Tagged / accelerated degrees

HE Policy Update for the w/e 1st February 2019

This week we bring you the latest on unconditional offers, Parliament give the nod to accelerated degree funding, the wonk-press frenzy in dissecting Chris Skidmore’s first formal speech, and a little on the B-word.

Universities Minister speaks out

Chris Skidmore gave his inaugural formal speech as Universities Minister on Thursday which set out his vision for the higher education sector. He began by raising the uncertainties of Brexit and the knock on effect on recruitment, staffing and funding. He acknowledged the Post 18 HE Review added to this uncertainty and strove to reassure:

  • I hear your concerns and I am keen to work with you during this difficult period.
  • My vision for our universities and colleges is a positive one. I’m not going to be a Minister who comes in and beats up or needlessly berates the sector. Instead, I want to restate my commitment to you today to work in partnership with you to ensure our higher education sector remains one that works for everyone and of which we can be proud in generations to come.
  • Given the extent of recent regulatory changes, I understand the prospect of increased government intervention may raise alarm bells in the sector. But let me reassure you today that, as a former academic myself, I fully appreciate the concept of institutional autonomy. And I believe so much of what is good about our universities today has come about because of the freedom they have been able to exercise.

He continued on to talk of the TEF and the independent review which is “an important opportunity to take stock of the TEF from a constructively critical perspective”. On accelerated degrees he acknowledged they weren’t for everyone but were “just one way that the sector can expand its offerings for those who are looking for something different from their higher education experience”.

Value for money, the LEO data, and student mental health got a mention and there were hints in there that Skidmore feels passionately about students who drop out of university.

  • On LEO: I also realise the LEO data could be developed further. So I am keen to engage with the sector to explore how to make the most of this data going forwards. For one, I want to look at ways of making this data more readily available to the academic research community to allow for more in-depth analysis. I also intend to set up a Data Advisory Committee to help me ensure, as Minister, that we are making the most of the opportunities thrown up by these rich new datasets and that they are being used in the best way possible – to ensure they are reaching those who could benefit from them; that they are being used in context; and that their insights and implications are being fully understood. 

And perhaps positive thoughts for a balanced sector amid the differential fees rumours of late:

  • As much as I see the value of more data, I am also aware of concerns it has given rise to about the value for money of certain courses, disciplines and institutions. On this, I believe we need to take a step back and ask what exactly value for money means in the context of higher education. Successful outcomes for students and graduates are about much more than salary: if we are to define value purely in economic terms, based on salary levels or tax contributions, then we risk overlooking the vital contribution of degrees of social value, such as Nursing or Social Care, not to mention overlooking the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – the very disciplines that make our lives worth living.
  • How you define value for money depends heavily on how you envisage the kind of world you want to live in. For my part, a society without people to care for each other; to support each other; to teach the next generation; or to step in selflessly in times of crisis is a very sad society indeed. Equally, although I am officially Minister for Science, I take great pride in wanting to be Minister for the Arts and Humanities as well – disciplines which enrich our culture and society, and have an immeasurable impact on our health and wellbeing.
  • As we move forwards into the future, the last thing I want to see is value judgements emerging which falsely divide the Sciences and Engineering from the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. To do so would be a travesty. Our future success depends on all these disciplines being completely intertwined.  

Although perhaps celebrations should be tempered by the fact Chris gave his speech at the Royal Academic of Dramatic Arts.

He concluded: In my vision for the sector, people should be free to embark on higher education at any time that is right for them. We should build bridges to make this happen. By 2030, I want us to have built a post-18 education system that gives people the flexibility they need – so that no-one who has quit higher education, for whatever reason or circumstance, has to feel they have dropped out with no routes back in later in their lives.

However, Wonkhe were not convinced by the Minister, they say:

  • Talk was that RADA auditions were being held on the day a nervous Chris Skidmore took to a small stage in the bar to address a critical audience of wonks and journalists. But did he pass?
  • I’d have to say….no. Not on the lack of strength in his own performance, but on the blandness of his material. It was a crop of sector pleasing bromides that failed to hold attention and gave him little to work with. There were no popular press-pleasing pot shots at universities – so that’s the good news. He’s pitching himself more as late Sam Gymiah, less as Jo Johnson. But as a former history lecturer and pop-punk agitator, you expect the well-struck aside and the fascinating digression to be a part of Skidmore’s armoury – first time out he played it straight. I sat there for 30 minutes, and my abiding memory was him repeatedly hedging statements with the world “overwhelmingly”.
  • But there was little chance of the select audience being overwhelmed – the most interesting thing we learned was that Skidmore had already visited ten universities (naming most of them in the speech), and enjoyed responding to Radio 4 tweet prompts. There were no questions, and no huddle afterwards for journalists – though THE apparently has an exclusive interview. Good luck to them.

Research Professional said: Chris Skidmore may not be in office for long, but his choice of setting and conciliatory tone in yesterday’s inaugural speech suggest there will be changes from the Johnson/Gyimah era. Not since David Willetts in 2010 has a universities minister arrived in post waving an olive branch rather than a brickbat.

They continue:

  • Inaugural speeches from ministers also need to be looked at for what they do not contain. In the case of Skidmore’s outing yesterday, there was little about science, engineering or research. The phrase “world leading” cropped up many times as you would expect, but there was also no mention of the Russell Group, although Oxford and Cambridge did get a line.
  • There was the ritual nod to his predecessors—and every sign that the emphasis on mental health under Sam Gyimah will continue—but in other respects, we should expect some clearing out.
  • One of the most revealing sections of the speech was on the TEF. Skidmore began by appreciating that there is disquiet over the TEF but then added that “no university should shy away from it”. He mentioned that Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review “provides an important opportunity to take stock of the TEF from a constructively critical perspective”. And then came the killer line: “Dame Shirley has commissioned the Office for National Statistics to carry out an analysis of the statistical information used in TEF assessments and its suitability for generating TEF ratings.”
  • Thanks to evidence from the Royal Statistical Society and the views of the Department for Education’s own office of the chief scientist, we already know that statisticians are singularly unimpressed with the TEF’s lack of statistical rigour. It is not beyond possibility that the Pearce review might precipitate the beginning of the end for the TEF. Skidmore ended with a call for universities to help twist the knife: “I hope that you will take the opportunity to make your views known to Dame Shirley over the consultation period ahead.”
  • Skidmore also went out of his way to praise the UK’s modern universities, something that ministers rarely do.

Here’s the link if you want to read more of Research Professional’s take on the Minister’s speech.

Post-18 review

This from Research Professional: Augar leaks have substance, says Sussex vice-chancellor who claims that many of the rumours about the Review of post-18 Education and Funding are true (lower fees, barring lower grades from accessing loans, higher fees for medicine and science).

The House of Commons library has produced a briefing overview on the state of part time undergraduate education in England, discussing the decline in numbers and the impact this has on the HE sector. Traditionally the view has been that part time student numbers have dropped because of the introduction of higher tuition fees, the lack of viable loan funding and the influence of not funding a second degree for a student who has previously studied at the same level. The timing of the Commons briefing release this week coincides with an announcement from the Welsh Government of a 35% increase in part time undergraduates from Wales. Welsh post-grads have been were eligible for dedicated bursaries and support from Welsh universities since 2018/19.  With means-tested grants and loans to be introduced from September 2019. The news story attributes the success through increased numbers to the new Welsh student support system. Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said:

  • “This is fantastic news and a real vote of confidence in our student support package, the first of its kind in the UK or Europe.
  • We have always said that high living costs are the main barrier for students when thinking about university. Our package of support was specifically designed to address these concerns, making it easier for people to study part-time, especially if they have work or family commitments.
  • Our radical approach to supporting part-time study is essential to improving social mobility, employment outcomes, access to the professions and delivering on our commitment to lifelong learning.”

The DfE published analysis on the importance of financial factors in decisions about higher education.

Key Findings:

  • Some groups do express greater debt aversion than others, especially:
    •  those planning to live at home whilst studying (35%),
    •  those of a non-white ethnicity (30%), and
    • those from lower socio-economic group (26%).
  • 63% of applicants expected to use parents or 62% savings as a source of income whilst at university (particularly applicants from higher socio-economic groups (75% and 70% respectively).
  • University was the only option considered by the majority of applicants (75%), (this increases to 78% for Russell group applicants). This was consistent across socio-economic backgrounds. Getting a job and travelling were the main alternatives considered by applicants
  • The course offered (82%), university reputation (58%), and potential for high future earnings (41%) were the most commonly cited major influences on applicants’ choices about where to study.
  • Around half of applicants (54%) said they were ‘put off’ to some extent by the costs associated with university.

Accelerated Degrees

This week the Lords approved the statutory instrument which makes provision for the elevated fee level (and accompanying loan arrangements) to facilitate and prompt more universities to offer faster intensive degree programmes. The BBC reports on the decision. Ex-Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, pushed for the accelerated degrees calling on universities to shake up their offer and provide more flexibility, included accelerated provision, to meet the needs of a wider range of students and businesses. While there can be inertia inherent within large, established organisations who know their recruitment draw well the sector did not offer opposition to the push for accelerated degrees. The welcome to the new arrangements has been similar to that for degree apprenticeships, perhaps slower uptake overall than the Government wanted and often for good reason – the devil is in the delivery detail. Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, sums it up:

  • “Greater choice for students is always good but I would caution ministers against ‘over-promising’. The government’s own projection for the likely take-up of these degrees is modest and we actually hear many students calling for four-year degrees, for example, to spend a year on a work placement or studying abroad. I wouldn’t want disadvantaged students to rule out a traditional three-year course because they didn’t believe they could afford it. Doing a more compressed degree also reduces the opportunity for part-time work, potentially increasing short-term financial pressure.”

