Tagged / academic quality

HE policy update – w/e 10th September 2021

Hello everyone!  After a long (not always hot) summer, we are pleased to be back with a catch up of all the summer news to get you ready for the exciting policy things we have to look forward to.  Some of it was highlighted in the Secretary of State’s speech at the UUK conference this week (see more on this below). Back in May we did a horizon scan (here for BU readers) which covers most of it.  A quick reminder of the things we have to look forward to:

  • The two big bills: the Skills bill and the Freedom of Speech bill.
  • Outcome of the PQA consultation run by the Department for Education – GW was not specific about when we can expect it, but it could be relatively soon. Questions still remain about the mechanism for change, as it’s not within the current remit of the OfS, and the plans they were consulting on couldn’t be implemented without a sector wide big bang approach.  “Persuasion” would seem to be the most likely approach, with a threat of legislation if not.  It’s controversial because universities have autonomy (at the moment) on admissions.
  • On that point about autonomy, we can expect the response to Augar (finally) with the Comprehensive Spending Review, which is now planned for 27th And strong hints from GW that minimum entry requirements will be part of that.  Billed as a way of controlling the spiralling cost of the student loan book, they can actually implement that one despite the autonomy thing, by saying that it’s fine, they just won’t fund student loans for those who don’t meet the requirements.  Although headline grabbing, it is unlikely to make a huge difference to actual student numbers across the UK.  And of course it will be challenged as a retrograde step for social mobility and levelling up.
  • So while we’re talking about social mobility, GW had things to say about that too, using had some dodgy data on outcomes to remind us that he believes that the growth in student numbers is supported by recruitment onto low quality courses that just shouldn’t be allowed. The current OfS consultation on licence condition relating to quality is part 1 of two, the second consultation due in the Autumn will be about absolute minimum baseline standards.  Taken together, these changes to the regulatory framework are very significant, not just in the implications for potential future funding arrangements but also in terms of the internal quality assurance and governance implications.
  • And linked to all that, we are also expecting a consultation on a new TEF framework in the Autumn.

You must have missed all this?  No?

Freedom of Speech Bill

Evidence on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill was heard in Parliament as part of the Committee Stage consideration of the Bill. This is a controversial Bill partly because the sector claims there isn’t a significant problem and commonly-cited example are either misrepresentations or overstate the problem. Also, in practice, implementation of the legislation will be very difficult given the scope for conflicts with other bits of legislation.  One person’s legitimate protest might be seen as an attack on another person’s right to speak freely, just as one person’s expression of free speech can be experienced by another person as a hateful attack linked to identity.  Where the lines will fall and who will draw them will be extremely controversial.

If you are interested in some of the thorny difficulties do read Research Professional’s coverage of this week’s sessions here, and this article features an academic who is in favour of the Bill.

There was also a separate parliamentary exchange on freedom of speech – content followed the Government’s favoured lines.

One of the witnesses presenting evidence to Parliament was Smita Jamdar, Partner and Head of Education at a law firm. She has written a short and informative blog calmly highlighting the drawbacks and limitations of the Bill. It is worth a read. Snippets:

  • If there is a dispute whether speech is or isn’t ‘within the law’ how can a body like the OfS judge that? That is and should be a matter for the courts. Interestingly, in the US, when the Trump administration proposed withholding funding from institutions that did not protect the constitutional right to free speech, it ultimately concluded that there would need to be a court decision that the constitutional right had been infringed before a regulatory or funding body could impose a penalty. 
  • …the new Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom… [should] be able to demonstrate impartiality…At the moment it will be an appointment of the secretary of state. There should be more safeguards around the appointment process.  
  • The bill defines free speech as the freedom to express views without ‘adverse consequences’, and this is both practically and philosophically absurd to try to enforce by legislation. We cannot legislate human nature, so while universities can facilitate free speech, they cannot and should not police people’s reactions to it, except to the extent that those reactions breach expected standards of conduct.  
  • I think all they [universities] can do is ensure they facilitate the right to speak and to act where anything is done that constitutes a breach of its disciplinary codes. They cannot be responsible for as abstract a concept as ‘adverse consequences’.

Spending Review, Fees & Student Loan rates

On Tuesday the Chancellor launched the 2021 Spending Review (SR21), which will conclude on 27 October 2021 alongside an Autumn Budget. The three-year review will set UK government departments’ resource and capital budgets for 2022-23 to 2024-25 and the devolved administrations’ block grants. Here’s the letter.

The Spending Review is significant for the HE sector as we are awaiting the official Government response to the Augar Review, particularly on which elements might be adopted. Since the report Augar has distanced himself from the fee cuts which made all the headlines, however, the Government is looking to reduce the cost of funding HE and student loans in particular, as well as seeking to refocus its contribution towards its national priorities.

As this parliamentary question highlights changes may come in a number of forms including changing the terms of student loans retrospectively.  Wonkhe have a blog –  Will Westminster ministers dare to lower the student loan repayment threshold after a week of concern about the tax rates facing graduates? Jim Dickinson reads the runes.  As mentioned above, requiring a minimum level of prior achievement to qualify for a student loan has also been on the cards since GW dragged it out of the back of the Augar report in January. Having a GCSE in English may be part of that after stories of a scandalous approach to grammar and spelling in university assessments hit the headlines earlier this year – that has found its way into the OfS quality regime now as well.

If you enjoy the speculation around the Budget you may like to read this Resolution Foundation briefing note which explores the Chancellor’s choices ahead of the autumn spending review.

Returning to student loans, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, has issued a written ministerial statement announcing a temporary reduction in the (Plan 2 & postgraduate) maximum student loan interest rate due to the recent decline in the prevailing market rate for comparable unsecured personal loans. The maximum Post-2012 undergraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate and the postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate will be 4.1% between 1 October and 31 December. From 1 January 2022, the Post-2012 undergraduate and postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rates will revert to the standard rate +3%. Further caps may be put in place should the prevailing market rate continue to be below student loan interest rates. More details in the DfE press release.

Meanwhile the House of Commons Library have published one of their lovely briefings on undergraduate student finance.

If your work interests cover student loans you’ll probably want to take in the full paper. He’s a teaser on living costs:

How much do students spend on living costs?

The 2021 Student Money Survey from Save the Student found that:

  • On average, students across the UK spent £810 per month on living costs. Just over half of this figure was spent on rent.
  • Spending was below average in Scotland (£781 per month), Wales (£800), and Northern Ireland (£756). Within England costs varied from £751 per month in the North West to £896 in London.
  • 66% of students worked part-time to help fund their education. This is lower than in previous surveys due to the pandemic’s impact on businesses.
  • 65% of students received a maintenance loan, 38% received some form of grant scholarship or bursary.
  • 66% of students received some support from their parents. On average this was worth £121 per month.
  • 76% worried about making ends meet, 60% said their maintenance loan was not large enough, and 43% said they had not been made aware of the full range of funding options available to them such as scholarships, grants, and bursaries.

Research

Open Access.  UKRI published its long-awaited Open Access Policy, determining which route to publication the funder will support with its £8 billion annual budget. Under the new rules, any UKRI-funded articles submitted for publication after 1 April 2022 will need to be made openly available with immediate effect on publication. The policy is not without controversy. The announcement follows a two-year consultation period with institutions, researchers and publishers—some of whom have criticised the plan, citing worries about profits and freedom for researchers to publish in their venue of choice. It also includes a new requirement for monographs, book chapters and edited collections published from 1 January 2024 to be made open access within 12 months of publication. UKRI will provide increased funding of up to £46.7m per annum to support the implementation of the policy.

For peer-reviewed research articles, key requirements of the new policy include:

  • immediate open access for research articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022
  • either via the version of record in a journal or publishing platform, or by depositing the authors accepted manuscript (or if permitted by the publisher the version of record) in an institutional or subject repository
  • CC BY licence and CC BY ND by exception, including a requirement to notify publisher of licensing at the point of submission.

Key requirements of the new policy for monographs published on or after 1 January 2024 include:

  • the final version of a publications or accepted manuscript being made open access via a publisher’s website, platform or repository, within a maximum of 12 months of publication
  • CC BY licence preferred, but NC and ND licences are permitted.

To support successful implementation of the policy UKRI will work with the sector to put in place supporting interventions, including:

  • substantially increasing UKRI funding support for open access in recognition that this is required to meet the new policy intent and the extension of our policy to long-form outputs
  • dedicated funding to Jisc in support of sector open access negotiations, with guidance and infrastructure to aid the up-take of UKRI compliant open access options
  • continuing our work to support culture change around publication, in that research should be recognised for its intrinsic merit rather than where it has been published.

R&D Spend. The Office for National Statistics published the annual estimates of research and development performed and funded by business enterprise, higher education, government, UK Research & Innovation and private non-profit organisations:

  • Expenditure on research and development (R&D) that was performed in the UK rose by £1.3 billion (3.4%) to £38.5 billion in 2019; but this was the lowest percentage growth since 2013.
  • The largest components of R&D expenditure were the business sector at £25.9 billion (67% of the UK total), followed by the higher education sector at £9.1 billion (24%).
  • Total R&D expenditure represented 1.74% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019; the long-term trend has been for very small growth over time with the value up from 1.59% in 2008 and 1.72% in 2018.
  • Funding of UK R&D from overseas increased by 4.1% to £5.6 billion in 2019 compared with 2018; this was 0.8% higher than the peak in 2014 of £5.5 billion.
  • The UK spent £577 per head of population on R&D in 2019; this is up from £561 in 2018.

ODA.  Universities UK International (UUKi) published the findings from their ODA survey 2021 which set out to understand the impact of ODA R&D funding on UK universities and how the UK can continue to use ODA R&D with developing countries in support of the UN SDGs and UK strategic priorities.  Recommendations:

  1. There must continue to be significant public funding available for research on global challenges as defined by the UN SDG framework in partnership with LMIC partners, whether as part of the ODA budget or the R&D budget
  • ODA-funded R&D schemes such as GCRF and Newton have helped UK HEIs to engage with global challenges and create partnerships with researchers and institutions in LMICs.
  • Universities and their partners want to continue working to address global challenges. The source of funding is less important than the activity which it supports.
  1. Funding for research programmes, once confirmed by a UK funder, must be guaranteed for the life of the project to ensure that legal commitments are met.
  • Policy and funding stability are critical to developing long-term, sustainable and impactful research partnerships.
  • The impact of mid-project grant terminations or cuts on LMIC partners is acute. The UK’s reputation as a trusted partner is severely undermined by such actions.
  1. Future global challenges funding should include dedicated support for universities to build LMIC partnerships through mobility and other career development opportunities, laying the foundations for successful projects further down the line.
  • Universities have benefitted from a flexible funding mechanism (GCRF QR/institutional/block awards) which has allowed them to build fruitful partnerships through pump-priming and career development activity.
  • These types of activities are a key part of research and development but are now at risk. Funders should consider how these activities will be supported in future allocations.
  1. Equitable partnerships should remain a core principle of any future funding for global challenges.
  • LMIC partners should not be overburdened by administrative requirements.

Quick News

  • The Government announced in injection of £113 million for the UKRI  Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, in total the Future Leaders scheme is promised £900 million over a 3-year period. Science Minister Amanda Solloway: Supported by £113 million, the Future Leaders Fellowships will equip our most inventive scientists and researchers across the country with the tools to develop and bring their innovations to market quickly – all while helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.
  • Wonkhe blog: Alternative metrics that better reflect the attributes of good-quality research are needed.
  • The Regulatory Horizons Council has published a new report on the future of technological innovations and how regulation can act as an enabler. The paper evaluates the future socio-economic context in which technological innovations will be delivered from 2021-30. The results are based on a series of interviews with experts focused on engineering and energy, health and life sciences, and digital data and cyber technologies.
  • UKRI announced support for 200 doctoral students to work on pressing research challenges with UK businesses through a £24 million investment. The studentships are through ICASE –  Industrial Co-operative Awards in Science and Technology.
  • Researcher organisation Vitae, supported by UKRI, has published their latest survey results on the impact of the pandemic on researchers and research activities. Familiar themes emerge – poor mental health, increased bullying and Covid caring responsibilities and shielding had a big negative impact, but regaining the commute time and unexpected opportunities were positives. It also questioned the perception of researchers on their future careers:
    • 24% predicted a very negative impact of COVID-19 on their career prospects (this rises to 34% of postgraduate researchers and 28% of research staff)
    • 60% predicted a negative impact or a very negative impact on their career prospects. This rises to 65% for those with child-caring responsibilities and 62% for female researchers.

UKRI say: One of the key action points highlighted in this survey is for UKRI to drive ahead with our work to improve research culture. We will continue to work collaboratively to promote and support an inclusive, respectful and safe working culture, including through our ongoing implementation of the recently launched People and Culture Strategy.

Williamson speaks…

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, spoke at the UUK annual conference this week. Below are the key points, none of which are new news, although chilling in terms of tone.  The content was as per the Research Professional predictions.

There has been relentless parodying of GW on twitter and in the press after he spoke about the importance of face to face contact – through a video link.   Wonkhe have entertaining coverage of the speech. Post-event Research Professional’s short write up was cynically entertaining too.

Quality:

  • We need to recognise that just sending kids with low academic achievement into universities isn’t going to magically change them into highly mobile graduates – indeed, it’s more likely to lead them to failure and poor outcomes. And that there is no substitute for the hard grind of driving up standards.
  • Quality is what will deliver a meaningful qualification that offers the right skills and preparation for a working life. And quality is what will justify the huge investment that students are making to study. But quality covers more than teaching. Quality extends to the value of the degree. You represent the best of the best but to keep that reputation for excellence, you must be vigilant in showing that the degrees awarded to students are a reliable indicator of academic achievement.
  • Students and employers need to know that a degree means something. And not all degrees are created equal. There have been too many instances where pockets of low quality have undermined the teaching or value for money that students and taxpayers rightly expect.
  • …It is so disappointing to see some in the field of higher education cling to the myth that the quality of a course or degree makes no difference to a student’s outcomes. While it may be comforting for some institutions, what it is actually saying is that they don’t believe in education.

Back to campus: 

  • I think all of us would agree that every student is entitled to expect a high-quality, rich learning experience. As they plan their futures, they will be asking themselves how best they can get it… The [Student Academic Experience Survey] survey shows that in-person teaching is now one of the top three areas singled out for improvement by students. This is something we cannot ignore. While the switch to online teaching was a necessary and vital way of keeping young people learning in as safe a way as possible, we have now moved on and students quite rightly expect that they can study in person alongside other students
  • …What I do want to make clear is that I do not expect to see online learning used as a cost-cutting measure. If there’s a genuine benefit to using technology, then it should be done – and Sir Michael Barber’s Digital Teaching and Learning Review sets out some of the opportunities. But that is not an excuse to not also deliver high quality face-to-face teaching…And let’s face it, in this new era of choice students don’t have to settle for poor value.

Admissions: The last two years have emphasised the importance of delivering on our plans for PQA – not only to stabilise the system but to empower students to have the very best opportunities to succeed. That is why I am determined to accelerate our plans to bring forward this important reform

Access & Participation:

Working with schools is still in favour, higher level technical provision remains a goal – disappointing that Williamson links it with a statement on disadvantage (i.e. it’s for other peoples’ children), and are SpLD students to be further disadvantaged? Note alternatives such as assistive technology are not mentioned by Williamson.

  • …we will shortly be appointing a new Director of Fair Access and Participation…. I’d like to see our access regime re-centred on the principles of equality of opportunity and high standards, and to see higher education providers working in partnership with schools to drive up attainment.

A confusing bit on technical education:

  • I believe more universities should be more willing to carve out expertise in more technical fields, excelling on a different set of axes to those used by the traditional league tables. Too often, this can be interpreted as meaning ‘everyone must have prizes’, or that all universities and courses are equal. This is not what I mean: Professor David Phoenix’s Social Mobility Index demonstrates that some universities, such as my old university of Bradford, Aston and Imperial College and others, perform particularly strongly at transforming students from disadvantaged backgrounds into highly employable graduates. A real-world focus is not about lowering aspirations, but achieving excellence through a focus on STEM, applied research, close links with employers and a ruthless focus on employability.
  • Lowering the bar for certain groups of students serves no one. It is patronising to expect less from some students under the guise of supporting them. Effective academic writing requires good spelling, punctuation and grammar from every student.

Wonkhe on Access:

  • Millward is leaving, and will shortly be replaced by someone that DfE appoints who Williamson is confident will: [From the speech]“See our access regime re-centred on the principles of equality of opportunity and high standards, and to see higher education providers working in partnership with schools to drive up attainment.”
  • That’s code for ‘less equality of outcomes, please’ – handy if your access outcomes would be affected by OfS causing the shuttering of some provision based on the where the baseline is – and to drive home the point, he also said this about subjects with a proceed figure of under 50%: [From the speech]“Students recruited on to such courses should not be able to be counted against a university’s access targets for access.” That’s actually a pretty significant statement. We all know that some subjects ‘carry the weight’ on access in some universities – and it’s long been argued that it’s bizarre that OfS doesn’t publish APP data at subject level by provider, a problem if you’re trying to understand social mobility in medicine or law or whatever. Looks like that will shortly change.

Wonkhe correcting the line on apprenticeships –

  • Williamson’s speech was largely a collection of the government’s greatest hits…and repeats of dodgy lines like this one on apprenticeships: “Five years after completion, the average Higher Apprentice earns more than the average graduate.”
  • That that’s a stat skewed by a very small number of high level apprenticeships in “leadership” that are primarily taken by people already in well-paid jobs – something in other speeches he’s appeared keen to put a stop to – was not mentioned.
  • And confusingly we got both “we need to do something for the 50% that don’t go to university” and “we need to change the choices of many that do”. Young people deserve to have choices, but only ones approved by DfE. Who is it that the government’s reform agenda is designed to address again?

Research Professional weren’t impressed with Williamson: The rest of the speech bordered on incomprehension and mutual contradiction as the education secretary said that “sending kids with low educational attainment to university will not turn them into high-flying graduates” before going on to praise David Phoenix’s social mobility index, which demonstrates precisely the ways in which universities turn disadvantaged entrants with poor results on paper into [checks notes] “high-flying graduates”.

Culture wars:

  • Yet too often, some universities seem more interested in pursuing a divisive agenda involving cancelling national heroes, debating about statues, anonymous reporting schemes for so-called micro-aggressions and politicising their curricula. Vice-chancellors who allow these initiatives to take place in their name must understand that they do nothing but undermine public confidence, widen divisions, and damage the sector.
  • I call on you to help bring our nation together, instead of driving our nation apart. Rather than manufacturing offences from the past, let us instead come together to tackle injustice and promote equality for the students and staff on today.

University spending: The Augar review concluded that the amount spent on teaching seemed low, while around £1,000 was spent per student on corporate activities and around £500 per student on marketing…I remained concerned that the sector isn’t doing enough to shift more of its income towards direct activity that improves learning outcomes or vital services like mental health support, and less on its own administration…As recipients of tens of billions of pounds of public money, universities have a duty to be careful stewards of taxpayers’ money. Our world reputation is built on the confidence we have in our academics, in their passion, their drive and their commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. We need to free them to do what they do best.

Also covered in the full speech: Lifelong loans, short course funding, something confusing about “modules”, antisemitism.

Rethinking HE

Education think tank EDSK published Value-able lessons. Here’s a teaser-

  • The debate over ‘low value’ HE has reached a stalemate. Numerous government ministers both past and present and the independent review of post-18 education…have criticised universities for delivering degree courses that do not offer sufficient ‘value’ – primarily in the form of higher graduate salaries and better employment prospects.
  • … The level of outstanding student loan debt was an eye-watering £161 billion at the end of 2019/20 and is set to grow by £15-20 billion every year for the foreseeable future. It is no wonder, then, that the Government is keen to reduce the cost to taxpayers of the Higher Education (HE) system, which is why bearing down on supposedly ‘low value’ courses is a tempting proposition.
  • … it is difficult to see how an HE institution (HEI) can confidently identify, let alone reduce, the provision of ‘low value’ courses if they are not privy to how ‘value’ is being defined. This may explain why HEIs have largely dismissed the accusations of ‘low value’ degrees while also questioning the metrics and approaches being employed to justify such criticism. In doing so, the HE sector has inadvertently given the impression that they are keener to defend the status quo than they are to put forward any alternative solutions to the Government’s financial predicament.
  • the ‘value’ of an institution or course is ultimately a subjective judgement
  • Neither the HE sector nor the Government are blameless in the debate over ‘low value’. The sector has been quick to criticise the Government’s stance on ‘low value’ courses and institutions without offering alternative solutions. At the same time, the Government has focused too much on what it doesn’t want from HE without explaining what it does want instead. If the Government continues to rail against ‘low value’ HE without describing a clear vision for what a ‘high value’ sector looks like, there can be few complaints from ministers if universities continue down their present path. What’s more, the notion that politicians and civil servants can judge the ‘value’ of any course or institution across the country based on little more than graduate salaries, employment outcomes or drop-out rates is not a tenable proposition from either a policy or statistical perspective. The DfE and OfS should acknowledge that the subjectivity surrounding the concept of ‘value’ is precisely why they must allow the choices of students, employers and other stakeholders to drive out ‘low value’ HE rather than trying to intervene themselves.

