Tagged / academic freedom

HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th May 2021

The expected flurry of activity post Queen’s Speech didn’t disappoint this week. Speculation about fees and funding, the Skills Bill, an OfS quality measure (which is not going to be used for regulation, so what is it for), as the new OfS chair sets out a new list of priorities, hot on the heels of the REF submissions, a new review has been announced to consider what the next REF might look like, in parallel to the existing review of research bureaucracy, and there is more on last week’s Free Speech Bill…. and now we are allowed to sit inside with a coffee to digest it all (and given the weather, there isn’t much temptation to sit outside).  Other beverages are available, of course.

Government support for universities in the pandemic

The IFS have a report out: COVID-related spending on education in England

Research Professional report on the report:

  • It may not surprise folks in universities that higher education seems to have been the poor relation when it comes to government largesse. This is, arguably, a reversal of universities’ past relationship with the Treasury and an ominous sign of things to come.
  • ….The IFS identifies £4.3bn of the £160bn as having been spent on education in England. Of that, only £365 million has been earmarked for higher education—this does not include loans for research allocated by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
  • … Of the £365m directed towards universities, £70m has been new cash for student hardship.
  • ….Of the total earmarked for universities, £300m is for restructuring insolvent institutions, for which, as the IFS points out, the government has received no applications. As the IFS dryly puts it, this suggests that “actual spending might turn out to be quite low”. It is hard to go lower than zero, unless universities were to start paying the Department for Education for the privilege of being ignored by the government.
  • That leaves around £70m of late-in-the-day student hardship money as the only additional cash directed towards universities in England during the pandemic. As has been pointed out, that amounts to around £45 per student, which is £14.20 less than one week’s Jobseeker’s Allowance for someone under the age of 24.
  • In addition, the business department has made £280m available for research funding, £80m of which comes from elsewhere in the department’s budget due to Covid-related underspending. That £280m Sustaining University Research Expertise package went towards extensions to grants covering researcher salary costs and laboratory equipment.
  • Not included here is the amount for government loans covering non-publicly funded research, which readers will recall are tied to structural reforms in universities, such as pay cuts for senior managers. As the IFS puts it, once again, “take-up is likely to be very low”. At present, £32m is set aside for the scheme, of which £22m is for capital expenditure.
  • We also know that some universities have taken out loans from the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, jointly run with the Treasury. …These figures do not appear in the IFS analysis.
  • Then there is the furlough scheme, widely used by universities, through which £77m was spent mothballing 25,000 jobs across higher education employers. Again, these numbers are not part of the IFS calculations.

Fees and funding

After the Queen’s Speech it is not surprising that attention turned to fees and funding over the weekend.  Research Professional have good coverage of what happened: It all started on Friday, when the Conservative Home website published a lengthy blogpost by education secretary Gavin Williamson…“The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt,” Williamson writes in his piece.   For BU readers we’ve done a little summary of how we got here and what might come next.

David Kernohan from Wonkhe has a critique of the Secretary of State’s argument in this blog and looks at just one arts cohort as an example:

  • Sources close to Gavin Williamson suggest in The Sunday Times that some arts graduates earn “as little as £12,000 a year”. …. I’ve gone one better and found 20 female printmaking graduates earning a median salary of £6,200 a year after graduation. Seeing a small group median like that makes the principal flaw of LEO clear – these graduates are almost certainly working part-time. ….. And LEO does not discriminate between full and part time work.
  • Secondly, these are median values. ….The upper quartile is so much higher than the median that earnings may be substantially higher in a couple of cases – suggesting two of our talented young female printmakers had sadly given up on their dreams and gone for a “graduate job”.
  • So which of our female printmakers have hit a dead-end, a year after graduation? The four who aren’t working at all, who may be undertaking further study or making and selling art full time? The eight or so working part-time to support their art? Or the ones that have put their practice on hold (or given up entirely) to work in media sales because our society doesn’t seem to think it needs artists who can work, eat, and pay rent?
  • Should any of them not have done a degree?.  … If the post-18 review started as a way to win the hearts and minds of students and those who have students (or potential students) in their lives, it has ended in a clumsy and misguided attempt to make subjects that people want to study in their thousands economically unviable to teach. Quite what, or who, this is “levelling up” is unclear.

Research Professional continue:

  • The “nothing but debt” phrase also showed up in a Sunday Times article over the weekend. That piece claimed that in line with the recommendations of the Augar review of post-18 education funding, university tuition fees “could be cut from £9,250 to a maximum of £7,500, according to a government consultation which begins next month”. 
  • It seems that even though Augar himself appeared to disown this particular recommendation; it is far from dead in the water—as was previously thought. 
  • The Sunday Times reports: “The cost of science degrees would be topped up by extra government funding, but critics fear arts and humanities subjects, such as languages, philosophy, theology, history and creative arts, would disappear at many universities.” 
  • There is no date yet for the launch of the consultation in question, but the paper says that this follows “growing concern in the Treasury” about the affordability of the student loan scheme given that a large proportion of loans are never paid back. 

Meanwhile ex-Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, who takes a more pro-HE view in some arguments, wrote for Conservative Home on Monday morning: Student finance? It’s the interest rate, stupid. Skidmore gets to the nub of the issue quickly – that changes are coming and have to be paid for somewhere – so HEIs should get on board and place themselves well for the change. And he reminds the Government that the reason fees aren’t repaid is because the interest levels are so high. Tuition fees are a hot spot for the Government because (1) they believe(d) Labour’s no fees policies are attractive and draw voters away from the Conservatives:

  • But if we are to reduce university fees, then there is also an important policy lever which the Government should also be looking to change, which I believe would have far greater impact on individual lives— and in turn far greater support… We need to look again at the interest rate charged on student loans, which any student or parent will tell you is out of all proportion to the reality of current interest rates.

Bear in mind the cost to the public purse for tuition fees became much more of an issue when the Office for National Statistics reclassified the student debt to count it in with the Government’s debt. Prior to this Jo Johnson (ex-Universities Minister) often defended the removal of student grants by explaining that if the student didn’t benefit from their graduate education and couldn’t afford to repay their loan it was written off.  It was a deliberate, progressive subsidy, we were told.  And Jo Johnson didn’t want to restrict choice of subject either.  How things have changed.

Skidmore points out the problems with the new approach:

  • Science degrees cost more than the current £9,250 a year to provide, with most being subsidised by arts, humanities and social science degrees. Unless careful thought is given to the impact of the unit of resource, what seems an attractive headline offer might in fact backfire – especially if it results in a loss of opportunity for future students in regions of the country who find that their local university is no longer able to provide the course provision they wish, not only in the arts and humanities, but in science degrees, too.
  • In addition, out of the current fee level, universities themselves invest around over £800 million a year in improving access and participation from some of the lowest socio-economic groups to attend university. With a reduction in fees, there is also a risk that the ability to reach out to the most disadvantaged in society is also reduced.

And he tells us his ResPublica Lifelong Education Commission is looking into alternatives:

  • … we should be investigating new methods of funding reskilling and upskilling. The success of research and development tax credits in generating this activity points to an opportunity for how companies could be rewarded for investing in the human capital of their employers, especially given the opportunity to close the productivity gap that lifelong learning might offer.

Meanwhile don’t miss the comments to Skidmore’s article even if you don’t read the actual piece. Although perhaps not if you are concerned about your blood pressure.

The Skidmore article triggered some discussion within HE policy circles as it highlighted the oft ignored distinction between tuition and living cost (maintenance) loans: it is one thing to say the loan system is unaffordable, another to say it is unaffordable because too many poor students have to eat while they study. Quite timely given the NUS hardship research published this week, more on this below.

Research Professional speculate about what a fees cut would do to research prospects and the university recruitment portfolio:

  • While a tuition fee cut would mean less income for all universities, it would affect the research effort in post-1992s much less. ….Post-1992s will be badly hit by any cuts and there will be job losses, with remaining staff asked to take on more teaching. However, the islands of research excellence within them—which rely heavily on the quality-related funding they generate—will be less badly affected than in other types of university.
  • ….Russell Group universities may review their own subject mix. With little profit to be derived from classroom teaching, we could see a swing away from the heavy recruitment that has been taking place in these disciplines.
  • …The squeezed middle will be those universities that attract less quality-related and less external funding but that rely on a cross-subsidy for research from teaching. Under these circumstances, there will be pressure to both lose staff and increase teaching loads in the arts because of the fee cut, and to reduce research activity across the board because of the loss of cross-subsidy.
  • The tectonic realignment that would take place as a result of a tuition fee cut might then see greater research concentration in the big civics, with a transfer of students in the opposite direction as those universities loosen their grip on undergraduate recruitment, once more looking to manage reputation and league table position through quality rather than quantity of applicants.
  • ….The big implication here is that the wider research effort in English universities would take a significant knock. Surely this is the opposite of what the government intends through an innovation-led form of levelling up and post-Covid recovery—so much for being a scientific superpower.