It will be interesting to watch how many programmes are actually launched and the eventual outcomes for students.

Unconditional Offers

UCAS published data on unconditional offers on Thursday detailing the significant rise in unconditional offers nationally. There were no new messages and we’ve already shared the details with you in the recent policy updates. The only change is that the OfS now have an ‘independent’ and reliable national data set from which to push for the sector to reduce its overuse of unconditional offers to support recruitment requirements. With the threat of sanctions from the Competition and Markets Authority as a harbinger of doom for any institutions who fail to heed warnings and curb their excessive overuse. Smita Jamdar dissects the threat below.

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

  • ‘I welcome the publication of this data by UCAS, and the increased transparency it brings around the use of unconditional offers.
  • ‘We are especially concerned about ‘conditional unconditional offers’. These are offers where a student has to commit to making a particular university their first choice before the offer becomes unconditional. The risk is that this places undue pressure on students to reach a decision which may not be in their best interests.
  • ‘As we made clear when we published our insight brief on this topic last week, there are some good reasons why universities might make unconditional offers. However, for a number of universities this data will make uncomfortable reading – where they cannot justify the offers they make they should reconsider their approach.’

The OfS also issued a news story warning universities against indiscriminate use of unconditional offers stating it ‘is akin to pressure selling and could put them in breach of consumer law’. The statement accompanies the launch of a new series of Insight briefs on ‘priority policy issues’ you can read the first research paper on unconditional offers here.

Wonkhe ran an article by Smita Jamdar of Shakespeare Martineau, on the OFS’s allegations that some practices in offer making could amount to “pressure selling”.  Smita says that there are several ways that unconditional offers could be relevant to consumer law:

  • The first is falsely stating that an offer will only be open for acceptance for a particular time, or will only remain available on certain terms for a certain time. The second is providing distorted information about market conditions to get a consumer to purchase the service on terms that are less favourable than market conditions. So cases where students are put under pressure to accept quickly, or to accept because they won’t get a better offer elsewhere, might amount to a banned practice.
  • Depending on the facts and circumstances, there may be other features of unconditional offers that constitute “aggressive practices”. A practice is aggressive if it significantly impairs a consumer’s freedom of choice through coercion or undue influence and it leads to the consumer entering into a transaction where he or she would not otherwise have done so. Persistence, and exploiting any vulnerability on the part of the consumer, are examples of factors that could lead to a practice being regarded as aggressive.
  • Finally, the regulations also make unlawful a broader range of “unfair practices”. A practice is unfair if it contravenes the requirements of professional diligence and materially distorts or is likely to distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer (average in the context of the regulations means taking into account any particular vulnerabilities of the consumer group targeted, so in the case of many prospective students, their youth and inexperience).

Of course, any case will depend on its particular facts.  Action might be taken in court for a criminal offence, by the Competition and Markets Authority seeking assurances about compliance, or by a student seeking redress – including withdrawing from their programme and getting their course fees back.

Here are some press links: The GuardianThe TelegraphDaily MailThe TimesTESFinancial Times and the Belfast Telegraph highlights Northern Ireland’s two universities who between them only made 10 unconditional offers for the last cycle.

Prior to the UCAS data release Dean Machin from Portsmouth wrote a thought provoking HEPI blog on UCAS as the gate keeper of admissions data and how their previous reluctance to release data may actually have implications for the Competitions and Market Authority too.

This story will run and run and we can expect more from the OfS in the coming months.

Admissions  – and access to HE

Meanwhile a new blog on Wonkhe rounds up the end of the 2018 application cycle to give a national comparative perspective. Wonkhe also comment: For the 2018 cycle overall, the relentless rise of the Russell Group seems to have slowed, with post-92 institutions the big winners in terms of year on year growth in acceptances. There’s also some surprises in those seeing large year-on-year shrinkage

Lastly, the HESA 2017/2018 release reports that the number of students in higher education in 2017/18 is at a five year high (2,343,095 students), and reflects a steady increase since 2012/13. The increased numbers also reflect increased diversity within the student body with a growing proportion of black, Asian, and mixed background students, as well as those from other ethnicities, and increased levels of students with a disability.

However, David Lidington MP, is not encouraged by the increased diversity within the HESA statistics and spoke out via a Government news story on Friday. The story announces measures to improve outcomes for ethnic minority students in higher education… [which are] part of a bold cross-government effort to “explain or change” ethnic disparities highlighted by the Prime Minister’s Race Disparity Audit website, so people can achieve their true potential, whatever their background and circumstances.

The figures from the Race Disparity Audit and OfS show that while record numbers of ethnic minorities are attending university, only 56% of black students achieved a First or 2:1 compared to 80% of their white peers in 2016/2017, and black students are the most likely to drop out of university. In the workforce, only 2% of academic staff are black. White British low-income males remain the least likely to attend higher education.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, said he expected universities’ access and participation plans: to contain ambitious and significant actions to make sure we are seeing material progress in this space in the next few years…It is one of my key priorities as the Universities Minister to ensure… we redouble our efforts to tackle student dropout rates. It cannot be right that ethnic minority students are disproportionately dropping out of university and I want to do more to focus on student experience to help ethnic minority students succeed at university.

The carrot and stick measures include:

  • Holding universities to account through their Access and Participation plans – with the OfS using their powers to tackle institutions who do not fulfil their promises
  • Including progress in tackling access and attainment disparities within league tables to pressurise institutions to make better progress
  • OfS to develop a new website replacing Unistats with a particular mindset to ensuring the needs of disadvantaged students are taken into account. The website will provide better information to students so they can make informed choices.
  • Reducing ethnic disparities in research and innovation funding – UK Research and Innovation is commissioning evidence reviews on challenges for equality and diversity and how they can be addressed.
  • Gathering evidence on what works to improve ethnic minority access and success – through the OfS Evidence and Impact Exchange
  • Reviewing the Race Equality Charter. Advance HE will look at how the sector charter can best support better outcomes for both ethnic minority staff and students.
  • Encouragement for institutions to address race disparities in their workforce – using tools such as the Race at Work Charter and Race Equality Charter.
  • Scrutiny of each universities published data on admissions and attainment broken down by ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic background with a focus on all institutions to make progress, not just providers who have the poorest records.

The OfS have also published their commissioned research into Understanding and overcoming the challenges of targeting students from under-represented and disadvantage ethnic backgrounds. WP Wonks will recognise some familiar names from the sector within the authors of the report. There are also guidance and case studies available on the OfS page.

The OfS have published a case study of a successful academic study skills support service programme implemented in three northern FE colleges for non-traditional HE learners to support their transition and success at HE level. The study found engineering and IT students the hardest to reach with few self-accessing the service. The case study describes changes made to scheduling, flexibility in approach and embedding core elements within the programme induction. The programme’s success was partly measured using the Duckworth’s GRIT questionnaire. Which looks at confidence levels and the ability to sustain interest in and effort towards long-term goals, such as academic study.

In other WP news the Social Mobility Commission expect to issue their regular publication State of the Nation updated for the 2018 year in the spring.

Preparing and supporting students in the transition to University

Here is our regular student feature from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield…

On Wednesday 23rd January I attended a Westminster Briefing on behalf of SUBU, on supporting students into Higher Education (HE) which focused on how to prepare students with realistic expectations to help them transition into University life. The current generation (Z) is the most likely to go into Higher Education with almost half going to University, but student expectations aren’t always an accurate picture of reality and this is a problem for transitions. Unrealistic student expectations of Higher Education can be linked to access for widening participation students; student mental health; retention; progression and success. Alongside the importance of helping students to have realistic expectations of University, a key theme identified by each speaker was the significance of students developing a sense of belonging to help them transition into HE. Below are a few key thoughts from the day.

The briefing began with a presentation from Dominic Kingaby, the Student Experience Policy lead at the Department for Education (DfE), who emphasised the way that mental health affects incoming and current students. The Office for National Statistics’ work around Measuring National Wellbeing shows that prospective and current students have lower mental health than the general population. The 2017 ‘Reality Check’ report from HEPI and Unite Students found that around 1 in 8 applicants to University have pre-existing mental health conditions, which they often won’t disclose to their University. Mental Health can be exacerbated by a number of pressures which are part of University life, for example money issues, accommodation issues, assignment pressures etc. The report also found that when facing issues, 85% of prospective students would feel most comfortable talking to their friends/course-mates and flatmates about it, showing the importance of peer support and students establishing good friendships whilst at University.

It was reflected by the group that the pressures of going to University and the academic workload itself hasn’t necessarily changed that much in the last ten years however the mind sets of students have. Of course class sizes are bigger; students have more information at their fingertips and financing a degree is at the forefront of most students’ minds, which is intensified by social media and the news. Yet more than ever before, students are coming to University suffering with ideals of ‘perfectionism’ cultivated through years of their educational progress being monitoring and tracked from a very early age. (Dominic noted that he was feeding these unintended consequences of monitoring into the DfE). This ‘perfectionism’ then deepens a mantra of University just being for “a degree” and students having a sense that they don’t “have time” to take part in and be transformed by the whole experience. Consequently they are missing out on the vital extra-curricular elements which foster skills for progression and success. Students are also increasingly suffering with ‘Imposter Syndrome’ leading to sentiments of not belonging at University which impacts retention.