If you’ve read this far you’ll probably feel this all seems quite reasonable. Click here and scroll down to a succinct version of Recommendations – they certainly suggest a shake up of the HE sector.

Admissions

Record high numbers of students were accepted for undergraduate full time programmes in 2021-22 – UCAS: This means 37.9% of the entire UK 18 year old population is due to start a full-time undergraduate course, also a new high and surpassing last year’s equivalent figure of 36.4%. The number of disadvantaged students accepted has increased from 22.6% in 2020 to 23.5% in 2021. EU students numbers continue to plummet while non-EU international student numbers are up 5%. Less students (34% less) were placed through Clearing likely because record high grades meant more students were confirmed for their first choice programme. Overall, across all ages and domiciles the volume of students accepted is slightly down (less than 2%) on 2020 – however, Clearing remains open and final figures will be announced before Christmas.

UCAS have updated their interactive stats dashboards with the new data, and if you prefer words to hard numbers there is also a blog from UCAS’ Head of Data on Wonkhe.

Exam results – Education Select Committee (held 7 September)

Schools minister, Nick Gibb, was question by the Education Select Committee about the 2020-21 grade inflation. The Committee Chair asked if the Department was responsible for the widespread grade inflation and wanted to know what the driving factors were. Gibb responded that they were talking about a teacher assessed system, with very clear quality assurance processes in place. They had a lot of long conversations with stakeholders to get the best system that they could for their assessments. Gibb added that all exam results were backed up by the evidence that teachers had produced. He thought that teachers were the best people to estimate what grades their students should get.

On the gender based attainment gap in the exam results Gibb stated they were taking any attainment gap seriously and addressing it. The reasons for the differences were peculiar to this year and last year and were not an attainment trend. Gibb said that he did not think that it was right to draw wider conclusions about the education policies in place based on this attainment gap between boys and girls.

On private versus state education Gibb was questioned whether the grades actually represented the gap between the independent and state sector because of the differential learning loss that happened. Gibb responded that the independent sector was largely selective and was getting very high grades in general. The percentage increase actually showed trends that were existent even pre-pandemic. Gibb finished by saying that they had always tried, through reforms, to make the state sector competitive with the independent one and the gap between the two was narrowing each year before the pandemic.

On future exam results a Committee member asked what process was in place to balance fairness for future cohorts and maintain assessment standards.

Ian Bauckham (Interim Chair of Ofqual) stated that the decisions for 2022 would be slightly different than those taken for 2021. There were a range of risks and considerations that they would take into account, including the significant rise in high grades that they had seen in previous years, as well as fairness towards students. Bauckman ensured the Committee that they would reach a view that balanced all their interests and was cognisant of the risks involved while also being fair. It was stated that decisions on the 2022 exam system would be publicised in October. With a consultation to be launched imminently on what information would need to be gathered in the event that in-person exams cannot go ahead in 022. Gibb stated that his view was to assume exams would go ahead but to also prepare for the worst. Information on current appeals (relating 2021 results) will be published in December. The Chair asked if the grade inflation for 2021/22 would be compared to that in 2019 or that in 2020/2021. Gibb replied that this was a very technical and difficult decision that they would make public in October.

In Education Questions this week Nick Gibb stated the grading system would remain the same and that rumours of A** grades were just rumours.

Exam Results

Statistics from the DfE on A-level results day showed that:

  • Comparison of grades between this year and last year showed no notable changes in historic disparities between groups of students and types of school; 88.4% of grades are A* to C at A level, compared to 87.8% in 2020.
  • There was a 15.8% increase relative to last year in the proportion of grades at A and A* in academies, compared with 15.2% in independent schools. That represents a 5.7pp increase in the proportion of grades at A and A* from last year in academies, compared with a 9.3ppt increase in independent schools.
  • In real terms, this means there are 1.21 times more A and A* grades in academies, compared to 1.17 times more A and A* grades in independent schools, in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • Maths remains the most popular subject at A level with a 3.8% increase in entries this year;
  • 4% increase in STEM subjects, with 1.9% more girls taking A levels in Maths and 8.3% more in Physics, building on significant progress in this area since 2010.
  • Over 340,000 certificates awarded to a wide range of students who have undertaken Level 3 vocational and technical qualifications, with results broadly similar to previous years.

Access and Participation

Research Professional report on the IPPO review – details below.

  • The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to universities’ widening participation initiatives, according to a report commissioned by the Department for Education.
  • “rapid evidence review” carried out by the International Public Policy Observatory, a collaboration between think tanks and universities, found that Black, Asian and minority ethnic school leavers and those from lower socioeconomic groups had achieved lower grades in 2020, after changes to exams caused by the pandemic, than their benchmark cohort in 2016.
  • Working-class school leavers were also more likely, as a result of the pandemic, to be rethinking their plans to attend university, while the training of teachers and healthcare workers has been particularly badly hit by education closures.
  • The study, undertaken after a recommendation by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, is one of four evidence reviews relating to the pandemic’s impact on different levels of education.
  • It suggests that mentoring, plus financial incentives and support with university entrance applications, could help mitigate some of the negative effects on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

You will also be interested in the potential changes ahead for Access and Participation mentioned in Gavin Williamson’s speech above.

Parliamentary Question – what steps he is taking to ensure students from low socio-economic backgrounds can progress to university following the removal of BTEC courses.

International

Parliamentary Questions: International Student vaccinations; International students quarantine hardship: International students facing significant financial hardship as a result of the requirement to quarantine in a managed quarantine facility can apply for hardship arrangements, including deferred payment plans. In exceptional circumstances reductions and waivers may be granted. We will continue to keep our hardship policy under review.

International students were also mentioned several times in this short Q and A debate. Minister Williamson side stepped the questions on quarantine and hardship.

International student recruitment: Why aren’t we second? Part 2: UUK International (UUKi) published analysis stating that UK universities are losing ground in the race for international students because of high costs, visa difficulties and limited marketing in the face of rising competition from other countries. The report makes a series of recommendations for cementing the UK’s global popularity as a study destination and achieving the UK government’s ambitions for international student number growth. UUKi say the analysis draws on in-depth research and focus group interviews with prospective students, alumni, and recruitment agents in eight recruitment markets in three categories: where the UK should maintain its position (Nigeria, Saudi Arabia), regain its standing (India, Pakistan) and develop its recruitment (Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam).

The study reveals that students consider cost effectiveness, return on investment and career options when choosing a study destination abroad. The factors influencing their decision most include affordability (especially scholarship availability), post-study work opportunities, welcome and safety, and the quality of education.

The costs and benefits of International student to the UK economy: HEPI published a major international student report along with Universities UK International (UUKi) this week updating their previous in-depth analysis. Dods summarise the report:

Every part of the UK is financially better off – on average by £390 per person – because of international students.  The research finds that just one year’s intake of incoming international students is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy.  

 Economic benefits

  • The tuition fee income generated by international students studying in the UK, as well as the knock-on (or ‘indirect’ and ‘induced’) effects throughout the UK economy associated with UK universities’ spending of this international fee income on staff, goods, and services;
  • The income associated with the non-tuition fee (i.e. living cost) expenditure of international students, and the subsequent knock-on effects of this expenditure throughout the wider economy (i.e. the indirect and induced effects); and
  • The income associated with the spending of friends and family visiting international students whilst studying in the UK. Again, this expenditure leads to subsequent knock-on (indirect and induced) effects throughout the UK economy.

Public costs

  • The teaching grant costs incurred by the Office for Students, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council, and the Department for the Economy for Northern Ireland to fund higher education institutions’ provision of teaching and learning activities (for EU students only);
  • The costs associated with the tuition fee support (through loans and/or grants) provided to EU students studying across the home nations; and
  • The costs associated with the provision of other public services to international students or their dependants. This includes the costs associated with public healthcare (net of the NHS Immigration Health Surcharge); housing and community amenities; primary and secondary-level education received by dependent children; social security; public order and safety; defence; economic affairs; recreation and culture; environmental protection, and other general public services. We also include the costs associated with ‘non-identifiable’ public expenditure incurred by the UK Exchequer on behalf of the UK as a whole (e.g. expenditure relating to the servicing of the national debt), as well as expenditure on overseas activities (e.g. diplomatic activities etc.). This approach underestimates the economic benefits and overstates the economic costs associated with hosting international students in the UK. As such, the estimates of the net economic impact and the benefit to cost ratios should be considered at the lower end of the plausible range.

Soft Power: HEPI also published their annual Soft-Power Index for 2021 considering the impact of world leaders who were educated in countries other than their own.

Student Mobility: Turing

The Government has published which institutions will receive funds under the new Turing Scheme for 20212/22:

  • 363 projects funded (out of 412 applications)
  • At a total fund cost of £96,215,683
  • For 40,032 placements
  • 8% of the placements are for participants from disadvantaged backgrounds

Student Voices

Wonkhe have been listening to the incoming Student Union Officers across the country and have an interesting new blog highlighting 7 similarities in the Officers’ manifestos and concerns. They suggest it clues the sector in on key concerns for the current student body. The blog is worth a read and here are the 7 factors to watch out for in short form:

  1. Focus on diversity.
  2. Volume of complaints.
  3. Access to people and things on a “course”.
  4. Consistent standards/fairness – “how is it allowed or tolerated that one module leader can return your email in a week and another six – and nobody even says sorry”. Also there’s renewed interest in the courses that subsidise other courses.
  5. Done to/authoritarianism – the lack of a plan or any meaningful monitoring behind big policy issues at many universities. “I asked what the actual plan was to close the gap and I was told to discuss that ‘offline’” and “the target is two weeks but they never publish the data” are the sorts of comments that have come up with fascinating regularity. 
  6. Students as activist consumersIt is about people responding to emails, tackling pockets of manifestly poor teaching and reducing wait times to see mental health triage. This is the most interested in education – its regulation, its economics and the system that underpins its delivery – I can ever remember SU officers being. Increasingly, it feels more and more like they want students to be treated like humans in a mass higher education system – which will need more than pockets of goodwill and a policy review, and much faster feedback cycles than the NSS.
  7. Deep concern over learning loss, grade inflation and mental health – proactive clubs, reaching out, early identification and academic and mental health support

Meanwhile HEPI have a collection of essaysWhat is the student voice? Thirteen essays on how to listen to students and how to act on what they say. It includes:

  • Students as governors: walking the tightrope and shouting into the void
  • What do students think and how do universities find out?
  • Disabled students: the experts we forget we need
  • Using surveys to represent the student voice and demonstrate the quality of the experience
  • The virtuous loop: capturing the student voice through course and module evaluation
  • The student voice at the heart of the system (but only when they’re thinking what we’re thinking)
  • The Office for Students’ Student Panel in their own words
  • The importance of the NUS for representing the voices of students
  • Restoring the real student voice
  • Students’ voices in curriculum design
  • The student voice and accommodation
  • Mature students: a silent or a silenced voice?
  • International students in the UK – perspectives put in context

Parliamentary Questions

  • Ethnicity degree outcome gap
  • AntisemitismAdoption of the IHRA definition is only a first step, and while the government considers that adoption of the definition is crucial, it is not enough on its own. That is why I will continue to work with the sector to ensure it better understands antisemitism and does more to end it.
  • Students not benefiting from the 30 hours free childcare provision because not classified as working.

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.

There have been a myriad of new consultations and inquiries over the summer. The above document contains only those relevant to general HE matters. Academic colleagues will likely wish to peruse the wider list of specialist consultations and inquiries that may be relevant to their research interests. This is shared each week through the policy influence digest. Contact us if you are not a subscriber but wish to access this list.

Other news

Online learning: Wonkhe report – Two-thirds of students rated their experiences with online learning positively, but only a third felt that universities were listening to their concerns. That’s according to Jisc’s annual student digital experience insight survey, which found that just over half (51 per cent) of students received support in their transition to digital learning. With a majority of students reporting barriers such as poor wifi connection and a lack of specialist software, Jisc calls on universities to better support students through digital infrastructure and online-specific course design.

Inclusion & academic confidence: The UPP Foundation Student Futures Commission published their interim report – read the key points in this Wonkhe blog which set out priorities for supporting student success post-Covid.

Complaints: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) published their third set of case studies outlining complaints about changes to course delivery and assessments, accommodation, and disciplinary action arising from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It includes examples where the HE provider has agreed to settle the student’s complaint because of the OIA’s decision in a similar case.

Nursing: Nursing workforce (very short) debate in Parliament (Lords) on 8 September.

Cyber security: Wonkhe blog – Offering flexible working conditions to skilled IT professionals could mean the difference between flunking and surviving a cyber-attack, says John Chapman.

NSS: Wonkhe – The Office for Students has published data for its key performance measure 10, which tracks the proportion of students who responded positively to the National Student Survey question on overall satisfaction. This number dropped 7.4 percentage points compared to the 2019-20 academic year, reaching an all-time low of 74.9 per cent. OfS says it is “working on a target for this measure”.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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He policy update for the w/e 25th June 2021

We’re a little late this week, and the sector was firmly back in the fast lane – we’ve a host of reports and activity for you. Monday’s Education Questions provided parliamentarians with the chance to put Gavin Williamson and Michelle Donelan on the spot. The Secretary of State and the CEO of the OfS also spoke to the sector at a HEPI conference, after HEPI published their annual student academic experience survey.

Research news

New National Science and Technology Council: The PM has announced  a new National Science and Technology Council, to provide strategic direction for the use of science and technology to address national and global challenges. Boris will Chair the Council with Sir Patrick Vallance as National Technology Adviser (on top of his other roles!). Vallance will also be responsible for developing a new Office for Science and Technology Strategy, which will be based in the Cabinet Office. The Office will support the ministerial council to strengthen Government insight into science and technology, so it can be placed at the centre of policies and public services. Potential priorities identified for this unified work are “developing technology to reach net zero, curing cancer and not only treating it, and keeping our citizens safe at home and abroad.”

A few days later the Government announced a £50 million upgrade for specific infrastructure projects and scoping studies in line with the new ministerial Council and Office for Science and Technology Strategy. The investment will be delivered through grant funding through UKRI’s Infrastructure Roadmap programme.

Research Professional consider the PM’s leadership of the new Office, the Government’s interference in Science and Vallance’s juggling of the new role with his other significant appointments. Excerpt:

  • The reality of an Office for Science and Technology Strategy run out of the Cabinet Office is that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UKRI are being sidelined in strategic decision-making. There now has to be an open question over how much of the planned increase in the science budget UKRI can expect to see.
  • That also leads us to ask how much of the budget increase will make its way to the quality-related pot that funds blue-sky research in universities. The appointment of Indro Mukerjee as chief executive of Innovate UK, and the choice of Andrew Mackenzie as preferred candidate for UKRI chair, alongside the emergence of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, suggest that the strategic agenda for science is pivoting away from universities and towards subsidising inward investment and industrial capacity.
  • Is creating parallel offices for science and technology—and multiplying the number of scientific councils advising the prime minister—something we should be “incredibly positive” about? 

Research Professional also have an exclusive interview with UKRI Chief Executive, Ottoline Leyser. A snippet of the interview is here. Ottoline is supportive of the new Office.

It appears the focus on innovation may overlap with ARIA, although presumably the research will be monitored to a greater degree and perhaps less ‘blue-sky’. At this stage it appears a key benefit will be the connect between Government research priorities and policy development. This factor has been welcomed by the sector.

UKRI Chair: The Science and Technology Select Committee held a pre-appointment Hearing with the Government’s Preferred Candidate for the UKRI Chair – Sir Andrew Mackenzie. The committee questioned Mackenzie discussing his credentials for the role, his experience, potential for conflicts of interest, the climate emergency, aspirations for the role, the ongoings of the UKRI, the Asia-Pacific region, COVID-19, investments and incentives, funding priorities across research areas, co-funding, and the Government’s Levelling Up agenda in relation to UKRI.

Specifically on levelling up, Dods summarise:

  • The Chair asked Mackenzie about the Government’s objective to level-up performance across the country; and whether he believed there was over-investment in the Golden Triangle. Mackenzie said there was a placing strategy in UKRI which contributed to the Levelling Up agenda. As universities were evenly distributed in the UK, they could be a critical component to the wellbeing of towns outside of the Golden Triangle. Mackenzie said the UKRI should consider the fabric and health of these universities; and that more funding should go to Innovate UK to stimulate greater technological transfer with the view of levelling up.
  • The Chair asked whether it was a problem that research funding tended to be concentrated in certain geographical areas of the country rather than others. Mackenzie recognised that it should be an area of examination. There could be opportunities to create greater investment if researchers were attracted to certain geographical areas.

Strengthening Clinical Research Delivery: The Department for Health and Social Care has announced £64m funding to support UK-wide plans to strengthen clinical research delivery. A new implementation plan published today sets out the first year of activities to deliver a vision for the Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery.

Following the publication of Saving and Improving Lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery in March, the UK Government and devolved Administrations today set out the first phase of activity to ensure research will have better health outcomes and allow more patients to be involved in research of relevance to them.  The full policy paper on the Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery is available here.

Activity for the coming months will include:

  • the development and trial of new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines
  • making UK clinical research delivery easier through more rapid ethics reviews and faster approval processes
  • boosting clinical research capacity with more virtual and remote trials
  • increasing diversity and participation in research in communities traditionally under-served by research
  • digitising the clinical research process to allow researchers to find patients, offer them places in trials, and monitor health outcomes

The vision is underpinned by five key themes:

  • streamlined, efficient and innovative research– so the UK is seen as one of the best places in the world to conduct fast, efficient and cutting-edge clinical research
  • clinical research embedded in the NHS– to create a research-positive culture in which all health and care staff feel empowered to support and participate in clinical research as part of their job
  • patient-centred research– to make access to, and participation in, research as easy as possible for everyone across the UK, including rural, diverse and under-served populations
  • research enabled by data and digital tools– to ensure the UK has the most advanced and data-enabled clinical research environment in the world, which capitalises on our unique data assets to improve the health and care of patients across the UK and beyond
  • a sustainable and supported research workforce– which offers rewarding opportunities and exciting careers for all healthcare and research staff of all professional backgrounds – across the length and breadth of commercial and non-commercial research.

Key commitments within the plan include:

  • Continuing to deliver on existing commitments to make UK clinical research delivery easier, more efficient and more effective. This includes an offer of HRA Rapid Research Ethics Committee review as part of the roll-out of the Ethics Committee and MHRA combined review of clinical trials of medicines.
  • Reducing the variation and time spent negotiating costsfor commercial research through the National Contract Value Review, ensuring an aligned process for contracting of research across the whole UK.
  • Taking the first steps towards digitising the clinical research processto make it faster and cheaper by beginning to create a holistic data-enabled Find, Recruit and Follow-up service.
  • Expanding flexible workforce and delivery models, including increasing capacity for research in primary and community care.
  • Providing recognition for key groups of staff across the NHS who play a key role in delivering research, including through a new accreditation schemefor Clinical Research Practitioners.
  • Supporting and enabling the delivery and evaluation of innovative modelsof trial delivery such as hub and spoke models, decentralised models and remote participation.
  • As the pressures of the pandemic ease, manage the recovery of research across all phases, therapy areas and treatment types, with COVID-19 becoming one speciality among a diverse research portfolio.

Quick News

  • Brush up on the ARIA Bill in this Lords Library briefing.
    Section 3 is most interesting as it summarises the amendments, critique, and response to the Bill to date. Such as:

    • Following its introduction, many organisations and stakeholders in research, science and technology have welcomed the bill. Some concerns have been raised about the agency’s mandate and whether the Government will fund the agency in the long-term.
    • Greg Clark, Chair of Commons Science and Technology Committee, stated – There remains much that is unclear about what ARIA is meant to be. It’s not clear if it is a new institution that will conduct its own research and attract global scientific talent, or if it is another funding agency for researchers in existing organisations.
    • Stephen Flynn (SNP) had concerns. Describing the bill as “incredibly vague on details”, Mr Flynn queried what the wider mission of the bill would be, as he was unsure whether the bill was trying to achieve better outcomes for health, defence or transport
    • Labour oppose the ARIA Bill’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Ed Miliband highlighted that DARPA in the US had 47 requests for information last year, contending that it is “hardly an obstacle to getting on with the day job
  • The public (78-79%) are supportive of providing equitable access to medicines for sufferers of rare diseases even if it costs the NHS more. 46% also agreed to raise the cost threshold for medicines to enable their use.

Two PQs:

The Secretary of State speaks (several times)

The Secretary of State gave the opening speech at the HEPI conference last week [we discuss the main report discussed at the conference below]  You can read the speech here. There wasn’t much that was new, but some things are worth pulling out.