The article then goes on to highlight how the student experience wouldn’t necessarily be better nor would students repay their loans more frequently nor quicker. It is worth a read.

Research

Future Research Assessment: UKRI have launched the Future Research Assessment Programme:

  • This significant piece of work will… explore possible approaches to the assessment of UK higher education research performance.
  • Through dialogue with the higher education sector, the programme seeks to understand what a healthy, thriving research system looks like and how an assessment model can best form its foundation. The work strands include evaluation of the REF 2021, understanding international research assessment practice, as well as investigating possible evaluation models and approaches, looking to identify those that can encourage and strengthen the emphasis on delivering excellent research and impact, and support a positive research culture, while simplifying and reducing the administrative burden on the HE sector.
  • This programme of work is expected to conclude by late 2022.

Details – the international advisory group and their terms of reference; the programme board and their terms of reference. Research Professional cover the announcement. While there aren’t any additional details, their content explores the panel and talks about the review.

Horizon Europe: The European Scrutiny Select Committee have requested the Government explain how Horizon Europe will be funded. Press release, report document, committee information.

  • It is estimated that UK association with Horizon Europe would require a financial contribution of £12.7 bn. for the seven years from 2021 to 2027 inclusive. This is a gross figure, before deducting items such as any subsequent inflow of funds back from Horizon into UK scientific projects.
  • UK scientific researchers have expressed concerns that the government might expect much of this funding to come from existing domestic research budgets.
  • The government has made proposals to pay towards some of the costs of Horizon Europe, but not all of them. The European Scrutiny Committee has therefore written to the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP, seeking clarity on the government’s proposals. The Committee asked if the Minister could please tell them how the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe would be funded [within 10 days].
  • So no new news but pressure to reveal plans builds within parliament.

Quick News

  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) launched a landmark special report, setting out the world’s first comprehensive roadmap for the global energy system to rapidly boost clean energy deployment and reduce fossil fuel usage. Contact us if you’d like a summary.
  • The BEIS Committee held a session on levelling up and the post-pandemic recovery. The first session covered the industrial strategy, the definition of levelling and key metrics and related policies. The second session focussed on the Government’s industrial decarbonisation strategy and wider decarbonisation issues. Contact us if you would like to read a summary of the session.
  • Record numbers of trademark and registered design applications have been made post-Brexit. There was a dip in numbers at the outset of Covid in spring 2020 but numbers grew substantially by summer 2020.
  • Parliamentary Question: Encouraging international students to complete their PhD in the UK.
  • Research Professional have a blog Know your Audience explaining how to tailor research grant applications to achieve success.
  • COP26 President Alok Sharma speech: The vital role of the academic community in delivering COP26 aims.
  • The Royal Society have set out twelve critical technologies and research areasthat should be prioritised in national roadmaps for achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions. The new briefing reports aim to rapidly accelerate research, investment and deployment in areas that will become increasingly important across the next 30 years.
  • Kit Malthouse, Home Office Minister of State for Crime and Policing, has published a written ministerial statement announcing the Appointment of the Forensic Science Regulator, Gary Pugh OBE.
  • The National Centre for Universities and Business has published a report on the impact of COVID on business R&D. It specifically investigates the impact on businesses’ R&D and innovation activities and their collaborations with universities.
  • Societal impact: A longitudinal research studywill follow babies born in the 2020s over many decades aiming to understand how societal circumstances and events affect them. A £3 million investment, made by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, will allow UCL and other researchers to develop a two-year-long birth cohort feasibility study.  This study will develop and test the design, methodology and viability of a full-scale Early Life Cohort Study that is likely to follow participants for more than 70 years, starting from 2024.
  • Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has appointedVikas Shah and Stephen Hill as non-executive board members at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. They will help to steer the board “as BEIS navigates key issues including the economic recovery from coronavirus [and] efforts to combat climate change and promote science, research and innovation”. There will be another competition in the summer to appoint a board member to lead on energy and climate change policy.
  • Turing Fellowships – the Government has published guidanceon the Turing AI Fellowships, (£46 million initiative aimed at attracting and maintaining the best talent in artificial intelligence).  The full document, including the Turing AI Fellows supported by funding from the UK government, can be accessed here.

Parliamentary News

You can read the full text of the Queen’s speech debate relating to education: A Brighter Future for the Next Generation.

Labour confirmed their shadow line up for Education:

  • Shadow Education Secretary: Kate Green
  • Peter Kyle (Schools)
  • Matt Western (Universities)
  • Toby Perkins (Apprenticeships & life-long learning)
  • Tulip Siddiq (Children & Early Years)
  • Child Poverty Strategy – Wes Streeting

Here is the new Scottish Government Cabinet:

  • Nicola Sturgeon – First Minister
  • John Swinney – Deputy First Minister
  • Kate Forbes – Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy
  • Humza Yousaf – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
  • Shirley-Anne Somerville – Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
  • Michael Matheson – Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport
  • Keith Brown – Cabinet Secretary for Justice
  • Shona Robison – Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
  • Angus Robertson – Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
  • Mairi Gougeon – Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has been introduced  – it will be starting its journey in the House of Lords. We are waiting for a date for the second reading (this is when the actual debate and discussion of the Bill begins); it probably won’t be discussed until June. The Bill will cover:

  • local skills improvement plans;
  • further education;
  • the functions of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and relating to technical education qualifications;
  • to make provision about student finance and fees;
  • to make provision about assessments by the Office for Students;
  • to make provision about the funding of certain post-16 education or training providers.

Here is the Government’s press release:  New legislation to help transform opportunities for all – The Skills and post-16 Education Bill will support vital reforms to post-16 education so more people can gain the skills needed to secure great jobs.

You can read the full text of the Bill, the accompanying explanatory notes and the impact assessment. Or the shorter version is that the Bill provisions currently:

  • Provide for a statutory underpinning for local skills improvement plans, introducing a power for the Secretary of State for Education to designate employer representative bodies to lead the development of the plans with duties on providers to co-operate in the development of and then have regard to the plans

The key policy objectives of local skills improvement plans, as part of the Skills Accelerator, are to:

  • Enable employers to clearly articulate the priority strategic changes they think are required to technical skills provision in a local area to make it more responsive to the skills needs.
  • Enable a process whereby FE providers respond better collectively to the labour market skills needs in their area.

To frame this policy intent in legislation, the Bill measure focuses on:

  • giving the Secretary of State the ability to designate employer-representative bodies (ERBs) to develop local skills improvement plans, ensuring ERBs have regard to written guidance and providing them with the necessary influence to develop local skills improvement plans; and
  • requiring providers to co-operate with the ERB in developing the local skills improvement plan and have due regard to this when considering their technical education and training offer
  • Introduce a duty for all further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions to review how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs, and assess what action the institution might take to ensure it is best placed to meet local needs. This places a duty for all governing bodies to keep their provision under review to ensure that they are best placed to meet the needs of the local area. This duty will form part of college planning from academic year 2022/23…
  • Introduce additional functions to enable the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (“the Institute”) to define and approve new categories of technical qualifications that relate to employer-led standards and occupations in different ways, and to have an oversight role for the technical education offer in each occupational route, including mechanisms to manage proliferation.
  • Ensure that the Institute and the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (“Ofqual”) maintain a streamlined collaborative system for approval and regulation of technical qualifications.
  • Giving the Institute powers to determine new qualification categories and approve qualifications against associated criteria in the future….Putting the mechanisms in place to ensure the qualifications market delivers high quality technical qualifications based on employer-led standards and employer demand.
  • Giving the Institute powers that could allow it to charge for approval and to manage proliferation.
  • Introduce specific provision reflecting lifelong learning entitlement policy which aims to make it easier for adults and young people to study more flexibly – allowing them to space out their studies, transfer credits between institutions, and take up more part-time study. The proposed legislation modifies the existing regulation-making powers in the Teaching and Higher Education Act (THEA) 1998 so as to:
  • make specific provision for funding of modules of higher education and further education courses, and the setting of an overall limit to funding that learners can access over their lifetime,
  • make clear that maximum amounts for funding can be set other than in relation to an academic year.
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations for the purpose of securing or improving the quality of Further Education (“FE”) initial teacher training;
  • Reinforce the Office for Students’ ability to assess the quality of higher education providers in England, and make decisions on compliance and registration by reference to minimum requirements for quality. [we’ll talk more about this in the section on OfS priorities below]
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations to provide for a list of post-16 education or training providers, in particular Independent Training Providers (“ITPs”), to indicate which providers have met conditions that are designed to prevent or mitigate risks associated with the disorderly exit of a provider from the provision of education and training.
  • Extend statutory intervention powers applicable to further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. This measure will enable the Secretary of State for Education to intervene where there has been a failure to meet local needs, and to direct structural change where that is required to secure improvement (such as mergers); and
  • Make amendments to clarify and improve the operation of the FE insolvency regime for further education bodies, relating to the use of company voluntary arrangements, transfer schemes and the designation of institutions.

