Tagged / academic freedom

HE Policy Update for the w/e 11th Feb 2021

Lots to talk about this week as we look in some detail at the Education’s Secretary’s latest guidance to the OfS and what it means and doesn’t mean.

We’re taking a break next week but will be back with a round-up of the essential news the following week.

HE Strategic Priorities – Williamson’s letter to OfS

The Secretary of State wrote to the OfS on 8th Feb 2021 with a new set of strategic priorities.

Interestingly, he also said “apart from my guidance letters on 14 September 2020, 14 December 2020, 19 January 2021 and 2 February 2021 which related to delivery of particular time critical issues, this letter replaces all previous guidance.”  So what are the priorities now, and the context for them? and what is no longer a priority?  We quote chunks of the text from Williamson’s letter for colleagues to scan through because the tone of the wording is quite insightful.  We cover those other 4 letters below as well as what is now “off the table”.

Williamson states: my strong view that the OfS should focus on driving up quality, being risk based, minimising bureaucracy, and ensuring that it delivers on equality of opportunity in higher education…this letter replaces all previous guidance [apart from the 4 other letters he mentions which he states relate to delivery of time critical issues of course]..…The OfS will, of course, still need to deliver its functions under HERA and its operational responsibilities, but the replacement of the majority of previous guidance will, I hope, provide clarity on my priorities and allow the OfS to focus its energy and resources on these.  Bottom line – this is an instruction to the OfS to crack on (and crack down on) the sector to ensure progress is made on his top issues.

But before we get to what they are, this made us try and guess what the biggest “problems” are for the SoS:

  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who takes a degree in a creative subject at a “lower quality” university and goes on to pursue a career in creative arts which is relatively low paid compared to the average earnings of students studying that subject.
  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who studies anything and then struggles to find a “graduate level” job, but particularly if it is a humanities, or media course at a “lower quality” university.
  • A student who doesn’t complete their degree.

Why might these be a problem? In each case the answer is the same: they should never have gone to university at all, and specifically the one they chose.  They should never have incurred loans they probably won’t repay; they should have studied, say, plumbing, on an FE course, because:

  • there is no social mobility – these students have not improved their relative financial position;
  • there is no benefit to the taxpayer – as they have not increased their earnings, they will not make higher tax contributions and are unlikely to repay their student loans – so the subsidy was not value for money;
  • there is no alignment in terms of the UK’s productivity or strategic priorities – given their choice of courses these students are not contributing to the “build back better” vision for the future which is all about STEM, and they are not contributing either to public service and the nation as nurses, teachers or social workers or working in social care (although they might be, but it doesn’t count for this purpose because their first degree wasn’t in those things);
  • the students who fail to complete must have done so because the course was poor quality or there was insufficient support.

Of course this all ignores the fact that many students can’t or don’t leave their local region for employment, that there may be challenging local economic circumstances, and that the jobs and average salaries of their contemporaries at other “better quality” universities may also be influenced by the social capital, school experience, and non-WP background of the majority of their students which makes it easier for them to become lawyers, bankers, captains of industry, politicians (although a minute ago we were only counting careers directly linked to the first degree subject).  Of course the SoS wants these issues to be considered (he mentions socio-economic status and geographical inequality) but only to the extent that more students affected by those issues should go to high tariff institutions.  Because then they will presumably get the same outcomes as every one else who goes there.  Won’t they?

And it ignores the fact that those who dropped out may have done so because of financial pressures, or caring responsibilities, or mental health issues or a whole range of other reasons.

So if those are the problems, and the reasons for them, here are some possible answers.  Then we’ll look at the SoS’s priorities.  You’ll be amazed how aligned they are.

  • outcomes are what count, so define quality by looking at outcomes metrics, and cut funding or close down those that don’t meet your baseline (already in hand but worth reinforcing);
  • link funding to strategically important subjects (that’s only hinted at here, but there has been more before and is more to come);
  • students should really only study arts or creative subjects at prestigious specialist institutions and only study humanities at high tariff institutions (linked to outcomes, see above), and so it might make sense to stop some universities from offering those courses or find another way to reduce the government subsidy for them (there are several ways of doing that and some feature below);
  • ration places at university so that the system costs less but try and level the playing field for applicants including finding a way to ensure that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds get into high tariff universities (where they will surely get better outcomes….yes, that is here too).

Of course there is more, on pet political issues like free speech, and reducing bureaucracy.  There is more on mental health and helping students to complain.  And there is a lot on getting the OfS to support the big skills agenda (i.e. technical education, lifelong learning etc.).

You can read the Wonkhe take on it here.  And Wonkhe also have a blog by Susanna Kalitowski of the University Alliance which sets out another view, considering the conflict between quality = outcomes and flexible learning.

So here we go.

Quality and Standards: The biggie.

  • One of my highest priorities and an important manifesto commitment is to drive up quality and standards in higher education, which is a fundamental part of our levelling up agenda. This is in addition to the work outlined above on the quality of online learning…. would like the OfS to progress rapidly to ensure that a robust enhanced regulatory regime can be operational as soon as possible.
  • I fully support the OfS desire to ensure that decisions on regulatory intervention and registration can be made in relation to minimum absolute standards of quality which apply across the whole of higher education provision. I firmly believe that every student, regardless of their background, has a right to expect a minimum standard of education that is likely to improve their prospects in life…I note that these standards are likely to take account of, though not be confined to, quantitative measures, including measures relating to student outcomes.

And he means business:

  • The OfS should not hesitate to use the full range of its powers and sanctions where quality of provision is not high enough: the OfS should not limit itself to putting in place conditions of registration requiring improvement plans for providers who do not demonstrate high quality and robust outcomes, but should move immediately to more robust measures, including monetary penalties, the revocation of degree awarding powers in subjects of concem, suspending aspects of a provider’s registration or, ultimately, deregistration. It is also my view that the OfS should not be registering providers without rigorous quality and a commitment to robust graduate outcomes, which should be closely monitored once registered.

And related to quality:

  • TEF: He asks the OfS to interpret the Government response to the Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework. Sub text: sort it out and make it do/measure what the Government want it to do.
  • Student complaints: the phrasing suggest that OfS may be expected to play more of a role in students’ complaints. Using the OIA as the complaint ombudsman has been both a blessing and curse for the Government during the pandemic. Blessing because they can offload it to a different body, and curse because it left them without an arrow to shoot the sector with. Williamson asks the OfS to continue to monitor this closely, and to take swift action where it is clear that quality and academic standards have dropped. I would like the OfS to communicate the findings from their monitoring work and ensure students are aware of the notification process that they can follow to raise any issues.
  • Death knell for NSS: Minister Donelan also asked the OfS in her 14 September letter to carry out a radical review of the National Student Survey (NSS). I can confirm that this remains a high priority, in order to address the downwards pressure that student surveys of this sort may exert on standards. I would like the OfS to take the time it needs to ensure this review is genuinely radical, consider carefully whether there could be a replacement that does not depend on a universal annual sample, and ensure that a replacement does not contribute to the reduction in rigour and standards. It is my strong view that the NSS should play at most a minimal role in baseline quality regulation. It’s interesting to juxtapose this with the paragraph above – don’t ask students about their experience or use that feedback in a quality framework or the TEF – but do encourage them to complain and take action on their complaints.

Fairness and admissions (lumped together, which is telling – concerns about admissions are all in this document about fairness, except minimum entry standards, which are about quality.)

  • 2021: to ensure that admissions this year run as smoothly as possible and students’ interests are fully taken into account.
  • PQA: Central to my plans to improve equality of opportunity is…post qualification admissions…we believe it has the potential to contribute towards improved student outcomes in the longer-term. He asks the OfS to support the Department’s work to develop the evidence base and implementation. And makes the main intent behind the change clear: We want to ensure that any move to post qualification admissions genuinely improves the prospects of disadvantaged students and, in particular, facilitates greater numbers of them accessing the most selective universities.
  • Supporting WP while controlling numbers: It is very important that the OfS’ work on access and participation focuses on delivering real social mobility: ensuring students are able to make the right choices, accessing and succeeding on high quality courses which are valued by employers and lead to good graduate employment. Encouraging more and more students onto courses which do not provide good graduate outcomes does not provide real social mobility and serves only to entrench inequality
  • I would like the OfS to continue to consider broader factors, including socio-economic status and geographical inequality, which are likely to impact on access and participation in higher education. This should include a focus on white boys on free school meals who are currently the least likely group to progress to higher education
  • I would like the OfS to encourage universities to do much more to work with schools in a way which meaningfully raises the attainment of disadvantaged children. Theresa May’s agenda still hasn’t gone away, policy recycling at its best. What does this mean? It’s interesting though, when funding for UniConnect has just been cut (see GW’s letter of 19 January 2021)
  • I would like to remind the OfS that it has a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. The OfS must be a champion for the importance of academic and technical excellence in all aspects of the student lifecycle, from selection to graduation. [Again a reminder that there are other routes than HE and Ministers want to see technical education rise in prominence.]

Funding:

  • I would therefore like you to make arrangements to change the name of the Teaching Grant to the Strategic Priorities Grant[this of course builds on the earlier letter in which he “slashed” the teaching grant allocation for media courses and archaeology (see our 21st Jan 21 policy update here)].
    • Remember the interim response to Augar also said that the upcoming consultation on further reforms will include consideration of minimum entry requirements, which it is expected would restrict the availability of government funding for students who do not meet the requirements. This proposal was mentioned in Augar as a possible step to take to address concerns about low value courses.  It was widely condemned as a cap on ambition and a regressive step against social mobility when it was first discussed in December 2018.  But it also is a way of rationing the government subsidy.

Skills agenda, lifelong learning: The OfS also has to work on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and reforms to occupationally focused higher technical qualifications.

  • I would like the OfS to work with DfE and other stakeholders to consider how to support the accumulation and transfer of credit and to develop a regulatory system that is fully equipped to support radically different, flexible arrangements, measuring quality using metrics that are meaningful in the new system and interact positively with our admissions regime. Delivering our vision will require action from providers to adapt to this new model and providers will need to work towards delivering greater flexibility in the courses they offer. Alongside that work by providers, the OfS should ensure that it, too, is considering how all aspects of its regulatory approach will need to adapt to and support this new model. e. adopt it or else.
  • [Note there is an interesting HEPI blog from 5th February on this: “ Although flexibility is important in the support of learning, a shift in approach will need real care to manage step off to ensure it becomes step off with purpose, at an appropriate time for the learner and as an integral part of the lifelong learning journey”.]
  • [Also note an interesting blog on BTECs by Graeme Atherton of NEON on Wonkhe]

Mental Health: OfS to continue to support initiatives in relation to mental health in the short and long term. This should be through distributing funding to providers in line with my January guidance, and developing and funding challenge competitions to enable providers to develop innovative practice in mental health support. This funding should target mental health support for students transitioning from school/college to university and prioritising the most disadvantaged learners.

Sector stability: OfS to continue to monitor the financial sustainability of the sector – It is important that the OfS maintains a close understanding and oversight of financial issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and shares information where appropriate so that the OfS and Government can work together to provide timely support for providers through the Restructuring Regime and ensure effective protection of students..

All this whilst reducing the regulatory burden:

  • …providers delivering high quality provision and strong outcomes for students should not be adversely affected by additional unnecessary bureaucracy or reporting in relation to quality: I would like the OfS to take a risk-based approach to quality assessment and regulation, focusing its efforts on lower quality providers. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]
  • In Minister Donelan’s guidance letter to the OfS on 14 September 2020, she set out a number of areas where she expected the OfS to reduce the bureaucratic burden on providers. Those areas included enhanced monitoring, termly data collections under data futures, random sampling, student transfer arrangements, estates and non-academic staff data and a review of TRAC and the OfS’ transparency condition… In addition to reducing bureaucracy in the areas outlined in Minister Donelan’s letter, I would like the OfS look across everything that it does to identify further opportunities to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and reporting requirements for providers.
  • Tut tut: In my view, to date, the OfS has not been sufficiently risk-based. A risk-based approach to regulation should consider the overall regulatory burden faced by providers, including data gathering, reporting and monitoring, not just the application of conditions of registration. It is my view that there are further opportunities for the OfS to ensure that providers with consistently strong performance face minimal regulatory burden. I would like the OfS to implement a markedly more risk-based model of regulation, with significant, meaningful and observable reductions in the regulatory burden upon high quality providers within the next 12 months. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]

Free speech & Academic Freedom:

  • We knew free speech would get a mention however its tone is critical of the OfS. While I welcome your powerful speech, Sir Michael, on 20 January on this subject, to date there has been little regulatory action taken by the OfS in relation to potential breaches of the registration conditions relating to freedom of speech and academic freedom, despite a significant number of concerning incidents reported since the full suite of its regulatory powers came into force. This is interesting because sector press states that there are few real incidents where free speech has been curtailed and previous universities ministers have been unable to evidence their claims that there is a problem. Yet the Education Secretary states that OfS is aware of a significant number of incidents.
  • Furthermore, Williamson states: I intend to publish a policy paper on free speech and academic freedom in the near future and I would like the OfS to continue to work closely with the Department to deliver this shared agenda and ensure our work is closely aligned. I would also like it to take more active and visible action to challenge concerning incidents that are reported to it or which it becomes aware of, as well as to share information with providers about best practice for protecting free speech beyond the minimum legal requirements. So Williamson wants the OfS, already known for its bark, poor comms and reputation within the HE sector, to develop far more bite. So far there has been no mention of caning wayward VC’s.
  • …university administrators and heads of faculty should not, whether for ideological reasons or to conform to the perceived desires of students, pressure or force teaching staff to drop authors or texts that add rigour and stretch to a course. The OfS should robustly challenge providers that have implemented such policies and clearly support individual academics whose academic freedom is being diminished.

Antisemitism: Williamson is determined to champion a specific definition of anti-Semitism. In 2020 he gave universities until Christmas to conform and adopt the definition with the threat of action taken against those that didn’t. This stops short of that, but assumes a match between non-adopters with higher levels of incidents and suggests financial penalties.