GW seemed to suggest that the minimum entry requirements might include a requirement for a pass in Maths and English at GCSE.  Possibly as well, or instead of the 3 Ds, he didn’t go into that.  He also said that the cost to the government of media studies shouldn’t be less than maths.

GW pulled out as “unacceptable” the Proceed data for some institutions (not named but mostly identifiable from the OfS data) who were below 40%.  The Proceed metric is a combined metric looking at completion as well as outcomes – except in a very small number of cases very few universities have employment outcomes anywhere near as low as he was talking about.

  • In a very clear signal to universities about a baseline for future quality standards, he said;
  • And while higher education remains a good investment for most, at 25 higher education institutions, fewer than half the students who begin a degree will go on to graduate employment or further study.
  • I want to be clear that this is not an attack on the arts. Many of our arts institutions are world leaders and every subject can be taught well, and so many universities do teach it well, and every subject can lead to good outcomes. But this is not always the case.
  • For example, while there are many are many good psychology courses, at one university only 39% of those who enrol in psychology go on to graduate employment or further study. This is not good enough.
  • While there are many good bio-science courses, at one university only 38% of those who enrol in bioscience go on to graduate employment or further study. This is not good enough.
  • While there are many good computing courses, at one university only 35% of those who enrol in computing go on to graduate employment or further study. Again, this is just not good enough.

GW mentioned the OfS review of assessment practices in response to media stories about “dumbing down” assessments in the name of inclusivity.  This was announced last week with very little detail.  The OfS say that the review is part of a range of activities to drive up the quality of higher education courses and ensure that standards are maintained. Commenting on the announcement on Twitter, WonkHE’s Jim Dickinson said “A cooked up (and for most of the day it ran) incorrect moral panic story in the MoS now becomes major project work for OfS,” citing the review as an example of the OfS priorities having no relation to the priorities of students, and “everything to do with Ministers and newspapers.”

The CEO of the OfS, Nicola Dandridge, also spoke.  Her most interesting point made a clear link between plans for funding and quality.  This is one of the possible “top up” grant options we have been suggesting if there is a headline fee cut.  A version of her speech has made it onto the OfS website as a blog here.

Research Professional have a summary of the event.

Education Committee: GW was questioned by the Education Committee during the regular accountability hearing. Dods summarise the content most of interest to the HE sector.

  • White working-class children: Chair Robert Halfon noted the committee’s recent report on poor educational outcomes for white working-class children when compared to other cohorts. In response, Williamson said the report was right to highlight that there were a variety of problems with WWC children progressing in the post-16 environment, including university entry. When Halfon asked if there should be target solutions for this group alone, Williamson said he favoured targeted solutions but based on the status of any child left behind. Williamson said any change in the terms of reference for the Pupil Premium with regard to additional funding for this cohort could not be done without another spending review. [See the section below on this report.]
  • Baker clause: Halfon asked for comment on the Baker Clause, which stipulated that schools allow colleges and training providers access to all students in years 8- 13 to discuss non-academic routes. In response, Williamson said he supported all schools adhering to the Baker clause. He said most schools were open to this and hoped parents did not have to resort to legal action to force this to happen. Williamson said in the summer the government would be consulting on proposals to strengthen the legislation and that Ofsted should be enforcing it. He said government schools funding could be made conditional on compliance.
  • Undergraduate degree apprenticeships: Asked by Halfon to comment on the idea of a teaching undergraduate degree apprenticeship, Williamson said there was a compelling case for this.
  • University funding: Anderson said in the last financial year universities had lost out on £790m from various problems caused by Covid such as reduce funding for conferences and lack of foreign students. She also suggested the DfE was biased against funding arts and humanities provision. In response Williamson said there had been strong growth in foreign students last year, with more students coming from outsider the EU (though EU students were down). He said the DfE had no bias against arts and humanities funding.
  • Free speech in higher education; antisemitism in universities: Hunt asked whether new free speech legislation might mean people with hateful views could potentially claim compensation if blocked form speaking on university campuses. In response, Williamson said this would not be the case. He said the new legislation was only intended to enforce existing laws and would not permit activities such as holocaust denial. Gullis asked what action was being taken to penalise universities which did not subscribe to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. In response, Williamson said he had been working with Lord Mann to ensure all universities signed up to the IHRA definition. He said if they did not take it up voluntarily the government was looking at a broad range of actions related to funding constriction.

Education questions in the House of Commons

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, responded to Education questions in the House of Commons. From Education Topical Questions:

Q – Andrew Bridgen: Could the Secretary of State update the House on progress on changing A-levels to enable students to apply with known grades rather than predicted grades?

A – Gavin Williamson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The consultation closed on 13 May and we are looking at the response very closely. We really want to bring post-qualification admissions forward as rapidly as possible. We would like to do so without legislation and in co-operation with the sector, but if we are not able to have that co-operation, we will drive this forward. All the evidence, from the Sutton Trust and from so many others, is clear that PQA helps children from the most disadvantaged families more than any others. That is why we will make it happen.

So, the Government signals intent to push ahead with post-qualification admissions no matter what the consultation says or evidence provided by the sector to the contrary.

Q – Rachael Maskell: Will the Secretary of State ensure that, instead of experiencing disruption to a third academic year, universities are able to determine their own return of students in September this year? The University of York and York St John University have advanced plans in place and they do not want to see further delays, including staggered starts. Can they now also have the ability to allow international students to quarantine at their local university?

A: The Minister for Universities (Michelle Donelan): We have every expectation that by the autumn term we will be able to move forward beyond step 4, meaning that there will be no further restrictions on the provision of in-person teaching and learning. During the pandemic, many providers have developed a digital offering and, as autonomous institutions, they might choose to retain elements of that approach, as well as undertaking risk assessments, but our expectation is clear that universities should maintain the quality, quantity and accessibility of provision. In terms of international students, we have been one of the world’s leaders in our visa concessions and flexibilities. I shall continue to work closely with the Home Office and the Department of Health to ensure that the best interests of students are always maintained, as well as public health.

So, no change and no firm answer. The Government will continue to intervene if they feel the national situation warrants it.

The Lords questioned compulsory redundancies in the university sector and their potential impact on teaching and research.

Graduate outcomes

With Gavin Williamson focussing on graduate employment (as presented via the Proceed metric) in his speech, there may have been less focus on salaries recently.  However, the latest version of the LEO data has come out and David Kernohan has a blog on Wonkhe, pointing out all the challenges, including the big problem about part-time work for example, 25% of creative arts graduates and more women than men work part-time, and LEO doesn’t adjust for this.  There are all sorts of interactive graphs if you want to play.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – amendments

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill continues its way through the House of Lords (it started there and will go to the Commons later).  Committee stage, the detailed review, starts on 6th July 2021. As of 28th June the running list of proposed amendments is here.

Lord Storey has continued his campaign against essay mills by proposing a new Clause as an amendment to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services. It is in line with his current private Members’ Bill (PMB). The Bill will be considered at the Committee Stage on 6 July 2021, it is unclear whether Lord Storey’s amendment will be addressed. However, his PMB is due for second reading this Friday. At the Education Committee Gavin Williamson said that the government would seek a way to support the PMB (which they would presumably prefer to an amendment to the Skills Bill.

Wonkhe described the amendment from Lord Lucas which proposes a mental health monitoring role for the Office for Students (OfS) that would require the regulator to assess the extent to which the mental health and wellbeing of students are sustained and improved while attending the institution, the quality improvement and response to mental health crises, and the pastoral and academic care of students attending the institution. While the government may seek to reject the amendment on the basis of the focus of the bill, it will face pressure to explain whether and how OfS does oversee that agenda.

Lord Lucas has also proposed other additions that would ensure that the interests of local potential students and an assessment of national skills needs are represented in Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs), and Lord Lingfield has suggested a regular review of how these plans support learners with special educational needs.

Gordon Marsden continues to press the Government to thoroughly think through the modular approach to funding and learning proposed by the Bill. He writes in Research Professional’s Sunday Reading: The arguments over skills, modules and devolved initiatives this summer need to define the outcomes for transformation, not just the rhetoric around it. It’s a decent short article if you want to read more on the importance of getting the modular aspect right.

Other amendments include a requirements to review provision for special educational needs in a local area, reviewing how the apprenticeship levy is being used in the context of local skills plans, a proposal to remove the limits on prior qualifications and restrictions on student numbers (eg for medicine), and a proposal about access to universal credit.  We can expect the list to grow before 6th July.

White working class

The Education Committee has published its final report following its inquiry into left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, which originally opened in April 2020. They say:

  • Early years: In 2018/19, just 53% of FSM-eligible White British pupils met the expected standard of development at the end of the early years foundation stage, one of the lowest percentages for any disadvantaged ethnic group.
  • GCSE performance: In 2019 just 17.7% of FSM-eligible White British pupils achieved grade 5 or above in English and maths, compared with 22.5% of all FSM-eligible pupils. This means that around 39,000 children in the group did not achieve two strong passes.
  • Access to higher education: The proportion of White British pupils who were FSM-eligible starting higher education by the age of 19 in 2018/19 was 16%, the lowest of any ethnic group other than traveller of Irish heritage and Gypsy/Roma.

Among the many factors that may combine to put white working-class pupils at a disadvantage are:

  1. Persistent and multigenerational disadvantage
  2. Placed-based factors, including regional economics and underinvestment
  3. Family experience of education
  4. A lack of social capital (for example the absence of community organisations and youth groups)
  5. Disengagement from the curriculum
  6. A failure to address low participation in higher education

They set out the following solutions:

  1. Funding needs to be tailor-made at a local level to level up educational opportunity. (page 45) A better understanding of disadvantage and better tools to tackle it is needed – starting with reforming the Pupil Premium.
  2. Support parental engagement & tackle multi-generational disadvantage. (page 33) To boost parental engagement and mitigate the effects of multi-generational disadvantage, a strong network of Family Hubs for all families is needed. These should offer integrated services and build trusting relationships with families and work closely with schools to provide support throughout a child’s educational journey.
  3. Ensure the value of vocational training and apprenticeship options while boosting access to higher education. (page 49) Reform the Ebacc to include a greater variety of subjects, including Design & Technology. Ofsted must be stronger in enforcing schools’ compliance with the Baker Clause, to ensure they allow vocational training and apprenticeship providers to advertise their courses to pupils. Where there is non-compliance, schools should be limited to a ‘Requires Improvement’ rating.
  4. Attract good teachers to challenging areas. (page 43) Good teaching is one of the most powerful levers for improving outcomes. Introducing teaching degree apprenticeships and investing in local teacher training centres may support getting good teachers to the pupils who need them most.
  5. Find a better way to talk about racial disparities. (page 14) The Committee agreed with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that discourse around the term ‘White Privilege’ can be divisive, and that disadvantage should be discussed without pitting different groups against each other. Schools should consider whether the promotion of politically controversial terminology, including White Privilege, is consistent with their duties under the Equality Act 2010. The Department should issue clear guidance for schools and other Department-affiliated organisations receiving grants from the Department on how to deliver teaching on these complex issues in a balanced, impartial and age-appropriate way.

Education Committee member Kim Johnson (Lab, Liverpool Riverside) has sought to distance herself from the report, saying on Twitter it was “deeply depressing that we are seeing a Government that has presided over deep cuts to education diverting attention from that onto a fake culture war.”

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

  • “For decades now White working-class pupils have been let down and neglected by an education system that condemns them to falling behind their peers every step of the way. White working-class pupils underperform significantly compared to other ethnic groups, but there has been muddled thinking from all governments and a lack of attention and care to help these disadvantaged White pupils in towns across our country.
  • “If the Government is serious about closing the overall attainment gap, then the problems faced by the biggest group of disadvantaged pupils can no longer be swept under the carpet. Never again should we lazily put the gap down to poverty alone, given that we know free school meal eligible pupils from other ethnic groups consistently out perform their White British peers. In 2019, less than 18% of free school meal eligible White British pupils achieved a strong pass in English and Maths GCSEs, compared with 22.5% of all similarly disadvantaged pupils. This equates to nearly 39,000 White working-class children missing out.
  • “So far, the Department for Education has been reluctant to recognise the specific challenges faced by the White working class, let alone do anything to tackle this chronic social injustice. This must stop now.
  • “Economic and cultural factors are having a stifling effect on the life chances of many White disadvantaged pupils with low educational outcomes persisting from one generation to the next. The Government needs to tackle intergenerational disadvantage, inbuilt disadvantages based on where people live and disengagement from the curriculum.
  • “What is needed is a tailor-made approach to local funding and investment in early years and family hubs. This should be alongside more vocational opportunities, a skills-based curriculum and a commitment to addressing low participation in higher education.
  • “We also desperately need to move away from dealing with racial disparity by using divisive concepts like White Privilege that pits one group against another. Disadvantaged White children feel anything but privileged when it comes to education.
  • “Privilege is the very opposite to what disadvantaged white children enjoy or benefit from in an education system which is now leaving far too many behind.”

Wonkhe:

The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) have responded to the Education Committee’s latest report, The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it, which found “White working class underachievement in education is real and persistent”. The Committee has called on the government to take steps to ensure disadvantaged White students fulfil their potential:

  • Educational underachievement is only part of the picture. Our report, The Long Shadow of Deprivation, shows that even if students beat the odds and get good qualifications, in the least socially mobile areas of the country they still face a wage gap at age 28 of up to a third. The answer to these issues is about thinking about investment in jobs, transport, housing, welfare and wider opportunities as well as in schools.

Access & Participation

Care duration: Research Professional report on LEO data released at the end of last week which highlights that students who have been in care for more than a year are marginally more likely to take part in higher education than those who have been in care for shorter periods of time. Read more here.  

Disadvantaged pupils’ confidence in A level grade awarding system: The Social Mobility Foundation published new findings which identified how confident disadvantaged students are about the grade-awarding system that will be used in place of exams for this summer’s GCSEs, AS and A Levels. It concludes that disadvantaged young people are not confident they will receive grades that reflect their ability under the teacher assessment system introduced this summer and do not have faith in the appeals process. The majority of the survey respondents were on free school meals.

  • 43% are not confident that they personally will receive fair grades reflective of their ability
  • 52% are not confident that they will be able to appeal grades that they do not think are a fair reflection of their ability
  • 36% of young people who plan to go to university this September are not confident they will receive the grades they need to secure their place.
  • 28% of participants who are sitting GCSE, A-Level or equivalent exams this summer reported that their teachers had not made it clear what pieces of work will be used to determine their final grades.
  • 35% of participants did not have access to reliable broadband during lockdown.
  • 74% of participants agree that: “Every student in Year 12 or S5 or above should have the option to take up a fully funded education recovery year to make up for learning time lost during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
  • 74% of participants felt that not all parts of the country had suffered equally because of the Covid-19 pandemic; highlighting geographical inequality which is a key focus of the government’s levelling-up agenda.

The findings come as the Department for Education and Education Policy Institute published their own research which found further evidence that restrictions to in-person teaching following the pandemic have led to a widening of the disadvantage gap – the gap in school attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. These results received widespread national media coverage yesterday, from print news to television, and you can view a short clip of Social Mobility Foundation Chair, Alan Milburn, chatting to Sky News about the data here.

As a results of these findings, SMF are calling for the appeals process to be re-designed this year, for year 13 to have the right to repeat the year (cost £180 million in England), and for young people opting to take exams in the autumn instead of accepting teacher-assessed grades to do so free of charge.

Universal Credit & Reasonable Adjustment: Wonkhe report on a psychology student that has been granted permission to challenge regulations that prevent him and thousands of other disabled students from claiming universal credit while they are full-time students. Flinn Kays claims that new regulations that stop disabled students having a work capability assessment (WCA) and thus claiming universal credit are unlawful – and is asking the court to quash 2020 regulations on the grounds that the Secretary of State unlawfully failed to consult, that they are discriminatory and that they breach the public sector equality duty.

Meanwhile students with vision impairments experience failure from institutions to put agreed reasonable adjustments for exams and assessments into place, and a lack of expertise in accessibility, according to new research into the post-school experiences of young people with vision impairments from the Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research at the University of Birmingham and the Thomas Pocklington Trust.

Lost in Transition? also found limited understanding of vision impairment by some staff at institutions at the time of application, difficulties with the accessibility of the UCAS admissions system, and various issues with the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), including assessors not having the necessary expertise to assess students, delays in the processing of assessments and equipment being provided that did not meet students’ needs.

Wonkhe blogs:

Access to postgraduate study: The Sutton Trust published a new report on access to postgraduate education in the UK, looking at the level of financial support available across the nations, the impact of the introduction of postgraduate loans on access in England, the growing cost of postgraduate degrees, and the likely impact of those costs on access.

  • Rates of progression from an undergraduate degree to a postgraduate master’s have increased for graduates of all backgrounds since loans were introduced, but they have increased the most for those from socio-economically disadvantaged groups. In 2013/14, just 6% of first-degree holders from working class backgrounds in England progressed to a taught higher degree (i.e. master’s), compared to 8.6% for those from managerial and professional backgrounds. By 2017/18, rates for both groups had risen considerably, and the gap in participation had reduced, with 12.9% for those from working class backgrounds and 14.2% from managerial and professional backgrounds going onto this type of study.
  • But graduates from less privileged backgrounds still appear to be less likely to progress than their better-off counterparts. This is true whether looking at parental occupation (with 18.4% of graduates from professional and managerial backgrounds going onto a taught or research higher degree within 15 months of graduating, compared to 14.4% of graduates from routine or semi routine backgrounds), and education (13.9% for those with at least one parent with a higher education qualification vs 11.6% for those with none), neighbourhood (13.2% for those from high participation areas vs 12.6% for low participation areas) or type of school attended prior to higher education (14.6% for private schools vs 12.5% for state schools).
  • Tuition fee levels at UK higher education institutions for taught postgraduate courses have increased in the past 14 years, well beyond inflation. For example, while average tuition fees for a classroom-based taught postgraduate programme in 2011 were £5,435 at a Golden Triangle university and £4,408 in the other Russell Group universities, by 2020 they had risen to £10,898 (an increase of 101 percent) and £8,744 (a 98 percent increase) respectively.
  • The price differences between the UK’s most prestigious institutions and the rest of the sector have also widened within the same time period. In 2006/07 for classroom-based courses, the difference between the most expensive group of institutions (in the Golden Triangle) and the least costly (interestingly, these were other Russell Group universities) was just £1,404. But in 2020/21, the difference between the most and the least expensive group of institutions, this time between Golden Triangle universities and post-1992 institutions, was 2.5 times higher: £3,532.

Recommendations:

  1. The funding system at postgraduate level in England should be reformed, to remove financial barriers to postgraduate study. …. Instead of being a contribution, the government’s postgraduate financial support system should cover full maintenance costs for students, and the full course fee cost for all but the most expensive courses. This should ideally be through a mix of loans as well as grants for students from lower income backgrounds.
  2. Universities should extend their widening access work to postgraduate level, especially at high-status institutions. This should include efforts to improve the attainment of disadvantaged undergraduate students to allow them to progress to postgraduate level. High status universities especially should look at recruiting students for postgraduate level from a range of different institutions, as well as exploring other ways to widen access, for example running postgraduate summer schools aimed at potential students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Universities should also make use of contextual admissions at postgraduate level, taking into account the potential as well as the prior attainment of applicants.
  3. Data on widening participation to postgraduate study should be regularly published by the Office for Students and/or the Department for Education (for England) and the devolved governments. As is the case at undergraduate level, universities should be required to provide data on access and outcomes, with data regularly published as an official statistical release. ….
  4. In England, The Office for Students should be given strengthened responsibility to ensure fair access to postgraduate study, as it does at undergraduate level. …..
  5. Universities should ensure course fees are fair and appropriate, and they should avoid charging application fees for postgraduate courses. If universities are charging course fees above the increased level of government support outlined above, they should provide adequate financial support themselves to ensure there are no financial barriers to participation. Ideally, universities should not be charging application fees at postgraduate level, but if application fees are charged, they should be as low as possible, with waivers easily accessible to any applicants who are unable to afford them. Oversight from the Office for Students should include looking at both course and application fees, with action taken where these costs are acting as barriers to lower-income students.
  6. The application process for postgraduate courses should be clear and easy to navigate, with information about courses easy to find and the application process simplified where possible. In the short term, all universities should consistently provide information on their postgraduate courses to UCAS, so that it is quick and easy to find for applicants. …..