Wonkhe have a blog picking out matters to note within the Bill – it dismisses the Bill as poorly thought out and without substance. The first comment to the blog (Phil Berry) makes a really important point on the lifelong learning funding– For this to truly work there needs to be a complete rethink of how student funding works with the removal of the distinctions between full-time and part-time and a move to a credit based system. It seems to be a bolt-on at the moment.

More OfS priorities

The new chair of the OfS spoke at a UUK meeting.  You can read the press release here and the full speech here. He set out four key principles:

  • nobody with the talent to benefit from higher education should find that their background is a barrier to their success
  • higher education students from all backgrounds and on all courses should expect a high quality experience, and that high academic standards must be maintained
  • universities must continue to take urgent steps to tackle harassment on campus
  • we should, as an efficient and effective regulator, take steps to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden wherever we can

On widening participation, he said this is key to the levelling up agenda.  You’ll recognise a theme here from a few years ago when there were thoughts of making school sponsorship mandatory…where is this going now?

  • Universities, working with schools, …. need to continue to reach out – especially to those towns and coastal communities where people feel forgotten – and to show people there that university is for them too. By casting their nets wide, searching for talent where opportunity may be in short supply, universities have the power to transform lives. And universities have a critical role in developing that talent also, doing the hard graft with schools and pupils to drive up attainment and achievement from an early age.

On quality, he promised the outcome of the quality consultation shortly.  As expected, quality is defined by outcomes (specifically, employment outcomes) and continuation, and they are “sharpening their regulatory tools”.  That may be a reference to the Skills Bill, which apparently is going to give them new powers to enforce their quality framework.  [In the meantime, the OfS have launched their new metric which uses, guess what, continuation and employment outcomes to provide a single combined score (called, creatively, “Proceed”) – see more in the separate section below.]

  • Let me be clear though. Broadening access to university cannot be done by lowering standards. I do not accept the argument that levelling up can involve any reduction in the academic excellence and rigour of which our higher education sector is rightly proud. It is incumbent on our universities to play their part in raising standards and attainment both at the point of access and throughout the higher education experience.
  • ….When students do begin their degrees, they are right to expect that they will receive high quality teaching and a springboard to a good career. Education for its own sake is to be commended and protected, but in doing so we should recognise that – for most students – securing a rewarding career is one of the most important factors in deciding what, where and how to study.
  • While most higher education teaching in England is good or excellent, good quality is not universal. Nobody embarks on a degree expecting to drop out, or to find themselves no better off months – or even years – after they graduate. Courses with high drop out rates and low progression to professional employment let students down, and we shouldn’t be reticent in saying so, or taking action.
  • …Most universities and other higher education providers offer good quality provision. Many will comfortably out-perform any numerical baselines we set – and will see regulatory burden fall as a result. But, where standards slip we stand ready to intervene. We will set out our next steps on quality shortly, sharpening our regulatory tools as necessary to address these issues and help ensure that students can count on good quality higher education.

[Just to finish the point on the Skills Bill, the relevant bit is section 17:

In section 23 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (assessing the quality of, and the standards applied to, higher education), at the end insert—

“(4) The factors that may be taken into account for the purposes of an assessment…. of the quality of higher education provided by an institution include the student outcomes of the institution.

(5) The student outcomes of an institution may be measured by any means (whether qualitative or quantitative) that the OfS considers appropriate, including by reference to the extent to which—

(a) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution continue to undertake that course, or another course at the same or a similar level, after a period of time,

(b) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution are granted an award of a particular description by that institution,

(c) persons who are granted an award by the institution undertake further study of a particular description, or

(d) persons who are granted an award by the institution find employment of a particular description by virtue of that award.

(6) The OfS may, from time to time, determine and publish a minimum level in relation to a measure of student outcomes which all institutions to whom the measure is applicable are expected to meet.

(7) The OfS is not required to determine and publish different minimum levels in relation to a measure of student outcomes in order to reflect differences in—

(a) particular student characteristics; (b) the particular institution or type of institution which is  providing higher education;

(c) the particular higher education course or subject being studied;

(d) any other such factor. …

So we get to harassment. He talked about the new statement of expectations and promised, to look at options for making compliance a regulatory condition.  He did not mention freedom of speech (strange, for such a topical issue and with the OfS being promised sweeping new powers in the new Bill).  He did, however, reconfirm the position on anti-Semitism:

  • One straightforward action to take is for all universities to sign up to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The definition is important in helping us all to interpret and understand antisemitism and I strongly urge any university that hasn’t signed up to do so without delay. Those universities that have signed up must – of course – continue to be alert to antisemitic incidents and have clear measures in place to ensure that Jewish students are free to study and enjoy university life without fear of harassment.

And so to bureaucracy.

  • Reducing unnecessary burden will be a priority for me. [This one is a stretch when the new quality regime proposed onerous new data and reporting requirements, the Freedom of Speech Bill sets up another layer of reporting and monitoring and we are about to be consulted on the next iteration of the TEF.  While the TEF is going to be better than it might have been (no subject level) it will be mandatory and demanding to complete.]
  • We need to get the balance right between ensuring students and taxpayers enjoy the benefits of regulation without universities experiencing an overly bureaucratic process that detracts from their core purpose – delivering excellent teaching and research. [I guess it’s all about perspective – if it’s necessary and beneficial, then it doesn’t matter if, in fact, it increases the overall burden].
  • … as a first step, we will publish next week the details of a new key performance measure that will set out transparently whether our work is reducing or increasing reducing regulatory burden. [Well, that’s ok then].

So with this in mind, Nicola Dandridge (CEO of the OfS) has blogged about their approach to managing the regulatory burden.  She says that they are committed to getting the balance right between the benefits and burden of regulatory and that [be prepared to find some of these underwhelming…]:

  • producing plans for each of the last two years has imposed significant administrative burden. Data released today shows no reduction in burden at this stage. However, this will change in future as we have increased the length of access and participation plans to five years
  • we have reduced our data requirements. We now no longer require data about estates or non-academic staff, and providers were required to submit at most 15 data returns last year, down from 18 the year before
  • We have also successfully reduced – where appropriate – enhanced monitoring requirements. There were a total of 468 conditions subject to enhanced monitoring across all providers in March 2020, and we reduced this to 406 in November 2020, despite increasing the number of registered providers overall.
  • we have suspended random sampling
  • ….and committed to reducing providers’ fees by 10 per cent in real terms over the next two years. Today’s measures show that the combined fees of OfS, HESA and QAA cost providers an average of less than £20 per student last year.

And – tada – the new KPI is revealed.  With only one or two years of data, the graphs are not very exciting, but you might like the ones under (4) “understanding our regulatory approach”.

  1. Submitting data and information.
  2. Complying with enhanced monitoring requirements.
  3. Developing and agreeing access and participation plans.
  4. Understanding our regulatory approach.
    • The OfS published around 420,000 words in regulatory documents in in each of the past two years. Around 60 per cent of these documents met our readability target
  5. Paying regulatory fees.
    • Providers paid an average of under £20 per student to be registered with the OfS in 2019-20 (providers registered in 2019-20 paid an average of £19.91 per student in regulatory fees) [there is a commitment to reduce fees by 10% by 2022-23]

Research Professional ran an article on the regulatory burden. Wonkhe have a blog too: The OfS measures its own regulatory burden.

Proceed: Graduate Prospects Measure

In the context of all this talk about closing down courses and capping fees, if drop out rates and employment statistics aren’t up to scratch, the OfS have published an experimental new measure through which they intend to show students’ likelihood of securing professional level employment or embarked on further study in the year after they graduate. The measure is based on projected data for full-time first degree students who complete their studies (completion rates) and the progression of recent graduates to employment, further study and other activities (graduate outcomes); for short it is called Proceed. This is the second release of the measure as the OfS has tweaked it since its first outing in December in response to cross-sector feedback.

The OfS press release states new measure shows substantial differences in likely job and study outcomes for students stating it reveals substantial differences between individual universities and other higher education providers, in different subjects, and in different subjects at individual universities. The OfS anticipates prospective students will consult the measure to make informed choices about what and where to study and they say they have no intention to use it in regulation.

We know that latter part is probably true – because this data is benchmarked, and the quality consultation and the new provisions in the Skill Bill confirm their intention to use non-benchmarked data to regulate.  So this new metric is a much softer, friendlier approach than the one we are expecting.  It also looks remarkably like something that might crop up in the new TEF – using the government’s favourite metrics and benchmarks that look a lot like TEF3.  Although this new data goes further – it is given at subject level, which the TEF apparently won’t do.