  • Following my letter to the sector on 9 October 2020 on anti-Semitism and adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism across the HE sector, we have seen positive progress, with at least 31 additional institutions adopting the definition.
    I would like the OfS to undertake a scoping exercise to identify providers which are reluctant to adopt the definition and consider introducing mandatory reporting of anti-Semitic incident numbers by providers. This would ensure a robust evidence base, which the OfS could then use to effectively regulate in this area. If anti-Semitic incidents do occur at a provider, the OfS should consider if it is relevant in a particular case whether the provider has adopted the definition when considering what sanctions, including monetary penalties, would be appropriate to apply.
  • Of course, there are several ways to adopt the definition, including subsuming it within a wider, more comprehensive, policy. It could result in protracted semantic debates as the OfS and a university argue whether decisions were made within the spirit of the definition.

International recruitment:

  • When the sector starts to move past the difficult circumstances created by COVID-19, a key focus of UK higher education providers will understandably be how to sustainably and responsibly recover international student recruitment, given the importance of this group to the financial health of the sector. The Government has updated its International Education Strategy to support that objective, restating its commitment to the IES’ original ambition to increase international higher education student numbers to at least 600,000 by 2030. [see more on this later]
  • In addition, we are doing our utmost to raise awareness within the sector that, where there are international opportunities, there are also risks, including overdependence on income from a single source and security-related issues. At the request of the Minister for Universities, Universities UK produced important guidelines and recommendations to help providers manage risks in internationalisation. I would like the OfS to monitor the adoption of these recommendations by providers and continue to support the sector to manage these risks to the reputation, integrity and sustainability of individual institutions, as well as to the sector as a whole.

Those other letters:

  • 14 September 2020 – this was a long one
    • set out £10m of additional teaching grant funding for high cost subjects to accommodate additional students as a result of the admissions issues in 2020
    • asked the OfS to reduce its enhanced monitoring because of the burden on providers and suggested using specific licence conditions instead – and asked for a report within 3 months
    • supported reduced requirements for data futures and ending random sampling, stopping the collection of non academic and estates data in HESES, reviewing TRAC and ending TRAC (T), and reviewing the transparency data
    • requested the “radical, root and branch review” of the NSS by the end of 2020 and “It is my strong view that the NSS should not be carried out in again in the same format as it was last year.” [oops, it has been]
    • instructed that no further action be taken on student transfer arrangements. That is fine, but of course the relevant issues all come back up again in the context of credit transfer and lifelong learning.   This was originally in an earlier letter in September 2019.
    • Asking the OfS to review its own efficiency and save registration fees by 10% in 2 years.
  • 14 December 2020 – this one was about £20m in hardship funding
  • 19 January 2021 – this was about the teaching grant – including reducing it for some subjects, removing the London weighting, cutting UniConnect etc.
  • Parliamentary question in which Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, defends the decision to remove the London weighting in the HE teaching grant: …it is right for government to re-allocate public money where it is most needed. Universities should not receive additional investment for teaching simply because of where they are located: excellent provision can be delivered across the country. London already has, on average, the highest percentage of good or outstanding schools, the highest progression to HE, and more HE providers than in any other region in England. This government is firmly committed to the levelling up agenda and this reform will invest more money directly into high quality institutions in the Midlands and the North.
  • 2 February 2021 – this one was bout the £50m hardship funding

What he didn’t mention in any of these letters and so is off the table?

  • Accelerated degrees- from an earlier letter in September 2019
  • Student protection plans – this was in the letter in February 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) “I would like the OfS to continue to focus on student protection and consumer rights. In particular, to evaluate and report publicly on the strength of student protection plans and advice available on students’ consumer rights.
  • Student contracts – from an earlier letter in September 2019. You will recall the proposal was for template student contracts with initial recommendations to the government by Feb 2020.
  • Contract cheating and essay mills – this featured in the letter of 7th June 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) which asked the OfS to work with the sector and take firm and robust action
  • Grade inflation –
  • VC pay
  • The September 2019 letter also asked the OfS to make “public transparent data on the outcomes achieved by international students, including those studying wholly outside the UK, such as it does for domestic students”

Research

Place Strategy: In September 2020 the Council for Science and Technology wrote to the Prime Minister to explore how science and technology can contribute to addressing regional disparities and promote equality of opportunity. The Government have published both the letter and the PM’s response here.

The letter proposes 6 recommendations focused on 4 areas:

  1. Leveraging research and development funding for regional growth by scaling up collaborative funding opportunities to foster and enhance partnerships, within and between regions, where there are research and innovation synergies with the potential to contribute to local growth.
  2. Further incentivising the contribution of research, innovation and technology centres to regional growth in funding agreements and in organisational strategies.
  3. Enhancing the availability of information on local innovation strengths and needs, for local and national decision makers to inform effective investment strategies and to evaluate outcomes.
  4. Supporting wider measures needed for research and development investment to act as a driver for local growth, including measures to support skills and to support local leadership and decision-making.

The PM’s response welcomes the Council’s recommendations (which sit well with current Government policy) and mentions BEIS development of the UK Research and Development Place Strategy:

  • The Place Strategy will set out how the Government can build on existing initiatives (such as the Strength in Places Fund) to support research and innovation excellence, and build new centres of high-value economic activity outside of the South East… We also need to get the local governance and delivery structures right so that responsibility and accountability sit at the right level for delivering local growth priorities.
  • And: BEIS and UKRI will continue to engage widely with industry, the scientific community, and civic organisations from across the country to help develop a strategy that supports the priorities of areas and communities across the UK. The new Ministerial R&D Place Advisory Group, which had its inaugural meeting last month, will propose, challenge and test potential policy options.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund: The National Audit Office has published a report on UK Research and Innovation’s management of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund examining the Fund has been set up in a way likely to optimise value for money. By January 2021 the Fund was supporting 1,613 projects, contributing to one of the 24 approved challenges. To date, UKRI has spent around £1.2 billion of the Fund’s eight-year budget of £3 billion.

The report examines:

  • the establishment of the Fund, in particular whether it has attracted sufficient good-quality bids, whether the selection processes have been efficient and whether the budget is managed effectively (Parts One and Two); and
  • the approach to monitoring and evaluating the Fund’s performance, as well as its performance to date (Part Three).

The report finds that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have worked well to generate interest from industry and academia in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (the Fund). However, more needs to be done to reduce the time taken to consider requests for support, so applicants are not deterred from bidding for funding and projects are not delayed.

  • Over the period, government has enhanced its engagement with industry to seek out challenges which might benefit most from taxpayer support.
  • UKRI’s own assessment shows that the Fund’s key components – challenges and projects – are broadly performing well. To sustain this position, the Department and HM Treasury, working with UKRI, need to place more emphasis on the outcomes and impact its funding secures at the Fund level. The increasing number of challenges supported by the Fund, each with their own objectives, and range of different objectives at Fund level risk obscuring priorities and will make the assessment of value for money in the longer term more difficult

R&D Roadmap: Catapults: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report asserting that the Government’s ambitions for research and development are not supported by a detailed plan or sufficient investment in innovation. It details how the Government needs to provide more detail about how it will deliver its R&D Roadmap, including how it will attract substantial private sector investment to meet its target of 2.4% of GDP by 2027. It states the UK’s research and innovation system has the necessary components to be successful, but there is insufficient collaboration between organisations and insufficient scale to deliver the required levels innovation and commercial success.

  • Commenting on the Catapult Network it states it is an integral part of the UK’s innovation system. And that the Government should expand the Catapult Network to support technologies in which the UK excels and that can bring substantial economic benefits – including to assist in the levelling up agenda.
  • Changes are needed to remove barriers that limit the Catapults’ effectiveness: universities, Catapults and industry need to be encouraged (and permitted) to interact more deeply; and rules governing innovation funding should be reformed, to allow greater flexibility for Catapults and their partners.

The Committee set out a range of recommendations for the Government, UKRI and Innovate UK to help deliver the UK’s R&D ambitions, including the changes to enable the Catapults to more effectively achieve their objectives:

  • A clear plan for how public sector resources and private investment can be made to match the scale of ambition in the R&D Roadmap.
  • Prioritisation of scaling up the Catapult Network.
  • Assurance of long-term continuity for the Catapults—including longer-term certainty over funding and a commitment that reviews will be limited to once every five years, to match the five-year funding cycle.
  • Enabling Catapults and universities to work together more easily on innovation projects, and fostering closer links between industry and universities to assist researchers to work at the interface between the two.
  • Allowing Catapults to bid for Research Council funds where there are clear advantages in terms of both research and innovation; more flexibility in permitting public sector bodies to have a larger share of collaborative R&D funding; and supporting translational research and transformative innovation more effectively, including by reducing risks to industry.
  • Supporting the levelling up agenda by developing a more strategic approach across policies for innovation and regional development—such as broadening access to the Strength in Places Fund.

Quick News

  • UKRI has advertised for a new Chair of UKRI. Given the recent spate of appointments where the Government has been criticised for lack of impartiality this, by Research Professional, raised a chuckle this week: The way public appointments have gone under this government, you may be forgiven for wondering if the post might go to the spouse of a Conservative MP who once owned a chemistry set. It will be up to the assessment panel to come up with a shortlist from the applications.
  • The Times dug up an article on research degrees from the depths of their archives. It’s a short and light read. The similarity to a current theme is surprising – that of other nations squeezing out ‘natives’ by taking up their university places: British universities since the war have had much ado to find room for native-born students, but it is to be hoped that they will make all efforts to attract the graduate research students for whom the new degree was instituted.
  • Healthcare knowledge provider the BMJ, and technology provider Jisc, have agreed a publish and read pilot as part of their commitment to help promote knowledge and speed up discoveries to improve healthcare across the UK. It grants Jisc members full read access to the BMJ’s standard collection (28 specialist journals) and offers researchers at the member institutions the opportunity to publish funded articles on an open access basis in the standard collection journals. Under the agreement, research funded by UKRI, Wellcome, and key medical charities in the UK can be published open access, to help to make the research more accessible and sustainable.
  • The Government has set up a new independent body, the UK Cyber Security Council to boost career opportunities and professional standards for the UK’s cyber security sector. Funded by DCMS the organisation will provide a single governing voice for the industry to establish the knowledge, skills and experience required for a range of cyber security jobs, bringing it in line with other professions such as law, medicine and engineering. The council was developed following a 2018 consultation on Developing the UK cyber security profession which showed strong support for the government’s proposals to define objectives for the profession to achieve and to create a new, independent UK Cyber Security Council to coordinate delivery. Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: The fact we are launching an independent professional body for cyber security shows just how vital this area has become – it makes a huge contribution to our thriving digital economy by safeguarding our critical national infrastructure, commerce and other online spaces. The UK Cyber Security Council will ensure anyone interested in an exciting career tackling online threats has access to world-class training and guidance. It will also champion diversity and inclusion, driving up standards while helping the nation to build back better and safer.

Admissions

2021 Admissions juggle: Research Professional has a good romp through the exam related admissions issues for 2021. Here are some excerpts but there is more content in the blog (e.g. on over recruitment).

  • Setting aside for a moment the challenges involved in running an appeals process based on evaluating a teacher assessment without recourse to an externally validated examination, this raises an issue: If students achieve their results directly and the university hasn’t had confirmation through the awarding bodies and Ucas of what those results are, how long will it be before those students are on the phone, email or turning up on campus to request confirmation of a place? And what does the university do? Take each student’s word for it? Ask for validation from their school? Wait for the results to eventually arrive through Ucas?
  • As things stand, we risk receiving Welsh, English, Northern Irish and international A-levels on different days (and several weeks apart), with BTEC and other vocational awards also somewhere in the mix. While we typically get international qualifications over a span of several weeks (from late June through to mid-August), the relatively small numbers are manageable. But to receive the main bulk of the results in a haphazard fashion raises important questions about the fairness and transparency of admissions decisions.
  • The danger is an outcome in which the fastest nation to get its results out will gain a significant advantage in securing places. It is notable that in the many discussions about a post-qualification admissions process, one of the prerequisites for an effective system will be an alignment of UK results; without having a common date for receipt of results this year, we run the risk of having a fragmented and unfair admissions process.
  • No-one underestimates the challenges we face in this admissions cycle to run a system that is fair to applicants and also ensures that students avoid considerable uncertainty and stress in a situation over which they have no agency. 

Student Numbers Cap: Towards the end of last week Research Professional also asked if the student numbers cap should have remained in place for the 2020/21 intake.

  • The data show a 13 per cent rise overall in numbers of students recruited by high-tariff universities—way more than the 5 per cent (plus forecasts) rise that would have been allowed under the proposed number controls, even allowing for generous forecasting. Some research-intensive institutions accepted a third more UK and EU students than they had the previous year, while other institutions saw recruitment slump by more than 15 per cent.
  • Several non-Russell Group institutions also grew their recruitment significantly: at Leeds Trinity University, Buckinghamshire New University, Liverpool Hope University, the University of Buckingham and Soas, University of London, increases in UK and EU student numbers topped 20 per cent. More than 50 universities increased their UK and EU intake by more than the magic 5 per cent.
  • There were no high-tariff institutions among those that saw major falls. And while overall recruitment was up nearly 30,000, for more than 30 institutions it was down—for some substantially.
  • …The original idea for introducing student number controls last year was to protect post-1992 institutions from exactly this kind of trouble. The controls were dropped not because the danger had entirely gone away—as the Ucas figures show, it hadn’t—but because the government had made such a mess over A-levels that it had little choice.
  • …needs are likely to be substantial in September as students arrive at university without normal levels of learning and social interaction and, in some cases, traumatised by an exceptionally tough year.
  • That will put pressure on some high-tariff institutions whose welfare systems are likely to creak under the strain of larger-than-planned-for numbers of students with multiple issues.
  • But there will also be different kinds of pressures on those institutions that would normally be dealing with a proportion of these students but have missed out because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic. It will be ironic if both groups end up struggling to cope because of government-sanctioned grade inflation.

You can read the full blog here.

Harassment

You may recall that about this time last year the OfS launched a consultation on preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct. This was paused during the pandemic and won’t be reopened. Instead the OfS are considering this matter alongside their wider work to review and reset our regulatory requirements. They intend to

  • Publish a statement of expectations relating to providers’ systems, policies and processes to prevent and respond to harassment and sexual misconduct by Spring 2021. The statement will set out the OfS’ expectations and give universities and colleges the opportunity to review and renew their systems, policies and processes before the beginning of the next academic year.
  • Right now the OfS are engaging with student and sector representative bodies and other stakeholders…to understand specifically how the events of this past year may affect the proposed statement of expectations. e. the additional challenges faced by some students because of the pandemic, including online harassment and domestic abuse.

