loans should increase by the growth in earnings recorded in September, with higher payments introduced from 1st January 2022.

Uprate Part-Time Maintenance Loans for Part-Time Level 4-5 Higher Technical Qualifications from 1st January 2023: Maintenance loans are not currently available to support achievement of a first Level 4 and Level 5 through part-time Higher Technical Qualifications. They are not due to be introduced until AY2023/24. DfE should make available part-time maintenance loans to achieve a first Level 4 and 5 through part-time HTQs from 1st January 2023.

Bursaries for Level 4-6 Short Courses from 1st January 2023: DfE is currently piloting short courses in higher education, lasting between four weeks and twelve months. Course costs are funded through fee-loans. To boost take-up and assist students with the cost-of-living crisis, DfE should make available means-tested living cost bursaries from 1st January 2023

DfE Should Introduce Part-Time Maintenance Loans for Adults Seeking a First Full Level 3 Through Access to HE courses

  • Access to HE courses (Level 3) in the FE system and Foundation Years (Level 4) in the HE system are two different non-traditional routes into higher education.
  • 19-23 year-olds seeking a first full Level 3 via an Access to HE courses pay no fees, whilst those seeking a second Level 3 via Access to HE courses have the option to take out a fee-loan. Adults aged 24 and over have the option to take out a fee-loan for their Access to HE course, if it is their first or subsequent Level 4. Meanwhile, Foundation Year students have access to fee-loans to cover course costs. The cost of an Access to HE course is c£3,250 compared to £9,250 for most Foundation Year courses. Despite no fees or lower fee-loans, demand for Foundation Year courses has risen whilst Access to HE courses has fallen.
  • Part of the explanation is due to the accessibility and level of maintenance support. Students on Access to HE courses can apply for means-tested bursary grants, but there is no entitlement to full-time or part-time maintenance loans. By contrast, Foundation Year students are entitled to maintenance loans and since most study full-time, have access to full-time maintenance loans.
  • The cost-of-living crisis could see further falls in the demand for Access to HE courses as uncertain and insufficient levels of maintenance support are currently available.
  • Where adults are seeking a first full Level 3 through an Access to HE course and are studying part-time, DfE should make available access to part-time maintenance loans on the same basis as part-time maintenance loans for Level 6 first degrees and part-time Level 4-5 Higher Technical Qualifications from AY2023/24.

Abolish Employee National Insurance Contributions for Apprentices Under 25: Employers do not pay national insurance contributions on the earnings of apprentices aged under 25 up to £50,270. The Treasury should boost the real earnings of apprentices by abolishing employee national insurance contributions of 12% between £12,570 and £50,270. This would mean under 25 year-olds on a Level 2 apprenticeship earning an average of £8.23 per hour and working an average of 37 hours per week, and earning £15,834,52 per year would save £392 per year in NI contributions.

Provide Publicly Funded Post-16 Providers with Greater Certainty over Energy Bills Until the End of AY2022/23: The EBSS is scheduled to last until March 2022 although the 2022/23 academic year lasts until August 2023. The Government should signal as soon as possible when energy support will be available to publicly funded post-16 education and training providers for both the spring and summer terms. An extension will enable post-16 providers to open longer and become warm spaces for students and trainees.

Post-16 Providers Should Assess Their Financial Stability in a New Era of Higher Interest Rates: Higher interest rates are here to stay. Post-16 education and skills providers should assess the impact of higher interest rates on interest-bearing assets and interest-bearing liabilities on their short and medium financial positions.

DfE Should Set Realistic Post-16 Participation and Outcomes Measures

  • DfE should be realistic about participation in all forms of post-16 education and training and associated outcomes measures in the context of the cost-of-living crisis.
  • Lower participation by young people and adults, lower demand by employers and higher drop-out and non-completion rates are likely as individuals, households and employer put earnings and income before learning.

The Treasury Should Not Clawback Underspends in Post-16 Provision Budgets

  • Even where the cost-of-learning is to individuals and employers or fee-loans for adults prevent the need for up-front cash contributions, demand for education and training might fall leading to underspends on post-16 budgets.
  • The Treasury should recognise the role of the cost-of-living crisis on causing underspends and should not claw these back as part of efficiency savings – but instead, carry them over to support demand later on.

Progression to HE: official statistics

The DfE published the latest progression to higher education or training figures covering key stage 4 (KS4) and 16 to 18 (KS5) students going into apprenticeship, education and employment destinations.