Do we get any idea about what the harder edged version might look like?  Well maybe.  50% seems to be a magic number.  Or 55%.  Or perhaps those were just picked because they illustrated the point nicely.

The accompanying press release notes:

  • significant differences in performance between different universities and colleges. The measure projects that over 75% of entrants at 22 universities and other higher education providers will go on to find professional employment or further study shortly after graduation. At 25 universities and other education providers, less than half of students who begin a degree can expect to finish that degree and find professional employment or further study within 15 months of graduation [this latter comment is a bit confusing. There aren’t 25 institutions which had below 50% scores on both metrics (because there are only 3 that don’t meet 50% on the completion one and only 5 on the progression one) but there are 25 that are under 50% for the combined Proceed metric – and nearly all of them are well over 50% the two separate metrics.  The detail matters.]
  • significant differences at a subject level. For example, 95.5% of medicine and dentistry entrants are projected to find professional employment or further study. Conversely the rates are below 55% in six subjects [again, not really accurate. If you look at the progression rates by subject there are NO subjects where the sector number is below 60%.  There are 6 subjects below 55% on the combined Proceed measure.  Those unimpressed by the SoS’s focus on “slashing” funding for media studies will note this list and also that he studied Social Sciences at Bradford (no progression data on the chart so no combined score). Also, using Medicine and Dentistry as the comparator is a misleading; it is clearly an outlier.  The next one on the list is Veterinary sciences (86.4%) and then Nursing and Midwifery at 78.6% – and again, you would expect employment rates to be high for these courses. The first subject on the list that doesn’t involved almost guaranteed progression to employment in a directly related job is Economics at 75.2%.]. The 6 subjects are: Sociology, social policy and anthropology, Agriculture, food and related studies, Business and management, Psychology, Media, journalism and communications and Sport and exercise sciences.
  • instances where there is varied performance between subjects at individual universities [Well, yes. Shall we look at the University of Oxford? Excluding Medicine and Dentistry for the reasons given above, their top overall Proceed score is 96.5% in Mathematical Sciences and their lowest is 78.8% in History and Archaeology.  The lowest score for Cambridge is for Languages (79.7%).  Proof then that the SoS is right, these subjects lead to dead end jobs, even from Oxbridge?]

As we all know, there are so many other factors that influence employment than the quality of the programme.  Who you recruit and where they come from, what they did before and where they lived before and move to afterwards.  And while on average students studying humanities may do less well in employment (on this measure) than hard science subjects, there are and will be so many individual exceptions to this – including the SoS and Minister for Universities, who are clearly not pursuing a straight line career linked to their degree subjects.  It’s so odd that the Secretary of Stage says that HE is not vocational, while championing measures that would only make sense if it was.

Commenting on the data Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • It is important that prospective students have access to good independent information about courses they may be interested in. The report we are publishing today provides a wealth of data which can help students decide which university, and which subject, might be right for them. In publishing this information we recognise that – for many students – finding professional employment after graduation is one of the most important reasons for going to university. But it is not the only reason, and it is important to value all the wider benefits of higher education, including the personal development, the cultural richness and exposure to different people and different perspectives that higher education offers. Nonetheless many universities make significant use of data about the employment outcomes for their graduates when marketing their courses. The publication of this independent data will provide further assistance to students in their decision-making.
  • The data reflects the fact that higher education offers good outcomes, and that graduates can expect to earn, on average, far more than non-graduates over the course of their careers. Indeed, many of the financial benefits of higher education are not realised immediately after graduation.
  • This work demonstrates the continuing priority that the OfS places on the quality of courses. The quality of higher education in England is generally high. But this data brings into sharp focus the fact that there are profound differences in outcomes for students, depending on where they study and the subject they choose. While we have no plans to use this indicator for regulatory purposes, we are determined to tackle poor quality provision which offers a raw deal for students. We are currently consulting on our approach to regulating student outcomes with a view to raising the numerical baselines we have used previously and – subject to the outcomes of the consultation – will set out next steps shortly. But good outcomes are only part of the story and we are also planning further interventions to ensure that all students have a high quality academic experience and are assessed in a rigorous way.

Hardship

NUS published research into student hardship as part of a call for an improved student support package for England. A survey conducted by NUS found that:

  • One in three students have cut back on food for lack of money
  • One in ten students have relied on food banks during the pandemic.
  • Only one in three students find that student loans cover their living costs
  • Only 15% of students have accessed hardship funding
  • 70% of students are worried about their ability to manage financially.
  • One fifth of students stated they had been unable to pay their rent since January
  • Half of the students surveyed stated the income of someone who supports them financially has been impact by Covid-19.
  • One in 10 have taken out bank loans to stay afloat.

NUS say that those most likely to report the greatest suffering are already marginalised groups such as disabled students, students of colour, international students and those with caring responsibilities.

Summer jobs: Three out of four students surveyed have a job for the summer or are looking for one. Of those looking 42% have no confidence at all they will find one.

The NUS is calling on the UK government to increase its student support offer to £700m to match the spending seen in other parts of the UK. However, even in the devolved nations where students have been offered more generous packages the picture is troubled.

Free Speech

Since the publication of the new Bill (see our update from last week) there has been a lot of discussion about it and the issues that it is intended to address.  In one of the more balanced blogs on the topic, Nick Hillman writes for Research Professional about problems both with free speech on campus and with legislation designed to protect it. There is also a HEPI blog covering the same ground: People want free speech to thrive at universities … just not for racists, Holocaust deniers or advocates of religious violence.

The content comes from HEPI polling due to be released over the next month, however, given the Bill and reinvigorated national debate HEPI (and partners UPP) have released this element of the content early. If explores public attitudes towards free speech within the HE context.

  • In principle, the public is in favour of free speech
  • When asked, a majority of people say that people should be allowed to speak to students at university so long as their views are not illegal (55%).
  • A more libertarian perspective, where nobody is prevented from speaking to students because of their opinions is less popular, with only around a quarter (24%) of the public supportive of this position.
  • When asked, based purely on that one piece of information whether in principle such a person ‘should be allowed to speak at a university’, ‘should not’, or ‘don’t know’, people’s opinions range from a net 56% in favour through to a net -49%.
  • It is worth emphasising that between 13% and 22% of respondents answered ‘don’t know’ to the scenarios, showing either the complexity of the issue or an unwillingness to give an opinion.
  • From the scenarios in the polling, the principle of allowing a Holocaust denier the right to speak at university is one of the least supported, with a net percentage of -26% thinking they should be allowed to speak (29% ‘should’, 55% ‘should not’, 16% ‘don’t know’)
  • Conservative voters are more likely to be supportive of free speech for six of the issues, with Labour voters being more supportive of four of them.
  • There are large differences between major party voters on the questions of promoting the Empire, campaigning for reduced immigration levels (although both of these record substantial positive NET scores from Labour and Conservative voters), trans issues and gay marriage.
  • Younger people are more in favour of letting some people speak than older ones (particularly around crime, and communism and Trump supporters). But they are less supportive than older people of someone’s right to speak if they promote a positive role of the empire, are against gay marriage or don’t believe trans women are women (although in each of those cases, there are net positives within all age groups).
  • When split by gender, we can see that men are consistently more pro free speech than women. Across all ten of the examples, men are more likely to want the speaker to speak (though, net, they are also against allowing Holocaust deniers, jihadi advocates and racists to speak).
  • There are limited patterns by socio economic status.
  • When looking at the responses of graduates versus non-graduates, we find that graduates are more pro free speech than non-graduates on 8 of our 10 examples – with non-graduates being more supportive of speakers defending the Empire and (more narrowly) calling for restrictions on immigration.
  • Overall, there are major lessons for both sides of the debate. It is clear that a blanket call in favour of free speech is likely to find popular support. But the real finding is that people will respond very differently depending on the circumstances of the speaker in question.

The blog has the full range of charts subdivided by other factors such as socio economic status and gender.

The OfS also published a free speech blog: Robust but civil debate: how the OfS protects free speech on campus.

  • The Office for Students (OfS) stands for the widest possible definition of free speech – anything within the law…Our starting point is that free speech and academic freedom should be part of the culture of every university and college and be proactively promoted. Free speech and academic freedom are essential elements of higher education teaching and research; they are too precious and too fragile to be taken for granted. Academic staff must be able to undertake teaching and research with confidence and speak out in controversial areas without fear that this will affect their working environment or their careers. That is not always the case now.
  • Students should encounter, and be able to debate, new and discomforting ideas if they are to get the most out of higher education. Universities, colleges and other higher education providers, and their students’ unions and associations, should actively encourage robust, but civil, debate which takes different viewpoints seriously.