Turing – Student Mobility

The Turing website is live. Research Professional cover the basics:

  • Applications for bids to Turing will open in “the spring”, which in Whitehall speak can run as late as the end of June, although the website promises a March announcement with a window of six weeks for submissions and results known in July. The call will include “higher education projects”, with funding available for “placements during the period from September 2021 to August 2022”.
  • Any student at “an officially recognised higher education provider registered in the UK”—which we assume means registered with the Office for Students—can participate in the scheme, regardless of nationality. The students will be able to attend a non-UK university as well as “any public or private organisation active in the labour market or in the fields of education and training”.
  • This includes businesses, public bodies, research institutes, foundations, non-governmental organisations and “a social partner or other representative of working life, including chambers of commerce, craft and professional associations and trade unions”. Beyond that, details of the scheme are relatively scant, with visitors to the website encouraged to sign up for email alerts
  • We do know that “successful applications will receive funding towards delivering placements and exchanges” and “the rates provided will be broadly in line with what has been on offer under Erasmus+”. Placements can be of any length between 4 weeks and 12 months. Further guidance on specific elements of funding and a list of destination country groupings for cost of living will be published shortly, the website says.
  • Destinations with a high cost of living will attract a £136-a-week or £380-a-month maintenance grant. Countries with a medium or lower cost of living will be funded at the rate of £120 a week or £335 a month.
  • Students who can demonstrate a disadvantaged background will be funded at a higher rate of £490 a month for expensive destinations and £445 a month for less expensive ones. There will also be tariffs for travel based on distance, ranging from £20 a head for projects less than 100 kilometres away to £1,360 for those taking place over 12,000km away.
  • …Some £315 a head for the first 100 participants will be made available for the administration of projects, with that declining sharply to £180 for the 101st student. It would seem that each individual exchange project should be applied for annually, in contrast to Erasmus+ in which partnerships are rolled over from year to year.
  • Turing is being described as an “outward student mobility scheme”…What Turing does not seem to do is fund exchange students to come in the opposite direction, which makes it a hard sell to prospective international partners while also reducing diversity in UK classrooms.

More details are expected in March.

Wonkhe have a Turing blog: For Janet Beer, it is time to accept the opportunities and flexibility that the new Turing scheme can offer.

International

International Education Strategy

The DfE published the 2021 update to the International Education Strategy including measures to boost international study and global opportunities. Press release here. It includes attracting more overseas students, boosting access to global student exchanges for thousands of people, and supporting international education partnerships. reaffirms the Government’s commitment to increase the amount generated from education exports, such as fees and income from overseas students and English language teaching abroad, to £35bn a year, and sustainably recruit at least 600,000 international students to the UK by 2030. For research and development, the strategy confirmed that the UK will participate in Horizon Europe, as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, subject to finalisation of the programme regulations. The Turing social mobility scheme is also mentioned (more on Turing here). Lastly the Secretary of State’s recent guidance letter also warns institutions to balance recruitment with thought for national security and not to develop an overreliance on recruiting from particular groups or countries.

The Strategy update proposes several areas to help increase the value of education exports and international student numbers:

  • The International Education Champion: this update sets out the priority countries and regions in which the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, will focus his activity. Sir Steve’s immediate priorities are India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria. His role will focus on growing export opportunities in these countries. Other important regional markets for the International Education Champion will include: Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China and Hong Kong. The government will also work with Sir Steve and the British Council to identify and resolve barriers which prevent the recognition of online and blended (a combination of offline and online) learning internationally
  • Building lasting global partnerships: there is an important role for the government to facilitate partnerships across the world, including in the Champion’s priority countries, but also beyond these. This includes Europe, the Indo-Pacific region, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Our new Turing scheme will also help ensure we improve mobility between UK students and all regions of the world
  • Enhancing the international student experience from application to employment: the government will work with sector bodies such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Confederation of British Industry on areas such as:
    • the student application process for international students
    • graduate outcomes and employability
    • the academic experience of international students
    • alternative student finance
  • A new international teaching qualification, ‘International Qualified Teacher Status’ (iQTS): the UK government propose to work with teacher training providers to establish a new teaching qualification that will provide an opportunity for teachers around the world to train to world respected domestic standards. There’s a consultation on it here.
  • Increase export opportunities for UK chartered professional bodies and UK special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) providers: DIT will support UK chartered professional bodies and SEND providers to find opportunities to increase their education exports

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan stated: In these unprecedented times, having a proactive global education agenda is more important than ever so we can build back better from the pandemic. Our world-class education is a vital part of our economy and society, and we want to support universities, schools, colleges and all aspects of the education sector to thrive across the globe…I am also pleased to launch initiatives to enhance the experience of international students at our universities, from the moment they apply, to the first steps of their careers.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, said: I am very supportive of the International Education Strategy, which represents the next step in a joint effort by Government and the education sector to build on the international success of our education system and our attractiveness to international students. This approach has delivered real benefits already, including the introduction of the graduate route, and improvements to the visa system. Despite a very difficult year, interest in UK study has grown as a result…We look forward to continuing to be partners, working with our members, Government and others across the sector, to deliver the strategy.

HESA data: Colleagues with an interest in international matters will be interested in the HESA 2019/20 HE Student Data release mentioned above. There is a sub section exploring recruitment areas for incoming HE students here with useful charts. The transnational data is here.

Access & Participation

Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Education Committee continued to take evidence for its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ministers Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford were questioned. While much of the content focussed on schools it was interested as it touched on several aspects of disadvantage. I was interested to learn that academic resilience (the ability of a child to excel academically regardless of their socio-economic background) has fallen for students from a disadvantaged background. You can read a summary of the session by Dods here.

Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee have launched a new inquiry into Covid-19: Education. They intend to question DfE Officials on how well the DfE managed its overall response in the first lockdown, including whether it effectively supported schools and pupils in England during this period, whether it managed the move to mainly home-learning effectively and whether it effectively supported vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Questioning revolve around the current National Audit Office assessment.

Care leavers: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) published an evidence review: Supporting access and student success for learners with experience of children’s social care.

The literature review finds that activities and interventions aimed to support care leavers are not robustly evaluated: From the 57 studies under review, about half focused on the evaluation of actual support activities while the other half explored potential barriers and facilitators affecting the target group’s trajectory into post-secondary education. However, the small numbers and gaps in data involved with this target group mean establishing causal impact is trickier than evaluating other inventions. Classification of who to include and exclude were also a problem (such as interlinking because care leavers likely to enter HE as mature students). Many studies relied heavily on self-reported evidence through focus groups and interviews (which leads to a self-selecting sample), however, the review concludes that these approaches to support care leavers into and whilst at HE seemed promising:

  • Mentoring activities which also provide positive role models and build a sense of belonging with peers
  • A social network to support, guide and advise care leavers considering HE: A key part of this network is often a trusted adult or mentor who can provide encouragement towards academic and personal goals and emotional support on the journey into and through HE. Several interviewees emphasised the importance of building relationships with a trusted figure, especially in the context of a group of learners who have often built an innate distrust in large bureaucratic institutions.
  • A single point of contact within a provider who can help learners navigate the institution and access the support they need pre-application to post-graduation. The review mentions that HEIs with higher progression and success rates for care students had this role as their sole focus.
  • Links between local authorities, carers, schools and HE providers. In studies where this collaboration was felt to be successful, staff and carers reported better managed transition support, relevant sharing of information between inter-organisational staff and learners who reported of feeling less alone and isolated.

Equality Remit: The Government’s new Equality Hub is explained following a parliamentary question asking about the relationship between the new Equality Hub and the Equalities Office:

  • The new Equality Hub, in the Cabinet Office, brings together the Disability Unit, Government Equalities Office, Race Disparity Unit and, from 1 April, the sponsorship of, and secretariat to, the Social Mobility Commission. The Government Equalities Office’s remit related to gender equality, LGBT rights and the overall framework of equality legislation for Great Britain. The Equality Hub reports to Ministers who have other portfolios outside of the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss.
  • The Equality Hub has a key role in driving Government priorities on equality and opportunity. The Hub has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers different people face, ensuring that fairness is at the heart of everything we do.
  • Key to this is looking beyond a focus solely on statutory protected characteristics to ensure we understand how different issues interact, including in socio-economic and geographic inequality. In this way, the Equality Hub is key to driving progress on the Government’s commitment to levelling up opportunity and ensuring fairness for all.

Other recent care leaver relevant resources

OIA – Complaints

In related news the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published revised draft Rules for Large Group Complaints. Undoubtedly driven by Covid, the proposed Large Group Complaints process builds on their existing approach to group complaints by developing a bespoke approach to handling complaints from large groups of students. The proposed process is intended for complaints from large groups of students at a single provider where there is a high degree of commonality between the complaints and where the complaints could be considered collectively.

However, while the process the OIA proposes would be more streamlined than the current process for group complaints, they say their approach to decision making would be the same. I.e. they would still consider what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The changes require an amendment to their existing Rules and additional Rules for Large Group Complaints so final comments are invited before the change takes place (deadline 12 March).

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

HESA

HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) published the 2019/20 HE Student Data (which includes the first five months of the coronavirus pandemic). Here are HESA’s headline findings:

  • UK students from ethnic minorities made up 27%of all students studying for a first degree in 2019/20 – among students studying for a postgraduate taught qualification (such as a Masters) this proportion was 24% and for postgraduate research qualifications (such as a PhD) the figure was 19%
  • 6% of all students were from a Black African background, but this group represented only 3% of postgraduate research students
  • Students from an Asian Pakistani background were also less representedamong postgraduate research students (2%) compared to representing 4% of all students
  • 17% of UK domicile students reported having a disability, including 5% who reported a mental health condition – within these statistics there was also a difference at different levels of study, with 18% of first degree students reporting a disability compared to 15% of postgraduate taught students
  • 41% of UK domicile students studying medicine and dentistry subjects were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds compared to only 6% in the veterinary science and agriculture, food and related studies groups
  • 5% of all students were studying psychology, and that 81% of psychology students were female
  • The subject groups with the most students in 2019/20 were business and management with 412,815 students (52% male) and subjects allied to medicine with 295,520 students (79% female)

Colleagues may be interested to delve further into the HESA data which includes some great charts and visualisation to break down the student data in these areas:

David Kernohan of Wonkhe doesn’t think the data answers the big question about continuation this year.

Parliamentary News

Students – urgent questions: Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister answered 39 questions relating to HE students as part of an urgent question session on Support for University Students: Covid-19. It covered familiar topics such as rent rebates and tuition quality. The Minister stuck to the party line and there was no new news.

Poor ratings for SoS: Secretary of State Gavin Williamson continues to be perceived negatively by Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home. His net satisfaction rating is -48. We think he’ll be hanging in there though.  Changing now would be unlikely to change much substantively in policy terms anyway, although you have to think that it might improve the ways of doing things and if nothing else, communication (although that’s a problem for the Universities Minister as well as the Education Secretary).

OfS Chair

As expected and following the Education Committee green light, the DfE officially confirmed Lord Wharton’s appointment as Chair of the OfS replacing Michael Barber. He starts on 1 April for a four year period (approximately 2 days per week). Wharton has declared his Conservative interests and party membership within his role as a Peer but not resigned the whip.

  • The Education Committee endorsed the appointment just before it was confirmed. You can read the report here. Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said: The Chair of the OfS has a vital role to play in standing up for the rights of students and ensuring opportunities for all. I congratulate Lord Wharton on his appointment. I look forward to seeing the new Chair use his position to genuinely open doors for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensure that the access and participation funding delivers real change, use his independent voice to rocket boost degree apprenticeships and guarantee everyone has access to high quality skills that benefit both themselves and employers. Halfon’s statement highlights several of his own passions for education, such as the expansion of degree apprenticeships. He seems to be giving Wharton a public steer – interesting as the appointment process wasn’t without controversy.
  • Responding to the appointment, Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, said: This latest appointment adds to the Conservative Government’s growing catalogue of cronyism. Students have been forgotten by this Government which is more concerned about securing jobs for their friends. It’s ridiculous to think James Wharton could make independent decisions while continuing to sit as a Conservative Peer. He must resign the whip without delay. It’s vital for public confidence that concerns surrounding senior appointments are urgently looked at.
  • While Wharton doesn’t commence until April Williamson has written to both Wharton and outgoing Chair, Sir Michael Barber, vehemently stating his strategic priorities for HE.

Research Professional interview Paul Blomfield MP, (Labour, Sheffield Central, Chair of the APPG for Students) who doesn’t mince his words.

Students

The Guardian report that the Government plan to allow some additional university students back to campus when the schools reopen, so potentially from 8 March onwards.

  • The education secretary is expected to announce on 22 February that final-year students in practical subjects will be able to return to face-to-face teaching, with students taking other subjects to follow soon afterwards…Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said universities would follow the same roadmap as schools for reopening
  • Priority is expected to be given to final-year students on undergraduate courses or taught postgraduate degrees in practical subjects including performing arts and lab-based science courses. But many students may struggle to be allowed back before the Easter holidays at the end of March, when teaching in effect ends for many courses before exams.

It is likely this is part of a move to damp down on fee and rent complaints with the Government shifting the onus onto HE providers.

  • While the new higher education timetable was welcomed by senior leaders, they also fear that the education secretary’s waning influence with Downing Street means the Department for Education’s plan may be ignored in favour of other concerns.
  • Some institutions, such as the London School of Economics, have already said students will be taught remotely for the rest of the academic year, but Donelan said the government “will be giving them the option to alter those plans”.

The University and College Union stated: The priority right now must be to keep as much teaching as possible online for the rest of the academic year, and putting staff and student safety first.

And the article suggests that some students are returning anyway:

  • In defiance of the government’s orders to stay at home, several universities report that students are “returning to campus in droves”, even without the prospect of face-to-face teaching or the use of university facilities.
  • One university is said to have about 70% of its usual student numbers on or around campus, in part due to high numbers of students on exempt courses such as nursing. Most others estimate that 30% to 40% of students are back, and some have more than half.
  • “Some students have voted with their feet, it’s been reported by just about all the universities I’ve heard from, Russell Group and elsewhere. It’s interesting, it reflects the fact students start to identify university as their new home,” he said.