Students who aren’t prepared for HE will have very different expectations to the reality as FE is very different. The Government’s work on a strategy for tackling loneliness notes that “Students and those in higher education can be at risk of loneliness, especially when starting their course, and this can lead to greater feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and poor mental health.” On the academic side of things alone they will be challenged by the difference in student-staff ratios and going from fixed curriculums to independent self-study. It was agreed in the briefing that more needs to be done for students before they are even old enough to apply to University but there is also a lot that can be done in the period between an offer being given and coming to campus. There were a whole range of good practices from different institutions; from linking up incoming students with current students for peer support; to providing a portal for incoming students with all the information they would need on life at University (not just the academic side of things); and also a trial at Plymouth University of the whole of the first year being a transitionary period.

Other noteworthy aspects of the briefing include the impact that going to an Insurance choice rather than a 1st choice can have on delaying the ‘sense of belonging’ that a student has. It was also discussed that with a diverse student body with many different identities, transition needs to be a whole institutional and partnership approach. Universities need to work alongside their Students’ Unions to offer a diverse package of support and activities for students. An example of how this can help is; one student may speak to their academic advisor because they know them from one of their units and therefore feel comfortable seeking support on an issue with them, whereas another student facing the same issue may instead get the support and information they need when speaking to their peers at their academic society. Both students have the same support needs but their identities and ‘sense of belonging’ are different, therefore they get this support from different places. This shows how a whole institution-collaborative approach is needed for transitions and student support.

Brexit

From Research Professional:

  • Tuesday night’s vote on Graham Brady’s amendment to require the government to reopen negotiations with the European Union over the withdrawal agreement was one of the more bizarre moments of theatre in the Brexit process, with the prime minister voting for a backbencher’s amendment against the deal she had spent two years negotiating.
  • You may be wondering how the cavalcade of MPs with a significant interest in higher education voted. Former science ministers and second-referendum advocates Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah both abstained from the vote. Universities minister Chris Skidmore and his boss Damian Hinds voted with (sorry, against, but really with) the government. Gordon Marsden and Chi Onwurah of Labour voted against the amendment, naturally. Greg Clark and other business ministers voted for the amendment.
  • Eight Conservative MPs voted against the amendment but not Johnson and Gyimah, which is curious.

From Dods: On Monday morning the Exiting the European Union Committee have published their twelfth report of session 2017-2019 on ‘Assessing the Options.’ The report is the first published since the defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement and covers a number of outcomes and assessments:

  • No deal: The report says that there is deep concern about the readiness of business for a no-deal exit and that the “Government’s belated efforts to engage with business and provide some form of guidance is unlikely to be sufficient to mitigate the worst effects of a no-deal exit.” It also highlights that the Government’s no-deal technical notices “place significant weight on assumptions about how the EU will respond in the event of no-deal”,  and that the maintenance of goodwill depends on a settlement of financial obligations and a generous guarantee of the rights of EU citizens.
  • Renegotiation of the deal: The report argues that a renegotiation of the Political Declaration would, most likely, require a limited extension of the Article 50 process; a deal that would enable frictionless trade to continue is not possible under a CETA-style free trade agreement with the EU and under such rules N Ireland would have to trade under different rules from the rest of the UK as set out in the backstop; A Norway Plus relationship between the UK and the EU would enable frictionless trade on the condition that the UK continued to adhere to EU rules – including the Single Market and remain in a UK-EU customs union.
  • A second referendum: The report acknowledges that a second referendum would be logistically and politically complex, but not unobtainable if the will existed in UK Parliament. However, there is now insufficient time to hold a referendum before 29 March 2019 and so if the will for one did exist then Article 50 would have to request an extension to Article 50.  The report highlights that under the Wightman Judgement there is a possibility of the UK unilaterally revoking the notification to leave under Article 50 but makes the distinction that this would not be a mechanism to buy time and would instead bring the withdrawal process to an end.
  • Conclusion: The report says there is no majority in the House for the Prime Minister’s deal in its current form and repeats the recommendation of the eleventh report that “it is vital that the House of Commons is now given the opportunity to identify an option that might secure a majority.” It says that there does not appear to be a majority for no deal exit but acknowledges that this remains the default outcome if the House is unable to approve the deal or pass legislation required to implement it in domestic law. It concludes that the final options remaining are for re-negotiation, legislate for a referendum, or the revoking or extension of Article 50.

Process – from the BBCThe next steps and the various alternative scenarios are set out nicely here with an exploration of each of the different possibilities

 From HEPI:

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has worked with polling company YouthSight to survey  FT UG students’ attitudes towards Brexit. Students are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the European Union:

  • 76% opt for remaining in the EU
  • 6% back Theresa May’s recently rebuffed deal
  • 7% for no deal
  • 11% undecided.

However, opinion divides further when the option to remain is removed:

  • 37% opt for Theresa May’s deal
  • 36% ‘don’t know’
  • 27% choose no deal

Student opinion is interesting because only 43% were eligible to vote in the 2016 referendum (93% are eligible now). Some facts:

  • 69% want a second referendum
  • 21% are willing to work through their MP to demonstrate their voice within the Parliamentary voting
  • 8% of students who did vote in the referendum said they would change the way they voted if there was another referendum. With Leave voters more likely to change the way they voted in a second referendum (34%) than Remain voters (2%).
  • If students were given the choice between remaining in the EU and no deal:
  • 80% of them would choose to remain
  • 10% no deal
  • 10% unsure
  • 75% of students believe Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU (14% believe it was right to vote to leave, 12% unsure).

And separately:

  • 74% believe the Government is doing badly at listening and engaging effectively with young people over Brexit.
  • 77% of students believe their future prospects will be worsened by the decision to leave the European Union (13%  expect improved prospects, 11% believe it makes no difference).

Student opinion on the political parties: support for Labour is strongest but has dropped 10% since the previous HEPI poll, Theresa May as a leader is unpopular amongst students while student’s choosing to vote Conservative or for the Liberal Democrats remains relatively stable. You can read more on student party opinions in the full blog here.

Students say they would turn out to vote in high numbers should there be a General Election (81% would vote). HEPI note this supports recent trends, as it was estimated that 64% of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2017 election, the highest turnout for this age group since the 1992 election.

Science Salaries

The Minister also gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee this week noting concern that the recommended minimum salary thresholds for EU workers after Brexit would be detrimental to science.

Temporary leave to remain

The Government have updated their policy issuing details of Temporary leave to remain as a Brexit no deal stopgap solution.  This relates to new arrivals after March if there is no deal – students and staff already in Britain should be fine as long as they can demonstrate their residency prior to Brexit. There is a three year limit on the temporary leave to remain which may have implications for students on 4 year courses, who may need to apply for a visa mid-course to complete their programme.

Here is the detail from Dods:

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 received its Second Reading on 28 January and has passed into Committee stage. On the same day, the Secretary of State for the Home Office, Sajid Javid, announced a new ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain in the UK’ as part of the Government’s no-deal Brexit planning.

The Government plans to implement the Immigration Bill and end free movement from 30 March 2019 in the event of a no-deal Brexit.  This means that for the most part, EU citizens and their family members who come to the UK from 30 March 2019 will require immigration permission to enter the UK. The Government and the Home Office will need rules in place to grant immigration leave to enter and remain to EU citizens.

However the Government has said that the new immigration rules, as set out in the White Paper, will “take some time to implement.” This means there will be a gap in immigration law and policy between the end of free movement and the implementation of the new immigration rules for EU citizens. To fill this gap, the Home Office has announced it will implement the new ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain in the UK,’ subject to parliamentary approval.

The main features of European Temporary Leave to Remain

EU citizens (including EFTA citizens) will be able to enter the UK as they do now (i.e. without the need for a visa/immigration permission) for a period of up to three months. During this time EU citizens will have the right to work and study in the UK.

EU citizens who wish to remain in the UK for more than the initial three months will need to apply for ‘European Temporary Leave’. The Home Office has explained that this will be done through an online application where the applicant will need to prove their identity and declare any criminal convictions. This sounds similar to the application process for ‘settled status’.

European Temporary Leave will allow the holder to remain in the UK for 36 months from the date of their application. EU citizens with this type of leave will have the right to work and study in the UK. It will be temporary and cannot be extended, nor will it lead to settlement in the UK. Holders of this type of leave would be required to apply for further leave to remain under the UK’s new immigration rules when implemented in the future. As the Home Office explains: “there may be some who do not qualify under the new arrangements and who will need to leave the UK when their leave expires.”

There will be an application fee and family permits will be required for non-EEA ‘close family members’. The Home Office explains in further detail:

  • “European Temporary Leave to Remain will allow EEA citizens arriving in the UK after 29 March 2019 to live, work and study in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal.
  • “EEA citizens who are granted European Temporary Leave to Remain will be able to stay in the UK for 36 months from the date of their application. European Temporary Leave to Remain will be a temporary, non-extendable immigration status. It will not give indefinite leave to remain (ILR), lead to status under the EU Settlement Scheme or make EEA citizens eligible to stay in the UK indefinitely. If EEA citizens want to stay in the UK for more than 36 months, they will need to apply for an immigration status under the new immigration system, which will come into effect from 1 January 2021. Those who do not qualify will need to leave the UK when their European Temporary Leave to Remain expires.”