Access to HE – insecure/unresolved immigration status: King’s College London, has published a new report on access to the higher education for young people with insecure or unresolved immigration status. Higher Education on Hold explores the barriers to HE for young people who:

  • Have refugee status
  • Are seeking asylum
  • Have limited leave to remain or indefinite leave to remain
  • Are undocumented

As well as legal barriers, they find that young people with insecure immigration status are more likely to face a combination of the following additional barriers which limit HE access:

  • A lack of support in school.
  • Increased likelihood of living in poverty.
  • Poor language proficiency and difficulties attaining qualifications.
  • High incidence of mental health issues
  • A lack of high-quality support from HE institutions

As well as campaigning for policy change, the report says universities should review and improve their admissions practices, widening participation programmes and scholarship provision in order to better support young people with insecure immigration status. Specifically, they say institutions should:

  • Provide specialist admissions support.
  • Adopt a flexible approach to language qualifications and provide pre-sessional English language courses.
  • Include young people with insecure immigration status in Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) activities and widening participation programmes.
  • Provide targeted advice and support for young people with insecure status in relation to immigration status and student finance eligibility.
  • Broaden scholarships to include all young people who are not currently eligible for student finance due to their immigration status.
  • Ensure that scholarship application processes do not create additional barriers for young people.
  • Provide ongoing support once young people with insecure status progress to HE, including mental health support and support with debt if a student’s loan application is rejected.

HEPI – Student Academic Experience Survey

The annual Student Academic Experience Survey was published. The data and conclusions from in this report are always worth a detailed read.  The last report showed “no material impact” from the start of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.  That has not carried through to this year, where there is a dramatic change in some of the results compared to the trends over previous years.  The data is therefore not really comparable in terms of longer term analysis of progress in the sector, but of course it will inform the discussion about how the sector can adapt and change for next year.  We will have to wait for next year, and probably also the year after, to see whether for this survey 2021 is a “blip” or a reset.

The main lesson that the authors draw, in the executive summary is that students want in-person, and not online learning.  As many institutions look at blended learning, and the benefits of that for students  (accessibility, flexibility), it is important to consider that, while many students may appreciate those benefits in the longer term, for now they just want to be with people, not in their rooms.  As one student described it to me “I want to have a reason to get up and out, to have somewhere to go and somewhere to be, and to see people”.

  • With all that in mind, it is not surprising that the recent more positive trend of the (in)famous value for money chart has reversed sharply.  Perceptions of value for money for students from Scotland (where students don’t pay fees) have been higher than all the others since 2012, and are still higher, but they are still the lowest (at 50%) than they have ever been.  So it’s not just the fees.
  • There are many reasons given for poor perceptions of value for money, but unsurprisingly, the highest scoring are tuition fees, the volume of in person contact hours, access to in person teaching, and teaching quality.  After that the volume of online contact hours, and cost of living,  as well as one to one tuition time are all 30% or over.
  • There has also been an impact on experience compared to expectations, the proportion saying “better in some ways and worse in others” is stable at 48%, but those saying “better” has flipped (to 13%) with those saying it was “worse” (27%).   These were almost exactly the other way around last year.
  • There are some interesting differences in the questions about making choices.  11% said they would, with hindsight, have deferred.  As we know, deferrals were very low last year. One in three had considered leaving, with 34% of them citing mental/emotional health as the reason.

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

PQs

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

A new report from Accenture and Cibyl, University: The Best Time of Our Lives? Is considered on Wonkhe: Jim Dickinson reviews the new report on student mental health which includes some clear and actionable recommendations.

Prevent: The DfE published new guidance on implementing the Prevent Duty in HE. It consists of training materials on the Prevent duty of care and the wellbeing of staff and students.  Also training materials on assessing risk when implementing the Prevent Duty.

Awards: Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2021: the winners.

Virtual: Times Higher talks about how institutions can work towards effective new teaching models, such as hybrid flexible classes, and how to support and train staff to deliver an increasingly tech-enhanced education. Also Christopher Brighton of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University presents a model of a global virtual exchange that could be easily replicated by any institution wishing to improve students’ intercultural knowledge.

AI & Healthcare: The Health Foundation published Switched on How do we get the best out of automation and AI in health care?

Turning the oil tanker: Successive UK Governments have been pushing at the edges of the UK HE sector for changes in quality/value for money, freedom of speech, and demonstrating value for money. In this vein it is interesting to note Research Professional’s article with the European Commission stating how the European HEIs are slow to change and adapt.

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HE policy update for the w/e 4th February 2021

Wonkhe and Pearson have collaborated to highlight what students value about remote and flexible learning aspects. The CMA have called out price fixing which may have increased the cost of good and services provided to disabled students. The Government have announced additional hardship funding to be distributed to students although we still don’t know about the methodology the OfS will use to distribute this. There’s a code for free speech proposed by Students’ Unions. And the appointment of the new Chair of the Office for Students, Lord Wharton, continues to be controversial.

New OfS Chair

The Commons Education Committee held a pre-appointment hearing with Lord James Wharton of Yarm who the Government intend to appoint to become the next chair of the Office for Students. Lord Wharton has stated he will not resign the Conservative Whip if he is appointed to the OfS (this means he will vote as directed by the Conservative party in divisions). While in practice as a Lord it is acceptable that Wharton will act according to his personal political stance, this is still unusual.  Similar concerns were raised when Baroness Harding was appointed as head of NHS Test and Trace and also retained the Tory whip..

Wharton was only appointed to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in 2020, the current Government has been recognised (and criticised) for its approach to several high level appointments (e.g. Harding and the new Chair of the BBC).

Wharton has little background or previously stated interest in education. Wonkhe have a great blog on the potential appointment, here’s a snide little snippet:  If being put forward for a government-backed role makes Private Eye, you have a problem. The process itself was notably light on educational expertise and heavy on being mates with Boris, and it clearly generated a nomination where educational expertise was not the primary criteria.  The same Wonkhe blog quickly gallops through the content of the Education Committee hearing – it is worth a read to understand Wharton’s priorities and areas where it seems he has some more background reading to do.

Research Professional also cover the story here:

  • However, responding to a question from Tory committee member David Simmonds about the potential difficulties of holding the whip while chairing an independent regulator, Wharton rejected the idea that such a clear conflict of interest was really a conflict of interest at all—and offered assurance that he had held discussions with the other party whips already.
  • “What I have made clear, and what they have agreed, is that on issues of conflict—if they arise—with my role in the OfS, if I’m appointed, they would give me more latitude and understand that I may need to vote against or speak against some of the things the party in government could bring forward.”
  • It sounds to Playbook rather like the independence of the OfS chair will be underpinned by what might best be described as a gentleman’s agreement. Perhaps England’s regulator will adopt this approach to its formal duties when Wharton takes up his role. It would certainly help with the OfS’s desire to be more ‘light touch’.
  • …Another theme Wharton returned to a number of times during the session was the need for more “risk-based regulation”: reducing the regulatory burden for some, but increasing it when required.
  • “In some ways, some of our top universities will not need and should not need to be monitored as closely on quality of output in terms of academic output, for example,” he said. “But there are other areas in which some of those universities are not doing as well as they should.” This was in response to a question about Black, Asian and minority ethnic student access at “top” universities.

You can read the letter from the Commissioner for Public Appointments to the Education Select Committee here (it briefly touches upon some of the controversial aspects mentioned above such as panel membership). The letter was sent in advance of the Education Committee hearing. The letter states: I note that Lord Wharton was assessed as appointable by the Panel, along with three other candidates. The choice between these appointable candidates is entirely a matter for ministers. Williamson’s (pre-hearing) letter stating Wharton as the strongest candidate is here.

Here is Dods’ summary of the Education Committee pre-appointment hearing for the OfS Chair position.

The Government’s announcement confirming who will hold the OfS Chair position can be expected imminently.

Research

Amanda Solloway, the Science Minister, has done an interview with Research Professional in which she describes her personal experience of sexual harassment and discrimination and sets out her mission to stamp it out.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser has a blog on debunking the Einstein myth and increasing diversity of the workforce.

  • …despite the diverse opportunities, many people do not see themselves working in research and innovation. They don’t see it as a place for them…This is perhaps not surprising since a popular image of researchers and innovators is one of Einstein-like geniuses: superhumanly clever, obsessed with their work and driven by pure logic. They work alone in dusty libraries or in labs full of bubbling liquids doing arcane things that will either save the world or destroy it…But researchers and innovators know very well that they are not geniuses marching toward the truth using pure logic. Rather than helping them deal with the inherent insecurities of their work, the myth ultimately amplifies insecurity, leaving the sector riddled with imposter syndrome…So the lone genius perception segregates research and innovation into a remote and alien corner of society that looks unattractive and unwelcoming to the diverse people that the system needs, and it inhibits the collaborative supportive research culture we need to catalyse creative discovery and innovation…Ultimately, we will relegate research and innovation to the margins of our society, making it much harder to reap the benefits and much harder to identify and prioritise the challenges people really care about. We need to build a truly inclusive system that values and nurtures a much wider range of careers and career paths. A good place to start is to change ideas about who is part of the research and innovation system.
  • To get the ball rolling, I am delighted to be collaborating with the Minister for Science Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, to find 101 people, doing 101 different jobs that make major contributions to research and innovation, but who are not researchers and innovators. If you are one such person, or work with one and would like to participate in this project please email your suggestion to stories@ukri.org. I am also keen to hear about other ideas and initiatives that could support a more inclusive definition of the research and innovation system.

REF flexibility: At the end of last week the REF team provided more details on the extra support to help universities struggling to complete during lockdown:

  • Universities are no longer required to submit corroborating evidence for impact case studies, however, any evidence should be held by the institution in the event of audit. Uploaded evidence should be submitted by 1 June.
  • Errors can be corrected up to six weeks after the 31 March submission deadline.
  • More information was published on the labelling and delivery of physical outputs and redacting impact case studies for publication.

ARPA

  • UK ARPA ‘should run like a venture capital’ says former Head of Innovate UK. Ruth McKernan, now Chair of the BioIndustry Association, spoke out on 27 January at a Foundation for Science and Technology meeting exploring the UK ARPA which is expected to launch this year with £50 million in seed funding. Ruth advised that the UK ARPA should be designed in the spirit of a venture capital fund in order to reduce red tape and enable the speed and flexibility required to deliver high-risk, high-returns research.
  • Meanwhile on Monday Dods/The Financial Times reported that: new Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is pushing forward with plans to form the anticipated scientific research agency, and that legislation could be drawn up within weeks. As the agency is a standalone organisation, separate from UKRI, it requires its own legislation. The Treasury has authorised £800m of spending on the agency, which will fund “cutting-edge, high-risk, high-reward science here in the UK,” particularly in areas such as AI and data.

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

Towards the end of last week Jisc published their research and innovation sector strategy 2021-23, setting out their seven key theme priorities identified through their engagement with the sector. Dods summarise:

  1. Supporting a new national data infrastructure for research
  • Never before have research and innovation been so dependent on infrastructure, on the capacity of network, security, connectivity and access management. This dependency will continue to grow.
  • Jisc commit to supporting a new national data infrastructure for research, underpinned by their existing Janet Network, cyber security, cloud and data infrastructures and will coordinate the implementation of a flexible set of solutions for institutions and research collaborations.
  1. UK research analytics: understanding systems, cultures, resources and decision-making
  • The data produced through the processes of research management could be used on a greater scale to transform research systems, cultures and decision-making. Exponentially upgraded analytical capacity is needed to build the strategic capabilities of UK research.
  • Jisc will examine the potential for a new UK research analytics platform and service, enhancing their existing analytics capabilities
  1. Recording the UK’s ‘research estate’ in support of a UK-wide research capability
  • The ability to identify, deploy, share and re-use physical and intangible assets that comprise the research estate are central to delivering efficiencies, the civic agenda, levelling up, open research and achieving net-zero. These assets also include the significant infrastructure which gives access to research, including content, library and archival collections.
  • Jisc will explore expanding the well-established digital approaches to the management and use of these assets
  1. Accelerating the achievement, delivery and monitoring of the journey to open research
  • Open research extends beyond the boundaries of open access articles to all research outputs, including metadata, data, code, algorithms and software, as well as the processes of research itself. It will continue to be a high priority for the UK research base, for funders and for Jisc.
  • Jisc commit to helping the UK embrace the full potential of open research by removing barriers, embedding open practices and developing infrastructure to support this potential.
  1. Applied research and knowledge exchange: supporting its commercialisation and deployment
  • The interconnected systems producing world-class research and innovation are increasingly reliant on shared and secure infrastructure to enable their growth. The breadth of academic-industry collaborations and commercial spinouts from academic research is set to grow.
  • Jisc commit to further supporting the acceleration of the impact of and knowledge exchange from research commercialisation through the enhanced use of shared research infrastructure.
  1. Rapid innovation in research management and active research
  • Research integrity, reproducibility and reuse, evaluation and assessment, new and inclusive forms of excellence and the responsible use of metrics are all areas that offer significant potential for greater efficiency and interoperability.
  • Jisc commit to exploring and building on innovative approaches in research management, including enhanced system interoperability, common data repository standards and metrics aggregator models
  1. ‘Research 4.0’: realising the art of the possible
  • Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G, quantum computing and biotechnologies are set to impact the UK’s world-leading research and innovation sector in the years ahead in ways yet to be imagined.
  • Jisc propose a technical enablers programme focusing on exemplifying leading-edge specialisms and a ‘research reimagined’ programme to better understand this future potential with and on behalf of our members.

Quick News update

  • The British Academy has submitted its pre-budget report to the Treasury calling for Horizon Europe funding to be ring fenced separately from BEIS research funding:
    • The funds required for Horizon Europe association should be additional to the existing budget for research and innovation, in order that we support and build the UK’s reputation as a global research and innovation leader in this period of uncertainty and upheaval.
    • And on ODA: We also wish to emphasise the importance and value of funding for global research and innovation activities through the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. Any reduction in the levels of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget for research and innovation activity will directly harm the UK’s ability to maintain its global position in terms of science and research. We are extremely concerned that even a temporary reduction in funding for scientific research will compromise the ability of the UK to act as a leader in addressing global challenges and building capacity in research talent, particularly at a time when COVID-19 has demonstrated the critical need for global collaboration. Both the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the £735m Newton Fund come under the aid budget.
    • Press release here.
  • Professor Matt Lambon Ralph has been appointed Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Non-Clinical Training and Career Development Panel. Matt was previously Associate Vice-President for Research at the University of Manchester including a focus on early career researchers. The panel is responsible for assessing applications for non-clinical fellowships across the MRC research portfolio. He is expected to sit on the panel for the standard length of four years.
  • UKRI and the Met Office have appointed Dr Gary Fuller (Imperial College London) as the new Clean Air Champion for the Strategic Priorities Fund Clean Air Programme (£42.5 million R&I investment programme). He joins the existing champions Professor Sir Stephen Holgate and Dr Jenny Baverstock. They will bring together outstanding researchers across atmospheric, medical and social sciences to develop practical solutions for air quality issues… equipping the UK to proactively tackle future air quality challenges related to changing emissions, exposure patterns and impacts on vulnerable groups of people.
  • UKRI has a news story on the Innovate UK £134 million in continuity loans to support small businesses drive on with innovative and exciting new products and services. Loans of between £250,000 and £1.6 million have been made to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and third sector organisations that would otherwise have struggled to continue with research and development activity.
  • The Public Accounts Committee has launched an inquiry into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Fund awards support for research and development projects under the Industrial Strategy four themes – clean growth, the ageing society, the future of mobility and artificial intelligence & the data economy. It constitutes a significant part of the Government’s commitment to spend £4.7 billion on R&D. The Committee will question senior officials at BEIS and UKRI on the management of the Fund, focussing on the design of the Fund and oversight of its implementation, and the approach taken to considering performance and progress in making the awards. The timing and announcement of the inquiry is interesting – we’ll be keeping an eye on this one.
  • Chris Skidmore writes in Conservative Home highlighting how Brexit has enabled the UK to respond faster on issues such as Covid vaccinations. He continues to argue about a focus on research.
    • With a new American President that believes in the power of science and research, the Prime Minister has found an ally and common ground upon which he can transform into a special science relationship. Focus on ‘shared values’ is intended to be a key part of the G7— what better value could there be to focus upon than investment in research and innovation?
    • A new international research fund, a new alliance of research universities, the chance to forge new international science programmes dedicated to transforming and de-carbonising energy supply… the potential is enormous. Yes, we can build back better, but we can do so much more effectively if we research back better too.
  • The Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has set out plans for a new UK subsidy control system: which will be the long-term replacement for the EU’s prescriptive state aid regime, will allow the UK to be more dynamic in providing support to businesses, including in innovative, R&D-focused industries, to encourage job creation and growth across all parts of the UK. [You’ll remember that state aid was a big issue in the Brexit negotiations at the end of the year].
  • The PM has established a new Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) which will identify and develop proposals across a range of areas that will drive innovation and competitiveness, reduce barriers to start-ups and scale-ups, create opportunities for innovation to make the most of cutting-edge technologies, and support growth and dynamism right across the UK economy. In particular:
    • Opportunities which could drive innovation and accelerate the commercialisation and safe adoption of new technologies, cementing the UK’s position as a global science and technology superpower.
    • Opportunities to reduce barriers to entry in specific markets and make markets more dynamic and contestable across the economy.
    • Opportunities to reduce administrative barriers to scaling up productive businesses; and to tailor any necessary processes to the needs of UK start-ups and SMEs while maintaining the Government’s commitment to high environmental standards and worker protections.
    • Opportunities to improve small business’ experience of necessary regulatory requirements.
    • Sectors of the economy or regulatory frameworks which should be prioritised for further regulatory deep dives.

The Taskforce is expected to report back to the PM in April. Their findings will be considered alongside the Government’s broader economic growth and regulatory agenda.  Cynics will remember the “bonfire of the quangos” under the Cameron government (this FT article reports the National Audit Office report that 285 public bodies were abolished but 184 new organsiations were created at the same time).

Parliamentary Questions

  • PhD extensions – I [Amanda Solloway] regularly meet with … the CEO of UKRI…to monitor how the pandemic is affecting UKRI-funded PhD students and the wider research system. We will continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and UKRI continues to listen and respond carefully as the situation evolves.
  • What effect the 30% reduction in the Official Development Assistance allocation will have on the Government’s ringfenced climate change and R&D funding commitments.

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

Dods summarise the UCAS application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle:

There were 2,788,715 applications in this cycle – an increase on the 2019 cycle

  • Across all providers, there were 570,475 accepted applicants
  • There were 156,280 unconditional offers made
  • Providers across the UK had a 71.4% offer rate (72.8% in England, 56.6% in Scotland, 79% in Wales, 77.2% in NI)
  • Among lower tariff providers, this figure was 7%
  • Among medium tariff providers, this figure was 2%
  • Among higher tariff providers, this figure was 9%
  • Offer rates for UK 18 year olds by POLAR4 quintile were:
  • Q1: 78.6%
  • Q2: 78.9%
  • Q3: 79.4%
  • Q4: 79.7%
  • Q5: 80.5%

Key findings and trends:

  • Acceptances to computer science courses have risen by almost 50% (from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020)
  • Acceptances to engineering courses are up 21% from 25,995 in 2011 to 31,545 in 2020 – driven by an increase in demand from UK 18 year olds
  • Acceptances to the newer artificial intelligence (AI) courses have seen a 400% rise in the past decade (from just 65 in 2011 to 355 in 2020)
  • Despite the removal of NHS bursaries in 2017, demand for nursing places is now almost at the same level seen in 2011 (62,920 applicants made a nursing choice in 2020 compared to 63,275 in 2011) and acceptances have grown by 57% – representing an additional 13,635 students
  • With the expansion of medical places in the last few years, acceptances to medicine courses are at the highest level on record, growing 37% since 2017
  • Law increased from 22,720 acceptances in 2011 to 29,105 acceptances in 2020, with substantial increases to both higher and medium tariff providers across this period
  • Business increased from 61,100 acceptances in 2011 to 75,515 in 2020. Growth in acceptances across all provider tariff bands – with by far the largest increase to higher tariff providers
  • Psychology acceptances increase from 16,685 in 2011 to 26,200 in 2020. Again, there were increases across all tariff bands, with medium and higher tariff providers experiencing the largest increases
  • Humanities subjects have decreased in popularity over the last decade. English studies have seen a decrease from 10,020 acceptances in 2011 to 6,980 this year in 2020, and history and philosophical studies from 15,060 in 2011 to 12,870, though the data shows this decline seems to be confined to lower and medium tariff providers
  • Acceptances to modern language degree courses have decreased by 36% – from 6,005 in 2011 to 3,830 in 2020 across all tariff groups. This drop in demand is seen alongside a decrease in language A level entrants over the same timeframe.

Given the reverses in policy (student number controls and centre-assessed grades), the controversy about unconditional offers, last this year was a pretty interesting one for admissions teams.  Some of these things have implications this year too – we still have a ban on unconditional offers, and this year the impact of whatever Ofqual end up with will almost certainly ensure that there are once again more students with higher grades entering university.  The Russell Group are already asking for money to help them take more students in September (again).  And all this is just in time for another huge reversal of approach as the government consult on minimum entry requirements and post-qualification admissions.  Catch up on our policy update from 21st January on minimum entry requirements, and you can read the PQA consultation here (it runs until May, so no rush).