TEF

Wonkhe ran a feature on TEF this week with a blog written by Dame Shirley Pearce (who led the TEF review). Wonkhe say:

  • … the government, while claiming to have accepted the majority of the Pearce review’s recommendations, has failed entirely to engage with the spirit of that review, which posits enhancement of the quality of teaching as a delicate balance and interplay of accountability between regulators, providers, and students, and between nationally comparable data and locally produced evidence of quality. Today on the site, Shirley Pearce urges the higher education sector and the Office for Students (OfS) to engage with the recommendations the review makes, and to take seriously the review’s finding that far from being merely burdensome, the subject TEF pilots have sparked useful conversations inside universities, and offered levers to drive enhancement.
  • The Pearce review is grounded in a theory of change that says that if there is to be public confidence in quality, providers must evidence it, but that providers and their students must be empowered to do the enhancement work on the ground according to their distinctive mission and, importantly, at subject level. The elegant proposal that institutions be provided with subject-level data, split by demographic, and be asked to account for differences in outcomes, but that the subject data would not be published as rankings, is characteristic of the balancing act the review executes.
  • The government does not evidence its grasp of this balance in its response, instructing OfS to ground TEF ratings in nationally comparable data, while at the same time taking account of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) critique of the limitations of said data in drawing accurate conclusions about the quality of learning and teaching in higher education providers – and good luck to the English regulator in squaring that circle.
  • In the relatively few years of its existence, the TEF has won few friends, and many enemies. There may be satisfaction to some in seeing the TEF reduced and downgraded. But the version of the exercise that appears to be currently on the table, as Paul Ashwin argues, risks rendering the TEF entirely irrelevant. Better, then, to have a larger exercise that directly engages with the processes of enhancing learning and teaching quality, than a light-touch exercise that does not – and redirects institutions’ energies to gaming the metrics.

Three Wonkhe blogs tackle TEF:

As you’ll have read in the section covering the Secretary of State strategic priorities letter to the OfS Williamson has tasked the OfS to resolve how the TEF will move forward.

Brexit

Dods have summarised the DfE’s research on the effect of Brexit on HEIs in the UK. EU exit: estimating the impact on UK higher education looks at:

  • the effect of changes in the level of tuition fees on international student enrolments at undergraduate and postgraduate level
  • the potential impact on EU student enrolments and associated tuition fee income resulting from:
  • the removal of tuition fee loan and grant support for EU students
  • harmonisation of tuition fees charged to EU and non-EU students
  • changes to post-study work rights for EU students
  • changes to the rights to bring dependants

Across all HEIs, the analysis suggests that:

  • Removing the tuition fee support for EU-domiciled undergraduate students would reduce demand for UK higher education by approximately 13,090 (21%34 of all EU student enrolments) first-year students per year, equating to a loss of £80.7 million in tuition fee income.
  • Removing the Home fee status for EU-domiciled (undergraduate and postgraduate) students would generate additional fee revenue of approximately £114.6 million. That is, the increase in fees charged to EU-domiciled students would more than offset the loss in fee income due to falling demand amongst EU students (15,220 students, 24% of EU-domiciled student enrolments in 2016/17).
  • Restricting the right to work in the UK post-graduation for EU-domiciled students would potentially result in 6,640 (11% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer EU student enrolments, corresponding to a reduction in fee revenue generated by UK HEIs of £88.0 million.
  • Restricting the right to bring dependants for EU-domiciled students would further reduce tuition fee income by approximately £8.4 million, with 590 (1% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer enrolments.
  • Taken together, the estimated combined impact of all of these policy changes would be to reduce tuition fee income from EU sources by approximately £62.5 million, with 35,540 (57%) fewer first-year EU enrolments. However, the aggregate impact on fee income masks significant variation by university cluster (and level of study). In particular, HEIs in Clusters 1 would benefit in aggregate; whereas institutions in Clusters 2, 3 and 4 would be worse-off.
  • The results on student enrolments are insensitive to changes in classification of HEIs by clusters, with the reduction in demand varying from 34,555 (55%) to 35,750 (57%). The total financial loss ranges from £42.5 million to £66.5 million.

There is also the impact assessment here, which Dods summarises below:

The DfE have published an assessment of the effect that changes made to higher education student finance regulations will have on groups with relevant protected characteristics.

  • Expect the proposed amendments will most likely have a negative impact on EU nationals on the basis of their nationality, if they are domiciled in the EEA and Switzerland
  • They will also have a negative impact on older EU national students who are not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements, with those studying at postgraduate level proportionately more affected
  • Do not expect EU students who are female (who are slightly overrepresented as a result of these changes) or who have declared a disability to be significantly impacted by these changes
  • There is a lack of data to predict the impact on other EEA (Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein) and Swiss students
  • Other EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who do not fall into this category (or one of the other eligibility categories), and who do not have settled status, are not eligible for home fee status and student finance
  • While those not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements will therefore be impacted on the basis of their, or their family members’ nationality, the number of those currently benefiting from student support is very small and as such, the equalities impacts are assessed to be insignificant
  • With regard to EU nationals resident in the overseas territories, their assessment is that although protected groups of EU nationals who will be affected by our proposed position are slightly over represented, namely gender/sex (females), the impact of the amendments will not differ on the basis of these protected characteristics
  • Given the limited numbers of students involved, the equality impacts are likely to be insignificant

Concluding, they say that since these amendments will remove access to student finance for EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals not covered by citizens’ rights, there are number of routes such individuals may choose to adopt:

  1. Proceed: Undertake HE study in England without receiving home fee status or any student support from Student Finance England, but potentially in receipt of funding from other sources such as their own Governments.
  2. Go elsewhere: Take up HE study outside the UK where access to education can be obtained on the same basis as domestic nationals e.g. their own, or another state within the EEA or Switzerland, or the EU overseas territories, or other international countries.
  3. No go: Choose not to participate in HE study

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

  • Intergenerational Fairness: Dods published an interesting briefing on intergenerational fairness.
  • Games degrees: The number of UK graduates in computer games subjects has risen for a seventh consecutive year.
  • Fee Variability: You may remember that last year Australia changed the Government support and fee regime to prioritise support for certain programmes (such as STEMM) and charge more for lower priority courses. The change attracted much interest in the UK because the current Government has long been flirting with the idea of differential programme funding stemming all the way back to Jo Johnson’s tenure as Universities Minister and the introduction of the Higher Education and Research Act legislation (including TEF). Interestingly this week the Guardian have reported that demand for arts and humanities courses is still high in Australia despite fee increases,
  • LGBT+: UUK have a blog: Going the extra mile to embrace LGBT+ equality in higher education.
  • Pensions: HEPI have a trio of blogs on university pensions and in particular on the USS.
  • Dementia Research Funding: The latest news on dementia funding from a parliamentary question response: The Government’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 contained the commitment to spend £300 million on dementia research over the five years to March 2020. This commitment was delivered a year early with £344 million spent on dementia research over the four years to 31 March 2019. We are currently working on ways to significantly boost further research on dementia at all stages on the translation pathway including medical and care interventions.
  • Paramedics ELQ rules: The debate on whether to waive the ELQ rules for paramedical science continues. The Government response states: A decision will be dependent on business planning for the 2021/22 financial year following the outcome of Spending Review 2020.
  • Mental health animation: UKRI report that academics have partnered up with Aardman to tackle the current mental health crisis with the campaign: What’s Up With Everyone? funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The press release states: Although around half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the mid-teens, intervention typically starts much later. Issues include rising suicide rates among young people and unprecedented challenges for young people at school, university, college or the workplace. This points to an urgent need to rethink mental health education to reach and engage young people.
  • What’s Up With Everyone? is a series of five new animated films created with and for young people about dealing with life’s challenges before they impact mental healththe films link to vital information and signposting for how young people can help themselves or seek help for the issues raised through the project’s website. One wonders if it will link to the OfS’ mental health platform.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 15th November 2019

Breathe – in four weeks the general election will be done and dusted, meanwhile we’ve listed the key information sources and looked at the education related pledges made so far. Of course, the HE sector has been busy too with research funding, postgraduate satisfaction, student accommodation, more free speech, value for money, and widening participation under the microscope this week.

Research

Research Fundermentals have a blog from Wonkfest on discussions with John Kingman (Chair UKRI, ex-Permanent Secretary to the Treasury). Key points:

  • UKRI has challenges because the core funding is ‘tight’ – which has consequences for the system
  • The 2.4% GDP research and development (R&D) spend target is a ‘stretch target, but not necessarily a crazy one.’ He emphasised that the target was for the economy as a whole, and two thirds of R&D happens in the private sector. He felt using public money to ‘crowd in’ private investment was a sound policy. With both the Government and Opposition backing the 2.4% target he stated the sector should be very pleased about this strong cross-party consensus.
  • UKRI ready to administer the Government’s promise to underwrite UK involvement in European funding, however he couldn’t say how this will ‘play out,’ he would be arguing strongly for UK science, and was already ‘heavily involved’ in policy discussions.
  • On international engagement we was more reticent – ‘We’ve got to think hardheadedly,’ he said, ‘and consider what benefits will come from any links we make.’ There should not just be memoranda of understanding and photo calls just for the sake of it.
  • Kingman was positive about Darpa and didn’t see it as a sign the government want greater control of research funding: ‘I see this as part of a wider jigsaw…It should be wholeheartedly welcomed.’
  • On talent Kingman stated: Developing the next generation of researcher is a priority for UKRI. Those working in science are pressured to deliver results quickly. To do so, ‘we need incredibly talented people…and we need to worry about people as much as money.’ UKRI are focused on encouraging and supporting early career researchers and believe research (especially science) needs to be seen as a positive option by people before they leave school. He also stated UKRI should ‘own it’ because there is much to do on equality, diversity and inclusivity.
  • Kingman was in favour of REF and believes research has benefited from the system. He agreed REF isn’t perfect and need to continue to develop but that, for him, there was still a strong case for the dual support system, regardless of the legal obligation to continue it, and that we ‘shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket of project research.’
  • Kingman was not in favour of prescriptive regional funding, and believes research should be funded wherever it was found.

On Wednesday the PM made a speech on ‘unleashing the potential of the whole country’ in which stated he would double funding for R&D to £18bn in the “biggest ever increase in support for R & D”. Theresa May’s government committed £7 billion extra R&D funding over five years as part of the 2017 Industrial Strategy, and set the target of reaching 2.4% by 2027. Earlier this year, Johnson said he would “double down on our investment in R&D”, and committed to making an extra investment of £2.3 billion in 2021/22. The science, research and innovation community support the 2.4% target but few believe it is achievable without considerable levels of private investment. With the new announcement that the Conservatives would commit to £18bn this would provide a major boost. Of course, there are not yet details about how this spending will be balanced between competing areas of R&D.

Other commitments made in the speech included investing more in electric vehicle technology and creating a Britain that would lead the world in tackling climate change and reach net zero by 2050. In his own words: “not because we hate capitalism, not just by gluing ourselves to the tops of tubes trains or whatever, as important as that may be, but because it is precisely companies like this one [the London Electric Vehicle Company] that make the brilliant technical breakthroughs that will enable us to cut CO2 and go carbon neutral by 2050”.

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, responded to the announcement: “Successful science is not based on money alone. We will also need to maintain full participation in European funding schemes and the collaboration that they promote, rather than trying to replace them.” (Source: Wonkhe/Financial Times.)

Postgraduate Student Satisfaction

AdvanceHE have published the 2019 Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES).

The Office for Students has announced that they will have a new measure of postgraduate satisfaction so this is likely to become an area of focus for the regulator.

  • “Overall satisfaction is high and has remained consistent over several years. The one exception to this was in 2018, when a temporary dip in satisfaction appears to be related to UCU (University and College Union) strike action. Despite the strong scores, satisfaction levels remain slightly below those reported by undergraduates through the National Student Survey (NSS).
  • …institutions across the sector score particularly highly for providing effective resources (e.g. library, IT, subject-specific) and information, although organisation (logistics, guidance, communication) and assessment (criteria and timeliness) continue to be rated least positively. …The main specific aspect that requires attention is how to provide opportunities for postgraduate taught (PGT) students to be involved in decisions about how their course operates, which scores consistently lower than all the other measures in the survey.
  • In 2019, for the first time, we have conducted detailed analysis of the open comments, specifically around suggestions for improvement. This analysis identified some key areas of consistency with the quantitative analysis, building a clear picture of some areas to prioritise across the sector. In particular, these included how teaching staff provide support and how the course is organised.
  • A relatively small proportion, 20%, had considered leaving their PGT course to date, which compares favourably with similar data collected at undergraduate and postgraduate research (PGR) level – and is an endorsement of the levels of support provided across the sector.
  • In terms of ethnicity, the results go against the stark White/BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) contrast that we have previously found at undergraduate level. Instead, there is a more nuanced picture, with Black, Chinese and White students reporting strong satisfaction levels, contrasted by evidence of a more disappointing experience for Asian and Mixed students, as well as those of “Other” ethnicity. A particular challenge for investigating the concerns of these cohorts lies in the fact that they are comprised of a range of different subgroups, each of which may be facing their own particular issues.
  • There is a strong picture among overseas students, who tend to report a very positive experience. One of the factors contributing to this is that overseas students tend to spend little time working for pay. Our analysis shows that time spent working for pay can link strongly to a greater likelihood of leaving the course, and hence the high levels of retention among overseas students are likely to be strongly linked.
  • Motivations for choosing an institution can vary, but analysis highlights how the type of motivation can be linked to the subsequent quality of the experience. Where students have chosen an institution based on reputation (of tutors, course or institution) or content of course, they tend to go on to be much more satisfied than those for whom the choice may have been a more restricted one – e.g. based on the location of the institution of whether there was funding available.”

According to PTES, Black postgraduate taught students are more motivated to progress to a higher-level qualification than white students – which is interesting in the context of the recent Leading Routes report which found that only 1.2 per cent of UKRI-funded PhDs over the last three years went to Black or Black mixed students.

Mental Health

The OfS have published an insight brief on mental health – Mental health: Are all students being properly supported? It highlights that students who report a mental health condition are more likely to drop out of higher education, less likely to progress into skilled work or further study, and graduate with a first or 2:1 – compared to students without a declared mental health condition.

Key points:

  • PT students from deprived areas are most likely to report mental health conditions
    Whereas PT students from advantaged areas were least likely to report a mental health condition
  • Black students with a declared mental health condition have low continuation and attainment rates.
  • Full time students declaring a mental health condition has more than doubled in the last five years (1.4% in 2012-13 to 3.5% in 2017-18)
  • Females are more likely to report a mental health condition (4.7% females report; 2% males report)

The report does mention the distinction between a clinically diagnosed mental health condition and the broader mental ill health/distress.