Those who don’t need to apply

The following people will not be required to apply for European Temporary Leave:

  • EU citizens and their family members with settled or pre-settled status.
  • Irish citizens.

Those who are a “serious or persistent criminal or a threat to national security” will not be eligible and the UK’s deportation threshold will apply.

EU citizens can enter the UK with either their passport or a valid nationality identity card.

The Home Office explains that employers and landlords conducting right to work and rent checks for EU citizens will not be required “to start distinguishing between EU citizens who were resident before exit and post-exit arrivals.” Until 2021, EU citizens can continue to rely on their passports or national identity cards.

Settled status and no-deal

The introduction of European Temporary Leave does not affect those eligible for the settled status scheme. EU citizens living in the UK prior to 29 March 2019 can still apply for settled status in a no-deal Brexit, as European Temporary Leave is a status for those who arrive after 29 March 2019. For more information on this, see the Library’s Insight ‘What does the Withdrawal Agreement say about citizens’ rights?’.

The settled status scheme has completed its restricted pilot testing phases and is now open for applications from all eligible EU citizens. The Prime Minister Theresa May announced on 21 January 2019 that the £65 fee for settled status will be abolished. People who have already applied and paid the fee will be refunded.

The Home Office has further said that EEA citizens who arrive in the UK after 29 March 2019, but who had lived in the UK prior to 29 March 2019, will be eligible to apply for settled status. It is not clear what the specific eligibility requirements will be for people with these circumstances who wish to apply for settled status.

Further reading

Erasmus & Brexit

Erasmus+ and EU Solidarity Corps in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, funding is available from the government to underwrite all successful bids for UK applicants submitted to the Erasmus+ programme and EU Solidarity Corps while we are still in the EU, where planned projects can continue. The DfE have updated guidance.

The Government continue to recommend that applications are submitted to the European Commission or UK National Agency for the 2019 Erasmus+ and ESC Call for Proposals as normal. In the event that the UK leaves the EU with a withdrawal agreement in place, the UK will participate in Erasmus+ and the ESC until the end of the current cycle in 2020.

In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK will engage with the European Commission with the aim of securing the UK’s continued full participation in Erasmus+ and ESC until 2020. There are a range of options for the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus+ and ESC, including programme country status, partner country status or another arrangement. Partner country access to Erasmus+ varies between different regional groups.  In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the government’s underwrite guarantee will cover the payment of awards to UK applicants for all successful Erasmus+ and ESC bids.

The European Commission have also adopted a final set of contingency proposals in the area of the Erasmus+ programme.

Today’s measures would ensure that in the event of a “no-deal” scenario:

  • Young people from the EU and the UK who are participating in the Erasmus+ programme on 30 March 2019 can complete their stay without interruption;
  • EU Member State authorities will continue to take into account periods of insurance, (self) employment or residence in the United Kingdom before withdrawal, when calculating social security benefits, such as pensions;
  • UK beneficiaries of EU funding would continue to receive payments under their current contracts, provided that the United Kingdom continues to honour its financial obligations under the EU budget. This issue is separate from the financial settlement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Research

Research England have published the final guidance for the REF 2021.

Timeline:

  • In early 2020, the four UK higher education (HE) funding bodies will invite UK HEIs to make submissions to REF 2021.
  • Each submission in each UOA will contain a common set of data comprising information on all staff in post with significant responsibility for research on the census date, 31 July 2020; and information about former staff to whom submitted outputs are attributed
  • The deadline for submissions is 27 November 2020.
  • Submissions will be assessed by the REF panels during the course of 2021. Results will be published in December 2021, and will be used by the HE funding bodies to inform research funding from the academic year 2022–23.

Wonkhe discuss the key changes:

  • Some of the key changes in REF 2021 includes identifying more clearly staff who have significant responsibility for research in institutions and providing a consistent approach to interdisciplinary research. The guidance distinguishes between identifying staff who have significant responsibility for research from selecting those staff whose work is to be submitted for expert review.
  • Additionally, Dianne Berry, the chair of the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel has released a statement to address the concern that “measures put in place to promote inclusion and support equality and diversity might be used by institutions as a mechanism for excluding staff in order to concentrate quality in their submission,” and pressures on researchers to disclose sensitive information. The revised guidance references the importance of voluntary declaration of individual circumstances and decoupling staff circumstances from research output.

Catriona Firth writes the following blog for Wonkhe:, Head of Policy at Research England highlights the key features of REF 2021 and the REF Steering Group’s ongoing quest for injecting clarity in the review process.

Consultations & Inquiries

Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. There are lots of new updates to past inquiries and consultations, links to reports issued and Government responses to the reports. Currently we are working on:

  • Proposed changes to the degree classification system
  • EHRC inquiry into Racial harassment in HE
  • The TEF review
  • Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) proposals

We have recently submitted responses to:

  • Institutional cost of the current Tier 4 processing system
  • OfS’ approach to IAG

Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Insolvent FE providers: The Government has published guidance on changes to the statutory regulation of insolvency and interventions regimes for FE colleges. It aims to ensure that there is legal clarity about what will happen in the exceptional event of an FE or sixth-form college becoming insolvent. It will also aim to ensure that in the event of insolvency current students are protected – it includes a special administration regime for the sector called education administration, with the objective of avoiding or minimising disruption to the studies of the existing students of the FE body as a whole.  In March 2019, the DfE will publish full details setting out what is changing within the FE college intervention regime, ahead of the new insolvency regime coming into operational effect on 1 April 2019.

Apprenticeships: The CBI have published the first in a series of reports in 2019 on the apprenticeship and skills system. Getting Apprenticeships Right: Next Steps recommends that the Government gives the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) the independence and clout it needs to reform and regulate the English skills system. It calls for a new wave of Government action to ensure apprenticeships lead to high-skilled, high-paid jobs, which fit firms’ needs now and in the future. The Financial Times reported that the CBI has called for the creation of an independent apprenticeship body to “fix the failings” of the government’s reforms to workplace training. It goes on to say that CBI said:

the apprenticeship levy, which was introduced in April 2017 and forces organisations to set aside money for workplace training, had proved frustrating for many employers, which would like to train more staff but feel prevented from doing so by the system’s rules. The CBI argue that more independence should be given to the Institute for Apprenticeships, which oversees all workplace training schemes, adding that businesses had complained that the system gave too little time to spend the money.

The CBI’s report’s key recommendations include:

  • The Government must make clear that the Institute is the principal body for vocational skills in England with the clout to hold policymakers and the skills sector to account.
  • The Institute must take further steps to speed up the apprenticeship standards approval process so that businesses can start using them.
  • Given employer levy funds are due to start expiring from April 2019, the Government must urgently set up an appeals system that gives employers longer to spend their money where apprenticeship standards remain in development.
  • With the IfA assuming responsibility for T-levels and higher T-levels, they must set out how these routes will work in practice to give employers and the public confidence in them.

NEON report on Policy Connect’s/HE Commission Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard? report, stating: Findings are released by the Higher Education Commission which show that degree apprenticeships may be good in theory but they’re not delivering for small employers or disadvantaged students. The new report ‘Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard?’ reveals that of 51 approved degree apprenticeship standards, 43% have no providers that are delivering to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME), this is despite over 99% of UK businesses being SMEs.

Engineering: Education for Engineering has published a report arguing that the UK education system cannot produce enough engineers to support the economy, especially with increasing reliance on home grown talent post-Brexit. The report concludes that if the industrial strategy is to achieve its aims, government must nurture and grow its skilled engineering workforce to improve productivity and economic growth. Since the original Perkins Review, the report found that scant progress in addressing the UK’s chronic engineering skills gap has been made and calls on government and the engineering community to take urgent action. Report recommendations:

  • Government should review the issues affecting recruitment and retention of teachers and go beyond plans announced this week by introducing a requirement for 40 hours of subject-specific continuing professional development for all teachers of STEM subjects, not just new recruits, every year.
  • An urgent review of post-16 academic education pathways for England is needed. Young people should have the opportunity to study mathematics, science and technology subjects along with arts and humanities up to the age of 18, to attract a broader range of young people into engineering.
  • Government must ensure engineering courses are adequately funded with increased top-up grants for engineering departments if tuition fees are to be reduced.
  • Government should give employers greater control and flexibility in how they spend the Apprenticeship Levy, including to support other high-quality training provision in the workplace, such as improving the digital skills of the workforce.
  • Professional engineering organisations and employers should address the need to up-skill engineers and technicians to prepare for the introduction of disruptive digital technologies into industry.
  • Employers should take an evidence-based and data driven approach to improve recruitment and increase retention and progression of underrepresented groups within organisations, including by introducing recruitment targets for underrepresented groups.

Dame Judith Hackitt, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Chair of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: In particular, there is a need to radically reform technical education – creating an Apprenticeship Levy system that is fit for the future and genuinely meets employers’ needs. We also need to ensure T Levels do not face the same fate as the Levy but are employer-led and driven and, sufficiently funded in disciplines such as manufacturing and engineering.

Videoing lectures: A Research Professional article looks at the use and misuse of recorded lectures and the ethical and legal position surrounding this.

Finding the right disability support: The Guardian ran a thought provoking article by Ellie Drewry on the hurdles she faces at her university because of her disability.