  • A data rich piece by David Kernohan using UCAS data on unconditional offer This was the big story just under a year ago, as despite strong Ministerial and OfS criticism of unconditional offers up to that point, and particularly strong pressure on “conditional unconditional offers”.    When the pandemic hit and exams were cancelled, some universities allegedly made many more unconditional offers, on the basis that it would remove stress for school and college leavers.  Of course, in March, as we went into the first lockdown, Michelle Donelan ordered universities to stop making unconditional offers, in a “moratorium” that later turned into a “time-limited” condition of registration with the OfS that remains in place today.  In their consultation the OfS proposed making the condition retrospective, with a view to penalising those universities who had made offers in the crucial early weeks of March – but this idea was dropped.  We might expect a response to the UCAS data from the OfS, which might not be super positive about it.
  • A piece on subject trends from UCAS data – including what they call the “Chris Whitty effect” as applications increased for health and social care programmes in 2020. This is of course good news for us all, especially given concerns about the impact of the controversial removal of NHS bursaries for these course and the incredible contribution made by many students during the pandemic on placement or starting paid work before the end of their courses.  In the piece, Sander Kristel, Chief Operations Officer at UCAS also looks at numbers for STEM, and the gender divide, and the decline in language students, and in English and humanities subjects too. David Kernohan of Wonkhe contributes some rich data on applications over time, by subject and by provider.
  • And an overview on the overall cycle, again by David Kernohan, with some startling data about winners and losers in terms of student numbers in 2020 and some analysis of student movements. In case you’ve forgotten, as well as a

HEPI has a piece from former universities minister (and former VC) Bill Rammell and education consultant Abhishek Nakhate on the ways that universities can turn knowledge of their applicants into successful recruitment.

Wonkhe also tell us that TES has an opinion piece on the opportunity in the Department for Education’s PQA consultation to uncouple university admissions from A levels completely.

Free Speech

On Monday Wonkhe announced the publication of a collaboration with a group of students leading students’ unions on free speech: Taking the debate forward: A new code to secure and champion freedom of speech and political diversity on campus. Wonkhe also gather together a series of information and recent content on free speech here.

Support for the new code has been given by Adam Clarke, Policy Manager, for the Russell Group. He states:

  • Universities, students and government all want to protect free speech and ensure robust academic debate. Engaging with challenging ideas is a vital element of the academic experience in UK universities.
  • As Wonkhe’s analysis shows, the overwhelming majority of planned students’ union events go ahead, giving speakers the opportunity to present controversial ideas on campus, which students can interrogate.
  • The proposals in this report are intended to help students’ unions broaden the range of views students are exposed to and continue to champion free speech on campus effectively. It sets out sensible additional steps students’ unions can take as independent bodies to protect free speech and how universities can support them in this critical work.
  • The creation of a new free speech code with an explicit goal of increasing the volume and diversity of debates on campuses would help students’ unions go further in their efforts to defend and maintain freedom of expression.

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, announced £50 million of new hardship funding for HE providers (to be distributed by the OfS). The Government press release states: The increased financial support comes as the majority of students have been asked to continue their studies remotely, as part of measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus…The new funding means that universities will be able to help students impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs for alternative accommodation, loss of employment, or extra costs to access their teaching online. Universities will distribute the funding and will be able to prioritise the funding to those most in need of help. The Government also stated it wanted universities to offer partial refunds for unused accommodation. No doubt the Government are hoping this will head off calls for tuition and rent refunds, at least for a few weeks. The written ministerial statement is here.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

  • This continues to be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for our students, and I am hugely grateful to all the university staff working hard to prioritise their health, wellbeing and learning during this pandemic. The additional £50 million that we are announcing today will mean we have distributed £70m for hardship in this financial year alone – on top of the £256m of government-funded student premium which universities can use for student support this academic year. This additional support will provide real, tangible help for those students struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. We will continue to prioritise a full return to education as soon possible, in line with public health advice. I am also working with universities and professional bodies to ensure students can graduate as planned.
  • On distributing the funds Wonkhe have stated that the DfE tells us the mechanism for doing so is yet to be determined, and we understand that OfS will shortly be writing to provider accountable officers with a proposed distribution methodology.

On Wednesday Donelan made a statement to the House explaining that HE providers will have flexibility in how they distribute funding to students including to masters and international students. There was also an urgent question from Paul Blomfield in the House of Commons on Wednesday and Jim Dickinson (of Wonkhe) has live tweeted the whole debate – very funny but also rather sad.

If you can face it, you can re-read MD’s original set of late on a Friday night tweets (STUDENT MESSAGES 1- 6) that so enraged so many.

Donelan spoke on Radio 4 stating she wanted to ensure students and HE providers understood that hardship support from this funding shouldn’t be just a one-time offer, that students could return to their providers for additional help later on, where appropriate and if required.

Many organisations published their reactions to the announcement. We’ve picked out the key stakeholders who continue to call for the Government to do more:

  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: While the additional funding is welcome, the government must also acknowledge that student hardship is just one of many increasingly difficult issues facing students, universities and staff at this time. As the serious mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, universities need further funding to alleviate the substantial increases in demand that university wellbeing and support services are experiencing. Although university staff are making huge efforts to offer high quality online learning, the government should provide support that recognises that students are missing out on the wider student experience that they would benefit from in a normal year.
  • Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: It is good to see…measures further boosted by the Government with additional funds specifically for students facing difficulties with day-to-day living costs. This group is likely to be far wider than those who would normally be eligible for support through OfS student premium funding.
  • NUS National President Larissa Kennedy said: …this will not be enough to tackle the scale of the issue. If Westminster did the right thing and matched the hardship funding being made available in Wales for students the amount needed would be more than £700m…The pandemic has exposed the flaws at the core of our education system – it functions at the expense of students’ mental health and wellbeing, and through our financial exploitation…We also need a long term solution to ensure that no student suffers in this way again. The Government must adopt a new vision for education, starting with a return to maintenance grant funding and a boost in how much students can access, redressing extortionate housing costs, and moving towards fully funded education so students are never pushed into these kinds of dire financial situations

On Thursday the Minister published yet another open letter to students (sent to universities late on Tuesday).  It repeats much of the content of previous letters, including about how to complain.  You can read the full text of the letter it in the Minister’s tweet here.

In an expansion of the now well established DfE practice of sending open letters to students to be shared by providers (usually arriving late at night, often on a Friday), this time in a burst of creative energy the Minister also wrote to staff at providers.  BU readers can find the message here.

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

We learn the reasoning behind the move of the Commission to the Cabinet office here:

  • This move aligns with a recent recommendation by the Chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the Social Mobility Commission’s (SMC) own recommendation about where it would best fit within government, and with a recommendation by the Education Select Committee in 2018.
  • Moving the sponsorship of the SMC to become a key part of the new Equality Hub makes good sense and puts equality and fairness of all kinds at the heart of government. The move shows how serious this government is about acting on these issues, as part of our levelling up agenda.

There’s a parliamentary question on the Social Mobility Commission’s report Changing gears: understanding downward social mobility setting out the Government’s approach to social mobility and it also mentions the move to the Cabinet Office.

The Social Mobility Commission published its annual review and business plan 2020 this week. They state: In this extraordinarily challenging year, we have made significant strides in influencing government policy, while making meaningful connections with employers and embarking upon an ambitious programme of activities. On the move to the Cabinet Office they state: As we prepare to move to the Cabinet Office from 1 April 2021, we look forward to taking a more influential role in addressing social and regional inequality.

The report has a timeline to highlight the key milestones in 2020 (see further below). And they summarise their achievements as:

  • launching an employers’ programme and microsite for businesses to help recruit more people from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • publishing 13 ground-breaking research reports on aspects of social mobility which got widespread media pick-up
  • reaching out to a younger audience
  • In addition we built up our network of Ambassador organisations to help spread our message, held dozens of seminars, webinars, training sessions and masterclasses, and launched a campaign for increased resources on further education

There’s lots more detail in the report including short summaries and links to the key publications.

Disability – price fixing

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has issued advisory letters to some firms supplying goods and services to disabled university students, following concerns that there may have been price-fixing. The Government press release with more detail is here. Excerpts from the press release:

  • Price-fixing is a serious breach of competition law and can cheat people out of a lower price, which could have been available if competition was working properly.
  • The CMA is concerned that SLC [Student Loans Company] – and so ultimately the taxpayer – may have paid over the odds for certain goods and services because some suppliers agreed prices before providing quotations. This alleged activity could also have reduced the overall amount which disabled students have available for purchasing equipment through the scheme.
  • While the CMA has been considering these allegations, SLC has told the CMA that it is making a number of changes to the way it procures goods and services for disabled students. The changes will increase price transparency and competition amongst companies, and should therefore limit the potential for anti-competitive behaviour to take place.
  • The CMA has not made a legal finding as to whether competition law has been broken at this stage, but it will keep this sector under review, 

Wonkhe have a blog – Is a market the best way of supporting disabled students?

And the Student Loans Company have issued a statement following the CMA’s action stating they welcome the advisory action and that they take these allegations of anti-competitive behaviour within the DSA supplier base extremely seriously… Also they have already embarked on a programme of significant reforms, designed to transform the customer experience, improve the provision of DSA and to make the overall processes more efficient. These reforms will also increase transparency of pricing and increase competition thus limiting the potential for any anti-competitive behaviour. SLC has already procured an e-quotation system, which will allow more suppliers to quote for work and will increase transparency of pricing and competition.

Lost learning

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published research on the crisis in lost school learning. Dods have summarised the report. The report sets out the potential long-run costs of lost schooling and finds that, as a result of the pandemic, children across the UK are likely to lose at least half a year of normal, in-person schooling. They conclude that, absent a substantial policy response, the long-run effects of this learning loss are likely to be slow-moving and substantial – arguing that, in the end, we will all be less productive, poorer, have less money to spend on public services, and we may be less happy and healthy as a result. They also say that we will probably also be more unequal, with all the social ills that come with it. Key findings:

  • By February half-term, children across the UK will have lost at least half a year of normal, in person schooling. This would increase to two thirds of a year if schools weren’t to reopen as normal until Easter
  • Early evidence already suggests this loss of schooling is contributing to lower educational progress and skills, particularly for disadvantaged pupils
  • Existing evidence on returns to schooling would imply a long-run loss in earnings of £350bn
  • If, the efforts by schools, teachers, children, parents and charities allowed us to mitigate 75% of this effect, the total loss would still be £90bn
  • A large amount of these negative effects are likely to be borne by children from lower-income families, resulting in a likely rise in inequality over the long-run
  • A massive injection of resources is likely to be required to help pupils properly catch up
  • A useful benchmark to judge these plans is the normal cost of half a year of schooling, about £30 billion across the UK
  • So far, governments across the UK have allocated about £1.5bn towards the cost of catch-up – this is highly unlikely to be sufficient to help pupils catch-up or prevent inequalities from widening.

HEPI has a blog by Gwen Morris on “Closing the attainment gap: how disadvantaged pupils have been impacted by COVID-19

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

Aside from the hardship funding described above, there is more heat than light on this subject.

The APPG for Students released a report from their inquiry into tuition and accommodation costs during Covid-19 making the case for compensation. (Note – an APPG inquiry does not have the same power within Parliament as an official select committee inquiry and the Government is not compelled to respond to it.)

The APPG state the priority is to provide students with the financial assistance they need now – through an emergency hardship fund and full compensation for rents for unused accommodation due to lockdown measures. Recommendations:

  1. The Government should substantially increase hardship funding to address rental costs for student properties they cannot access, lost income, digital poverty and other unexpected cost.
  2. The Government should consider the introduction of means-tested maintenance grants to assist the ‘Covid cohort’ with the costs they face.
  3. The Government should work with landlords to introduce measures to temporarily increase flexibility for student accommodation to allow students to leave contracts they aren’t using more easily, and to reduce pressure on landlords.
  4. Government should establish a ‘Covid Student Learning Remediation Fund’, to allow lost learning to be addressed through provision of educational opportunities not available through the pandemic.
  5. UKRI studentships for PGR students should be extended to allow research to be finished to usual high standards, in circumstances where lockdown has affected access to facilities and resources. Consideration should also be given to support for self-funded students.

Dods have an impartial and clear article on the call for refunds in The House (parliamentary) magazine. It highlights a difficult factor that the sector is fully aware of:  it is unclear what shape a refund of a loan that most would never fully repay anyway would take.  And other tricky elements:

  • So who should pay when customers (i.e. students) feel they are no longer getting value for money? It would be easy to conclude that it should be down to HE providers themselves. But when we consider that many of the restrictions causing these issues come from government-mandated measures, and ultimately from a global pandemic, where to lay the blame becomes less clear.
  • And what is a customer to do once they’ve received a refund, but are still left with what they believe to be a faulty product? Money in the pockets of students might satisfy their initial gripes, but they still might not get what they set out to achieve when they completed their UCAS application.

Wonkhe have a review article going over it all: Someone has to give in the great tuition fees battle. Who will it be? A light read as Jim Dickinson injects some great examples in there. It covers student consent to changes in the curriculum arising from the pandemic. It concludes: Something – or more specifically, someone – has to give here. And if universities have nothing left, it’s either students or DfE. OfS wagging its finger at universities is just fence-sitting. The actual side that OfS picks in the coming battle will tell us everything we need to know both about its real priorities and its “independence“.

Wonkhe also cover a mini legal hiccup relating to the vacation (Christmas) household and their term time address.

Wonkhe report: Accommodation provider Unite has announced it will extend its 50 per cent rent discount until 8 March 2021. The extension applies automatically to students who successfully applied for the original discount. 

The BBC covered a letter written by the VC’s of seven universities calling for the interest on student loans to be scrapped for 15 months to ease the pressure on graduates. I.e. from lockdown 1 to summer 2021. The BBC state that just for first year undergraduates it would cost £33 million. The Government has stated that this wouldn’t support students now, which the hardship funding they announced (in Access and Participation section) will. The Government also reminded that half of students do not fully pay back their student loan. The VC’s letter also highlighted that demands for hardship funds have increased by over 100% in some universities.

On Tuesday the petitions committee met to consider e-petitions:

Guidance: The DfE published new return to campus guidance for HE students and providers. All remains as expected:

  • All teaching to remain online until at least 8 March except for certain practical subjects (e.g. veterinary, policing, medicine)
  • On accommodation and costsit states: Because of the changing position relating to face to face teaching and occupation of accommodation, students’ loan entitlements for the current term will not be reassessed if they are still incurring accommodation costs away from home, meaning that students in receipt of the ‘living away from home’’ loan will retain the maintenance loans paid at the start of term, which will be repaid in the usual way. This should help to ensure students have the financial support they need during these exceptional circumstances. Students who are no longer incurring accommodation costs away from home (e.g. because they have exited their contracts, or moved home permanently), or who no longer wish to receive the higher rate of loan, should continue to request reassessment.
  • On testing: HE providers should set a clear expectation that all students should access coronavirus (COVID-19) testing immediately on their return to university and on a twice weekly basis thereafter (until the end of March). With students who choose not to get tested on return, to self-isolate for ten days.

Quick News: Meanwhile a review published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has found that the currently unregulated use of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) products nearly quadrupled to £2.7bn during 2020 and five million people had used them since the start of the pandemic. This has been flagged as a potential student concern because: The trend of younger people moving away from products such as credit cards and towards new offerings, including unregulated BNPL products was regularly raised by respondents to the review. It calls for the market to be properly regulated as there is significant potential for consumer harm. The Treasury confirmed interest-free BNPL agreements will now be regulated by the FCA. It means that providers will need to undertake affordability checks before lending and ensure that customers are treated fairly, especially those who are vulnerable and struggling with repayments.

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

Dods share that Times Higher Education have published the results and subsequent report of their Digital Teaching Survey, which aims to capture an overview of universities’ digital transitions in response to the pandemic, and the effect this has on students and learning outcomes. You can view the report in full here

Carried out in October and November, the survey attracted 520 self-selecting respondents. And although the majority (334) are from the UK, a total of 46 countries are represented in the responses, spread across all continents bar Antarctica.  Among the findings are:

  • More than half of respondents say the initial move to online teaching had a negative effect on their mental health, and nearly six in 10 believe it hit their students’ mental health.
  • Only a fifth believe that their students value remote education as much as face-to-face, but less than a third think tuition fees should be discounted when instruction moves online.
  • Only four in 10 junior academics believe their reopened universities’ planning for Covid outbreaks is robust, compared with seven in 10 senior managers.
  • Less than a fifth of respondents regard the two-track physical and online approach to teaching as sustainable, while two-fifths regard an online-only future as sustainable.
  • Respondents are mostly unsure whether good online teaching results in stronger learning than traditional teaching, but more than twice as many disagree as agree.
  • More than three-quarters would like online meetings to endure beyond the pandemic.

Wonkhe and Pearson published findings from their latest student experience research: Students’ experiences of study during Covid-19 and hopes for future learning and teaching and Pearson have a blog highlighting the key elements here. They work through what aspects of online and blended delivery should be retained in the short term, what are the areas for longer term strategic development, and what can be gratefully consigned to the dustbin of history.

There seems to be a consensus among university leaders of learning and teaching that while the explosion in online and blended learning of the past year didn’t come about in exactly the way the sector would have chosen, there’s now little sense in reverting back to the way things were before.

In the blog Pearson say:

  • What university leaders may consider heartening and daunting in equal measure is that there are very few elements of online learning and teaching that the students we surveyed would not like to see continue after the pandemic.
  • Also: Despite the positive endorsement of many aspects of online and blended learning, these findings should not be taken as an absolute endorsement of the quality of the academic experience as it’s currently being delivered.
  • Our sense from the survey is that students understand – up to a point – the challenges facing universities and teaching staff and genuinely appreciate ongoing efforts to support them. Students were particularly warm about communications with teaching staff, with 82 per cent agreeing that tutors are responsive when they need them.

And on a quality experience:

  • However, when we asked straight out whether students thought their academic experience had been of sufficiently good quality during the autumn term, only 40 per cent said yes. This increased to 56 per cent for those who had reported their course had been delivered through a mixture of face to face and online.
  • You might argue that students don’t have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the concept of “quality” to be able to answer that question meaningfully. So we also asked about aspects of course delivery.
  • 32 per cent agreed and 41 per cent somewhat agreed that teaching is intellectually stimulating. 31 per cent agreed and 38 per cent somewhat agreed that their course is clear and well organised. This suggests that for the most part the basics are in place in terms of teaching and curriculum. That said, improving the organisation and signposting of courses in the VLE could be a relatively easy way for universities to further support their students in this area.

The blog also highlights (by comparison to earlier June 2020 survey) that access to feedback, support from lecturers, and access to technology and resources have all improved. Where there’s room for further investigation is in providing a consistently engaging online learning experience and bringing curriculum content to life for students. 

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

63% would like more opportunities for interactions with other students
57% would choose more contact time with tutors

Methods to support monitoring their own progress were also highlighted. The blog states:

Only 35 per cent said they have regular indicators about how they are performing on the course. In a context where students are more isolated and have fewer opportunities to compare notes with peers or talk informally to lecturers, building opportunities for self-assessment of progress can be especially helpful to give students academic confidence and self-efficacy, especially given the finding on students’ sense of their own preparedness for formal assessment. 36 per cent said that more frequent assessments and progress reviews would make a difference to their experience.

Pearson say:

  • Where educators aspire to take forward a rich flexible learning environment that blends face to face and online elements, there’s an opportunity to make some of the latent aspects of learning more explicit through the course design. For example, better user experience (UX) design of VLEs could vastly improve signposting and help set expectations around learning. With flexible learning, educators could be much less constrained by scheduled contact hours, and more able to create curriculum structures and processes that enable students to progress in their learning.
  • Interaction between students need not only take place in the classroom but can be supplemented by online discussion and forums. Curriculum content can be broken down into more manageable chunks that can be digested digitally, and the classroom used for more engaging interactive tasks and activities.
  • Academic skills development can be baked explicitly into learning activities with defined tasks designed to be completed during independent learning time. Crucially, students can be encouraged and supported to develop as independent learners through use of formative self-assessment. And all this could be supported with remote check-ins with tutors and online access to wellbeing, careers and academic support services.
  • it’s clear that, now students have recognised the benefits of a more flexible approach,the direction of travel in meeting students expectations for the future of learning and teaching will be towards a more purposefully flexible approach that draws on the best of both online and face to face learning. Although one does wonder whether it is the institutions rather than the students that needed to recognise the benefits of flexible blended learning. The infrastructure and mindset change cannot be underestimated but we can hope the pandemic accelerated the turnaround of the proverbial educational oil tanker.

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

  • Increases in students studying video games degrees since 2012/13.
  • A Turing (student mobility) website is coming soon – more information…and setting out the application process in the coming weeks

Augar

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.