Participation and Attainment

School Families: The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has re- launched the Families of Schools Database. This is an online database for schools to compare themselves against other institutions nationally by a range of criteria (e.g. levels of free school meals pupils, or similar disadvantage/poverty area measures). It aims to help schools understand more about their disadvantage attainment gaps. Every school in England has been placed into ‘families’, based on the characteristics of pupils who attend them. The EEF hopes schools will use this as a springboard to learn from, and collaborate with, the most successful schools in their ‘family’ of similar schools.

Analysis published by the EEF found that the national disadvantage gap would be significantly reduced if schools are able to help their disadvantaged pupils reach at least the average performance achieved by their 30 most similar schools.

Educational Cold Spots: just before Parliament entered purdah Robert Halfon questioned whether the extension to the DfE Opportunity Areas which tackle the national cold spots (including West Somerset) was a suitable use of Government funding and whether it provided value for money. However, the Government have reconfirmed their commitment and stated that the funding is beginning to boost GCSE grades.

Social Mobility: The Sutton Trust has published their Mobility Manifesto aiming to influence politicians to embrace social mobility at the heart of their election campaign. It covers fairer school admissions, early education, widening access to universities, banning unpaid internships, degree and higher apprenticeships, and best practice in widening access in employment. Below is the light touch summary on each. Incidentally in the run up to the vote for the new speaker of House of Commons, The Sutton Trust CEO wrote to all the candidates to urge them to commit to tackling unpaid and unadvertised internships in Parliament.

Residential Model

HEPI and UPP (a major student accommodation provider) have published Somewhere to live: Why British students study away from home – and why it matters examining the ramifications of the choice of most students to move away from home to study. Excerpts:

  • ‘There are many problems with the residential university. It is expensive – and becoming ever more so. It disadvantages those students who do not live away from home and those young people who never get a chance to attend university. It can alienate and exclude others, especially the communities who live around the campus. And yet, residence is undeniably popular and remains desirable, despite its costs. By tracing its history, we can also consider its future, and how it might come to serve the interests of all.
  • Demand for student accommodation remains strong, with many young people still wishing to leave home to benefit from a fully immersive higher education experience.
  • The report considers how the issue of the value-for-money of accommodation has emerged as a key area of focus for both the NUS and the OfS in the wider context of the affordability of going to university.’

The report also looks to the future and how diversity drives need – what student accommodation should be like in the future; what proportion of students should live away from home; how costly should it be to live in bespoke student accommodation; and what support should be on offer?

Here are the key points:

  • For the overwhelming majority of UK undergraduates, attending university means leaving home. It is certainly a distinctive feature of British higher education, and one that marks Britain out from both its nearest neighbours and its most obvious comparators.
  • In Britain, in the academic year 2017-18, just over 80% of full-time students left home for study. On average, 36% of European students live in their parental home. In America nearly 40% of students live at home and 77% attend college in their home state.
  • Student accommodation is now worth something like £53 billion in the UK. Struggling to keep up, even traditionally residential universities are having to invest millions in providing new housing – with Cambridge borrowing nearly £1 billion and Oxford recently agreeing a joint venture with Legal and General worth £4 billion.
  • Residence has an effect on the host communities, who may find themselves irritated, changed and outpriced by the students who live within them.
  • ‘Commuter students’, do not always have such rounded and fulfilling experiences as other students, and they sometimes do not benefit from their higher education as much as those students who reside at university.
  • If universities are to remain residential for most, they still need to think about those who are excluded or disadvantaged precisely because they do not share the same benefits as the overwhelming majority who do study away from home.

Recommendations:

  • Although there are some examples of good practice, universities as a whole must do better at providing appropriate information about accommodation to prospective students. This means offering accurate details about the true cost of living.
  • Universities should review how they support their students: both those who live on campus and those who do not. There is a need to better integrate commuter students.
  • The design of accommodation should be reviewed by universities and other providers alike. As a report published in 2019 outlines, many developments have not been designed with student wellbeing in mind.
  • Both government and accommodation providers need to address an increasingly unsustainable rise in rents.
  • Universities should review how their accommodation policies affect the local community and how their resources can be shared.

Freedom of speech

The Policy Exchange have had another “go” at free speech in universities in their report, enticingly titled “Academic Freedom in the UK”..

It starts with an allegation of political discrimination which *may* be violating academic freedom and confirms that there is really no evidence of a problem:

Britain’s universities are world-leading. Yet there is widespread concern that, instead of being places of robust debate and free discovery, they are being stifled by a culture of conformity. Universities have a particular role in upholding free speech in society more broadly, with academic freedom central to this. The danger is that academic freedom is being significantly violated due, in particular, to forms of political discrimination.

There has to date been a lack of good evidence, specific to the UK, which confirms or disconfirms whether academic freedom is being infringed beyond a small number of high profile cases. In addition, beyond statements like the ‘Chicago Principles’, which affirm the value of free speech in universities, there is a relative lack of policies which would protect academic freedom. The link between academic freedom among faculty and freedom of speech amongst students has also not been thoroughly explored in a UK context.

New polling by Policy Exchange supports three key findings.

  1. There is evidence of a chilling effect for undergraduate students. For instance, on Brexit, only 4 in 10 (39%) of Leave-supporting students say that they would be comfortable espousing that view in class.
  2. Despite such chilling effects, a significant proportion of students are consistently supportive of academic freedom. This figure is likely to be between 3 out of 10 to a half of students.
  3. Support for academic freedom is significantly affected by the context in which one considers the issue. In particular, it is affected by whether one is exposed to narratives that affirm either the need to create safe spaces for disadvantaged groups who have been subject to systemic oppression, or the value of free speech in preventing censorship and in promoting liberty and the free exchange of ideas. These findings reinforce the need for, and value of, policies which protect academic freedom

But it goes on to set out a framework anyway.  The key to this seems to be the Chicago Principles, as referred to above, plus a system of “champions” across the sector and a new charter-mark for viewpoint diversity.

Universities should:

  1. Adopt an academic freedom commitment, such as the Chicago Principles, that clearly states that ‘debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed’.
  2. Appoint an Academic Freedom Champion (AFC), reporting directly to the Vice-Chancellor, with the power to investigate complaints of political discrimination across the Higher Education Institution (HEI), and to recommend actions as appropriate.

The Office for Students should:

  1. Appoint a National Academic Freedom Champion who would have the power to investigate allegations of academic-freedom violations from academics and lead on enhanced monitoring requirements or other sanctions where appropriate.
  2. Impose an obligation on HEIs to have a senior person responsible for protecting academic freedom in each HEI, and to have an Academic Freedom Code of Practice.

The Government should:

  1. Establish a statutory duty of non-discrimination for political and moral beliefs and judgments for the purposes of employment in higher education.
  2. Extend the existing statutory duty to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom to include students and Student Unions, as well as those involved in governance in HEIs.

Civil society should:

  1. Incorporate academic freedom as a criterion against which universities are measured in international rankings of universities.
  2. Establish an Academic Freedom charter organisation, awarding kitemarks to HEIs for their demonstrated commitment to political anti-discrimination and viewpoint diversity.

The report has been criticised by David Kernohan on Wonkhe: who calls the underlying research a “terrible survey” and says that “The recommendations are nonsensical.”

This section is interesting (page 15):

Are academics brainwashing students?

When asked how most students acquired their opinion on the Peterson and Greer cases, 68% said social media. This was by far the most important influence on student opinion on these issues, with parents well down the list at 14%. New partisan online news sites like Vox, Buzzfeed, Breitbart, the Mail or the Guardian came in at 8%. University lecturers and schoolteachers both scored a paltry 1%. This suggests that the content of what students are learning is not directly shaping their worldviews on the speech issue. A further data point in favour of this interpretation is that older students (those 20-25) were 19 points more likely than 18-19 year olds to back the free speech position over emotional safety. It must also be emphasised that more research is needed to test this finding as some of this effect may be due to mature students. While it is reassuring that students do not appear to be directly influenced by their University experience to oppose free speech, given the range of opinions on this issue, it is important for universities to consider how their policies, structures and culture can encourage support for free speech rather than inadvertently suppress it.

A limitation of this polling is that it does not probe the social influence that lecturers may exert on students, through the way that they speak about and present politically-salient topics in their teaching. For instance, it is unknown whether the 6 in 10 Leave-supporting students who do not say that they would be comfortable expressing that view in class are cautious of how other students would react, or of how their lecturers may react. Further work is needed on this too.

And an interesting Times article –  Students have every right to ban speakersexplores a very different perspective of how politically and media savvy Gen Z students are, how they care about world issues, and how they avoid the pitfalls of being drawn into furious Twitter rows that older generations are floored by.

General Election 2019

We list below some sources of information on the election:

HEPI’s latest is about how manifesto promises don’t really mean much for HE:

“Finally, it is also worth remembering that the biggest higher education policies tend not to feature in election manifestoes at all. That was true of:

  • Tony Blair’s introduction of tuition fees;
  • Tony Blair’s tripling of tuition fees;
  • David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s tripling of tuition fees; and
  • George Osborne‘s abolition of maintenance grants.”

Last week there was a lot of press coverage about students voting tactically and it is rumbling on – HEPI referred to it in a student voting report: this has been widely cited as a storm rages on social media about student voting.  For the record, students can register both at home and at their university address but it is illegal to vote twice.  BU and SUBU have been working together to promote student registration and we will be sharing impartial information with students about policies nearer the time.  The voter registration deadline is midnight on 26th November.

Sky News has announced they will hold a 3 way head to head debate on 28th November between Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson (Swinson a late add to the line-up after the Lib Dems complained to ITV about their exclusion).

Finally, in parliamentary news, last week Sir Lindsay Hoyle was elected the new Speaker of the House of Commons. He is a Labour MP and former deputy speaker. He has pledged to be a “neutral” speaker and highlighted his desire to restore respect to the Commons. He also stood on the platform of safeguarding the welfare of MPs and staff.

Local candidates

Candidate selection closed on 14th November.

  • BCP have announced the candidates in Bournemouth East, Bournemouth West, Christchurch, Mid Dorset and North Poole and Poole:
  • Dorset Council have announced the candidates for North Dorset, South Dorset, West Dorset (and they overlap with some of the above too)

Party Education pledges so far

These all come with a pinch of salt because the manifesto pledges have not yet been published…

Labour  

Labour’s pledges sit within their National Education (cradle-to grave) Service (which they have been talking about for a long time and which are therefore relatively well developed),  They plan to:

  • expand adult education and lifelong training, including:
    • increasing reach of basic skills provision (on Tuesday they published research stating the number of adults currently learning is at its lowest point since 1996, and the number of people achieving basic skills qualifications has plummeted since 2011).
    • Retraining for adults (improve job chances, tackle displacement through automation/AI, and address skills shortages/meet changing needs of industry and the climate emergency) they expect to reach an extra 300,000 people per year and “throw open the door” for adults to study.
  • Ensure vocational education is considered on a par with a university degree, in particular they aim to increase the flexibility adult learners receive to resolve the mature tensions.
  • Support adults studying with 30 hours of free childcare for all 2 to 4 year olds.
  • They also state they will involve employers in designing qualifications to ensure the training equips them with the right skills.

The ‘free’ education covers:

  • any adult without A-level or equivalent qualification to attend college and study for free;
  • every adult a free entitlement to six years of study for qualifications at level 4-6 (undergraduate degrees and equivalents such as Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, Foundation Degrees, Certificates and Diplomas of Higher Education in areas such as rail engineering technicians, nursing associates, and professional accounting technicians);
  • provides maintenance grants for low income adult learners to complete their courses;
  • gives workers the right to paid time off for education and training;
  • Make sure everyone has access to the information they need to return to study through a national careers advice service.

Angela Rayner also told BBCR4 Today programme that a Labour Government would crack down on high wages for vice chancellors, and abolish university tuition fees. It will be interesting to see if this makes it into the manifesto.  Labour’s ‘rescue plan’ for the NHS also includes a promise to restore bursaries for student nurses and tackle the staffing crisis. There are also proposals to extend statutory maternity leave to 12 months, legislate for menopause friendly workplace policies and fine firms who fail to report on gender pay gaps.

Healthy Young Minds: Labour have also pledged £845 million to put a qualified counsellor into every school across the country, to combat the long waiting times for treatment and the lack of mental health services available to young people. The commitment is considered timely as it dovetailed the publication of the National Education Union’s league table of underfunded schools which found that there are just 18 out of 533 Parliamentary constituencies where per-pupil funding will be above its 2015 level in real terms.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have proposed a “skills wallet” providing every (English) adult with £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their life. People would get the money in three instalments: £4,000 at 25; £3,000 at 40 and another £3,000 at 55. Individuals, their employers and local government will be able to make additional payments into the wallets. Access to free careers guidance will also be provided.  They intend to fund this by reversing government cuts to corporation tax – returning the business levy to its 2016 rate of 20%. However, they would consult on their proposal and therefore would not bring it in until 2021-22.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, Sam Gyimah, (ex-Conservative Universities Minister, of course) stated:

  • “By stopping Brexit and investing in our Skills Wallets, Liberal Democrats will empower people to develop new skills so that they can thrive in the technologies and industries that are key to the UK’s economic future and prosperity.”

Conservatives

The Conservatives have been tight lipped about their manifesto intentions (not unexpected – they published their 2017 manifesto far later than the other parties). So far they have proposed a National Retraining Scheme for adults needing to update their skills for work. Prior to purdah Johnson also made the schools funding pledges. On Thursday they promised to cut immigration numbers ‘overall’ after Brexit if elected to government. Home Secretary Priti Patel said the party would not set an “arbitrary” target if it wins the election, having failed to meet previous targets, but the policy ambition is in line with the Conservative’s agenda for a points-based system based on skills and other factors. And they intend a NHS visa scheme (reduced application cost, 2 week decision fast track, 5 year visa) to run alongside the introduction of the points based system in 2021. The scheme has been criticised because it fails to consider worker retention and critics feel it doesn’t address how dependent the UK is on clinicians from abroad. Priti stated: “We will reduce immigration overall while being more open and flexible to the highly skilled people we need, such as scientists and doctors.”

They Conservatives have also attacked Labour’s immigration policy in their own published report by the Conservative Research Department. They argue that Labour’s official immigration policy is to ‘maintain and extend free movement rights’, which includes closing down all detention centres, providing unconditional rights to family reunions, scrapping immigration targets and maintaining and extending free movement of peoples , including outside of the EU through facilitating an open-borders policy. It notes that Labour voted against specifically ending free movement (Public Bill Committee Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill fifth sitting motion).