Mental health: A relevant parliamentary question was answered this week –

Q – Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support the mental health and well-being of postgraduate students in universities.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • Mental health is a priority for this government, which is why the government is working closely with Universities UK on embedding the Step Change programme within the sector. Step Change calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority. Step Change also advocates a whole-institution approach to transform cultures and embed mental health initiatives beyond student services teams.
  • The former Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund also provided £1.5 million for 17 projects to improve the mental health of postgraduate research students. The Office for Students (OfS) is working with Research England to deliver this scheme.
  • This investment and the ongoing work of the OfS will support a range of activities. It will develop new practice for the pastoral support of postgraduate research students, and enhance training for their supervisors and other staff. Postgraduate research has different expectations and working practices to undergraduate work, so it will also help students adjust to the change.

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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 25th January 2019

We have made the policy update an almost Brexit-free zone this week. Of course we are all looking forward to the excitement on Tuesday, described by the Chancellor Philip Hammond, on radio 4 as not being “high noon” – we’ve got lots more to get through before we get to high noon, apparently.

Brexit

Keeping it dry today, no politics here…if you are interested in all the amendments to the motion so far tabled for Tuesday, you can find descriptions of them on the BBC here.  Parliament will publish the order of business nearer the time but as at Friday lunchtime the latest is here, which sets out the text of the amendments as tabled so far.  It is very unlikely that all of these will be debated or voted on.

Dods have given us a very handy summary:

  • Amendment (a) in the name of Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn: Calls for Parliament to have a vote on staying in the customs union, and a second referendum with the aim of preventing the UK from leaving without a deal.
  • Amendment (b) in the name of Yvette Cooper: It provides for the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 3) Bill to be heard and passed on 5 February in a single day.  The Bill, if passed, would mean that if the Prime Minister could not pass a withdrawal agreement by February 26 then the Commons would have an immediately vote on whether to request an extension of Article 50 from the EU which would end on 31 December 2019.
  • Amendment (e) in the name of Andrew Murrison and Sir Graham Brady: states that the EU withdrawal agreement would be amended so that the backstop shall expire on 31 December 2021.
  • Amendment (f) in the name of Hilary Benn: Calls on the Government to hold a series of indicative votes on the options setting out Exiting the European Union.
  • Amendment (g) in the name of Dominic Grieve: The Government’s powers under Standing Order No.14 which allows them to set government business would not apply. A motion entitled: “That this House has considered the United Kingdom’s departure from, and future relationship with, the European Union” would then become the first item of business.
  • Amendment (n) in the name of Andrew Murrison and Sir Graham Brady: amends the withdrawal agreement to include “and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.”. *There is no suggestion of what the alternative arrangement would be.

Chief Political Commentator, John Rentoul has done a tally on likely outcomes from the amendment. Based on his calculations (very susceptible to change) Amendment B would pass by 320-317.[Ed: of course this one is a “long grass” amendment – it puts off the decision (as long as the EU agree) but who knows what Parliament would use the time for – the Bill to amend the leaving date and deliver the second part of the amendment is set out below]

And there are still some separate draft bills making their way through Parliamentary processes:

  • Geraint Davies (this one has been around since June 2018) – will have its second reading on 8th Feb: A Bill to require the holding of a referendum to endorse the United Kingdom and Gibraltar exit package proposed by HM Government for withdrawal from the EU, or to decide to remain a member, following the completion of formal exit negotiations; and for connected purposes.
  • And his second one (first presented in December 2018) also gets its second reading on 8th Feb: A Bill to require the Prime Minister to revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union unless two conditions are met; to establish as the first condition for non-revocation that a withdrawal agreement has been approved by Parliament by 21 January 2019 or during an extension period agreed by that date under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union; to establish as the second condition for non-revocation that a majority of participating voters have voted in favour of that agreement in a referendum in which the United Kingdom remaining as a member of the European Union was the other option; and for connected purposes.
  • The Grieve bills have still not been published
  • The Yvette Cooper one has – but no second reading date has been announced

And possibly connected, or possibly not, this is interesting (but not yet published) – Peter Bone “the Prime Minister (Temporary Replacement) Bill 2017-19” – this one was first tabled in Feb 2017 so probably not related.  A Bill to make provision for the carrying out of the functions of the Prime Minister in the event that a Prime Minister, or a person temporarily carrying out the functions of the Prime Minister, is incapacitated; and for connected purposes.

And that is enough for now…

TEF Review

The independent review of the TEF kicked off this week with a call to HE providers to share their views on the TEF. The review is being chaired by Dame Shirley Pearce and will contemplate the adequacy of the metrics on which judgements are based, the rating categories (Gold, Silver, Bronze) and the impact these have on providers, and whether TEF is fair, worth it, and in the public interest. The review will conclude and report in summer 2019.

  • The Minister said:“As Universities Minister I want you, the experts, to take part in Dame Shirley’s call for views and to give your thoughts so the TEF can work as well as it possibly can. It is important that we maximise the potential of this system and can only do that by getting invaluable insights from the sector.”

BU is compiling a response – please let us know if you want to input into this.

To coincide with the launch of the TEF review the DfE published their evaluation research into the TEF’s impact at year 2 (2016-17).  They state it has driven providers to make improvements with positive changes in teaching quality and a focus on student employability. It also considers how widely prospective students used the TEF to determine their choice of institution.

  • A large majority considered that the TEF was either having a ‘positive’ or ‘neutral’ impact on their institutions. A small minority considered that the TEF had impacted their provider or the sector in a negative way.
  • Respondents reported that the TEF had contributed to an increased emphasis on student outcomes in the last two years (37%) and 29% noted that the TEF had contributed to an increased emphasis on teaching quality and the learning environment (rising to 45% among academic staff responding).
    • A slightly lower proportion reported that the TEF had contributed to a change in course content (22%), or enhanced interventions for improving student retention (21%).
    • With the exception of teaching quality/learning environment, HE providers which received a Bronze TEF award 2017 (Year 2) were more likely to report that the TEF had contributed to change over the last two years: 71% reported an increased emphasis on student outcomes, 38% noted change in course content, while 51% reported interventions for improving student retention.
  • They report a considerable amount of change in student employability over the last two years, attributing some of this change to the TEF.
    • The most common impact attributed (at least in part) to the TEF was an increase in student exposure to employability opportunities (21%).
    • A further 17% reported that communications with students about their careers had started sooner (rising to 37% among academic staff responding)
    • 17% reported developments in the careers services as a result of the TEF. Only 11% reported that the TEF had enhanced employer partnerships.
  • 28% of respondents reported an increased demand on staff to support students, at least in part as a result of the TEF (rising to 44% among academic staff responding)
  • A higher proportion of respondents noted that the TEF had contributed to a decrease in teaching morale (15%) than an increase (10%)
  • Recruitment
    • Among Gold providers, 43% said that the TEF had, at least in part, impacted on an improved institutional reputation among potential applicants.
    • Bronze award providers were more likely to attribute the TEF in a decline in reputation (25%).
    • Page 14 considers the level of influence the TEF rating had on applications and choice of a HE provider
  • Respondents reported that at least partly as a result of the TEF:
    • new initiatives were being developed to improve teaching standards (24%)
    • there was an increase in teaching qualifications or training schemes (24%)
    • staff were provided more support to deliver positive student experiences (23%)
    • there was an increase in sharing best practice across departments (21%, rising to 37% among academic staff responding)
  • TEF brought a focus to some areas:
    • increased investment in the monitoring of TEF-related metrics: 61% of TEF Contacts reported that the TEF – at least in part – contributed to increased monitoring of metrics such as NSS scores, continuation rates and employment data)
    • This rose to 79% among Bronze providers.
    • The qualitative interviews revealed a particular emphasis for some HE providers on monitoring retention rates, in part due to the financial implications of high retention rates.

This chart on page 34 shows a mapping of the perceptions of the impact that TEF has had: As Figure 3.2 shows, there are some clear patterns by broad category:

  • Student Experience – TEF Contacts reported a high amount of change in the last two years for all items, relative to other categories, and a moderate (average) amount of this was considered to be as a result of the TEF.
  • Student Employability – For four items, this followed a similar pattern to student experience, although generally both the amount of change and extent of TEF influence reported was slightly lower. Two items showed low change and low TEF impact.
  • Teaching Staff – With one exception, there had been low change in the last two years, and TEF influence was also primarily low.
  • Teaching Practices – Similar to student employability, with a higher level of change reported overall, and mostly a low amount of this was attributed to the TEF.
  • Prospective Students – All four items showed low or average levels of change in the last two years; with one exception TEF influence was also low.
  • Wider impacts – The extent of change in this category varied from very high to low, and in all instances where change had occurred, a high amount was attributed to the TEF, relative to other categories

Conclusions can be read at pages 120-123. One of the final points is that awareness and understanding of the TEF within the applicant population needs to increase for the TEF to fulfil its original purpose to better inform students’ choices about what and where to study.

The call for views is only the first step: “In addition to the call for views I will be holding a programme of listening sessions and commissioning specific assessments of specialist questions. These will include an independent analysis of the statistical base of the TEF process and an assessment of its international impact. See more on the workstreams here.“

Unconditional Offers

The Student Room ran a survey with TSR research to obtain prospective students’ views on unconditional offers.

  • 46% agreed the Government should regulate unconditional offers (33% didn’t, 22% unsure)
  • However, 70% would be happy to receive an unconditional offer and 58% felt they would feel positive about a university that gave them an unconditional offer believing it is offered as recognition of achievement (especially when from a high rank university or competitive course)
  • In keeping with the above theme of unconditional offer as recognition the survey found ‘for the most part’ the prospective students felt universities should be selective in who receives an unconditional offers
  • The prospective students felt these were genuine reasons to receive an unconditional offer:
    • Already have the grades (62% agreed)
    • An impressive personal statement (40%)
    • Successful interview (31%)
    • Very high predicted grades (31%)
    • Student is from a disadvantaged background (30%)

However, 10% felt that unconditional offers should never be made.