Many of the consultations this year have potential to be transformative for the sector. BU readers can find our response to the OfS consultation on quality and standards here.  You can read the UUK response here and the one from London Higher here.

As we note above, the PQA consultation is live (we are considering a BU response)

Other news

Nick Hillman makes the case that English universities need to cultivate allies – either in wider society or in Whitehall – to prepare for the coming spending review.

Equality: Advance HE published the blog Ensuring continued steps towards gender equality. And Wonkhe report: Advance HE has released the second part of its literature review investigating the prevalence of unconscious bias in teaching and learning in higher education. Bias in the Curriculum brings together best practice from across Advance HE members, recommending that an awareness of curriculum bias be built into teaching, with students invited to co-create interventions to address it.

Youth Mental Health: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made an announcement on appointing Dr. Alex George as a Youth Mental Health Ambassador

Law Programmes: A new Wonkhe blog – A new qualification route will shape future lawyers – the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) offers law schools the chance to radically rethink their course offer.

Careers support: Wonkhe report: A report from the City and Guilds Group and Burning Glass finds that just 16 per cent of working adults understands how their skills would transfer to another career. The survey of just over 1,000 adults finds that 21 per cent lacked knowledge of work in other employment sectors, and 19 per cent described a “lack of confidence” in considering a second career. TES has the story.

Low quality courses: Wonkhe comment on a SRHE blog piece stating it explains how the ministerial complaints around standards and “low quality” courses have only become less coherent over the past ten years.

Brexit: Wonkhe reports that The European University Association has published a short briefing into the implications for universities of the final Brexit agreement. The document covers the UK’s withdrawal from the Eramus scheme, cross-border data sharing and trade in educational services, and travel and residence between the UK and the EU.

Youth Unemployment: In December 2020 the Lords Liaison Committee recommended that the House established a new special inquiry committee to consider youth unemployment, education and skills. This report set out recommendations for the Committee to address. They include:

  • The societal trend of prioritising the A-level/University route, the consequences for the labour market and society and what steps may be taken to address this.
  • The funding and support provided for technical education, including apprenticeships, sector-based skills programmes and the national skills fund.
  • The challenges posed by COVID-19 and Brexit to the employment prospects for young people and how these might be addressed.

The Youth Unemployment Committee has now been established in the Lords, the details are gradually being populated here and this link names the members.

Wellbeing:  Just after we sent last week’s policy update a new report was issued by Jisc and Emerge Education Student and staff wellbeing in higher education. It suggests ways in which universities can address student mental health and wellbeing by embracing technology and embedding wellbeing practices into every aspect of university life.

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HE Policy Update w/e 18th January 2021

The Minister for Universities and the OfS ended the week with the opposite of a charm offensive.  Significant interest in student rent reached a head this week with MPs calling for action and supporting student concerns in Parliament. GCSE and Gavin Williamson announced his alternative plans for exams this summer (spoiler alert: the proposal centres on externally set exams, but they will be marked by teachers and other evidence can be taken into account). Perhaps not surprisingly the political gossip centred on whether Gavin Williamson has run out of road.

The Minister takes to Twitter

So perhaps rather late in the day taking a lead from other leaders who (used to) use Twitter to communicate with the masses, and continuing the pattern that both the DfE and the OfS have had since March of communicating with the sector late at night and at weekends, Michelle Donelan took to Twitter on Friday evening (at 7.16pm).  With the “student message” headings left in, which were surely drafting notes, it looks like it was done in a hurry.  It is safe to say that it hasn’t been very well received, with attacks both from across the sector and also from the group it was probably aimed at – parents (ie voters).

It’s a real issue that the Minister is taking this tone and approach, apart from perpetuating the myth of the £256 million.

And the tone is consistent with the tone the OfS are taking.  They wrote to universities on Thursday.

  • They say that universities should do all they can to deliver the teaching they have promised to students and make alternative arrangements where this is not possible – this may include putting on extra lectures, repeating parts of the course, or offering fee refunds.
  • The OfS does not have legal powers to require refunds to be paid, but it has set out actions for universities and colleges to ensure they continue to meet regulatory requirements so that students can continue to benefit from their education.
  • The regulator has asked universities to assess the extent to which they have met the commitments they made to students in relation to teaching and alternative arrangements, and inform the OfS where there are risks that they may not be able to comply with its regulatory conditions.
  • Universities should assess:
    • whether they were sufficiently clear with new and continuing students about how teaching and assessment would be delivered in 2020-21, the circumstances in which changes might be made, and what those changes might entail
    • whether during the 2020 autumn term, students received the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably have expected to receive based on information provided
    • whether current plans for the 2021 spring and summer term will ensure that students receive the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably expect to receive based on the information provided.
  • The OfS will, where appropriate, take action as the result of notifications from students and others, and is likely to request further details of provider assessments where it has additional concerns.
  • Where students are not provided with clear information about how teaching and assessment will be delivered in 2020-21, or where teaching and assessment are not delivered as promised, universities are expected to actively consider refunds or other forms of redress.
  • The OfS expects each university to:
    • inform students of any further changes to teaching and assessment arrangements, such that these are broadly equivalent to those previously offered to students within the requirements of public health advice
    • inform students about their entitlement to seek refunds or other forms of redress – such as the opportunity to repeat parts of their course that were not delivered this year – if they have not received the teaching and assessment promised
    • provide students with clear information, advice and guidance about the implications of the changes and the options available to them.  This must include clear signposting of the route to complain or seek redress.
  • The OfS intends to publish revised guidance by the end of January on protecting quality and standards during the pandemic. These changes will include guidance on the approach to exams and assessments and the appropriate measures universities should take when considering mitigating or exceptional circumstances.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • “The pandemic is having a profound and ongoing impact on students who are still facing exceptional challenges. Universities and colleges have generally worked tirelessly under great pressure to ensure that students continue to receive good quality teaching, albeit now largely delivered remotely. We have consistently emphasised the importance of universities being clear to students about potential changes to course delivery where face-to-face teaching is not possible.
  • “Of course, we understand the tremendous pressures that the new lockdown imposes on universities and colleges, and some may no longer able to deliver the teaching and assessment arrangements that they said they would. This may not be in their direct control. However, in these circumstances they should do all they can to offer students alternatives – for instance by putting on extra lectures or course content later in the year – and where that is not possible, they should consider providing refunds where appropriate.
  • “Students will also be rightly concerned where they are being charged rent for properties they can’t currently occupy. Some universities have decided not to charge full rent in these circumstances. We are encouraging all universities and colleges who are not already doing so to consider carefully what the appropriate response is to these unprecedented circumstances where students have been asked not to return to their accommodation this term. We are also asking universities to consider what discussions they can have in support of their students with private landlords.”

Lots of commentary is available and will continue to emerge (apart from the responses to MD’s tweets) but here are some:

Admissions

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to Ofqual Chief Regulator, Simon Lebus, setting out the  2021 exam grading contingency options for consultation (including vocational qualifications). The regulator responded the same day with his own letter (its almost as if he knew what Gavin’s letter would say before he received it!).

And then the consultations came out on Friday and run for two weeks.  The main proposal for GCSEs and A-levels as noted above is externally set exams, sat in school and marked by teachers, used as part of a package of evidence for teacher assessed grades, with moderation and quality controls but no forced ranking or overriding algorithm, and a massive appeals process for all students which must be managed by schools.  On vocational exams it is hard to understand what they are proposing – they want assessments to go ahead and where these are practical and need in person attendance “the assessment will need to wait until it can practically be conducted, and the student is ready.”  The position is different because the relationship between Ofqual and the awarding organisations for vocational qualifications is different, so they are largely leaving it to Pearson and the rest to sort out.

Apart from anything else, this is perplexing for school and college students.  The PM told them exams were cancelled – what he actually meant was that “normal” exams would not go ahead but that assessment would continue which might well (read almost certainly) include formal exams which will in many cases be sat in school.  Lots of people and students welcome the opportunity to have exams.  But those who were anxious about them will now be anxious again.  If nothing else it would reduce anxiety levels to be accurate when making significant announcements.  If the detail wasn’t available (and it was, because they say have been working on it for months) then the PM could just have announced it was being looked at.

Consultation: GCSEs, AS and A Levels

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Based on teacher assessment
  • A teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education
  • Consulting on what broader evidence teachers require in setting grades and whether the externally set tasks and papers are required or just recommended.
  • Pupils should be assessed based on what they have learnt, rather than against content they haven’t had chance to study (balanced against good enough coverage of the curriculum)
  • Schools and colleges should undertake quality assurance of the teachers’ assessments and grades and provide reassurance to the exam boards. There will be training and support for this and external checks in place for fairness and to ensure consistency between institutions.
  • Changes to the institutional grades awarded as a result of the external quality assurance are expected to be an exception – the process will not involve second-guessing the judgement of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable. Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.
  • A clear and accessible route for private candidates to be assessed and receive a grade – consultation will consult on these options.
  • A clear route for review and appeal of grades (again ironed out in the consultation).
  • No algorithm will be used nor automatic standardisation of any individual’s grades

 Consultation detail:

  • It proposes externally set papers, possibly modular to allow teachers to choose which papers depending on what has been covered, to be marked by teachers and then included in the assessment along with other evidence. Exams to be sat in schools but with potential for online for students who can’t attend.  One of the consultation questions is whether these papers will be mandatory.
  • The main difference from last year is that there will be no forced ranking of students and while there will be moderation by the exam boards (which is surely going to be algorithm based although they can’t use the A word) any decisions have to be made by people. There will be no formal grade boundaries for the exams.
  • The other thing to note is that all students can appeal and the schools have to manage the appeals – a further appeal to the exam board will be on procedural issues only.  Also on timing – the assessment is to be made as late as possible but results will be published early……

Consultation: Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VQTs)

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Students will be able to progress fairly, irrespective of whether they sat an exam in January
  • Assessments should continue, taking place remotely, as adapted by individual awarding organisations
  • Recognition that level of disruption may mean no all internal assessment can be completed by all students
  • Essential assessments will be held in February and March for some students – i.e. where they must demonstrate the proficiency required to enter directly into employment or are needed to complete an apprenticeship – these will continue with protective measures in place.
  • Written exams will not go ahead. Assessments to be held online where they can, where they can’t alternatives will be consulted upon.

Consultation:

The proposed new alternative regulatory arrangements would:

  • permit awarding organisations to develop an approach to awarding qualifications in scope of the Department’s proposed policy on the basis of incomplete assessment evidence. As part of their approach awarding organisations should consider their minimum evidential requirement for awarding these qualifications to ensure sufficient validity and reliability. They should also consider where they need additional assessment evidence from teachers and what form this should take. For qualifications most similar to GCSEs, AS and A levels we would expect awarding organisations to use similar approaches to assessment and awarding. These approaches are currently being consulted on in parallel with this consultation.
  • expect awarding organisations to be mindful of the burden their approach places on centres and learners, and to provide clear and timely advice and guidance
  • require awarding organisations to issue certificates (where appropriate) as normal and to not refer on the certificate to a result having been determined under the alternative regulatory arrangements
  • require awarding organisations to include private learners in their arrangements as far as possible
  • permit awarding organisations to take the same approach for qualifications taken in international markets, provided that this does not undermine the validity of the qualifications. We would also expect awarding organisations to consider and address the risks around malpractice and the particular needs of the international market

In Lebus’ letter to Williamson a few points stand out:

  • we are fully committed to doing all that we can, including making sure teachers are equipped and making use of awarding organisations’ quality assurance processes, so that students’ results are as fair as possible
  • no assessment arrangements can take account of all the different ways that students have suffered from the pandemic.
  • we have been considering together the potential alternatives to exams and other formal assessments for some time and have learned a number of lessons from last summer. Our thinking is well advanced. It is, though, important that all affected by these arrangements have the opportunity to comment on them.
  • We both wish to ensure that accountability for decisions following the consultation is clear and transparent. We understand your final determinations will be reflected in a formal direction to us under the relevant legislation. We will publicly and formally record the decisions we take in light of your direction. [A ‘don’t blame us’ this time warning?!]
  • we will want the consultation to consider the role of externally set short papers.
  • we also wish to support and incentivise students to engage with their education for the remainder of the academic year, including to continue with any non-exam assessment where possible. We propose that the final determination of a student’s grade should take place as late in the academic year as possible. We believe this will give students a greater sense of agency, which is critical to securing widespread acceptance of the outcomes
  • It is important that the consultation makes clear to all, especially those who rely on the results to make selection decisions, that overall outcomes this year will likely look different from 2020 and previous years. This issue will be important for your work with the post-16 and higher education sectors to secure orderly progression and to protect the interests of disadvantaged students.
  • We are acutely aware that all who have a stake in the results this year, particularly students and their parents and carers and teachers, as well as higher and further education institutions and employers, need certainty about the arrangements to be put in place

A selection of this week’s coverage:

The Petitions Committee agreed to schedule debates for the following e-petitions which reached over 100,000 signatures:

However, as Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) neither will see a debate in the immediate future.

Admissions Reform: Research Professional have an article: There is an “appetite for reform” of the university admissions process, according to the Office for Students’ director for access and participation—but changing the application timetable is not a “magic bullet”.

Research

Kwasi Kwarteng, who was previously minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, has taken over as Business Secretary as Alok Sharma has gone off to head COP26.

  • Research Professional (RP): One of the immediate issues that Kwarteng will be asked to consider is whether the Research Excellence Framework should be further delayed given the pressures put on university staff by the latest lockdown. No-one has yet been prepared to make the case that ensuring REF returns are made by 31 March is a priority for our newly designated critical workers. RP cover this here and here.
  • Also Research Professional: emails seen by Research Professional News have revealed the close ties between prime minister Boris Johnson’s controversial former adviser Dominic Cummings and the UK’s largest public research funding agency.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee held a session on The contribution of Innovation Catapults in delivering the R&D Roadmap you can read a summary of the session here. It included scrutiny of the catapults role in meeting the Government’s 2.4% R&D target.

UKRI announced the winners of the second phase of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s (ISCF) decarbonisation of industrial clusters: cluster plan competition. The six winners sharing the £8 million come from consultancies, development companies, local authorities, partnerships, and consortiums. It is unclear if any have strong links with universities.

NERC appointed four new Science Committee members from the HE sector. And the Wellcome Trust’s new Director of research programmes, Cheryl Moore, will take up the post in May 2021.

Research Fundermentals published their own horizon scan and predictions about what 2021 will mean for research matters.

Research Professional also published these articles:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Concerns

Despite parliamentary petitions and grass roots campaigning students made small progress with the calls to be refunded for tuition fees during online study and receive rent reductions or get out of their letting contracts. The lobbying quietened down for a while but gained momentum in the last week. Towards the end of last week several Labour MPs signed an early day motion (EDM) calling on the Government to scrap tuition fees and cancel student debt. As it was a manifesto pledge for Labour the EDM wasn’t remarkable.

Next the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students launched an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on university students and calls for compensation.  

The number of parliamentary questions relating to student fees and accommodation costs has grown significantly again, including those relating to healthcare tuition fees and nurses working within the NHS as part of the Covid response. This week rent stories exploded across the media and HE specific sources, students initiated rent strikes, Unite Students (a major student accommodation provider announced partial refunds and concessions) and MPs came out in support of student rental concerns.

BBC – students have pledged a rent strike over unused rooms

Research Professional – universities have been warned that they could be breaking the law by refusing to allow students to return to halls; and:

The UCAS Knight Frank survey was released to a very receptive national audience. Wonkhe describe:

  • a survey of more than 70,000 new and current students between February and November last year. The Student Accommodation Survey finds that between March and June, around 75 per cent of students surveyed reported that they had or were planning to move back home, though there were regional variations.
  • Seventy-two percent of last year’s first year students were not paying rent after campuses closed – 71 per cent of students in other years were paying full rent.
  • The survey also offers an insight into who pays for accommodation – 41 per cent of first years, and 49 per cent of those in other years, reported that their parents or guardians were funding accommodation costs. On average, students living in private purpose built student accommodation (PBSAs) paid £7,200 per annum, compared to £6,650 in university accommodation and £5,900 for students in privately rented accommodation.
  • Sixty-nine per cent of students living in university-owned or PBSAs were happy with their landlord’s approach to Covid-19, compared to just 25 per cent of students in houses of multiple occupancy.

Research Professional add: Unsurprisingly, the ability to terminate tenancy agreements and a degree of flexibility on rent were highlighted as factors behind greater contentment with purpose-built accommodation over other settings…Respondents renting in non-purpose-built housing said private landlords were not prepared to make “any allowances for the impacts of the virus” and had “poor communication or lack of understanding and sensitivity around students’ financial situations and job losses”.

On Wednesday a NUS survey highlights student rental concerns. Wonkhe summarise: The most recent iteration of an NUS survey finds that 69 per cent of students are worried about their ability to pay rent, and 22 per cent have been unable to pay their rent in full in past months. The survey of 4,193 students ran between 6 and 23 November. 

An equally well timed YouGov poll surveyed the nation (so not just those with a vested interest as students or parents of students) on accommodation fees. They asked Do you think students who are unable to return to their student accommodation due to lockdown should still have to pay rent as normal or not?  54% of the public respondents felt that students shouldn’t have to pay anything at all; 30% felt they should pay a reduced rate; 5% felt students should continue to pay their rent in full.

Several MPs and Lords have expressed support for students to be offered some form of package or reduction. David Davis MP tweeted his letter to the Government to support university students who are unable to return to their term-time accommodation. He also stated Unite Students are right to provide refunds to students for periods where they cannot return to their properties and calls on the Government to step up.

This cross-party parliamentary support for student rent forgiveness alongside Boris Johnson acknowledging that the issue needs addressing, and Unite Students’ proactive refunds have been significant progress for this student concern. What remains to be seen is what position the Government will take however, no matter how sympathetic they are to the cause, it is still hard to imagine a Government scheme offering blanket refunds (including private landlords).

A selection of parliamentary questions on tuition fees…

And parliamentary questions on other student matters:

Finally the Petitions Committee published their latest decisions on e-petitions which received over 100,000 signatures and agreed to schedule a debate for:

However, Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) so the debate will not take place in the immediate future.

Professional Registration

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) issued a press release stating they’re in discussion with Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, alongside 17 professional, statutory and regulatory body representatives and Universities UK to address new challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The press release states they: discussed a range of barriers affecting progression and graduation in accredited programmes, in order to ensure students are able to complete their awards this summer and progress into the workplace with continued assurance of high standards and competencies.

QAA Chief Executive, Douglas Blackstock said:

  • Throughout the pandemic, QAA has engaged with PSRBs on behalf of our members and with a focus on ensuring students can progress towards the profession they have chosen. These bodies play an important role in protecting public safety and we are grateful that they have been able to adapt flexibly during the pandemic.
  • QAA has worked with professional bodies for many years and will continue to work collaboratively with them, and our members, so that students can achieve professional competencies and learning outcomes and so that standards are maintained.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said: It is absolutely vital that students are able to graduate from their courses this year and achieve the meaningful qualifications that they need to kickstart their careers. Education has been our priority from the start of this pandemic, and we will continue to work closely with QAA, Universities UK and sector bodies, to identify and address any challenges they face during this difficult time.

Will he stay or will he go?

Speculation about Williamson’s continued tenure as Education Minister continues. On Monday Research Professional reported Boris as stating that the education secretary is doing his job “to his utmost ability”. One doesn’t quite know if that is support or censure. The BBC have: Gavin Williamson: How has he survived? It is well worth a read, it begins: Gavin Williamson’s political obituary has been written so many times he must sometimes feel like the walking dead. So how has England’s under-pressure education secretary survived in his job? Or is there a counter-narrative that he’s been unfairly blamed for decisions not really his own? For example, it has been well trailed that Boris went over Gavin’s head in closing the schools during a meeting he didn’t attend – meaning a U turn in one of Gavin’s flagship policies (that schools would remain open). The question of a reshuffle or even just an ousting of Williamson may come down to the reluctance (stubbornness?) of Boris to sack key staff, despite their mistakes and public unpopularity. Or perhaps as the BBC put it Gavin knows where the bodies are buried.

Gavin Williamson was scrutinised by the Commons Education Committee on Wednesday. Prior to the session Research Professional speculated what he might be questioned on in this brilliant article. It mentions many of the major points and issues facing education and HE at present and with only a couple sentences on each it is a great catch up for anyone still stuck in the Christmas cheese or overcome by home schooling.

In the end the Committee had very little direct HE content. There was strong focus on schools and on matters surrounding the alternatives to the 2021 exams (including BTEC) Williamson’s performance at Committee maintained the Government lines and yielded little new information. He appeared uninformed at times and employed famed political techniques such as not answering the question asked, answering a question that wasn’t asked, avoiding apologising and blaming others (schools mostly). However, he was focussed in his answers and less aggressive in tone than in recent appearances. Dods provide a comprehensive summary of the session here.