  • The proportion of students that progressed to a sustained level 4 or higher destination was 66.0%, very similar to the previous year (66.2%).
  • Of the 66% their destinations were as follows:
    • 5% were studying for a degree (a level 6 qualification)
    • 7% were participating in an apprenticeship at level 4 or higher
    • 8% were studying qualifications at level 4 or 5

Some other interesting stats:

  • Students from state-funded mainstream (SFM) schools are much more likely to progress to level 4 or higher education and training (74.6%) than students from SFM colleges (54.9%). Of course, this could be due in part to the different remit and intentions between school and college students as well as the
  • Students from selective schools continued to progress at a very high rate (88.5%).
  • The gap in progression between London and the South West widened slightly – London 77% progression, South West 59.5% (prior attainment and qualification type was controlled for in these statistics). Proximity to HEIs was suggested as an explanation. Also urban local authorities show higher rates of progression than those in rural and coastal areas.
  • Disadvantaged students (those eligible for pupil premium in year 11) were less likely to sustain a level 4 or higher destination (61.8%) than other students (67.0%).
  • Female students were more likely to progress to a level 4 or higher destination (69.0%) than male students (62.6%)
  • Male students were more than twice as likely to sustain an apprenticeship.

There is large variability in the rate of progression by ethnicity group:

  • Students from the Chinese major ethnicity group were the most likely to sustain a level 4 or higher destination (88.7%), more than 27 percentage points ahead of students from the White major ethnicity group, who had the lowest progression rate. Once prior attainment and qualification type were accounted for, students from the Black or Black British major ethnicity group achieved the highest progression scores (+19.1), followed by students from the “Any other ethnic group” (+14.7) and the Asian or Asian British major ethnicity group (+14.4).
  • Students from the White major ethnicity group were the only ones to average a negative progression score, however while they were more than 30 percentage points less likely than students from the Chinese group to sustain a degree destination, students from the White major ethnicity group were more likely than students from other groups (besides the very small Unclassified group) to have an apprenticeship or level 4/5 destination.

Parliamentary Questions

Other News

The Institute of Economic Affairs published a report on university funding.

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New BU PhD education paper

This week the editor of the journal Journal of Education & Research informed us that our paper ‘Reflections on variations in PhD viva regulations: “And the options are….”’ has been accepted for publication [1].  This paper grew out of a discussion between the six authors about the apparent differences between the outcomes of the PhD viva at different universities.  We have all acted as internal or external examiners for a PhD viva and had noted inconsistencies between universities, either in the regulations or in the interpretation of their PhD regulations.  The authors are based at three different universities, on two different continents and, between them, have examined PhD theses submitted to universities based in at least ten different countries.  Three authors are based in BU’s Faculty of Health & Social Sciences (Prof. Vanora Hundley, Dr. Pramod Regmi & Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen), two authors are based in the School of Human & Health Sciences at the University of Huddersfield (Prof. Padam Simkhada & Dr. Bibha Simkhada and both are Visiting Faculty at BU), and one author is based in the Institute for Global Health in the School of Public Health & Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA (Prof. Krishna C. Poudel).

This paper outlines the range of outcomes of a PhD examination.  It also includes four short case studies, each reflecting on a particular aspect /differences we experienced as examinees or as examiners. The authors aim to alert PhD candidates and examiners to study the examination rules set by the awarding university, as the details of the PhD examination outcome, and hence the options available to both examiners and the students, may differ more than one might expect.  This is the latest CMMPH education publication around aspects of the PhD [2-5].

 

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health (CMMPH)

 

References:

  1. van Teijlingen, E., Simkhada, B., Regmi, P., Simkhada, P., Hundley, V., Poudel, K.C. (2022) Reflections on variations in PhD viva regulations: “And the options are….”, Journal of Education and Research (accepted).
  2. Way, S, Hundley, V., van Teijlingen, E, Walton, G., Westwood, G. (2016) Dr Know. Midwives 19: 66-7.
  3. Wasti, S.P. Regmi, P.R., Simkhada, P., van Teijlingen, E., Hundley, V. (2022) Writing a PhD Proposal, In: Wasti, S.P., van Teijlingen, E., Simkhada, P.P., Hundely, V. & Shreeh, K. (Eds.) Academic Writing and Publishing in Health & Social Sciences, Kathmandu, Nepal: Himal Books: 176-183.
  4. Hundley, V., Simkhada, P., van Teijlingen, E. (2022) Converting your Master’s or Doctoral Thesis into an Academic Paper for Publication, In: Wasti, S.P., et al. (Eds.) Academic Writing and Publishing in Health & Social Sciences, Kathmandu, Nepal: Himal Books: 184-189.
  5. Regmi, P., Poobalan, A., Simkhada, P., van Teijlingen, E. (2021) PhD supervision in Public Health, Health Prospect: Journal of Public Health 20(1):1-4. https://www.nepjol.info/index.php/HPROSPECT/article/view/32735/28111