Donelan’s pickle

The ripples continue to spread from Michelle Donelan’s comments last week as politicians try to define a non-existent line between free speech and something nasty which isn’t illegal. Unfortunately for the government, if it isn’t illegal, then the Bill makes it very clear it has to be protected.  And gives people the right to compensation if they are prevented (once invited) from saying the nasty thing.  Research Professional have a blog.

Smita Jamdar wrote about the legal issues on Wonkhe.

Prevent/Free Speech parliamentary question: Michelle Donelan bungles her way through another explanation – the Prevent Duty should not be used to suppress free speech. The same response was used to these questions (Q1, Q2) to confirm the Government intend to proactively engage stakeholders with a wide range of interests and backgrounds during and after passage of the [Free Speech] Bill, including Muslim, East Asian and South East Asian students.

It’s all a bit of a muddle, as illustrated by the examples discussed in this Wonkhe article by Jim Dickinson.  What is clear is that there will be a lot of time spent worrying about how to find a way through the maze of conflicting requirements and trying to avoid a complaint through the many different channels available.

Access & Participation

The OfS have a blog by Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, who contemplates the last 20 years of widening participation actions. It’s a snooze fest so you might want to skip it unless you need a short potted history from the Government’s perspective. Chris manages to give the 20 year history without mentioning OFFA or his predecessor Les Ebdon.

Identifying disadvantage for Contextual Admissions: The Sutton Trust has published a report on disadvantaged students.  It finds that commonly-used markers of disadvantage are not effective at identifying low-income students as they enter HE and call for better data to target access work and contextual admissions. The report uses the data from 7,000 young people in the Millennium Cohort Study and explores how different measures of disadvantage relate to long-term family income. It aims identify the most effective measures of disadvantage – particularly to support universities in their outreach work and in using contextual admissions to widen access.

Dods present the key findings:

  • The number of years a child has been eligible for free school meals is the best available marker for childhood poverty (Pearson correlation = 0.69) and is therefore likely to be the best indicator for use in contextual admissions. FSM eligibility also has fewer biases then other measures, particularly for single parent families and renters who are more often missed by other measures. However, verified data on FSM eligibility is not currently available to universities.
  • POLAR, an indicator of university participation by local area, is currently a key measure used in contextual admissions in the UK. However, it was not designed to measure socio-economic disadvantage, and is very poorly correlated with low family-income (correlation = 0.22). It is also biased against key demographic groups, including BAME students.
  • TUNDRA, an experimental alternative to POLAR, is also a poor measure of income deprivation (correlation = 0.17), and suffers from similar biases. Both POLAR and TUNDRA are unsuitable for use in contextual admissions.
  • ACORN is the best area-level measure available, as it measures households at a very localised level (around 15 households), is designed to be comparable across the UK, and has a reasonably good relationship to low household income (correlation = 0.56). It is also slightly less biased than other area-based markers. However, as a commercial indicator, it is not free to use, and the methodology behind is it not openly published.
  • The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is another good option for an area level marker with a moderate relationship with low household income (correlation = 0.47), and the benefit of being publicly available. However, the measure is biased against those who are BAME, live in a single parent household and who rent. IMD is also not comparable across the four constituent countries that form the UK.

Recommendations:

  1. To improve targeting to contextual admissions and widening access schemes, universities and employers need further individual data about the socio-economic background of applicants, in particular Free School Meal eligibility. The creation of a “household-income” database, as suggested by the Russell Group, would be beneficial, but is likely to be difficult to implement. As it is already collected in official datasets, we suggest that information on the proportion of time young people have been FSM-eligible throughout their time at school would be a valuable alternative.
  2. There should be greater transparency and consistency from universities and employers when communicating how contextual data is used. …. The current situation – where different organisations use different indicators in different ways while not being transparent in their use – can lead to confusion.
  3. Universities and employers should prioritise use of the most robust measures for contextualised admissions and recruitment. Where free school meals eligibility is not available, priority should be given to ACORN, the best area-level measure, followed by the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). If a basket of measures is used, these most robust measures should be weighted most strongly.
  4. The POLAR and TUNDRA measures should not be used in contextual admissions for individual students. … its use by universities in their widening access schemes, or as part of contextual admissions should be avoided.
  5. The Office for Students should review the role of POLAR and the inclusion of specific measures of socio-economic disadvantage in advance of the next round of Access and Participation Plans. …. Free School Meal eligibility, as the basis for the official government definition of disadvantage in schools, would be the natural candidate and would enable a more joined-up national policy approach across schools and HE.

International

Dods tell us: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has launched registration for Quality Evaluation and Enhancement of UK Transnational Higher Education (QE-TNE). This is a new, innovative scheme to help UK degree-awarding bodies improve and enhance the quality of their international provision. Follow this link if you want to know more.

Parliamentary Questions

  • The cost for international students to quarantine: international students due to their visa status, that are facing significant financial hardship will have the opportunity to apply for a deferred repayment plan when booking their managed quarantine hotel room. Travellers who access hardship will be referred to a government debt collection agency (“Qualco”), who will perform an independent financial assessment and determine an appropriate payment plan. Several other PQs also specifically asked about international students from India.
  • Whether people on a spousal dependent visa can be given access to student finance.

Parliamentary Questions

  • Graduation: Providers may hold events, as long as they are compatible with COVID-19 regulations… We expect graduation ceremonies to go ahead, either physically in person but delayed in line with the roadmap, or to be held virtually.
  • Further Education Law course/Graduate Diploma funding
  • Labour’s Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has asked several questions on safeguarding mental health and suicide of placement students, and one on general student mental health provision.

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

Essay Mills Lord Storey has done it again – he’s come up in the Lords private members’ bills ballot again and intends to introduce his Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill on 24 May. We’ve lost count of which attempt this is to ban essay mills but he certainly is persistent.

AI & data graduates: Research into the UK AI labour market commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has been published. The research aims to create a set of recommendations on policy areas that the government and industry should focus on, to bridge skills gaps in the sector. Contact us if you would like a small summary.  In short, the research found skills shortages within the AI and data science sector with a range of employers reporting difficulties in recruiting the volume of workforce needed, also a lack of female and ethnic minority employees.

National Data Strategy: The Government have published their response following the National Data Strategy consultation. You can read the written ministerial statement and the consultation outcome.

  • Consultation feedback has confirmed that our framework is fit for purpose. Many respondents also recognised the need to rebalance the narrative, moving away from thinking about data use primarily as a threat to be managed, and instead recognising data as an asset that, used responsibly, can deliver economic and public benefits across the UK.  
  • The government response to the consultation builds on the insights we received, and details how we will deliver across our priority areas of action in such a way that builds public trust and ensures that the opportunities from better data use work for everyone, everywhere. This includes setting out our plans to create a National Data Strategy Forumwhich will ensure that a diverse range of perspectives continue to inform the strategy’s implementation. 

Civic Universities: Read the latest including content on the £50k UPP grant for the civic university network.

Cyber: The Government has published a press release on new plans to boost cyber resilience of the UK’s critical supply chains. There’s a policy paper they’re calling for views on too. The Government want input on:

  • How organisations across the market manage supply chain cyber risk and what additional government intervention would enable organisations to do this more effectively.
  • The suitability of a proposed framework for Managed Service Provider security and how this framework could most appropriately be implemented to ensure adequate baseline security to manage the risks associated with Managed Service Providers.

Light relief: Royal Appointment – last week’s Ivory Tower (a spoof column by Research Professional) piece provided a brilliant parody of the Queen’s Speech with many of the HE hot spots touched upon. Read for a little light relief. If you have trouble logging into Research Professional you can contact BU’s eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

And if you’ve ever gnashed your teeth whilst trying to respond to a Freedom of Information request this on is for you. Paul Greatrix highlights on Wonkhe the 30 silliest FOI requests ever to hit his desk. I challenge you to read it without finding one you think you’d like to know the answer to!

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 13th May 2021

Several controversial new Bills with implications for the HE sector were introduced through the Queen’s Speech – which was very political this year (you’ll see what we mean). There’s a lot to say so it’s a longer update and we’ve focussed mainly on the parliamentary shenanigans this week.

Regular BU readers will know that we like to look to the horizon fairly regularly to see what else is heading our way.  The stuff in the Queen’s Speech for HE, while interesting, is just getting us started on what this year will bring – the big stuff is all still to come. Here’s the latest version of the Policy team’s horizon scanning.

Queen’s Speech

You can read the full Queen’s Speech here and peruse the Briefing Pack (which contains the background information. The Queen’s Speech announced over 25 Bills. Proposed new legislation that is of most interest to HE:

  • Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
  • Professional Qualifications Bill
  • Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill
  • Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions legislation

Below is the most relevant content from the speech or the accompanying briefing notes, with new or key content in blue. We’ve more to say on the free speech and skills/lifelong learning elements so these follow below.   We’ve covered the research content in the research section below.