  • When asked if universities make unconditional offers to fill places rather than because of student aptitude or characteristics the opinion of unconditional offers became negative:
    • 59% would perceive the university negatively if they believed they weren’t discerning and made too many unconditional offers (6% weren’t bothered about this)
    • Conditional unconditional offers (when the university makes a conditional offer unconditional after the application selects them as their firm choice) received mixed responses with 47% perceiving this negatively and 20% who approved of it.
      However, the prospective students commented that the practice is manipulative. And while half said a conditional unconditional would not make them change their decision 27% said it would sway their choice to the unconditional university over the one they really wanted to attend. This was one of Sam Gyimah’s key criticisms on unconditional offers whilst he was HE Minister.
  • 43% recognised that the unconditional offer was a boon to mental health – reducing the pressure of exams and allowing them to do better. Although others felt it would negatively impact motivation to perform well (39%) and that such students wouldn’t be sufficiently prepared for university study and exams.
  • Other students (without unconditional offers) were resentful and didn’t want to study alongside those with an unconditional offer that may not have worked as hard or achieved the required grades. One quote implied only the top universities should be allowed to make unconditional offers: “Ultimately I just think unconditional offers shouldn’t be handed out on a plate, and more regulation of less prestigious unis handing them out should be enforced.”

All in all the students back up Government concerns that unconditional offers sway capable students away from more prestigious universities, that they undermine the sector’s reputation, and that is it more about bums on seats within the crowded HE recruitment market. However, there is enough balancing student opinion to show the other side of the coin – young people value unconditional offers when they perceive they are a reward for aptitude, a reasoned boon to social mobility, and a balm to improve mental health. A large proportion were in favour of Government regulation, which the HE sector is keen to avoid.

And the OfS have responded with a press release, a briefing and interviews.

Some extracts from the briefing are here:

The growth of unconditional offers appears to be a consequence of increasing competition between universities. The OfS has a legal duty to have regard to the need to encourage competition where it is in the interests of students and employers. The question is whether the sorts of unconditional offer practices arising from this competition are in the interests of students

…The OfS is concerned about the rapid rise in unconditional offers, particularly those that require students to commit to a particular course. We will take action where they are not in students’ interests.

  • While some are seeking to justify unconditional offers as a tool to support fair access for disadvantaged students, contextual offer-making is a more effective way of achieving this.
  • We will make clear where ‘pressure selling’ practices are at risk of breaching consumer protection law, and empower students to challenge this as well as taking regulatory action if appropriate.
  • We will bring together a range of education, employer and other organisations to explore whether the admissions system serves the interests of students. We will work with the Department for Education, students, UCAS and others on a consultation on principles for how the admissions system can best achieve this goal.

….Are unconditional offers a good or bad thing? This is probably the wrong question. Most commentators agree that, used appropriately, unconditional offers have a legitimate and useful place in the university admissions system. The right question is probably more complex: what does an ‘appropriate’ unconditional offer look like?

Risk of reduced attainment

  • The most recent UCAS report, and our own analysis, support this concern. UCAS estimates that the proportion of applicants placed in higher education through unconditional offers who miss their predicted grades by two or more grades is around five percentage points higher than would be expected compared with those holding a conditional offer. UCAS’s modelling controls for different attainment at GCSE, background characteristics of the student and the course where they hold their firm offer to ensure that this estimate is not influenced by the group of applicants who hold unconditional offers. This proportion has remained fairly stable throughout the increase in unconditional offer-making. This means that as unconditional offers increase, more young people are attaining slightly weaker A-level results than expected each year.
  • ….The rapid increase in unconditional offers means that it’s too early to assess with any certainty their effect on continuation rates, student satisfaction and degree attainment. The limited evidence we have on non-continuation rates is set out in Figure 3, which shows non-continuation rates by entry qualifications. Because of the timescale we have only been able to look at entrants in 2015-16, when the numbers of unconditional offers were much lower than in 2018, and the differences are not statistically significant. We will continue our analysis as more data becomes available.

Impact on disadvantaged students

  • There are particular concerns about the effect of unconditional offers on students from disadvantaged groups. Critics highlight the particular vulnerability of applicants who are the first in their family to attend university, and of those who lack parental support. These applicants may be more likely to accept an unconditional offer with limited information about their options and the potential drawbacks.UCAS analysis shows that more unconditional offers are being made to applicants from the areas with the lowest rates of participation in higher education: these applicants are more likely to receive an unconditional offer than applicants from areas with higher participation. This is illustrated in Figure 4.
  • …Our own analysis demonstrates that some of this difference may be attributable to types of university rather than to student characteristics. In other words, universities and colleges may not, in general, be directing their unconditional offers towards disadvantaged students; rather, those that take a greater proportion of disadvantaged students tend to use more unconditional offers. This is an important distinction. It suggests that unconditional offer-making to disadvantaged students may be driven more by the circumstances of universities and colleges than the needs of the students. This contrasts with the practice of contextual offer-making, which takes into account the circumstances in which academic results are achieved.

 Constraining choice?

  • A concern is that applicants may choose an unconditional offer because they see it as a safer option than a conditional offer. In particular, students accepting a conditional unconditional offer are depriving themselves of the chance to
  • consider other universities and colleges. This can result in students making sub-optimal choices, without information on alternative options which may be more suitable for their career plans or may better reflect their abilities and talents. In other words, they may not necessarily be opting for the course and university or college that would be best for them overall.
  • Since they can have the effect of reducing attainment, unconditional offers may also limit students’ ability to choose a different higher education course, whether by changing their mind before starting, ‘trading up’ during adjustment or clearing, or transferring courses at a later stage. A connected concern centres on a perceived lack of transparency about how unconditional offers work. There is limited understanding of the criteria universities apply in selecting applicants to receive unconditional offers.

The OfS is taking action in relation to unconditional offers on a number of fronts:

  • We will continue to monitor and assess the way unconditional offers are being used across the sector.
  • We will ensure that provider-level data on unconditional offers is published on a regular basis, starting in 2019, including their impact at all stages of the student lifecycle where this can be monitored.
  • We will identify any cases where the evidence suggests that students with unconditional (or very low) offers are particularly at risk of poor outcomes, or not being properly supported. We will challenge the universities or colleges concerned, and intervene where necessary.
  • We will make clear our expectations that the governing bodies of universities and colleges are fully sighted on their institution’s admissions policy and its implications for the interests of individual students.
  • We will make clear where ‘pressure selling’ practices are at risk of breaching consumer law, and empower students to challenge this as well as taking regulatory action ourselves if appropriate.
  • We will work with UCAS and other bodies providing information, advice and guidance to improve students’ ability to make informed choices about unconditional offers.

The OFS research paper is here:

  1. We are currently unable to include conditional unconditional offers (type B) which have not been recorded as unconditional (typically because the applicant has not made the offer their firm choice). The UCAS report includes an assessment of the conditional unconditional offers (type B) including those that are not recorded as unconditional. It suggests that the proportion of offers being made that have an unconditional component could be as much as 70 per cent higher than the unconditional offers reported here. Where possible we have shown the UCAS estimates of offers that contain an unconditional component alongside our estimates, for context.

Research

On Thursday the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, announced £100 million investment for research and technology to future-proof the UK economy for the fourth industrial revolution and to boost UK innovation. The funding has been earmarked for the creation of 1,000 new PhD places across the UK for the next generation of Artificial Intelligence; to fund research into life-saving technology to be used in NHS hospitals; to address pollution hotspots within cities and develop an early warning system; and to improve voice-recognition software for business and consumers. Despite the rhetoric it’s not completely new money – it is part of the £7 billion that was promised for science and innovation in announcements since 2016. The Chancellor said:

  • Britain is a great place to do business. And we are determined, as we leave the EU, to make sure it remains that way. We are leading the way in the tech revolution. The UK digital sector is now worth over £130 billion with jobs growing at twice the rate of those in the wider economy .I want to ensure we remain the standard bearer, so we must invest in our new economy so that it can adapt and remain competitive. We are backing British innovation to help create growth, more jobs and higher living standards.”

Accelerated Degrees

Last week we informed you that the regulations aiming to change the HE funding regime to facilitate accelerated degrees were presented in Parliament amid concerns from Labour. Labour feel that working throughout the summer break rules out lower income students who rely on holiday jobs to fund their study and living costs. This week the Commons voted and have passed the regulations authorising the 20% increase  on yearly fees for accelerated students. While the vote wasn’t close there was substantial opposition with all Labour MPs voting against the increase. Other criticisms levied at the accelerated degree was the loss of the university experience and less time for students to settle into university life.

Chris Skidmore, Universities Minister, said the legislation was: “One of the great modern-day milestones for students and breaks the mould of a one-size-fits all system for people wanting to study in higher education.”

Next hurdle for the regulations is the House of Lords vote which will take place next Tuesday 29 January.