The Conservatives claim there are leaked Labour documents whereby Corbyn’s team have been reviewing ways of extending visa schemes to allow thousands of unskilled immigrants access to the UK. Finally the Conservative paper refers to immigration under the previous Labour Government where between 2003 and 2008 there was a 91% increase in employment levels accounted for by foreign nationals. Dods report that the Conservatives have been pulled up on their claims and Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott stated it was “more fake news from the Conservative party’s make-believe research department”.

SNP

The SNP campaign focuses on the NHS and pledges an NHS protection Bill which “would explicitly prevent any future UK government from signing up to any agreement that made the NHS, in any part of the UK, a bargaining chip of any kind in any future trade deals”. This is in response to Trump’s interest in access to the NHS in a US/UK trade deal (which the Conservatives have strenuously denied). They also push for a second Scottish independence referendum. Labour who, should they be in a position to form a minority government would rely on the support of the SNP, have suggested they would permit another independent referendum however, Corbyn has been heavily criticised this week as he will not commit to a timeframe for it to be held.

Lots if interest groups will also publish their calls for policies:

MillionPlus have published their Manifesto entitled; The soaring twenties: investment, innovation and inclusion in UK higher education. They ask parliamentary candidates to commit to six key pledges that will boost the country by embracing, engaging and enhancing what modern universities have to offer to students and the economy. Key Pledges:

  • Increase current levels of investment in line with inflation and guarantee sustainable resourcing for universities to provide world-leading education for students
  • Restore maintenance grants for students from lower income backgrounds
  • Reform the student visa system to attract global talent to study across the UK
  • Invest 3% of GDP in research and innovation to boost our national productivity
  • Improve student financial support so mature and part-time students can better access higher education in a way that works for them
  • Recognise modern universities as being at the heart of technical education and pivotal providers for a skilled public service workforce

The British Academy has published a Manifesto for the Humanities and Social Sciences setting out 6 priorities for the Government to tackle. It includes supporting a sustainable HE sector and highlights that skilled arts, humanities and social science graduates fuel the service sector (80% of the economy) and asks for a funding system which maintains the breadth of subjects at both FE and HE. You can read the other priorities such a research environment and global talent here.

The final word

And the Institute for Fiscal Studies are warning the main parties about their ambitious spending pledges being made during this election campaign. Lord Gus O’Donnell, President of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, spoke on BBC R4 Today to explain that spending pledges could only be met by increased taxes. He said:

  • “When you look at the big capital spending increases – it’s about £50bn for Labour, £20bn for the Conservatives – do we have the capacity? The civil servants who are writing their briefing packs for the incoming ministers for various parties will be thinking, ‘well what could you spend this on’? ‘What’s, as it were, shovel ready? Will you get good value for money if you rush at it this quickly?’ So I think there’ll be lots of bottlenecks.”

Other news

Pay Gap: Thursday was Equal Pay Day where, due to the 13.1% pay gap, women have (on average) effectively stopped earning for the rest of the year. The Fawcett Society have launched a campaign today “right to know” which would allow women the right to have access to equivalent male counterparts salary details. They have a Bill drafted and will be pushing for MPs to introduce it in the new Parliament. The Lib Dems have also pledged to compel large companies to publish data on employment demographics for gender, BAME and LGBT employees.

Labour have pledged to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2030 through measures such as fines for organisations that fail to report on the subject, and by extending the reporting requirement from firms with 250 or more employees to those with more than 50.

Value for Money: HEPI have a new blog by Sir Nigel Carrington (VC, University of the Arts, London) on the multifaceted nature of value for money in degree provision. While this is a topic where we’ve regularly heard all the arguments this is a nice simple blog that brings the points together.

Multi-skilled engineers: IMechE have published an article, Adapt or Perish, on the growing trend (and challenge) of multidisciplinary engineering teams. The changing job market and AI revolution is creating a need for engineers to be technically fluent in a wider range of areas alongside collaboration and problem solving skills. Early-career engineers stated that they left university without skills such as coding and augmented reality, and that their degrees were often out of sync with the future needs of the industry.

The article states that embracing life-long learning will become a way of life for engineers at all career stages as new, disruptive technologies come into play. However, the research suggested that there is currently a mismatch between what higher education is delivering at masters level and what industry actually needs.

Italian or Chips?: This week’s best read has to be the (statistically modelled) article demonstrating how the Brexit leave / remain voting significantly correlates with the dominant type of fast food restaurant in the constituency area. Fish and Chips correlate with a leave vote, Italian with a remain. Without spoiling the amusement factor it is worth noting that Fish and Chips dominant constituencies also tend to be less diverse, and that the influence of holding a degree trumps all culinary effects. Worth a look at the map just to see the startlingly regional patterns in takeaway preference!

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Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE Policy update for the w/e 11th January 2019

Value for money (1) – cutting low value university courses

A report by Onward published on 7th January sets out some ideas for addressing the concerns about high student loans: A question of degree – Why we should cut graduates’ taxes and pay for it by reducing the number of low value university courses.  Not much surprise about what they recommend then….

Who are they?

“Onward is a powerful ideas factory for centre-right thinkers and leaders. We exist to make Britain fairer, more prosperous and more united, by generating a new wave of modernising ideas and a fresh kind of politics that reaches out to new groups of people. We believe in a mainstream conservatism – one that recognises the value of markets and supports the good that government can do, is unapologetic about standing up to vested interests, and assiduous in supporting the hardworking, aspirational and those left behind. Our goal is to address the needs of the whole country: young as well as old; urban as well as rural; and for all parts of the UK – particularly places that feel neglected or ignored in Westminster.”

Its foreword is by two MPs: Neil O’Brien OBE MP and Gillian Keegan MP:

…at present we have a dramatically lop-sided system. University education dominates at the top of every profession, and every institution. In contrast, technical education and apprenticeships have been the poor relation for decades, neglected and underfunded. Until recently, these courses have not even provided any route to high level qualifications or top jobs. In recent years that has started to change, with the creation of higher level technical education, degree apprenticeships and the forthcoming Institutes of Technology. But still there’s a long way to go. And a lot to change. Thanks to new government data we now know that there are many people for whom it is not worth incurring over £50,000 of debt to obtain a university degree – either for them, or for the government. This paper concludes it is between a fifth and a quarter of university students. We now know specifically which courses, at which institutions, see their graduates earning too little for their degree to have been worth it financially. That’s not the only way in which the facts have changed in recent years either. New data on the dramatic imbalances of wealth between generations makes it clear that we need to take urgent action to help younger generations enjoy the same opportunities their parents had. ….

The challenges:

  • Graduates face some of the highest marginal tax rates of any taxpayers in England and Wales, compounding imbalances of wealth between the generations
  • In economic terms, university represents extremely poor value for money for some graduates, especially those studying certain subjects:
    • Earnings varies considerably by subject…. Graduates studying medicine, law, economics and the hard sciences (“STEM subjects”) enjoy high returns.
    • Lower earning courses included degrees in creative arts, psychology, agriculture, combined studies, mass communications, English and social studies (excluding economics).
    • The lowest earning subjects of all were creative arts courses, which had the largest number of graduates of any course type despite the lowest earnings. Ten years after graduating, the median creative arts graduate does not earn above the £25,000 repayment threshold and is not paying anything back.
    • There is little evidence that market forces are driving students towards courses with high returns.
  • Low returns and high interest rates combine to ensure most loans are never fully paid back
  • Despite being neglected, technical education is already a better route to higher earnings for many students. If we invested more in higher technical education, it could be even better
  • Those with the lowest prior attainment are the most likely to be financial losers under the current system
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, the public do not believe the current system of student loans is fair or represents value for money
  • Simply abolishing tuition fees does nothing for graduates, and is prohibitively expensive for taxpayers, including many who have not themselves attended university
  • Reducing tuition fees from their current level would do little to reduce the day-to-day repayment burden of graduates
  • Replacing loans with a graduate tax is simpler but is unlikely to lead to lower graduate repayments and would worsen ‘brain drain’
  • Shifting the costs to employers would do little for graduates, and create significant distortions
  • Altering rates and thresholds might have the desired effects, but compound other issues with loan forgiveness and accounting

The recommendations:

Value for money (2) – no secrets revealed yet

The Education Committee published its report, Value for Money in Higher Education, on 5 November 2018. The government response to the Committee’s report was published on 3rd January 2019

Interestingly it starts by setting the tone for what is to follow:

This document sets out the government’s response to the Committee’s report and clarifies the responsibilities of the Office for Students (OfS) and the Institute of Apprenticeships in respect of the issues raised. It also reflects that the government is continuing to develop policy in these areas alongside the Review of Post 18 Education and Funding, which will conclude in 2019.

That about sums it up.  We’ve set out the responses below in summary with some comments.

Value for money for students and the taxpayer

  • Recommendation: Every higher education institution should publish a breakdown of how tuition fees are spent on their websites. This should take place by the end of 2018, and we recommend that the Office for Students intervene if this deadline is not met.

Response: [this is for the OFS to deal with]

  • Recommendation: Unjustifiably high pay for senior management in higher education has become the norm rather than the exception and does not represent value for money for students or the taxpayer.

Response: Universities receive significant amounts of public funding, so it is only right that their senior staff pay arrangements command public confidence and deliver good value for both students and taxpayers. We want to see senior staff pay in universities that is fair and justifiable.

[ie, this is for the OFS to deal with]

  • Recommendation: The current system of self-regulation for senior management pay is totally unacceptable. We call for the Office for Students to publish strict criteria for universities on acceptable levels of pay that could be linked to average staff pay, performance and other measures that the Office for Students sees fit. The Office for Students should take swift action if this is not the case.

Response: In addition to the requirement for providers to publish justifications for their pay levels as outlined above, the OfS requires providers to publish the pay multiple of the head of the provider’s remuneration compared with that of all other employees. Universities are autonomous institutions and they are solely responsible for setting the pay of their staff, including senior managers. The government is not seeking to set pay levels within providers. These measures are designed to improve the transparency of pay levels for senior staff within HE providers.

  • Recommendation: Institutions must routinely publish the total remuneration packages of their Vice-Chancellors in a visible place on their website. Vice-Chancellors must never sit on their remuneration boards and this should be enforced by the Office for Students.

Response: The OfS requires universities to publish full details of the total remuneration package of their vice-chancellors, including bonuses, pension contributions and other taxable benefits. Similar requirements will be extended to cover all staff with a basic salary of over £150,000 per annum once the regulatory framework is in full force. The Committee of University Chairs (CUC) published its HE Senior Staff Remuneration Code in June 2018. This says that a provider’s remuneration committee must be independent and competent, and that the head of the institution must not be a member of this committee. The OfS accounts direction already states that registered providers must have regard to this code.

The quality of higher education

  • Recommendation: The TEF is still in its infancy and requires further improvement and embedding to become the broad measure of quality that we want it to be. We look forward to the independent review of TEF and recommend that it focuses on how the exercise is used by students to inform and improve choice. The review must include an assessment of how TEF is used in post-16 careers advice. For the TEF to improve value for money for students it must play a more significant role in the decision-making process of applicants.

Response: [it’s up to the OfS, but we have left some of the response here for you to read]

The OfS is planning targeted communications to improve awareness of TEF and will be undertaking specific research with applicants and students to understand how TEF ratings should be presented to ensure that they are meaningful to prospective students.

In June 2018, we published the findings of a report by IFF Research Ltd entitled ‘TEF and Informing Student Choice’. Although we recognise that only 15% of prospective students in that survey had used or intended to use TEF to inform their choice, the OfS had only published the first set of TEF outcomes in June 2017. For future cohorts it is worth noting that 68% of those surveyed considered that information on subject-level TEF would be useful.

Dame Shirley Pearce has been appointed as the independent reviewer of TEF in accordance with Section 26 of HERA. We will bring the concerns of the Committee to her attention, but as this is an independent review, with the reviewer’s obligations set out in statute, the department has no power to insist that her review addresses or excludes any particular issue.

  • Recommendation: Institutions should move away from a linear approach to degrees, and enable more part-time, mature and disadvantaged students to study in higher education. We recommend that the Government’s current post-18 review develop a funding model which allows a range of flexible options including credit transfer and ‘hopping on and off’ learning.

Response: [it’s all about the post-18 review and the OfS]

..Supporting arrangements for students who wish to switch provider or degree is already an important part of the reforms enacted by HERA. Section 38 of the act places a duty on the OfS to monitor the provision of student transfer arrangements by registered HE providers and the use of such arrangements by students, and a summary power to facilitate, encourage and promote awareness of these arrangements. Section 38 will come into force on 1 August 2019. In the meantime, the strategic guidance issued in February 2018 by the department asked the OfS to continue to collect data on student transfers ….

…Studying part-time and later in life can of course bring considerable benefits for individuals, employers and the wider economy. The OfS targets an element of the Teaching Grant to recognise the additional costs of part-time study. In 2017/18, £72 million was made available, and the same amount was allocated in 2018/19 for this purpose. Furthermore, within the strategic guidance, we have also asked the OfS and the Director for Fair Access and Participation to encourage providers to consider the different barriers that mature learners can face in their Access and Participation Plans. This covers access to, success in, as well as progression from HE.

….We launched a review of Level 4-5 technical education in October 2017, which is working closely with the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, to ensure a coherent vision for FE and HE. The review of level 4 and 5 education will examine how classroom-based level 4 and 5 education, particularly technical education, meets the needs of learners and employers. On the 6th December, the Secretary of State for Education set out his vision for why we need high quality technical education, and said – among other things -that we intend to establish a system of employer-led national standards for higher technical education. These will be based on existing apprenticeship standards and will provide progression opportunities for those completing T Levels from 2022.

  • Recommendation: More flexible approaches to higher education should be supplemented by the option for undergraduates of studying for two-year accelerated degrees alongside the traditional three-year model. The post-18 review should investigate potential funding models to clarify the benefits and costs of accelerated degrees, taking into account fees, living costs and post-study earnings.

Response: [we’ve already done this] …on 29 November 2018 government laid regulations to enable higher annual accelerated degree fee caps to be charged by providers. This change will enable potential course revenue of up to 80% of the standard equivalent, while still offering accelerated students a significant saving of 20% on the standard total fee costs. …

  • Recommendation: The introduction of two-year degrees must not create a two-tier system where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged to take them on the basis of cost. The Government’s review of higher education should include an impact assessment of how accelerated degrees will affect disadvantaged students.