Professional Qualifications Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to:

  • Create a new framework to recognise professional qualifications from across the world to ensure the UK can access professionals in areas of a workforce shortage. This will replace the interim system that gives preference to professional qualifications from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
  • Enable the Government to provide UK regulators with a consistent set of powers to enter into agreements with regulators overseas to recognise professional qualifications.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Ensuring there is a clearly identified set of priority professions where there is demand for skills from overseas, such as nurses and teachers and enabling qualifications from around the world to be recognised.
  • Supporting our key regulated professions to attract the brightest and best talent from around the world by creating a new framework for recognising qualifications from overseas.
  • Allowing regulators to continue to set and maintain high professional standards.
  • Strengthening the UK’s global trading status, supporting the UK and regulators in realising opportunities for UK professionals to deliver services in markets overseas.
  • Improving the transparency around the entry and practice requirements of regulated professions, such as medicine, nursing and teaching.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Enabling the UK to implement its international agreements on professional qualifications and to allow regulators to enter into reciprocal agreements with their international counterparts to facilitate the recognition of professional qualifications. This will support UK professionals to deliver services in markets overseas.
  • Making sure regulators have the information and flexibility they need to regulate professionals effectively who have qualified in a different part of the UK.
  • Requiring regulators to publish details about entry and practice requirements making information about careers more accessible and raising public confidence in regulated professions.
  • Introducing a new system for recognising all architects who qualified overseas. This will expedite new international entrants to the Architects Register in the UK while requiring them to demonstrate an understanding of the specific UK landscape.

BEIS’ post speech press release: The Professional Qualifications Bill will mean skilled professionals from around the world can seek recognition to practise in the UK in areas where their skills are in need. Supporting the UK’s key regulated professions to deliver the vital services on which we rely is a priority for the government. Regulators are the experts in their field and must have the autonomy to set the standard required to practise in the UK, ensuring quality and safety.

Turing Scheme

  • The Government has introduced the Turing Scheme, a new international educational exchange scheme that has a global reach. This represents an opportunity for young people across the UK, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to work and study across the world, as we build back stronger.
  • The Turing Scheme is backed by £110 million of funding, and in its first year will support around 35,000 participants in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges around the globe. The sector has welcomed this new global scheme.
  • The Turing Scheme is UK-wide, with education institutions eligible to apply across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • The new scheme will help level up opportunities by targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas which did not previously have many students benefiting from Erasmus+, making life-changing opportunities accessible to everyone across the country.
  • The scheme will be global, with every country in the world eligible to partner up with UK institutions, unlike Erasmus+, which is EU-focused.
  • This scheme will be a key part of our long-term ambitions for a Global Britain. [Perhaps the subtext here is stop complaining about the funding cuts and the lack of reciprocal exchange this is all you’re getting. Unless you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.]

Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions – another very political one

The purpose of the legislation is to deliver the manifesto commitment to stop public bodies from imposing their own approach or views about international relations, through preventing boycott, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.

The main benefits of the legislation would be preventing divisive behaviour that undermines community cohesion by preventing public bodies from imposing their own approach or views about international relations via their own boycott, divestment or sanctions campaigns. There are concerns that such boycotts may legitimise antisemitism.

The main elements of the legislation are stopping public bodies from taking a different approach to UK Government sanctions and foreign relations. This will be in the form of preventing public institutions carrying out independent boycotts, divestments and sanctions against:

  • Foreign countries, or those linked to them.
  • The sale of goods and services from foreign countries.
  • UK firms which trade with such countries, where such an approach is not in line with UK Government sanctions.
  • The measures will cover purchasing, procurement and investment decisions which undermine cohesion and integration.

Draft Online Safety Bill

The purpose of the draft Bill is to:

  • Introduce ground-breaking laws to keep people safe online whilst ensuring that users’ rights, including freedom of expression, are protected online.
  • Build public trust by making companies responsible for their users’ safety online, whilst supporting a thriving and fast growing digital sector.
  • Designate Ofcom as the independent online safety regulator.

The main benefits of the draft Bill would be:

  • Delivering our manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online, through improving protections for users, especially children, whilst protecting freedom of expression.
  • Ensuring there is no safe space for criminal content and activity online.
  • Restoring public trust in the services that online platforms offer and supporting a thriving, fast growing digital sector.

The main elements of the draft Bill are:

  • Placing a duty of care on companies to improve the safety of their users online. This will require them to tackle illegal content on their services and to protect children from harmful content and activity online. They must seriously consider the risks their services pose to users and take action to protect them.
  • Requiring major platforms to set out clearly in their terms and conditions what legal content is unacceptable on their platform and enforce these consistently and transparently.
  • Requiring platforms to have effective and accessible user reporting and redress mechanisms to report concerns about harmful content, and challenge infringement of rights (such as wrongful takedown).
  • Designating Ofcom as the independent online safety regulator and giving it a suite of robust enforcement powers to uphold the regulation. This will include very large fines of up to £18 million or 10 per cent of annual global turnover – whichever is greater – as well as business disruption measures. The Government expects Ofcom to prioritise enforcement action where children’s safety has been compromised.
  • Boosting public resilience to disinformation through media literacy and supporting research on misinformation and disinformation.

Education Recovery Plan

As we build back from the pandemic, we are putting in place a package of measures to ensure no child is left behind as a result of the education and extracurricular activities they may have missed out on. We are working with the Education Recovery Commissioner – Sir Kevan Collins – to

  • develop an ambitious, long-term plan that builds back a better and fairer education system in England and delivers significant reforms to address the scale of this challenge.
  • As a first step, over the past year we have already provided over £2 billion to schools, colleges and early years settings to support pupils’ academic and wider progress. This includes £1.7 billion in funding to support education recovery and over £400 million is being invested to support access to remote education including securing 1.3 million laptops and tablets.

Research

Queen’s speech – this mostly not new, no legislation, just a little update on where we are

  • We are committed to making the UK a global superpower, with a world leading research and development environment. Innovation is a key pillar of our approach to tackling the effects of the pandemic and levelling up the UK.
  • R&D will continue to be critical to the economic and social recovery from the impact of COVID-19, enabling us to build back better for a greener, healthier and more resilient UK. Our goal is to further strengthen science, research and innovation across the UK, making them central to tackling the major challenges of today and in the future.
  • On average, each public pound invested in R&D across our portfolio ultimately leverages around £2 of additional private sector investment and creates £7 of net benefits.
  • The Government is investing £14.9 billion in R&D in 2021-22. This investment means Government R&D spending is now at its highest level in four decades. We are committed to increasing public expenditure on R&D to £22 billion, helping to deliver on our target to increase total UK R&D investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027.
  • In the R&D Roadmap, we set out our priorities for boosting innovation in the economy. We want to make the UK a world-leading place to innovate and bring new products and services to market.
  • BEIS will publish an Innovation Strategy this summer to inspire, facilitate and unleash innovation across the UK; supporting and harnessing the tremendous capability of UK innovators to boost future prosperity locally and nationwide.
  • We have already introduced the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill, to unleash the potential of the UK’s world-class research and science base.
  • Our Review of Research Bureaucracy will advise on practical solutions to substantially reducing unnecessary research bureaucracy, freeing up researchers to devote more time to their academic roles and pursuing world-class research.

BEIS published a press release on the research focussed announcements made in the Queen’s Speech stating it has reinforced the UK’s commitments to becoming a global science superpower, taking advantage of the UK’s departure from the EU, and strengthening our energy security as we transition to a net zero future.

Queen’s speech – Advanced Research and Invention Agency – again, not new, just a progress report

The ARIA Bill was first introduced in March 2021 (after a lot of prior discussion and Committee sessions) and has been carried over from the 2019-21 parliamentary session. The Government have committed £800 million to fund ARIA.

The purpose of the Bill is to:

  • Create the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) as a new statutory corporation to fund high-risk, high-reward R&D.
  • Give ARIA broad powers to take an innovative approach to research funding, and a mandate for higher tolerance for failure when pursuing high-risk research.
  • Define ARIA’s relationship with the Government, giving it autonomy and freedoms to manage its day-to-day affairs.
  • Support this agile operating model by freeing ARIA from some standard public sector obligations.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Creating a new agency to fund high-risk, high-reward research, to enhance the UK’s R&D offer and help cement the UK’s position as a global science superpower.
  • Supporting the creation of ground-breaking technology, with the potential to produce transformational benefits to our economy and society, new technologies and new industries. For example, the US Advanced Research Projects Agency took a similar approach to funding and supported the breakthrough research that underpins the internet and the Global Positioning System (GPS).
  • Diversifying the R&D funding system and providing innovative and flexible tools to push the boundaries of science at speed, reaching an even wider range of the research community.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Creating ARIA as a statutory corporation.
  • Providing broad functions for ARIA to conduct, support or commission research-related activities, with regard to the desirability of doing so for the benefit of the UK.
  • Explicitly tolerating failure in pursuing ambitious research, development, and exploitation.
  • Establishing an arm’s length relationship to Government, set out in ARIA’s procedure, membership and appointments processes, with limited information and direction rights for the Secretary of State.
  • Providing powers for the Secretary of State to dissolve ARIA that can only be exercised after 10 years.