International students

Encouraging International Students (link)

Q – Jo Stevens: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to ensure that the number of international students choosing to study in the UK grows over the next 10 years.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • The government fully recognises the important economic and cultural contribution that EU and international students make to the UK’s higher education sector. The government welcomes international students and there continues to be no limit on the number who can come here to study, and there are no plans to limit any institution’s ability to recruit them.
  • The UK remains a highly attractive destination for non-EU students with their numbers remaining at record highs, with over 170,000 non-EU entrants to UK higher education institutions for the seventh year running. The UK is a world-leading destination for study, with four universities in the world’s top 10 and 16 in the top 100 – second only to the USA. The government actively promotes study in the UK through the GREAT Campaign and to over 100 countries through the British Council.
  • In the Immigration White Paper, published on 19 December 2018, the government proposed to increase the post-study leave period for international students following completion of studies to 12 months for those completing a PhD, and to six months for all full-time postgraduate students and undergraduate students at institutions with degree awarding powers. Going beyond the recommendations set out by the Migration Advisory Committee, these proposals will benefit tens of thousands of international students.

Q – Catherine West: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether there will be an independent review of credibility interviews within the student immigration system to ensure the system is (a) fit for purpose, (b) cost effective relative to current risk and (c) does not hinder universities’ ability to recruit a diverse range of students.

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • An internal review of point of application credibility interviews for international students was conducted in 2018 to ensure that interviews are adding value to the case consideration process and not unnecessarily inconveniencing customers.
  • Up to date risk information was factored in to this review. Regular engagement with universities and other educational institutions ensures that feedback is collected in relation to the application process.

Q – Wes Streeting: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether EU students starting courses in England in the 2019-20 academic year will be eligible for home fee status in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

A: Chris Skidmore:

  • The department is aware that students, staff and providers are concerned about what EU Exit means for study and collaboration opportunities. To help give certainty, in July 2018, the department announced guarantees on student finance for EU nationals.
  • These guarantees are not altered if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. EU nationals (and their family members) who start a course in England in the 2019/20 academic year or before, will continue to be eligible for ‘home fee’ status and student finance support from Student Finance England for the duration of their course, provided they meet the residency requirement.

The House of Commons library also released an international and EU student briefing paper. You can download the pdf paper from the link at the very bottom of this page.

Q – Jo Stevens: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether he plans to review the option of introducing a post-study work visa allowing up to two years of work experience for international students in the UK.

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The independent Migration Advisory Committee’s report on international students, published in September 2018, recommended against the introduction of a separate post-study work visa. The report also made several positive recommendations with regard to the current post-study work offer. (Link.)
  • … As set out in the Immigration White Paper, published last month, under the new student route all students studying at a Masters’ level, or at Bachelors’ level at an institution with degree awarding powers, will be eligible for a six-month post study leave period. Doctoral students will be eligible for a 12-month post study leave period. This will benefit tens of thousands of international students by providing them with more time to gain valuable experience or find employment in the UK in accordance with the skilled work migration routes.

Post-18 review

The rumours and leaks surrounding Augar’s Review of Post-18 education and funding have been a weekly affair over the last month with mass speculation over how degree tuition fees may change in the future. This week the BBC ran an article suggesting that Justine Greening planned to axe tuition fees in favour of graduate tax contributions before she was reshuffled out of office. The article says:

  • She [Justine] says she had been working on a radically different system which would have removed fees – but instead the prime minister launched a review of student finance, chaired by financier Philip Augar. Ms Greening is scathing about the review, which is expected to report back next month… She says its public remit is confused – without any “clear objectives of the problem it was trying to fix”. And she says its private purpose was to buy time and only “tweak” a few of the most politically toxic aspects of the current system.

Other news

Extremism:

On Monday the Henry Jackson Society published Extreme Speakers and Events: In the 2017-18 Academic Year. It claims that in 2017/18 there were 435 student focussed events which had extremist content and creates a league table of the institutions most regularly hosting events which contain such content. The Society garnered media attention in claiming such universities were failing in their Prevent duties. They also criticised the Office for Students (OfS) monitoring and questioned the OfS figure that 97% of universities are compliant with Prevent. Wonkhe highlighted that the report doesn’t consider the risk assessment and mitigation that may have been put in place by the host institutions. Responding to the report Queen Mary University replied that their speakers were subject to “stringent checks” and Birmingham University said “none of the speakers appear on any government list of proscribed organisations or individuals”. Nevertheless, The Times report that Robert Halfon, Chair of the Commons Education select committee, said:  “This is incredibly distressing. We seem to be going backwards. There needs to be an urgent inquiry.”

By Wednesday the Home Office Minister of State for Security, Ben Wallace, announced a public independent review of the Prevent counter-radicalisation programme stating it was in response to an amendment by peers seeking such a move during scrutiny of the government’s counter-terrorism and border security bill. He continued:

“This review should expect those critics of Prevent, who often use distortions and spin, to produce solid evidence of their allegations.” On the timing he said: “The review of part 5 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which provides the legislative foundation for the Prevent programme, is in any event due to take place early in 2020, just 12 months away. Given that, I have decided that the time is now right to initiate a review of Prevent. Communities across the country are behind the policy and are contributing to it because, like us, they want to protect their young people from being groomed and exploited by extremists.”

The Financial Times also reports Parliament’s joint committee on human rights, comprising both MPs and peers, has also called for the scheme to be scrutinised.

Civic Engagement: Narratives on HE: slumming it on civic engagement is a new blog on Wonkhe covering the social good that students do within a community.

International Education Strategy: Education Minister, Damian Hinds, announced the intention to develop a cross-Government international education strategy stressing that education is “a big part of our diplomacy”. The strategy will address and encourage incoming international students to the HE sector as well as supporting the expansion of UK universities abroad, Damian said:

Inbound international students is a really important part of [the strategy], both for the earnings reason – it’s an important part of business – but also, just as important, because of the role it plays in our place in the world and because it makes sure we have diverse, vibrant student communities where everyone is learning from each other.”

UUK International Director, Vivienne Stern, said:

“We’re delighted to hear the Secretary of State for Education speaking publicly about the new governmental international education strategy and we are looking forward to its launch. The sector has long called for an ambitious strategy, backed up by meaningful policy, to encourage international students to choose UK universities. International students are vital to our universities.”
The speech was also covered by The Financial Times.

Disadvantaged pupils:

The DfE have released data showing rising standards in secondary schools with disadvantaged pupils in multi-academy trusts making more progress than the equivalent national average. School Standards Minister, Nick Gibb, said:

  • Making sure that all pupils, regardless of their background, are able to fulfil their potential is one of this Government’s key priorities and these results show that more pupils across the country are doing just that.It’s been clear for some time that standards are rising in our schools and today’s data underlines the role academies and free schools are playing in that improvement, with progress above the national average and impressive outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

A level and other 16-18 results have also been published highlighting lower attainment for disadvantaged students compared to non-disadvantaged students across all qualification types.

Meanwhile the Public Account Committee have published a report on school academies accounts and performance. It concludes that a number of high profile academy failures have been costly to the taxpayer and damaging to children’s education, and recommends that the governance and oversight of academy trusts needs to be more rigorous. Furthermore that Academy trusts do not make enough information available to help parents and local communities understand what is happening in individual academy schools. And when things go wrong it is not clear who parents can turn to, to escalate concerns about the running of academy schools and academy trusts.

Contact Sarah if you would like a more in depth summary of any of the above three reports.

EDM: An interesting cross-section of MPs have signed the following Early Day Motion within Parliament which pushes back against the recent ‘let them fall’ mindset to Universities in financial difficulty:

  • That this House recognises the crucial role of our higher education sector in meeting the nation’s skills needs and supporting local economies; notes with concern the recent comments by Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, which suggest that the new regulator will not support universities experiencing financial difficulties; further notes that allowing a higher education institution to fail would cause significant harm to its students, graduates and local area; awaits with interest the findings of Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education and funding which represents an opportunity to overhaul the current system predicated on student debt; and calls on the Government to introduce a fair and sustainable funding system which protects both student interests, institutional funding, and which recognises higher education is not a private commodity but an essential public good.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 17th January 2019

Post-18 review

As we all look forward to the outcome of the Augar review in mid February, and speculation continues, Research Professional have an interview with Bill Rammell, VC at the University of Bedfordshire:

“To cut the headline fee…would certainly hit universities hard but what that means is it would hit the student experience hard,” Rammell said. “The merit of the current system is that we have better staff-student ratios, better facilities, better support services, we have the best ever student satisfaction ratings, and the best graduate employability. And I think we risk, by cutting the income to universities, cutting the support to students and moving backwards.”

There have been many stories about a but in fee caps at least for some courses.  Over the weekend a less dramatic story emerged, of a cut in tuition fee loans but a government top up for universities.

  • “The review is also likely to recommend maintaining the £9,250 currently paid to universities for each student, while reducing the proportion paid for through loans. It is considering ways to top up the difference by direct funding from government. This would ensure that universities received their current levels of funding per head while helping to cut the overall burden of debt incurred by students. The change would give the government more discretion to modify the level of funding top-ups depending on the cost of particular university courses or those seen as strategic priorities, such as science and technology programmes.”

The other part of the FT story was about loans for FE as well as HE: “the move is designed to encourage more people to pursue vocational and professional training — including those seeking a “second chance” later in life — and to better fill England’s significant skills gap.”

The other big recent story was about controlling numbers by stopping loans to students who did not get the equivalent of three Ds at A level.  In the RP interview: “[this] would disproportionally affect teaching-led universities and represent “a really retrograde step”, Rammell said. “The proposal that really concerns me beyond [lowering fees] is the notion that you would stop students at three Ds and below at A level having access to loan finance to go to university. I think that would be extraordinarily discriminating.”