If you want the short version, there was one question on HE:

  • Asked about financial sustainability for universities, including the challenge for the newer ones with no reserves, and about student accommodation costs.  Rambles about universities giving additional support (?).  Some institutions may be in financial difficulties, he says the restructuring regime is established and ready to go.  Despite concerns there have been no collapses but contingency is ready.  MP says her local university was offered a loan not a grant and some management consultants that they didn’t want or need and they have had to have major staff cuts.  GW says some will have to restructure what they offer and how they run.  Zero empathy for the sector in these replies.   He doesn’t answer the questions either.

And he mentions us at the end when he thanks everyone working in education, including universities.

Graduate Wellbeing Analysis

The OfS have released data for key performance measure 17 – graduate wellbeing. It shows part timers scoring higher on life satisfaction and for feeling that things done in life are worthwhile.

Note – only the respondents who gave the strongest positive wellbeing response were included in the above analysis. For the data and more information start here. It may seem odd to you that the OfS data release only covers this aspect and limited data. It seems odd to us too. One hopes it isn’t the regulator searching for a new stick to beat HE with or engaging in political point scoring.

Education Policy – research / curriculum development

The Education Policy Institute has published two reviews. Curriculum policy in England has been characterised by frequent change in recent decades. In order to identify lessons about how curriculum systems can be better formulated and revised in England, this evidence review outlines how five leading education nations around the world have developed their curriculum systems in recent years.

The first review aimed to understand how leading education nations around the world develop their education policies and examines the education systems of Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland and South Korea – How Leading Education Nations Develop And Reform Their Curriculum Systems.

The second considers the role of research and evaluation in education policymaking in leading nations including Australia, Finland, Japan, Scotland and Singapore. It focuses on how leading countries organise, focus and fund their education research and evaluation, both in the context of major system change and in terms of how each country assesses the effectiveness of its education system.

Access & Participation

The Education Committee continued hearing evidence into the inquiry on Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dods have provided a summary of last week’s session which covers several aspects relating to HE.

Fair Admissions: The Nuffield Foundation have published Fair Admission to Universities in England: Improving Policy and Practice. Neon describe the report: A new report from the Nuffield Foundation finds that highly selective universities in England are increasingly taking into account the socioeconomic and educational contexts in which applicants achieved their grades when making admissions decisions. However lead author, Professor Vikki Boliver of Durham University argues that universities should be bolder in their approach:

“Universities have taken some tentative steps in a positive direction when it comes to widening access to higher education for students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. This is encouraging but by being bolder we believe that they can further improve the chances of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The report recommends several steps that universities should take including:

  • Reducing entry requirements for contextually disadvantaged applicants by more than just one or two grades.
  • Contextualising all admissions criteria, including GCSE grades, personal statements and interview performances.
  • Ensuring that the new commitments to supporting contextually disadvantaged students to achieve their potential at university are fulfilled.

Overall the report recommends switching from the traditional admissions model, where places go to the highest qualified candidates, irrespective of social background, to a model where prospective students’ qualifications are judged in light of their socioeconomic circumstances. The report also recommends that there is a move towards post qualification admissions and replace POLAR with individual measures of socioeconomic disadvantage which is made available to universities.

Parliamentary Questions:

International & Mobility

Research Professional published: Drop in international first-years made up by other students

On Turing The Times has an opinion piece from Taiwo Owatemi, MP for Coventry North West, on the inadequacies of the new scheme.

Parliamentary Questions

Parliamentary Questions

Sir John Hayes supports the alternatives to HE agenda:

Regulatory

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

Censoring ‘Free Speech’: Students and graduates recruited to work on a free speech campaign have resigned in protest stating their views were censored and they were pushed to conform. There was also anger that they had been signed up without understanding the links between Toby Young’s controversial pressure group the Free Speech Union (FSU) and the project they had been recruited to. The Guardian has the story.

Poverty report: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published its annual report on the nature and scale of poverty across the UK. It covers investment in skills and the retraining agenda.

Mental health: The Government have announced they will reform mental health laws.

T levels: The Government announced a £135 million capital fund for T level providers to bid into. The Government press release states: the multi-million pound investment will ensure T Level students have access to the world class facilities and cutting-edge equipment they need to get ahead.

Tech access for disadvantaged pupils: Commenting on the Department for Education’s supply of laptops and other equipment to enable disadvantaged students to access remote learning, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: It is not credible for Boris Johnson or Gavin Williamson to claim that their priority under Covid is to protect the very same disadvantaged students they have so routinely let down. It is a stain on the Government’s record that they have failed disadvantaged students so badly. The immense disruption in autumn half term, with so many absent from school due to self-isolation or close contact with those in their bubble who were having to self-isolate, was a clear warning that the education secretary needed to properly build the groundwork for a continuity and equity of education for all students. But the warning went unheeded, and in Gavin Williamson ‘s recent announcements on laptop and data roll-out it is abundantly clear he is still weeks away from anything like an adequate response. Schools have been kept waiting for equipment that has been promised to them throughout the pandemic, with last minute delays, changes or retractions of the kit they need becoming an alarmingly normalised response from the Department for Education.  It is surely a no-brainer that schools should be compensated for having to plug the gaps, which are entirely due to governmental sloth. Every child must have access to the equipment they need to ensure they can learn safely from home. When will the government take their responsibility towards these children seriously?  However, speaking at the Education Committee on Wednesday Gavin Williamson painted a very different picture stating the equipment had been sent to schools and some were in line to receive additional items.

Islamophobia: Research Professional published this article Universities fail to see ‘insidious nature’ of campus Islamophobia stating that the report finds improvements are needed by institutions.

EdTech Boom: FE News report that lockdown measures and mandatory school closures in 2020 led to a 71.5% growth of the UK educational technology (EdTech) sector – despite a -11% contraction in GDP overall. Over the course of the pandemic, schools, colleges and universities have had to move lessons online, and many educators, organisations and businesses have developed smarter ways to deliver remote learning. The growth puts the value of the UK EdTech market at almost £3.5bn – with EdTech exports pre-crisis bringing in £170m to the economy, now expected to have topped £292m.

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Student experience news, more guidance on reopening, OfS share analysis, and Wonkhe highlight some uncomfortable exclusions within the additional student number place bidding requirements.

Reopening campus

The OfS has published Guidance for providers about student and consumer protection during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It includes

  • Protecting student interest by providing clear and timely information (current and prospective students)
  • Ensuring T&Cs and complaints processes are accessible and fair
  • Providing alternative teaching and support that is broadly equivalent to the usual arrangements
  • Projecting and considering the students most vulnerable to disruption (unwell, self-isolating, international students, those struggling to engage with remote learning, care leavers, estranged students and students with disabilities).
  • Engagement with student unions
  • Prospective students should understand what the institution plans to deliver during the disrupted period and plans in place should matters change. Enough information is required for the student to make an informed decision about whether to commence the course with the adjustments in place or whether to defer or go elsewhere. As the plan can be a moving feast providers should be clear what is definite and what is fluid. Including the differing scenarios, i.e. as restrictions ease and what can be expected from any face-to-face teaching in each scenario version.
  • When students can change their mind about the offer is also set out.
  • Fee levels should be clear including if reductions will be made as a result of the disruption and, if so, when students can expect fee levels to return to normal.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS stated:

  • These are exceptionally challenging times for both students and universities, but students must be told clearly how their courses will be taught next year.
  • While many universities and colleges have responded to the crisis with innovation and ingenuity, all current students have had their studies disrupted. Any adjustments that continue into next year must be clearly communicated, and students must have access to a transparent and flexible complaints process should they feel that suitable changes have not been made.

Research Professional cover the guidance here.

Wonkhe have four offerings:

The DfE published HE Reopening Buildings and Campuses – just after UUK and others issued their guidance (and some time after universities have already made and publicised decisions). The guidance restates all the sensible common sense approaches the sector is already adopting. It also mentions the OfS quality and standards guidance.

On the curriculum the guidance states:

  • We recognise that, for many courses, online teaching and learning is working effectively and has a high degree of learner engagement (while it will also benefit those who are not able to physically attend, for example those with family members who are shielding). You should identify the appropriate mix of online and face-to-face content for each subject, reflecting what will maximise learning as well as supporting more vulnerable learners, and enabling the provider as a whole to minimise transmission risk.
  • Certain types of course, for example in the performing arts, have involved a degree of practical face-to-face teaching and assessment…You might consider how to encourage new ways of delivering in-person teaching and assessment that adhere to guidelines on social distancing, so that all students can receive a high-quality educational experience in a way that protects both students and staff.

On international students the government warns universities to make provision to support the 14 day self-isolation and requirement to adhere to safe travel between arrival in UK and the self-isolating accommodation destination. Furthermore, to ensure students are safe and well looked after during the 14 day self-isolation period. The guidance states:

  • While it is for institutions to decide how they support international students, we believe it is important that you make every effort to welcome them to the UK and your responsibilities should start as soon as a student lands, if not before. And: You should also consider the needs of students, including international students, who may be suffering hardship or be without the ability to travel as a result of the outbreak.

There are also the expected reminders around duty of care, student and staff wellbeing and suicide prevention (both of which are Governmental priorities).

Wonkhe report on Life interrupted! Report 4 stating that

  • students are unhappy about “full fees” because of perceptions that their learning experience, or the wider student experience, will be compromised.
  • Prospective students are willing to accept limitations on learning in September provided that additional academic support is readily available, and that contingency plans are made for practical aspects. They are also concerned about the social aspects they will be missing out on – and are hoping that universities and/or students’ unions will help to provide alternative arrangements including delayed freshers events, online societies and a virtual introduction to their peers. Students are most keen to meet those with a shared choice in subject, societies and accommodation.

The Times published this ‘advice’ in a student’s opinion piece: Without free-range socialising, university life will be barren: are you planning to start university in September? My advice is run for the hills and defer. The first year of university is too important to be conducted in a socially-distanced manner, and not worth the £9,250 it will cost you. Not quite as drastic as it seems it goes on to mention all the life learning that students fear missing out on: Conversations at all hours of the day and night are where ideas are exchanged, opinions formed, and insights shared across subjects. It is interesting as a young undergraduate perspective but also for demonstrating affluent privilege and not recognising all the commuter students, carers, and online students who do not have access to this experience throughout their HE journey.

Deferrals: A Guardian article highlights the on-course students who are not being permitted to defer their studies due to C-19. Meanwhile Wonkhe report:

The Telegraph covers worries among major student landlords that Covid-19 might lead large numbers of students to defer, disrupting their reliable revenue streams; and has advice for students considering deferring their place at university, including reasons why that might be a bad idea.

The BBC also has advice for students considering deferring the start of their academic studies due to Covid-19.

The BBC look at the gap year as a choice forced by the pandemic.

Students Parliamentary Questions

Student Academic Experience Survey

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Advance HE published the results of the 2020 Student Academic Experience survey.  Jane attended the launch webinar which was different from the last few – no big ministerial speech and a reflective approach on the experience of under-represented and disadvantaged groups in the pandemic and more generally, including an excellent panel presentation from the President of Bath University’s student union. There are differences in the results too, and they have analysed some of the responses into before and after lockdown. It will be interesting to see if the same approach is used in presenting the NSS results, which are due on 15th July now (a delay from the original 1st July date).

It is worth reading the report in full but here are some headlines:

  • Value for money perceptions have fallen again, after a rise over a couple of years – possibly linked to the pandemic as students were interviewed before and after lockdown and those interviewed after lockdown gave a lower response.
  • The decline was most keenly felt by students in England and Scotland (which may not be where they are studying). Students from outside the EU showed an increase in their perception of value for money.
  • Cost is always a factor driving negative perceptions. This year 7% said “another reason” which is unusual for this survey and they mentioned contact hours linked to strikes and the pandemic.
  • There are interesting charts on the impact of paid employment – which is increasing, which raises concerns about financial hardship next year when job may be harder to find.
  • There is an uptick in people saying that their experience has been better than expected.
  • Different ethnic groups have very different perceptions of their experience
  • There is also a set of challenges around clearing students. AS the government is trying to encourage more students into clearing this year to change their choices it will be interesting to see what impact this has. There is a challenge for universities here to address these issues.
  • A real challenge around student wellbeing – linked to concern about the future and students who feel that they have learned a lot may be better prepared.
  • New question – why did you go to university – focus on career and skills in terms of what will determine their future success.
  • There is growing support for university spend on areas that are not student facing – including research, management and financial support. There is an increase in support for spend on student support.
  • Technology results are interesting especially given the impact of the pandemic– better technology has a good correlation with good experience.

Continuation, participation and attainment

The OfS published Differences in student outcomes: further characteristics examining the impacts of care experience, free school meal eligibility, parental higher education, sexual orientation and socio-economic background on outcomes in higher education. It is an experimental release ‘ad hoc statistical report’. It looks for answers on the differences in continuation rates, attainment and progression but other factors are omitted, there is no weighting or statistical modelling and – sadly – they do not look at the interaction of factors (which limits its usefulness).  It really is a first stab at considering additional factors. The definition of continuation, attainment and progression is explained in point 10 on page 4. The definitions of care, free school meals, etc, can be seen on page 6. The OfS also looked at gender identity and religion/belief but the data integrity wasn’t high enough to include these factors within the report.

The report aims to look at the differences in by the below five additional outcomes which are not usually included within the OfS access and participation sector-level summary because identifying differences in outcomes is a key part of the OfS approach to access and participation and allows the OfS and higher education providers to make targeted decisions to reduce and remove these differences.

Effect of Care

Care experienced students have lower continuation and attainment rates than non-care students (5.6% lower continuation; 12% lower attainment). However, their progression rate is 0.4% higher than non-care students.

The continuation rates of students who have not been in care have changed little between 2014-15 and 2017-18 but during this time the continuation rates of care experienced students increased. This means the difference in continuation rates has been shrinking.

Effect of Free School Meals

Students who were eligible for free school meals (FSM) have lower continuation (5.4% lower), attainment (13% lower) and progression rates (5%) than students who did not receive them when at school. Students who receive free school meals are also less likely to access HE in the first place (26% of FSM pupils versus 45% of non FSM pupils). So FSM correlates highly with the POLAR measure which measures how likely people living within a certain geographical area are to progress to HE. There is a slight widening in the attainment rate gap. And as outlined above there is a big gap in progression to highly skilled employment/

Effect of Parental HE experience

A student who attends HE when their parents didn’t is one of the social mobility markers – access to HE is broadly the same between those whose parents did and didn’t not attend HE. However, students whose parents did not attend HE have lower rates across all 3 categories – continuation 3% lower; attainment 6% lower; 2.6% lower progression. The continuation rate gap is slowly increasing over time for this group.

Effect of Sexual Orientation

Continuation rate of LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) students was 1% lower than heterosexual students; those classed as not heterosexual or LGB was 5.6% lower than heterosexual. The attainment rate of LGB was 2.4% higher than heterosexual, but those not heterosexual or LGB was 7% lower than heterosexual students. There isn’t data for progression to lack of data collected in earlier years.

The difference in continuation rates between heterosexual students and LGB students has been shrinking while the difference between heterosexual students and students who are not heterosexual or LGB has been growing.

Effect of Socio-economic background

Continuation and attainment rates reduce as socio-economic background (measured by NS-SEC) becomes less advantaged. Comparisons were made against the students with parents in higher level professions. Those with parents in intermediate occupation have a 2% lower continuation rate, 5% lower attainment rate. With bigger differences for students whose parents work in routine and manual occupations or are unemployed. There isn’t data for progression due to lack of data availability.

Continuation rates dropped slightly between 2015-16 and 2017-18 for all socio-economic backgrounds but this drop was larger for students whose parents do not work in higher occupations, meaning the differences in continuation grew between 2015-16 and 2017-18.

Students with parents classified in the unemployed category also fare worst in the attainment rates.

While this national picture provides some interesting, and unsurprising, benchmarks the lack of intersectionality of the data highlighting the overlaps between the categories considered limits its overall use. However, institutions are already looking at combination of characteristics and their APP plans address the gaps identified. It does provide fair warning that the OfS is more willing to tackle wider factors and the report states that OfS plan to take a similar first look at estranged students, household residual income and children from military families in the future.

Chris Millward, OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, stated:

  • The biggest equality gaps – access to the most selective universities and the black attainment gap – are still our top priorities. But there are important new insights in this data which universities and colleges can use to improve their support for students during the courses. Students who have overcome barriers to get into higher education may need more support once they arrive to ensure that they unlock their potential, but we know that when this happens they do succeed.
  • Care experienced students are already severely underrepresented in higher education, so it is particularly important that universities and colleges improve their support for this group to ensure that they stand to benefit from the experience when they get in.
  • The current crisis has revealed different experiences and outcomes across our educational system, so it is more important than ever to maintain our focus on tackling inequality in higher education. We have been clear throughout the pandemic that we still expect universities and colleges to meet their financial commitments to support the most disadvantaged students on course, and we have given them the flexibility to put more funding into this for crisis support.
  • As the country begins to move out of lockdown, we will now be working closely with universities and colleges to get their plans to tackle equality gaps back on track.

The attainment gap in primary and secondary schools narrowed between 2011-19. However, at the Education Select Committee session (3 June) concerns were expressed that C-19 would wipe out this narrowing. The Educational Endowment Foundation representative stated the primary gap would widen from 111 to 75% between March and September 2020. The Sutton Trust agreed the gap would widen. This may have a future knock on effect for HE provision gap reduction measurements. Alongside this it was noted that C-19 would lead to significant numbers of newly-disadvantaged pupils, particularly in already geographically deprived areas.

Admissions and student number controls

Student Number Controls

Wonkhe highlight that analysis of the criteria for bidding for the 5,000 non-healthcare additional student numbers excludes every institutional member of Million Plus and includes every member of the Russell Group. The eligibility criteria, based on absolute (non-benchmarked) values for highly skilled graduate employment and student continuation as used in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), work to exclude providers who recruit large numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • Greg Walker, chief executive of Million Plus told us: “It is not clear why the government used the particular exclusion criteria they did, when their own published TEF ratings were available to them. Even better would be to use criteria that related to the quality of the programmes themselves, rather than metrics directly linked to the socio-economic background of the student body and the academic selectivity employed by the university.”

The detail and examples are in this Wonkhe blog; it concludes:

  • we have an emergency growth policy that primarily supports well-off applicants attending established universities. And we deserve better.

The comments responding to the article are worth a read too (e.g. All this will do is create a further layer of privilege, for both students and institutions, in an already uncertain time).

International Student Outlook

Research Professional cover the latest survey, this time from the British Council, examining 8 East Asian regions. They draw on the survey results to predict:

  • UK universities face at least a £463 million shortfall in the coming academic year as a result of decreased international student recruitment from these regions and the associated loss of fee income. In fact, there will be “nearly 14,000 fewer new enrolments from east Asia in 2020-21 compared to the 2018-19 academic year”, the analysis suggests—a 12 per cent decrease. The figure of £463m is roughly equivalent to the annual income of a large UK university.
  • the British Council estimates that there could be a 61 per cent decrease in new enrolments from the eight territories, meaning more than 68,000 fewer students than in 2018-19. This would mean a £2.3 billion decline in tuition fee income for UK universities. And that is before you consider whether current students opt to continue their studies.
  • The British Council says that prospective postgraduate students “overwhelmingly prefer to delay plans for a face-to-face start in January 2021”. Indeed, 63 per cent of would-be postgrads favour a face-to-face start to their course in January 2021, compared with just 15 per cent who would like to kick things off online this September.
  • Since most postgrads are heading to the UK to study one-year masters courses, they have the most to lose if there is significant disruption to their first term

British Council report author, Matt Durnin, said:

  • Prospective international students are facing a lot of uncertainty, but many are clearly trying to find a way to keep their overseas study plans. There is a window of opportunity over the next two months to create a greater sense of certainty about the upcoming academic year. If responses are clear and quickly communicated to prospective students, UK higher education will face a much more manageable scenario.
  • The potential short-term shock to the system caused by the recruitment dip may take three or four years to recalibrate.

Media coverage in The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, ITV news.  UUK also write for Research Professional (and their own blog) urging for comms and clarify so that international students understand they quality for the post study work visa despite an online start to their course. They also call for the visa window to be lengthened to accommodation the indecision surrounding the ongoing C-19 pandemic.

On Friday the Universities Minister announced the appointment of an International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith (ex VC Exeter University), at the British Council’s launch event. The Government’s press release describes the Champion’s role: to work with organisations across the breadth of the education sector, including universities, schools, the EdTech industry, vocational training, and early years schooling providers. The Champion will also target priority regions worldwide to build networks and promote the UK as the international education partner of choice…spearhead overseas activity and address a number of market access barriers on behalf of the whole education sector, including concerns over the global recognition of UK degrees.