This week Research Minister, Amanda Solloway, published a written ministerial statement setting out the £200,000 budget and use of an agency to source the best candidates for the ARIA CEO and Chair roles: Given the unusual autonomy placed on the CEO and Chair roles for ARIA, it is vital we source the best possible candidates, and get them started as soon as possible. We have planned an extensive outreach strategy to ensure we maximise the size of the talent pool. We will expand and enhance the search for the right individuals, including by procuring the services of a respected international Executive Search agency from the Government’s Commercial Framework. This agency will not have any part to play in candidate selection or interview sifting, these activities will be the responsibilities of BEIS Secretary of State and the ARIA Recruitment Panel, respectively.

Regional R&D

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a report on regional policy and R&D finding that geographic concentration of Research and Development (R&D) investment is a widespread characteristic of research globally and is not unique to the UK.

The report highlights that there is no single picture of the distribution of research funding, with the pattern depending on the metric used.

Recognising that the levelling up agenda is not the first attempt to stimulate regional investment and address regional inequalities in the UK, the authors argue that future regional initiatives must be built on firmer foundations – with much wider recognition of the complex picture of UK research funding among policymakers.

The report makes six recommendations to develop more resilient regional R&D initiatives.

  1. Set out measurable objectives: A clear vision and regional metrics for success could advance the regional R&D agenda.
  2. Focus on impact: Regional metrics should focus on the impact of research, rather than the level of investment.
  3. Build greater strengths through partnerships: Foster inter-regional collaborations to strengthen the impact of research.
  4. Create strong civic partners at regional and local levels: Enable civic authorities to lead regional R&D initiatives within a national framework.
  5. Integrate regional, national and global interests: Strong relationships between national and regional R&D are essential.
  6. Ensure financial sustainability for university research: Improving the sustainability of funding would enable stronger regional R&D.

Quick News:

  • Wonkhe highlight:
    • The Financial Times has an opinion piece, arguing that opaque bureaucracy is holding back university spinout companies in the UK and Europe.
    • The LSE Impact Blog has a piece from Elizabeth Gadd, which argues that a commitment to research assessment means a commitment to addressing the problem of global university rankings.
  • The Government have announced £22 million of new investment to build cyber security resilience globally including a focus on developing countries. The UK, jointly with INTERPOL, is setting up a new cyber operations hub in Africa working across Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda to support joint operations against cybercrime. The Foreign Secretary said: We are working with like-minded partners, to make sure that the international order that governs cyber is fit for purpose. Our aim should be to create a cyberspace that is free, open, peaceful and secure, and which benefits all countries and all people. We want to see international law respected in cyberspace, just as we would anywhere else. And we need to show how the rules apply to these changes in technology, the changes in threats, and the systemic attempts to render the internet a lawless space.

Admissions

The Post Qualification Admissions (PQA) debate is another significant Government intervention in HE right now. PQA has been bumbling along as an idea for years but the current Government seems set on change. The recent consultation highlights that although the Government are willing to push change through they’re undecided about which method, and all proposed approaches have flaws. You can read BU’s response to the consultation.   If you read our response, you’ll see we think it creates more problems than it solves.  As others have said, is this a solution looking for a problem.

Student Recruitment: Wonkhe have a blog on retaining the most useful and impactful methods on online student recruitment. It’s not just about engaging students who cannot afford to travel or live in rural/remote areas anymore. It also mentions targeted recruitment and the increasing harnessing of data: …recruitment and admissions professionals could begin to think of themselves as citizen-scientists, building data models to deliver the kind of intelligence and insight required to bring prospective students into the learning community – and enable those first exploratory steps on the road to a lifelong relationship.

Exams: Ofqual has released a non-technical guide for students explaining the awards process and how to appeal grades for A levels and equivalent technical and vocational qualifications.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

As introduced by the Queen’s Speech the purpose of the Bill is to: fulfil the manifesto commitment to strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities in England. [Interesting phrasingdo they feel they have to but not really want to, or is this hugely political Bill something they really care about?  It seems really odd to prioritise this one as one of the first Bills after the speech].  The Government’s press release trailing the Bill: Universities to comply with free speech duties or face sanctionsThe policy paper that has been the foundation for this is here (you may recall the SoS’s colourful and controversial introduction). Wonkhe also have an excellent blog on free speech – everything you want to know – which highlights some of the challenges we discuss below.

And others are questioning the whole premise for the Bill  – Phil Baty (THE) on Twitter referred to some stats, from the OfS Prevent monitoring report 2017-18 – issued June 2019

There are many stages for this before it becomes law and much discussion still to come: link to bill itself.  . 

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Strengthening legislation on freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education in England, with duties on higher education providers and students’ unions.
  • Ensuring that universities in England are places where freedom of speech can thrive for all staff, students and visiting speakers, contributing to a culture of open and robust intellectual debate.
  • Ensuring that academic staff feel safe to question and test received wisdom and put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without being at risk of losing their jobs, privileges or promotion.
  • Creating ways for staff, students and visiting speakers to get redress if they suffer a loss as a result of the duties being breached.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Including new freedom of speech and academic duties on higher education providers and students’ unions. The regulator, the Office for Students, will have the power to impose fines for breaches.
  • Ensuring that, for the first time, students’ unions at universities will have to take steps to secure lawful freedom of speech for their members and others, including visiting speakers.
  • Creating a new role of Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the Office for Students, with a remit to champion freedom of speech and academic freedom on campus, and responsibility for investigations of infringements of freedom of speech duties in higher education which may result in sanctions and individual redress.
  • Enabling individuals to seek compensation through the courts if they suffer loss as a result of breach of the freedom of speech duties.

We are concerned about the tangled web that this will create.  Some of the problems that are likely to come up are illustrated by this: Universities minister Michelle Donelan was interviewed on PM on Radio 4 yesterday, where host Evan Davies suggested the bill’s provisions could clash with government efforts to tackle antisemitism. Donelan subsequently posted a tweet thread rebutting the claim.  Donelan has since been contradicted by the PM and the Secretary of State.  This will all need to be clarified at some point, although of course, in practice, someone looking at an incident would in any event have to look at all the factual and contextual circumstances of an incident as well as the potentially conflicting rules.  The problem is this is all so political that these controversial disputes will be fought out in the open,  in an ill- or at best partially- informed social media frenzy.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

Since the Queen’s Speech the Government has introduced this Bill with the Lifetime Skills Guarantee as its centrepiece.  The Bill has not yet been published, but will form the legislative underpinning for the reforms set out in the previously published Skills for Jobs White Paper. The Government say the proposed new law create a post-16 and adult education and training system that is “fit for the future, providing the skills that people need for well-paid jobs and opportunities to train throughout their lifetime.” The rhetoric surrounding the introduction of the Bill reminds the PM outlined his vision for a radical change in skills provision in a speech last year. He made clear that the 50 per cent of young people who do not go to university have been historically deprived of the chance to find their vocation and develop a fulfilling, well-paid career. This rather sets the tone and the translucent Government intention behind the Bill. However, it remains to be seen whether it will work out as the Government intends.

And it will be expensive – so are there cuts to HE funding round the corner to help fund it?

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said As we rebuild from the pandemic, we’ve put reforming post-16 education and skills at the heart of our plans to build back better, and as Education Secretary I have championed the often forgotten 50 per cent of young people who don’t go to university. Through legislation, our vision is to transform the sector and expand opportunity right across the country, so that more people can get the skills they need to get good jobs.

Meanwhile Research Professional cover the comments from the Director for Fair Access and Participation (OfS) who states that universities “must be central to the vision” behind plans to improve access to further and higher technical education.