Response: We acknowledge the Committee’s concern, which was also expressed by a number of respondents to the accelerated degrees consultation in 2018, where we asked specifically about access arrangements. Nevertheless, 74% of respondents still wanted accelerated degree fees to be treated the same as other higher course fees for the purpose of access.

We are not aware of any empirical evidence to suggest either that accelerated degrees are a qualitatively inferior form of degree study compared to their standard equivalents, or that the fees saving of an accelerated degree is seen as their most significant benefit by students. As noted above, the SLC Customer Insight surveys conducted in August 2018 indicated that both accelerated and standard students regarded the time saved on an accelerated course and the advantage of starting work one year faster than their peers, was the most significant benefit.

We know that the specific characteristics and challenges of accelerated study will not be right for all students. We will assess the effectiveness of accelerated degree funding and expenditure on access measures (compared to their standard equivalents), in the review to be undertaken three years after implementation of the higher accelerated degree fee caps regulations.

Skills

  • Recommendation: We are extremely disappointed by the response from the Institute for Apprenticeships to widespread concerns from the higher education sector on the future of degree apprenticeships. We urge the Institute to make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority. Degree qualifications must be retained in apprenticeship standards, and the Institute must remove the bureaucratic hurdles which universities are facing. The Institute and the Education and Skills Funding Agency must engage much more actively with the higher education sector and take better account of their expertise.

Response: …The department is already working with the HE sector and will continue to do so, including meeting quarterly with a cross section of HE representative bodies to discuss apprenticeship policy issues. …In the last 3 months, 10 HE providers have undertaken user research and we will continue to involve these institutions in our ongoing research.

  • Recommendation: Degree apprenticeships are crucial to boosting the productivity of this country, providing another legitimate route to higher education qualifications and bringing more students from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education. We believe some of the money which is currently allocated by the Office for Students for widening access could be better spent on the development and promotion of degree apprenticeships and support for degree apprentices to climb the ladder of opportunity. All higher education institutions should offer degree apprenticeships, and we encourage students from all backgrounds to undertake them. We recommend that the Office for Students demonstrates its support for them by allocating a significant portion of its widening access funding to the expansion of degree apprenticeships specifically for disadvantaged students.

Response:…DfE have already provided the OfS with funding to support the expansion of degree apprenticeships and to widen participation through the Degree Apprenticeships Development Fund (DADF)

In March 2016 DfE launched a £10 million DADF to support the development and take up of degree apprenticeships over two years. In 2016-18, 18 projects were supported, involving over 45 universities and colleges. In 2017/18 funding was allocated to 26 projects…..

The government is looking forward to the forthcoming evaluation report of the Fund, which will help us and the OfS to consider how to focus spending on what has the greatest impact for students.

More widely, the National Apprenticeships Service has launched a number of projects to increase participation amongst underrepresented groups and to ensure apprenticeships are accessible to individuals from all backgrounds. This includes the ‘5 cities’ project, a partnership with five major cities to improve black, Asian and minority ethnic representation, and ‘Opportunities Through Apprenticeships’, a pilot project working with four local authorities to raise the value of apprenticeships in disadvantaged areas. The ‘Opportunities Through Apprenticeships’ project was launched in November 2018. It aims to support social mobility by creating opportunities for more apprentices from disadvantaged areas to undertake high value apprenticeship with higher earnings potential and progression.

…The HE sector is supportive of Level 6 plus and degree apprenticeships and is involved in their development – with at least 60 providers offering or intending to offer degree apprenticeships during the 2017/18 academic year from a pool of over 100 on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers.

The OfS will want to consider the Committee’s recommendations regarding the allocation of its widening access funding.

  • Recommendation: The implementation of T-Level qualifications from 2020 could offer improved access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Government should engage with universities and UCAS in order to determine an appropriate tariff weighting prior to the introduction of T-levels. We also encourage universities to continue to accept BTECs and put in place additional academic and pastoral support to these students throughout their studies.

Response: The department expects T Levels to provide all students, regardless of their background, with a high quality technical offer that is valued as highly as A levels. With content designed by employers, T Levels will prepare students for skilled employment or progression to higher technical study. As we prepare for the first teaching of T Levels, we are working closely with a wide range of partners, stakeholders, schools and colleges to ensure successful delivery.

…Individual HE providers are responsible for determining the qualifications that they will accept for the purposes of entry to higher education. Whilst recognising the institutional autonomy of HE providers and, in particular, their freedom to determine the criteria for the admission of students, we would encourage them to consider the content of the qualifications they require before making offers. DfE committed in May 2018 to carry out a review of qualifications at level 3 and below (excluding A Levels, T Levels and GCSEs), so that all funded qualifications have a distinct purpose, are high quality and support progression to good outcomes…..

  • Recommendation: We recommend that universities look to include significant periods of work experience within undergraduate degree courses. This could be a year in industry, or shorter placements with local employers. We believe that practical experience of the workplace must become the norm in degrees and an integral part of making students ‘work ready’. There should also be a greater focus on the extent to which universities prepare their students for work in the TEF criteria.

Response: The numbers of undergraduates who undertake work experience within their degree courses are growing and we would like to see more universities and employers offering students these opportunities.

….We are working to support and encourage high quality new and innovative provision that has a strong offer for students, helping providers to navigate the regulatory system and we will continue to work with new providers to tackle any barriers that might arise.

There is a strong track record of collaboration and joint working between universities and businesses. For example, more than two-thirds of businesses have developed links with universities and more than a third are looking to grow their ties in the future. For example, Aston University has strong links to employers, and more than 70% of students undertake a year in industry as part of their degrees. Teesside University’s Digital City innovation initiative is helping local SMEs place graduate interns in their businesses by providing recruitment support and a 50% contribution towards their salary.

A traditional university course is not the only route to a successful career. Level 6 plus and degree apprenticeships allow universities to build partnerships with industry and professional bodies, working together to create a skilled workforce.

The Graduate Talent Pool is a government initiative designed to help new and recent graduates gain real work experience. This allows employers to advertise paid internships to new and recent graduates, free of charge. As of end of September 2018, 12,464 employers and 135,469 graduates had registered to use the service since the scheme’s launch…..

Social justice

  • Recommendation: Higher education institutions spend a vast amount of public money on access and participation. The results of this expenditure are not always clear to see. There must be transparency on what they are investing in, a greater focus on outcomes for students and a rigorous evaluation process. In response to the Director of Fair Access’s new proposals we expect to see institutions focusing their efforts on value for money for the most disadvantaged students and facing penalties if sufficient progress is not made.

Response: [this is for the OfS to deal with]

  • Recommendation: We recommend a move away from the simple use of entry tariffs as a league table measure towards contextual admissions, foundation courses and other routes to entry.

Response: The criteria for determining a HE provider’s position in a league table is a matter for its compilers. The government would not want the use of entry tariffs as a criterion to undermine the efforts of providers to take greater numbers of disadvantaged students.

  • Recommendation: The Office for Students must clamp down on the rise in unconditional offers. Their steep increase is detrimental to the interests of students and undermines the higher education system as a whole.

Response: The department agree with the committee and we are disturbed by the recent large increases in the number of unconditional offers received by students and the potential impact these offers can have. In this respect we welcome the recent announcement by St Mary’s University Twickenham that they will stop using unconditional offers, in the light of evidence that some students who had enrolled with them after an unconditional offer was made did not get the A level grades they expected.

[this is for the OFS to deal with]

  • Recommendation: The gap in entry rates between the most and least disadvantaged students remains too wide when it should be closing fast. We support the use of contextualised admissions to bring more students from lower socio-economic backgrounds into higher education. We recognise that this practice should not be used in isolation, and that more effective outreach should be followed by support for disadvantaged students throughout their degree. Institutions should state their contextualisation policies in their application information. By doing so disadvantaged students and schools in areas with lower rates of participation in higher education will have a better understanding of the entry requirements to different institutions.

Response: The department agrees that while good progress has been made in widening participation by under-represented and disadvantaged groups in HE, there is still more to be done. Control over admissions lies with institutions and this autonomy is protected under HERA.

Nevertheless, contextual admissions can play a role if they recognise the case for taking into account wider contextual factors in a student’s level of prior attainment: these type of admissions justify providers making offers of places to those they anticipate have strong potential to succeed in HE. It is important too that providers are transparent in their use of contextual information in offer and admission decisions, publish the rationale for any use of contextual offers, and make clear to applicants the circumstances in which they would make such offers. A clear policy on the use of contextual admissions should work in conjunction with effective outreach work, which is properly monitored and evaluated.

  • Recommendation: We are deeply concerned by the fall in both part-time and mature learners, and the impact this has had on those from lower socio-economic groups going into higher education. We recognise that although the number of disadvantaged school leavers going into higher education has increased, the total number of English undergraduate entrants from low participation areas decreased by 15% between 2011/12 and 2015/16.

Response: [it’s for the post-18 review]

  • Recommendation: The recent decline in part-time and mature learners should be a major focus of the Government’s post-18 education and funding review. We support calls for the review to redesign the funding system for these learners. The review should develop a tailored approach which moves away from the one size fits all approach which has driven the dramatic decline in numbers since 2012.

Response: [see above on flexible provision]

  • Recommendation: Based on the overwhelming evidence we have heard during the inquiry, we recommend that the Government return to the pre-2016 system and reinstate the means-tested system of loans and maintenance grants.

Response: [it’s for the post-18 review]

Graduate employability

  • Recommendation: We are encouraged by the increase in graduate outcomes information and believe this can both support more informed choices for students and make institutions more accountable for the destinations of their graduates. However, there is still a long way to go before students have access to robust data on graduate employment which will inform their choices.

Response: [it’s all about LEO]

  • Recommendation: Better information on graduate outcomes must lead to a greater focus in higher education on outputs and outcomes. Higher education institutions must be more transparent about the labour market returns of their courses. This is not simply a measure of graduate earnings but of appropriate professional graduate-level and skilled employment destinations. We recommend that the Office for Students instructs all providers to be transparent about levels of graduate employment and secure this through funding agreements.

Response: New sources of information such as the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) Graduate Outcomes survey, replacing the Destination of Leavers from HE, have an important role in improving information for students. ..

[plus TEF]

The OfS and its partners are developing options for a new resource to replace Unistats in 2019. This will ensure that data is presented in a way which supports students to understand and use the data in a meaningful and robust way

  • Recommendation: The reforms introduced by successive governments to higher education have caused a growing tension between the perceived value of study to a student, the funding and the wider economic value of higher education. This has been caused in part by the way that the system has changed incrementally and is widely misunderstood. The current system of tuition fees and repayments is more akin to a graduate tax. Promoting better public understanding of this should form part of the HE funding review.

Response: [it’s all about the post-18 review and the OfS]

  • Recommendation: Students lack sufficient high-quality information to make informed choices about higher education and the career paths which might subsequently be open to them. Decisions to take on a financial burden lasting most of a working lifetime are often made by students without adequate information or advice. The long-term implications of an adverse choice can leave students in a vulnerable position. Student choice is central to the debate over value for money in higher education. Our inquiry found a woeful lack of pre-application and career information, advice and guidance, particularly awareness of degree apprenticeships. The Government’s current post-18 review must look at routes into higher education, and the quality of careers advice which students receive.

Response: DfE’s Careers Strategy, published in December 2017, sets out a long-term plan to make sure that all young people have the information, advice and guidance they need to make informed choices about their education, training and employment options….

[It’s all about the OfS and the post-18 review]

Value for money (3) – the OfS position

The Office for Students issued their own response on 10th January.   They promise:

  • Work on transparency on value for money and calling for the sector to define best practice
  • More transparency on remuneration
  • Removing barriers to accelerated degrees
  • Supporting apprenticeships through the Access and Participation guidance [what will that look like?]
  • Gather and share evidence on work experience
  • Force the sector to improve assessment and evaluation of access and participation efforts and continue with fining and licence conditions
  • Raise concerns with league table compilers
  • Announce action on unconditional offers by Spring 2019
  • Challenge providers on mature students through access and participation guidance
  • Replacing unistats

TEF

The OfS have released the data for all institutions including those not actively participating in the new round of TEF. The data sits alongside a refreshed set of criteria and judgements, with specific definitions of the Gold, Silver, Bronze standards. The provider narrative looks to remain influential in the refreshed model and the significant emphasis on the data metrics continues (it is the initial determinant of award level). Wonkhe have crunched the data to make initial institutional judgements which are an interesting read (here). When contemplating Wonkhe’s article remember the metrics comprise only part of the final award judgement.

Wonkhe’s analysis results in less institutions receiving gold overall, with none of the Russell Group institutions reaching the top slot. The below chart shows the movement by displaying institutions with current Gold, Silver, Bronze, provisional, or no current award (-) as the colour of their Wonkhe calculated new award (based only on their metrics). The interactive tableau chart is here.

But it’s all a bit theoretical as it is expected few institutions will enter year 4, as most don’t need to again until 2021 – and by them it may all have changed after the Parliamentary Review and the subject level TEf pilot….

Brexit update

The House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee met to discuss the impact of the Horizon and Erasmus programmes and their future in a post Brexit Britain. Chris Skidmore, the Universities Minister, gave evidence.  You can read the summary here.

Otherwise chaos continues – nothing has changed except that no deal looks a lot more likely…at least for this week.

KEF

Research England have launched their consultation on the Knowledge Exchange Framework. We’ll be working with colleagues across BU to prepare our response.  They are also running a pilot.

We wrote about the build up to this in our policy update on 23rd November 2018 The proposal is for a set of metrics plus a narrative that gives the local context including strategic goals, context and local growth and regeneration, and public and community engagement.

Read more on Wonkhe:

Widening Participation and Achievement

A lack of aspiration is not the problem is a new thought provoking blog in Wonkhe which shuns the traditional view that disadvantaged young people attend university less because they lack aspiration and knowledge about the HE sector. It views poor educational achievement at school, brought about by the young person’s accumulation of multiple disadvantages through their childhood, as the crux of the problem. It highlights a study which recognises that these disadvantaged children are rarely exposed to the economic benefits that educational success brings. It suggests drawing on the psychological concept of ‘possible selves’ (considering what/how they want to be in the future to align thinking and motivation and kick start the attainment process needed to get there) as an alternative to aspiration raising in the future. (WP buffs will also want to check out this research on the topic.)  Possible selves is a nice alternative to the deficit model approach to WP but it in isolation it seems unlikely to work. Broad and robust careers support would likely be needed to open the eyes of disadvantaged young people to the myriad of future employment possibilities they may not have been exposed to through their home and social environment. Yet careers support remains a long standing thorny problem that no Government has been able to resolve – it is costly, patchy, and cannot meet all needs. Ironically for a blog which favours Bourdieu’s thinking it is this concept of lack of social capital and networks which means possible selves cannot be a neat solution all by itself.