Donellan also spoke of international student visa flexibility and stated: International students are an integral part of our society, culture and economy… I want to stress to overseas students at this unprecedented time that they will always be welcome in this country. Supporting international students is one of our top priorities and we are working hard to make sure we are as flexible as possible and make processes as easy as they can be, including around current visa regulations. Now, more than ever, it is critical we work together internationally, sharing our knowledge to mitigate the challenges we all face.

The press release continues: A letter from the Universities Minister to international students last month detailed a number of measures designed to safeguard students from the impacts of Covid-19 and enable them to continue their studies as planned.

These include temporary concessions to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 and ensure the immigration system is as flexible as possible, the launch of the new points-based Student route later this year and the new Graduate Route in the summer of 2021, which will enable international students who have been awarded their degree to stay and work in the UK at any skill level for two years.

The Minister’s response to this parliamentary question contained similar content to the above too.

UUK’s point is to ensure the Minister is closing loopholes and confirm online post graduate starters will be eligible for the post study work visa. Here is a parliamentary question on one such loophole: International students studying less than 11 months and starting online – eligibility for graduate visa route.

Admissions PQs

Widening Participation

HEPI have published a new blog: A call to action on widening participation in the era of Covid-19.The authors are concerned that C-19 has swept away the access gains of the last few years and call for prioritisation to mitigate the pandemic’s impact in the short term. This includes positioning work to widen participation within the Government’s levelling up agenda for each of access (pastoral support, tutoring and mentoring for year 12 and 13), student success (belonging and engagement focus for new starters, with variations for years 2 and 3) and progression (work experience – Government support for SME placements with University signposting and support). On Progression placements the authors also state:

  • The Office for Students (OfS) should further relax the conditions of use for Access and Participation Plan (APP) funds to allow expenditure shortly after graduation, to facilitate APP funds to support paid internships / jobs for target graduates, rather than limiting this to current students. Evidence based approaches are emphasised throughout.

Research

Research Professional ran an article urging for a doctoral training rethink within the context of the ESRC review into the social science PhD.

UKRI Chair Sir Mark Walport published an open letter to the research community outlining UKRI’s actions and response to the pandemic.

Parliamentary Academic Fellowship Scheme – Open call

The Parliamentary Academic Fellowship scheme open call is inviting expressions of interest from colleagues with the minimum of a PhD to compile and submit a project of interest to parliament to work on as a Fellow from January 2021. These are the research blog posts providing you with the details here and here. This is the full document providing lots of lovely detail and helpful advice – in particular it highlights which elements of Parliament would welcome an approach. All Select Committees are welcoming projects plus the Commons and Lords library teams, POST and a range of other offices (see pages 10-12). This is the original website announcing the call and providing other links. Your faculty impact officer and the BU policy team are here to assist colleagues to pull together their expression of interest. The deadline to apply is Friday 26 June. The Fellowships are competitive and funding will need to be provided by BU (unless the colleague has access to an external grant that may support some costs). It is important you speak to your Faculty Dean in advance of the expression of interest. Faculties are considering support on a case by case basis. Successful projects will be asked to progress to the full application phase in September. The Fellowships are prestigious and provide unparalleled access to Parliament, allowing you to understand the inner workings of policy, establish contact networks and working relations, and likely provide a big impact and exposure boost for your research. Please share this information with all colleagues who may be interested in applying.

Research PQs

Nursing

The Education Select Committee published the follow-up correspondence from the Secretary of State for Education on tuition fees for nursing students. The letter states:

  • Nursing students who volunteer as part of the COVID-19 response will receive a salary and automatic NHS pension entitlement at the appropriate band. They will continue to be required to pay fees for their final term and will continue to receive their student maintenance loan and Learning Support Fund payments as normal. Universities will continue to provide support to students. The time that students spend in clinical practice will count towards the number of practice hours that they need to qualify

Public Perception of Universities

A Public First survey conducted for the University Alliance mission group (professional & technical universities) in May demonstrates public support for HE institutions and acknowledges their role as important for the UK’s recovery from C-19. It also recognised their role in supporting the NHS during the crisis.

  • 71% people think universities will play an important role in supporting the UK’s economic and social recovery post Covid, by:
    • improving scientific research for innovation and development (74%),
    • training public sector workers (52%)
    • providing practical support at times of national crisis (52%)

19% disagreed that universities would play an important role.

  • The respondents believe universities should prioritise the supply of professionally qualified graduates – for example nurses, social workers and doctors – above all other subjects
  • 62% believe it’s “very important” that universities teach applied subjects (for example nursing, medicine or engineering) as the country tries to rebuild after the Covid19 crisis overall other subjects. However,
    • 50% support STEM subjects
    • 24% social sciences
    • 13% languages
    • 12% the arts.
  • 61% believe nurses and other medical professionals such as midwives, should be educated at university, and that more funding should be made available to ramp up the number of places.
  • Voters identified contributing to research around a vaccine (71%), sharing laboratories and other facilities (56%) and accelerating training of nurses and other medical professionals

iNews cover the survey.

HE funding

Emma Hardy, Shadow Universities Minister, writes for Research Professional how the C-19 crisis could result in a redesign of the HE funding system to draw mature, commuter and part time students back into 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

Virtual future: Jisc have a blog on UUK looking at how future changes (post crisis) could take the elements of online learning that worked well in the rapid change to virtual study. The blog also links to an online webinar on 17 June on the topic. Excerpts:

  • Let’s use this knowledge and new-found technological confidence to identify the methods that are working best, and expand and build on them for 2021–22 and beyond.  
  • those that get left behind will find it harder to compete in a system where student choice is ever more important.
  • other subjects could be covered completely online, appealing to those students who might find a campus existence difficult because of a disability, mental health issue, or financial reasons.
  • By developing a strategic plan to embed technological practice effectively and sustainably at scale, universities can build a solid base to thrive in future.

Plagiarism: Research Professional report on the ending of the WriteCheck service which plagiarism companies were misusing to ensure their essay mill productions slipped past the checks.  Lord Story continues his campaign against contract cheating with a parliamentary question asking about the impact on academic performance in countries which have banned the cheating services.

Mergers: HEPI examine lessons learnt from private sector business mergers as the current outlook exacerbates HE institutions on the financial brink. It concludes: we need to ask if mergers are really the appropriate solution. If the underlying financial position of an institution is not sound, then a merger is definitely not the answer. In other cases, where potential changes of ownership or management are more likely to be cosmetic – to justify, for example, a financial bailout or a write-off of previous ‘debt’, rather than something that will change the underlying financial situation of an institution – then it is still unlikely that a merger can significantly improve financial performance on its own. The only exception to this rule would be if the acquiring institution changed the business model somehow, such as by moving away from research to a teaching-based model of provision. While that may offer a perceived silver lining, it hardly supports the UK’s ability to lead worldwide in higher education in the decade to come. All in all, mergers are not the magic bullet they may appear to be, and we should tread cautiously into any post-pandemic future where the pressure may be high to cutback, downsize or rescale.

OfS Student Panel: The application process for students to join the OfS Student Panel is now live with a blog on the role of the student panel here.  The OfS are particularly seeking applications from:

  • Pre-HE students (GCSE/A-Level, BTEC, Apprentices)
  • Disabled students
  • International students
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, students of colour and students from traveller communities
  • Estranged students
  • Care experienced students
  • LGBTQ+ students
  • Postgraduate research students

Graduate jobs: With the fallout from the C-19 pandemic compared to the 2008 financial recession the BBC have three case studies of 2008 graduates’ journey through the recession to find satisfying employment and their words of advice.

Student Complaints: The office of the Independent Adjudicator write for Research Professional to advise providers on how to support and work with students to avoid complaints.

Virtual Internships: The Times reports  on the major companies who have launched a three day intensive high quality virtual internship scheme for 800,000 graduates and school leavers to replace cancelled programs due to happen over the summer.

Technical Education: The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee  published a report on University Technical Colleges and its impact on Britain’s economy and job prospects, it finds that UTCs have performed less well than other secondary schools against key measures of educational performance.

BAME: Research Professional examine BAME representation at the highest levels of university management.

University Mental Health Charter: A Student Minds press release details three universities piloting the university mental health charter award – Derby, Glasgow Caledonian, and Hartpury University.

International Squeeze: Earlier in the week the Times ran an article suggesting that international students were squeezing out UK students from HE by taking up the places they could attend. Three prominent figures have written to the Times to refute this including Jo Johnson (ex-Universities Minister), Nick Hillman (director of HEPI) and Alastair Jarvis (Chief Exec of UUK).

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HE policy update for the w/e 20th September 2019

With Parliament suspended until 14th October (despite calls for a recall, pending the outcome of this week’s Supreme Court hearing on the lawfulness or otherwise of the prorogation), things are a little quieter in policy circles, although there is likely to be plenty of news from the Labour and Conservative party conferences over the next couple of weeks  Labour kick off first, and the Tories next week.

Two things struck us this week – a much bigger interest than usual in the Lib Dem conference, with the national press streaming lovely views of the Bournemouth sea front all week, and the level of blow by blow coverage of the Supreme court hearing. With an election now inevitable, probably before Christmas, and a Lib Dem surge predicted, the first isn’t surprising, and the second is just the latest in the Brexit/Boris soap opera. We are taking a break from making predictions about what will happen on Hallowe’en. It’s all too difficult to call.

 OfS urged to act on ‘quality’ matters

Secretary of State Education, Gavin Williamson, has written to the OfS setting out his priorities and giving support for the OfS to use a big stick to push for progress (e.g. on the attainment gap) and curb unpopular practices (e.g. conditional unconditional offers). The letter is a very long wish list (including the kitchen sink) in which the Minister basically asks the OfS to solve all perceived ills in the name of safeguarding the sector’s reputation and encourages them (in bold type) to use their regulatory sharp stick boldly.

The Government press release has the Minister urging the OfS to: “set as high a bar as possible on quality in the sector, so universities are focused on reducing dropout rates and ensuring the best possible value for money. We have to fight to keep the public trust and respect in our world-leading universities and to me that means a relentless focus on quality. That’s why I want the OfS to go even further on this, developing more rigorous and demanding quality requirements, and I give my full backing to boldly use its powers to ensure value for money.”

Excerpts from the letter (use of bold type reflects the letter, a new style approach in these letters):

  • Value for money – OfS must attach “the highest priority to this work” and make sure that it is reflected in its forthcoming value for money strategy.
  • Exercise your powers boldly to ensure you are an effective regulator. Refers to refusals to register,  Suggests using powers where there are “courses and providers that are not delivering value for students”, such as “unacceptable levels of drop-out rates or failure to equip students with qualifications that are recognised and valued by employers, falling short of what is required…under the registration conditions”…
  • Develop “even more rigorous and demanding quality requirements”. This means apparently, raising current baseline requirements to ensure that providers deliver successful outcomes for all students.  Supports the “OfS intention to revisit the minimum baselines”…
  • Be ambitious for the TEF in both scope and timing. That means publishing subject level TEF in 2021 alongside the implementation of a new TEF following the Pearce review.  Those hoping that subject level was going to be abandoned will be disappointed, and presumably subject level will also be continued in the “new model” otherwise it would an orphaned measure with weird reputational consequences.
  • Consider running a further provider level TEF assessment with results published in 2020.  If they are going to do that, having already said everyone’s TEF is extended and we don’t have to, they need to get on with it.
  • Refers to the “injudicious use of unconditional offers” and other inducements “that could have an adverse impact on the access and success of students in HE”.  Other than the OfS working with the CMA on enforcement of consumer law, no particular action here.
  • “Prioritise work supporting students as empowered consumers” – complaints, Ts and Cs, free speech, harassment, etc. The OfS are to review current practice and consider standard contractual templates by Feb 2020. He commends their plans on student protection and urges “action in this area to be as ambitious as possible”
  • Focus on part-time and flexible learning, mature learners, “regulatory and funding arrangements surrounding flexible provision” (including how performance metrics support and incentivise flexible provision) – plan by end Nov 2019 and interim report by end of March 2020. Also a Challenge Competition for that.
  • Raising awareness of accelerated degrees.
  • Monitoring schemes and arrangements for student transfer –institutions to develop a plan for how they will use regulatory powers to promote greater student choice.
  • Explore how international students can be better supported and integrated, in line with Global Britain’s efforts to strengthen relationships around the world.

The Sec of State also tasked the OfS Review of Admissions to fully consider a Post Qualification Applications system (note application not admission – so students would apply after their level 3 results).

The TEF stuff has caused a little stir – there is not supposed to be a TEF this year, and the idea of running a subject level TEF in 2021 alongside the development of a new TEF seems like a lot of work to produce a set of outcomes that would not be very useful for anyone, as they would not be comparable with what has gone before or what will come after. As there is no link to fees etc. (yet, we still think that this might re-emerge as one outcome from the Post-18 Review), and students are not using TEF, what is the point? See Wonkhe on this.

Access, Participation & Success

HEPI have published The white elephant in the room: ideas for reducing racial inequality in HE. It consists of a series of essays by national HE figures recommending how to reduce a range of racial inequalities including the attainment gap. Some recommendations:

  • All Higher Education Institutions should participate in the Race Equality Charter (56 are members). Funding bodies should consider creating financial incentives behind them doing so – such as making research grants conditional on participation. This proved effective when applications for the gender equality focused Athena SWAN Charter went up 400% after the British Medical Research Council made funding conditional on holding a Silver Athena Swan Award.

Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice, University of Birmingham: ‘Work on gender is seen as worthwhile and contributing to an equalities agenda. Race, on the other hand has always been seen as a secondary priority. If higher education is serious about social justice, then race equality must be seen as a priority – linking the Race Equality Charter to research funding would be a good start.’

  • Do groundwork to facilitate conversations about race within institutions. Do not underestimate the obstacles faced in doing this and the need for ground rules.

Professor Shân Waring, DVC, London South Bank University: ‘In a room of people talking about race, there will be people confused about which words are okay and which are not. And there will be people in the room who will not join in the conversation, for fear of appearing racist, of being called racist, and perhaps of finding out when it comes down to it, they are racist.’

  • Make sure that work done by BME staff and students to tackle racial inequalities is recognised and rewarded. Being an informal mentor to BME students, or giving up time to help with racial equality initiatives, should not become another form of disadvantage.

Amatey Doku, former Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students: ‘Universities are under more pressure than ever to address the 14% attainment gap between BME and white students. Some universities are responding positively, but end up putting a disproportionate burden on BME staff and students. Ultimately it is the institutions themselves that need to fix the problem.”

  • Academic faculties should look to their curricula and to other ways of addressing inequalities in their subject, such as Studentships for BME candidates.

Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society: ‘A third of black and minority ethnic historians have faced discrimination or abuse – twice as many as for white historians. That tends to shock white historians, but it has never surprised BME historians with whom that I’ve shared our findings.’

  • Diversity practitioners within institutions need senior management diversity champions to rely upon. For instance, inclusion networks should be sure they have the resources and the remit to make changes. (Sanchia Alasia)
  • Avoid well-meaning but vague actions which are unlikely to effect change. For instance, implicit bias training should be used in a targeted way to map how biases are playing out in an organisation and to tackle specific issues. (Srabrani Sen)

Access Gap – FE news have published a news article by UCAS highlighting that 20.4% of students from the most disadvantaged communities (polar 4 quintile 1) have a confirmed HE place. The Daily Mail have coverage too.

Brexit and Parliament

Apart from the battle over prorogation and the focus on who said what to the Queen when (which is getting David Cameron as well as Boris Johnson into trouble this week), there is ongoing speculation about what will happen in October.

An interesting YouGov poll revealed that 52% of Leave voters believe the PM should break the law by refusing to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline. 28% believe Boris should follow the law despite his ongoing insistence personal campaign that the 31 October exit deadline is non-negotiable, with 21% undecided.

Speaker Predictions – YouGov have also reported that according to a Jan 2019 poll Lindsay Hoyle (current deputy speaker) is the MP’s favourite candidate for the next Speaker of The House of Commons. YouGov state:

He [Lindsay] was the only potential successor nominated by a substantive number of MPs, with a further 41% saying they didn’t know who the next Speaker should be. Hoyle’s fellow Deputy Speaker, the Conservative MP Eleanor Laing, came in a distant second on just 6%, with former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman in third on 5%. Both have announced that they will run for the Speakership.

4 year study in only 3 years leave to remain – Gavin Williamson tackled the conundrum of EU students who are studying 4 year courses (e.g. in Scotland) but will only be afforded 36 months of temporary leave to remain post Brexit. The Education secretary saidthe UK Government would find a solution”.

Education Spending

There is a new Institute for Fiscal Studies report on education spending.

The HE highlights are (our emphasis added):

  • Universities currently receive £27,500 per full-time undergraduate student to fund the cost of teaching for the full course of their studies (usually three years). This has fallen by 5% since 2012, but is about 50% higher than at its low point during the mid 1990s.
  • While per-student funding is similar today to its early 1990s levels, total resources for teaching undergraduate students have doubled in real terms over that period. This was driven by a near-doubling in student numbers. The nature of that funding has changed significantly, with it now coming primarily through tuition fees rather than through teaching grants.
  • The overall cost of the current system is about £17 billion per cohort entering higher education. More than half of the cost is expected to be paid for through graduate contributions (£9.0 billion), particularly from higher-earning graduates. The long-run cost to government is expected to be about £8.0 billion, about £7.4 billion through unrepaid student loans and £700 million in up-front grants.
  • The Augar Review proposed cutting fees to £7,500, reintroducing maintenance grants and changing the terms of repayment. This would give policymakers greater control of spending on different subjects, which they have little control over at present due to funding being dominated by tuition fees and to a lack of controls on student numbers. The proposals would reduce repayments amongst higher earners and increase repayments amongst mainly middle earners. But there is no good reason to say the current distribution of repayments and incentives is the ‘correct’ one.
  • Labour’s policies of abolishing fees altogether and bringing back maintenance grants would come at a cost to the public finances of just over £6 billion per cohort of full-time students over the long run. This policy would give the government even more control over the distribution of spending on certain subjects or institutions, but would benefit the highest-earning graduates substantially. The policy is significantly cheaper now as a result of the 2017 increase in the repayment threshold on student loans from £21,000 to £25,000. 
  • Considering part-time students adds approximately another £1 billion to the cost of Labour’s proposals at current student numbers. However, the cost of this policy could increase rapidly if the large decline in part-time student numbers since 2010 were reversed.

 

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 inquiries and consultations.

Other news

Graduate Outcomes: The Telegraph has an interactive comparator to accompany their article stating that Oxbridge doesn’t always result in the highest salaries, and that some subjects at ‘lesser known institutions’. Engineering, computer science and business graduates ‘from a wide variety of universities’ are said as ‘punching above their weight’.

Money Mules: The phenomenon of targeting students to act as money mules has been around for several years but the Telegraph has teamed up with Barclays to publish an article warning what to watch out for. Staff working directly with students may be interested in reading about this fraud scam.

Arts & Heritage: The Taking Part 2018/19 survey statistics have been released. It is a continuous face to face household survey of adults and children in England providing reliable national estimates of engagement with the arts, heritage, museums, libraries, digital and social networking. It is a key evidence source for DCMS. In 2018/19:

  • 77.4% of adults had engaged with the arts at least once in the last year. The rate of adults engaged in the arts has remained relatively stable since 2005/06.
  • 72.4% of adults reported having visited a heritage site in the last 12 months, similar to 2017/18, and an increase from 69.9% in 2005/06.
  • 50.2% of adults reported having visited a museum or gallery in the last year. This is similar to 2017/18 and a significant increase from 2005/06 (42.3%).
  • 59% of adults reported being aware of UK events to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War. This represents a significant increase from 2017/18 (50.5%).
  • 35.2% of adults had used a public library service in the last year for any purpose, similar to 2017/18 and 32.9% had used a public library service in the last year for voluntary work or in their own time, this is similar to 2017/18 but a decrease from 2005/06 (48.2%).

Marketisation: HEPI have a new blog – Changes to student entry quality in a marketised English higher education system. It concludes Universities appear to have been adopting different strategies with many focusing on growth in volume, at the expense of entry points, and a smaller number prioritising quality. 

Trading Up: iNews have an interesting article regarding students who undertake a foundation year (and therefore an extra year of debt) with the aim of completing it successfully and transferring (‘upgrading’) to another university. The article carries the tone that this is a risky manoeuvre and Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders, said “we advise students against trying to use foundation years to ‘trade up’.” Instead the advice is that it is cheaper to retake their A levels. The article is interesting because while the Government is very keen that universities support students and proactively facilitate transfers to another institution they didn’t have this in mind – yet the young population seem to have found their own solution. There was also recent negativity stating that universities were capitalising on Foundation Years (because of the fee income received) and that students would be better off taking Access to HE courses. Despite this, foundation courses have increased in popularity in recent years. Perhaps, not least because of the different way in which students are treated and expected to learn between FE and HE. Furthermore, retaking A levels suggests failure, whereas a foundation year allows the individual to move away, be independent, and experience and learn the skills needed to succeed in HE study.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

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

Value for Money in HE

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