The Queen’s Speech introduced the purpose of the Bill is to:

  • Legislate for landmark reforms that will transform post-16 education and training, make skills more readily available and get more people into work as set out in the Government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper.
  • Enable people to access flexible funding for Higher or Further Education, bringing Universities and Further Education colleges closer together, and removing the bias against technical education.  Legislative measures will include a “new student finance system” transforming the current loan system with lifelong access to flexible funding equivalent to four years of higher-level study.
  • Deliver the Prime Minister’s new Lifetime Skills Guarantee, as part of our blueprint for a post-16 education system that will ensure everyone, no matter where they live or their background, can gain the skills they need to progress in work at any stage of their lives.
  • Increase productivity, support growth industries and give individuals opportunities to progress in their careers.
  • Strengthen the powers of the Office for Students to take action to address low quality higher education provision.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Offering adults across the country the opportunity to retrain in later life through the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, helping them to gain in-demand skills and open up further job opportunities.
  • Realigning the system around the needs of employers so that people are trained for the skills gaps that exist now and in the future, in sectors the economy needs including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing.
  • Improving the quality of training available by making sure that providers are better run, qualifications are better regulated, and that providers’ performance can be effectively assessed.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Putting employers at the heart of the post-16 skills system through the Skills Accelerator, by enabling employers and providers to collaborate to develop skills plans aimed at ensuring local skills provision meets local needs. Meaning employers will have a statutory role in planning publicly-funded training programmes with education providers through the Skills Accelerator programme.
  • Introducing the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, which will give individuals access to the equivalent of up to four years’ worth of student loans for level 4-6 qualifications that they can use flexibly across their lifetime, at colleges as well as universities.
  • Strengthening the system of accountability by extending existing powers for the Secretary of State for Education to intervene where colleges have failed to meet local needs, to direct structural change where required to secure improvement, and by amending the regulation of post-16 education and training providers to ensure quality.
  • Strengthening the ability of the Office for Students to assess and regulate Higher Education provision in England, ensuring that they can regulate in line with minimum expectations of quality.

There’s a lot to say about all this.

Is it truly lifelong? The change in funding has been welcomed by many but one wonders if the devil will be in the detail. In fact, is it really a cut?  The four years of flexible funding for level 4-6 qualifications doesn’t seem much of a change for most HE students on an academic route – currently this is all the Government funds as standard anyway. In effect this is just reinforcing that you only have one bite of the cherry. So if an individual decides to take some flexible modules across a range of programmes and at a mix of providers, perhaps even adding some technical or vocational pathway provision in and then decides their heart lies in a particular area which requires a full degree they will have run out of tuition funding before they complete their degree. Of course, the Government might respond that the mix of modules the individual undertook were all accredited and the credit can be transferred in. However, the reality is rarely that simple.

There is also the adult worker with an undergraduate degree in psychology who wishes to retrain in an ELQ exempt subject such as midwifery (so currently they get a second set of funding). Or the manufacturing worker who took a series of courses related to his role that their employer required them to use the Government funding for – who finds themself redundant due to automation and AI and without enough credit to retrain.

Flexibility is great as long as all providers accept the credit accumulated and it doesn’t chip away at the overall pot too much to prevent the individual achieving their aspirations.

Will the Government continue to provide a second bite of the cherry for priority or work shortage areas? Probably, but it still places a lot of pressure on the young people to choose wisely for that first degree and they likely will have had little careers advice, life or work experience to know where to choose to make their mark in the world. It also perpetuates current social mobility concerns – young people from disadvantaged areas are risk adverse so may be most affected by the drip drip of frequent calls on their “pot”.

For HE it could mean little change but for individuals there isn’t a safety net. I think we all recall the controversial advert the Government had to withdraw where Fatima the dancer was expected to retrain for a career in IT.

And there was some interesting stuff tucked away in the notes accompanying the Speech on giving the OfS additional powers to enforce their quality framework.

Wonkhe shared details of a report from London South Bank and Aston Universities which makes the case for a technically focused university role in the expansion of higher technical education. The joint report – “Truly Modern Technical Education” calls for flexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy and the proposed lifelong learning account to allow for higher education qualifications at levels four and five to form a part of a wider, collaborative, offer.

The report also argues that universities of technology could strengthen the link between skills and R&D, and that universities should play a leading role in the development of local industrial or economic strategies. It notes that 39 per cent of students enrolled in UK universities in 2019 were studying a “technical” subject.

There’s a blog too. If you read the blog ensure you read the comments responding to the blog too!

Covid

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan confirmed all students are permitted to return to campus on 17 May and acknowledged that while teaching may have finished for many they could engage in cocurricular and other on-campus activities before the end of term and enable them to have the option of engaging with their academic tutors in-person. This could include in-person career support, society events as well as other social student experiences that have had to remain remote up until now.

Research Professional report that the timing of student return shows government is ‘out of touch’ following comment from Paul Blomfield, MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students which stated the decision to reopen campuses so late in the academic year exposes the government as out of touch with higher education. He continued: After almost half a year of being told to stay away from campuses, students are frustrated about being an afterthought and angry about the lack of support from the government…On rents and lost earnings, they’ve been hit hard, without the support available to others.

UCU said: This looks like a stupid end to a stupid year beset by government mismanagement.

Read more from Research Professional on the reopening in Too Little, Too Late.  

Wonkhe: All students can now “return” to campus. But what for? Wonkhe’s short piece highlights how universities’ hands are still tied in offering Donelan’s meaningful ‘activities’:

  • Ah yes. Right down to this late in the academic year, DfE drops providers in it. It may as well have said “we’ve said they can, so it’s up to them if they don’t! If you feel you’ve not been getting the quality, quantity and access to tuition, you can complain to the OIA…”
  • It’s worth remembering that as of Monday it’s still the case that to be exempt from the indoor gatherings rules (rule of six or two households), the gathering has to be necessary for the purposes of a course of study or essential life skills training provided by a higher education provider.
  • All of which means that as this mass of students “return” to campus, your Environmental Sciences tutor could show you a film as part of your course, only they stopped actually teaching weeks ago. Meanwhile if the student Environmental Society wanted to show you that film in the same venue in the same way with the same risk assessment, they can’t. 

Back to Donelan’s letter which reminds about the additional £15 million hardship funding available to students through HE providers and restates the Covid testing regime. Also acknowledging the restricted access to work experience the letter announces the Graduate Employment and Skills Guide:

  • We are aware that 2021 graduates will have had fewer opportunities to gain work experience (fewer internships, placements, part time jobs), and participate in extracurricular activities, experiences that traditionally help students develop employability skills. My Department has worked with Universities UK, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), the Institute of Student Employers, the OfS and across the sector to understand what more we can do to support graduates who are looking to enter the labour market or continue their studies at this challenging time. As a result, we have developed the Graduate Employment and Skills Guide, which signposts graduates to public, private and voluntary sector opportunities, to help them build employability skills and gain work experience or enter the labour market. The Guide also links to further study options and resources on graduate mental health and wellbeing

There are also the Graduate Employability Case Studies: these case studies showcase the breadth of innovative work and range of new measures university and college careers services have introduced to support final year students and recent graduates as they transition from university to graduate life.

There are also no guarantees that September will be a ‘normal’ restart. The letter notes the Government will issue guidance on the return to campus and support providers to respond in an agile way to any public health issues that we might encounter.

The Government’s press release covering all the above is here.

Parliamentary News

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer conducted a mini-reshuffle of his shadow cabinet. The full list of appointments can be viewed here. Notable moves are:

  • Rachel Reeves has been appointed Shadow Chancellor, with Anneliese Dodds becoming Party Chair and Chair of Labour Policy Review
  • Angela Rayner has become Shadow First Secretary of State, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work
  • Wes Streeting has become Shadow Secretary of State for Child Poverty
  • Rosena Alin-Khan promoted from Shadow Minister for Mental Health to Shadow Secretary of State for Mental Health
  • Alan Campbell is Shadow Chief Whip

Online learning

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has published the outcomes of their latest project, ‘Learning from the Online Pivot’, which aimed to identify what worked well and what is likely to continue as part of HE sector practice beyond the pandemic.  The interim findings and case studies introduced in the briefing note form part of a wider set of insights and resources which will be made available to QAA Members in June 2021.

What matters? Reaffirming the role of outcomes-based approaches

  • Outcomes-based approaches sit at the heart of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education (2018) – the sector-agreed reference point for the assurance of quality and maintenance of standards.
  • Drawing on a sector survey and case study evidence, this project offers insight into how the UK sector built on considerable expertise in outcomes-based approaches to ensure positive student outcomes and progression.

What works? Exploring preliminary sector survey findings.  A number of positive legacies have emerged from the pandemic period including:

  • developing confidence and skills for more flexible delivery
  • ensuring the content and wording of learning outcomes do not unnecessarily constrain modes of learning and assessment
  • re-establishing understanding and oversight of institutional portfolios
  • re-engaging with students about the importance and purpose of quality assurance
  • rethinking and redesigning regulations for greater future resilience
  • reflecting on, and embedding, inclusivity in courses
  • increasing engagement with the idea and use of authentic assessment

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

  • Access and Participation: UUK have a blog by Amatey Doku on closing the gap.
  • Mental Health: This link has information on the Government’s £17 million mental health support package and the £7 million Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme. Both funds are for schools and colleges.
  • Levelling up: Wonkhe – Andy Westwood has a blog on the tensions between economics and politics that underlie the government’s levelling up agenda
  • Polar bears: No ducks to cheer you with this week but here’s the plan to re-ice the Arctic.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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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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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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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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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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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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