Attracting Mature Students – the barriers

  • Coincidentally the ONS (Office for National Statistics) have analysed DfE survey data and report that the least qualified adults and vulnerable members of society have the least access to training to boost their employment opportunities and life chances. Lack of confidence was a factor in not accessing opportunities and there was an interesting finding that those without qualifications tended to focus on education or training as a way of improving their wellbeing, whereas those at the other end of the educational spectrum, with degrees or equivalent, seemed more driven by improving their job prospects.
  • The biggest barriers to adults accessing training were, unsurprisingly, cost, caring/family responsibilities, poor health, and the aforementioned lack of confidence. Interestingly a past negative educational experience was rarely a barrier. Below is the full chart.
  • The take up of education and training was exacerbated by a gender effect: Men responded more to incentives that were job or pay-related while women tended to choose more personal reasons such as meeting new people and building confidence. A higher proportion of men than women said an increased income would encourage further training and learning in the future and that their jobs and their ability to do them would be improved. Furthermore, more women than men said family and/or caring responsibilities would cause difficulties. Personal reasons, such as a lack of confidence also showed themselves as an issue for a higher proportion of women than men
  • It would be interesting to compare these barriers that prevent adults from accessing or aspiring to HE study with mature student drop out reasons. Similarities would provide clear signposting on how HE institutions could better attract, support, and retain mature students which, while important in itself, is particularly acute during this period of squeezed recruitment and the young population dip.

Care Leavers – LSE have released a blog explaining why the national figure that only 6% of care leavers progress to HE is inaccurate and that tracking care leavers (who are rarely in a position to perform well educationally at age 16) to age 23 bring the entry rate up to almost 12% (research here). The article goes on to explore other care leaver related factors such as the importance of alternative vocational routes into HE and warns against using the entry statistics as they mask the difficulties with retention of care leavers whilst studying.

Alternative Spending – Wonkhe’s Let’s go fly a kite series sees three bloggers come up with some alternative ideas by which to tackle Access and Participation.

Impact of Selective Secondary Education in progressing to HE

HEPI have published The impact of selective secondary education on progression to HE. It finds that grammar schools potentially contribute to social mobility by enabling better access to elite higher education. It considers the shortcomings of research which mainly utilise Free School Meals as the main data indicator.

The report highlights that:

  • A pupil from the most disadvantaged POLAR quintile is more than twice as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area rather than a non-selective area.
  • BME pupils are more than five times as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area. It notes that England’s has 163 grammar schools which contribute 30% more BME students to Cambridge than all 1,849 non-selective schools combined.

The report calls for:

  • Government to expand the Select School Expansion Fund in disadvantaged areas where this is supported by the relevant local authority.
  • Non-selective schools to improve their efforts at enabling progression of high-ability pupils to highly selective universities and Oxbridge, working with grammar schools where appropriate.
  • Department for Education to commission research explicitly considering the impact of selective schooling on the social mobility of children from households below median income.

On the report Wonkhe state: The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has published a provocative new paper on grammar schools and selective university access…It argues that grammars increase the likelihood of progression for pupils from the bottom two quintiles of social disadvantage and for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) pupils. The analysis attempts to factor in the chances of children from different groups getting into a grammar school, and how those children who do get in perform.

It also examines the performance of new specialist maths schools and considers positive attitudes towards grammar schools among some of the public (compared to educational experts).

The report received much press attention:

  • The i – Grammar schools ‘significantly boost chances of poor pupils attending top universities’
  • Schools Week – Poor pupils at grammar schools twice as likely to attend Oxbridge, study claims
  • tes – Grammars boost poorer pupils’ chances of getting into top universities
  • The Times – Beacon grammars could take more poorer pupils
  • The Times – The Times view on grammar schools: they provide only part of the answer
  • Telegraph – Grammar schools send more ethnic minority students to Cambridge than all comprehensives combined
  • Sky news – Grammar schools benefit disadvantaged kids says think tank
  • The Daily Mail – Pupils from the poorest families are TWICE as likely to get into Oxbridge if they attend a grammar school, report finds

Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, stated:

  • ‘The debate on grammar schools has become very one sided. Researchers line up to condemn them for inhibiting social mobility, and the schools do not perform well on every single measure. But the full evidence is more nuanced and shows some pupils benefit a great deal.
  • Compared to other countries, we have a hyper-selective university system. Given so many people benefit from attending a grammar school, it seems what works for universities may also sometimes work for schools.’

Other News

Unconditional Offers: The OfS response to the Commons Education Committee’s report on value for money suggests the review of unconditional offer making will be published in Spring 2019.

Knowledge Exchange: Explaining a PhD thesis to the public can be tricky. In this light hearted article read how Canada is tackling this through the medium of cake.

Essay Mills: the ASA banned online advertising by essay mill Oxbridge Essays – here is QAA’s coverage of the judgement. The Independent also covered the decision.

Academic Freedom: Oxford law students have petitioned for a professor to be dismissed due to his opinions on homophobia. It is debated here on the Today programme and then featured in Parliament:

  • Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): May we have a debate on the importance of academic freedom? Universities are about the free and frank exchange of ideas, even if they are unfashionable and unpopular. Is it not wholly unacceptable to suggest that a respected academic such as John Finnis, emeritus professor of law and legal philosophy, who has taught at the University of Oxford for some 40 years, should be removed from office simply for holding traditional Catholic views? Is that not the opposite of diversity and open, robust debate?
  • Andrea Leadsom:  My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is essential that young people at university learn how to engage in robust debate and to challenge views with which they may not agree. The solution is not to silence those who make them. The Government said in our response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report that we have concerns about the culture in universities in relation to free speech, and we made it clear that all “education is a place where students should be exposed to a range of ideas, including those that may be controversial and unpopular—and where they learn to think critically and challenge those who they disagree with, not shut them down.”

Accounting of student loans:

  • Q – Wes Streeting: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will ensure that the level of funding allocated to universities is not reduced as a result of the ONS decision on the treatment of student loans in Government accounts.
  • A – Chris Skidmore: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced a new treatment of student loans in the public sector finances and national accounts on 17 December 2018. The decision by the ONS relates to the recording of student loans in the national accounts and public sector finances. Prior to the announcement of the ONS review, the government had already launched the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in which, amongst other features of the system, funding is being considered.The review is considering how to ensure that the education system for those aged 18 years and over is accessible to all, is supported by a funding system that provides value for money and works for students and taxpayers. In addition, the review is considering how the education system incentivises choice and competition across the sector and encourages the development of the skills that we need as a country.

AND

  • Q – Wes Streeting: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what estimate he has made of the amount by which the deficit will increase in 2018 as a result of the ONS decision on the treatment of student loans in Government accounts.
  • A – Elizabeth Truss: The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) published estimates of potential impacts of the new treatment on the deficit in their October 2018 Economic and fiscal outlook. However, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has made it clear that there is a lot to decide before their methodology is finalised. The ONS currently aim to fully implement the new treatment for student loans in the public sector finances in September 2019.

Immigration:

  • Q – Lord Goodlad: Whether they have conducted an evaluation of the Tier 4 visa pilot for masters students; if so, when it was completed; and what changes are now proposed in the Immigration Rules.
  • A – Baroness Williams Of Trafford: An initial evaluation of the Tier 4 Visa Pilot was published on gov.uk on 19 December. The evaluation supported the proposals set out in the Immigration White Paper: The UK’s future skills-based immigration system.

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HE policy update for the w/e 27th October 2017

Freedom of speech, censorship and bias

After last week’s flurry on freedom of speech prompted by the Minster’s comments when launching the OfS consultation, this week the discussion has taken on a much more aggressive and personal tone, as the letter from an MP asking for information about staff teaching about Brexit hit the headlines, and the Daily Mail outed university staff as being majority pro-Brexit. I’ve written about all this on the Lighthouse Policy Group blog.

OfS Regulation

As noted last week, BU will be preparing an institutional response to this consultation. Policy@bournemouth.ac.uk will work with colleagues across BU and collate our response.

The consultation documents are huge, and as soon as you start looking at one area, you have to look at more than one (the conditions, and lots of details about them are in a separate Guidance document). So we will start simply this week with some highlights from the opening sections.

As a risk-based regulator, the OfS will seek to mitigate (though not eradicate) four risks – the risk that the four primary objectives are not met.

[The OfS will have four primary objectives:

  1. all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education
  2. all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
  3. that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure
  4. that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

The OfS will seek to mitigate the risk that each of these four objectives is not met]

As it does so, the OfS will also seek to mitigate risk that the sector does not deliver value for money for taxpayers and citizens (who are directly involved through the allocation of public grant funding, research funding by UKRI, and the public subsidy to the student finance system). It will also do so while recognising the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are less likely to access, succeed in, and progress successfully from higher education, even once their entrance characteristics are taken into account.

The OfS will also work with UKRI to ensure that the reciprocal risk around the sustainability of providers which contribute to the vibrancy of the research base is monitored and mitigated appropriately. The flow of information between the two organisations will be crucial to achieving this.

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree these are the right risks for the OfS to prioritise?

Interesting point:

Provider level regulation will not be used to drive continuous improvement. It will be for autonomous, individual providers to decide for themselves the extent to which they wish to offer provision that extends beyond the baseline. The impetus to do so will be driven by student choice and competition rather than direct regulatory intervention

This general approach does not apply to access and participation. In this case, competition, choice, and market mechanisms alone are not able to deliver the outcomes needed for students and society, so regulation of individual providers will be used to drive improved access and participation

Objective 1: all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education

Consultation question: Given all the levers at its disposal, including but not limited to access and participation plans, what else could the OfS be doing to improve access and participation and where else might it be appropriate to take a more risk-based approach?

Widening access and promoting the success of all students who have potential to benefit from higher education, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds and groups under-represented in higher education, will be at the heart of the OfS’s remit. It will have a duty which relates to equality of opportunity across the whole student lifecycle; with the aim of ensuring that students from disadvantaged and traditionally under-represented backgrounds can not only access, but successfully participate in and progress from higher education too. The OfS will intervene at the provider level in this area; market forces alone will not be sufficient to deliver the change needed. The OfS will also have a duty relating to student choice and opportunities, which it will consider in terms of a range of models of higher education – including new providers, work-based study, accelerated programmes and flexible provision for adults – which will facilitate higher education opening up to under-represented groups.

OFFA will be merged into the OfS with a Director for Fair Access and Participation.

Fair Access Agreements will continue to be required for providers charging higher fee amounts – and will operate as now, although there will be a new focus on participation – they will be called “access and participation plans”.

New point on schools:

In order to ensure better outcomes for both current and prospective students, the relationship between the higher education sector and the schools and further education systems will need to be strengthened. The establishment of the OfS and the new regulatory framework presents a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at our approach to managing these important transition points between stages of learning for an individual and their whole educational experience. These relationships between sectors are critical, not least when it comes to widening access and successful participation.

There are already many higher education providers playing an active role in schools and colleges in order to improve the prior attainment of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The new regulatory regime creates the opportunity to spread these ties further and deeper, in service of students accessing, succeeding in, and progressing from, higher education.

Note we do not know what this means at this stage and the government have not published a response to the schools consultation.

Note on registration conditions – the relevant ones for this area are condition A1 – Access and Participation Plan and condition A3 – transparency condition on disclosure of information.

Widening Participation

The Sutton Trust published a paper on contextual admissions. Key findings include:

  • While the gap [in access] between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers has narrowed somewhat in recent years, the gap at the most selective universities remains stubbornly wide.
  • a majority of these [selective] universities use contextual data to inform their admissions processes.
  • A substantial number provided no information to applicants about how indicators would be used…This lack of transparency is a barrier to access..
  • There is a wide distribution of grades among those from better-off backgrounds – with as many as one in five students from higher participation neighbourhoods being admitted with A-level grades of BBC or below, for example – and that the average grades of those from contextual backgrounds are only marginally lower than those from non-contextual backgrounds.
  • There is little evidence to suggest that leading universities that practice greater contextualisation see significantly higher dropout rates, lower degree completion rates, or lower degree class results
  • Greater use of contextual admissions could result in a substantial increase in the numbers of low income students at the UK’s most selective universities.

Recommendations include

  • Universities should use contextual data in their admissions process to open up access to students from less privileged backgrounds.
  • There should be a greater use of individual-level contextual indicators, such as previous eligibility for free school meals, as well as school-level and area-level criteria.
  • Universities practicing contextualisation should provide additional support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those who have been admitted with lower grades, in recognition of the additional difficulties such students may face.
  • There should be greater transparency from universities when communicating how contextual data is used. ….There should also be greater clarity and consistency in the reporting of contextual admissions processes in access agreements with the Director of Fair Access, including reporting levels of contextually admitted applicants.
  • Foundation year provision should be increased, with greater targeting of those from disadvantaged backgrounds..
  • Participation in outreach programmes should be shared as a contextual indicator across universities.
  • Many outreach programmes include academic eligibility criteria set at a high threshold. However, this is likely to exclude disadvantaged pupils with the potential to do well at university, but whose GCSE results are not exceptional. Universities, and those who run similar outreach programmes, should consider more inclusive thresholds to reduce barriers to participation and increase access

Other news

The new ESRC CEO and Executive Chair Designate has been announced. Professor Jennifer Rubin. is currently Director of the Policy Institute at King’s and Professor of Public Policy. Before joining King’s Jennifer established and then led the justice and home affairs research programme at RAND Europe for ten years.

Following the launch of the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology last month, a new university has been announced for Hereford – it will specialise in engineering courses and will offer accelerated degrees.

The Royal Society has announced a scheme to place entrepreneurs in universities.

David Davis indicated at the Exiting the EU committee that the UK would be “quite likely” to stay in Horizon 2020 after leaving the EU, and also that EU students would be likely to qualify for student loans after March 2019. It was not at all clear whether this would be part of a transition arrangement or a final deal.

From Wonkhe: Justine Greening told the House of Commons Education Committee that the HE funding review first announced by the Prime Minister will be “something DfE leads”.

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