Professor Dave Phoenix, VC of London South Bank University, wrote about this on Wonkhe last week:

  • “An analysis of the UCAS data on level 3 qualifications and acceptances into university shows that in 2018, a greater proportion of BAME students were accepted onto a university course with A level grades of DDD or below than compared to white students. This is particularly acute for black A level students, with over 10% of those accepted onto a university course with a grade profile of DDD or lower. So pulling up the drawbridge for those students with lower attainment will affect BAME groups disproportionately, with black students being particularly badly affected.
  • “A blanket all-England minimum grade threshold would differentially hit localities and regions with lower average school or college attainment. We know from Office for Students research on the geography of prior academic attainment that this varies quite significantly by region. At a stroke, then, a grade threshold would hit regions beyond London and the South East of England with lower average attainment, disproportionately reducing the total numbers of prospective students eligible to go to university from areas like the North East or the East Midlands. This does not seem to be a wise (or fair) policy response to the concerns about communities and regions being ‘left behind’ following the Brexit debate.”

What could the Augar review recommendations look like?  we’ve been thinking about it and have some ideas (not that we are endorsing any of them):

  • A mass switch to apprenticeships and employer-sponsored degrees for “vocational” courses
    • nursing, teaching, social work, police – mainly public sector apprenticeships
    • business and management degrees, accounting and finance, fashion, many media and communications courses – private sector sponsorship required (i.e. you can’t do these courses unless you have an employer lined up, unless you pay for it yourself (or with a commercial loan))
  • Headline cut in fee cap/loan amount but accompanied by some or all of the things below:
    • Government teaching grant for strategically important subjects – mainly STEM
    • Nursing, teaching also subsidised (or they might all switch to apprenticeships)
    • Some subsidy to be earned by achieving more stretching access and participation targets – like the arrangement we have now but small carrot and more stick. The funding could follow the (WP) student and be conditional (retrospectively) on success.
    • Top up fees for highly prestigious universities/courses (perhaps those with big graduate salaries) funded by extra student loans
    • Some teaching subsidy also available for “low value/low return” courses if they meet stringent requirements on graduate outcomes (perhaps measured broadly, i.e. not just absolute salary but also relative outcomes for WP students).
    • Additional student loans available for “low value” courses or courses at less prestigious or successful universities but on an arm’s length commercial basis
    • Employers providing top up teaching grant – perhaps individually following the student (e.g. employer sponsored degrees) or perhaps linked to the course – may be like the apprenticeship levy, or a fund that is spent according to criteria
    • Loans or teaching grant linked to student performance – would be retrospective, may be learning gain measure or outcomes based on relative starting position, or just simply linked to tariff points on entry.
  • Rebranding and changing the terms of student loans but how: could include some of all of these:
    • More variable payment thresholds and rates, different interest rates so that overall higher earners pay more and more quickly, thresholds and rates could vary according to your WP status when you start and then later your salary
    • Change to the optics of the loan – rename it, collect it differently
    • Graduate tax – applicable to all graduates not just those who had loans?
  • Maintenance grants – may be reintroduced but means tested and limited.
  • Life-time learning accounts – total nominal amount of subsidy for learning, can be spent on a-levels, T-levels, apprenticeship, degree, further degree, part-time, mature etc. It’s nominal – and different types of support count in different ways according to the cost to the taxpayer. Apprenticeships don’t use much of your total because the employer pays. Tuition fees burn through it much faster….
  • Headline increase in fees for some courses supported by a tweaked loan model, perhaps top up grant not bigger loans.
  • No change at all for PGT or PGR funding but a promised review?

Admissions

The University and College Union and National Education Opportunities Network have co-authored a report on a student centred model for HE admissions, arguing students should apply to university once their results are known and commence their first year of study in November. They offer it as a solution to the recent proliferation of unconditional offers.

UCU head of policy, Matt Waddup, stated: The current admissions process based on predicted grades is failing students and needs an urgent overhaul. The time has come for the government to grasp the nettle on this issue and commission an independent review of higher education admissions to take forward the agenda.

Wonkhe have an article by Graeme Atherton of NEON, who co-authored the report:

  • The current process was designed at a time when less than five percent of young people entered HE. The consequence of this is that anomalies, such as clearing and increasing use of unconditional offers, become built into the system. Moreover the requirement to make grade predictions, once a minority sport, becomes another unpaid part of the job description of teachers and lecturers in post-16 education.
  • The new system would have three phases. The first phase would run from year 10 to up to and after the final examinations prior to HE application. It would include a mandatory minimum of ten hours per year of HE-related information advice and guidance for students over each of years 10 to 13, and a Student Futures Week at the end of year 12 (i.e. the first year of level 3 study).
  • The second phase would focus on application with students applying after examinations. This does require reducing the period for providers to make decisions about applicants, but we argue that some of these pressures can be alleviated by moving back the start of the academic year for first year students to the beginning of November.
  • …The third and final phase would be after application and where a later start to the academic year becomes a real strength, enabling a greater focus on transition, preparation and entry for first year students. Problems with retention, especially for widening participation students, often stem from induction. This induction phase could also be seen as a pre-reading period for all students to ensure that learning time is not overly disrupted by this change.

Debbie McVitty responded on Wonkhe with a review of the context and the data:

  • Predicting grades is an inexact science at best, with potential for bias to creep into the judgements. Research conducted for UCU by Gill Wyness at the UCL Institute of Education in 2016 found that 75% of students between 2013-15 were predicted to do better at A level than they actually did and only 16% of students’ grades were predicted correctly. That said, the majority of those incorrectly predicted were accurate within one grade – for example, the difference between BBB and BBC which you could argue in most cases is well within an acceptable tolerance band.
  • Moreover, at the level of the entire sample grades of students from state schools and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be over-predicted. However, among the highest performing students – those expecting As and Bs – grades of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be under-predicted. Research on the same topic published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2011 told a broadly similar story – although the rates of accuracy of grade prediction seem to have declined in the interim.

She looks at what happened last time this was seriously discussed in 2011: The sector listened politely and then firmly rejected the idea….The inertia of the HE sector was not the sole culprit. The secondary education sector, which had previously been open to the possibility of post-qualification admissions, also came out against the proposals. A killer argument was that a post-results application system would mean providing applicants with additional support and guidance over the summer, at a time where schools and colleges were not geared up to deliver this – an issue that would only compound the barriers for disadvantaged applicants.

On unconditional offers: The question of unconditional offers is at present unresolved – UCU offers evidence of the exponential growth of unconditional offers as an unambiguous negative. A more balanced view is presented by a UUK 2018 paper on admissions, which observes that unconditional offers are still a minority of all offers, but urges institutions to monitor carefully their impact on subsequent exam performance and retention. As things stand the only evidence of negative impact is anecdotal.

And concludes:

  • Even if the sector could be brought to agree to, for example, delay the start of the university term for a few weeks (a process that sounds simple but wouldn’t be) no advocate of PQA has ever been able to explain how to prevent autonomous institutions from informally accepting or rejecting applicants at any time they like. The central application system is used for efficiency; no institution is required to use it and students can still apply directly to their institution of choice outside the UCAS system.
  • There is no doubt that PQA advocates are acting on principle – certainly that UCU could only be in favour of the policy on a principled basis, given the level of upheaval any PQA system would cause to its own members. But this could be a case where principles get in the way of good policymaking. Increasingly PQA feels like a solution in search of a problem. Meanwhile, a number of thoughtful proposals focused on substantially enhancing the support for applicants to make effective choices may never get air time, because PQA is sucking all the oxygen from the debate.

Grade Inflation

Wonkhe have an article by Phil Pilkington, an Honorary Teaching Fellow at Coventry and Deputy Chair at Middlesex University SU with a different perspective on the headlines:

  • In the articles, a first is an entrée to the high table. In reality it is more likely to lead to another two years on an MPhil, five years on a doctorate and a couple of years of post doc fellowship on poverty wages. In the articles, to achieve a first is to achieve the highest cognitive ability – but it is a strange claim that an assessment discovers cognitive ability (whatever that might be) rather than a competence or understanding in a discipline.
  • Underpinning it is the idea that there is a natural order of those who are naturally gifted in getting first class awards. This assumes that cognitive performance is natural and not identified with or tied to an academic subject. It assumes that high quality teaching will not improve cognitive abilities so an increase must have been obtained fraudulently because there is a natural order of and limited number of first class minds. This is just a circularity.
  • The notion of IQ as a generic measure of smarts has long been discredited, with multiple intelligences taking over as an alternative model. Social context also matters. The historical construction of disciplines have created measures of discipline intelligence. How the levels of these discipline-bounded intelligences are measured is not at issue, it is that there is a determinism (of a loose sort) of what counts as smart related to the overall discourse of the discipline. Such smarts are not, unlike the other essentialism of employability, necessarily transferable. Paul Dirac would have been bewildered by cognitive behavioural therapy, and Samuel Beckett was rather dim about modern painting but in neither case does it matter to their enduring brilliance in physics or drama.

Brexit – just because…

As widely predicted, the government lost the meaningful vote (part 1) and won the vote of no confidence (also part 1). We are pretty much where we were a week ago except more harsh things have been said on all sides and the UK is no nearer a consensus on the way forward. And the EU is just waiting, which is fine, because they wouldn’t concede anything until the last minute anyway and there is still time for the UK to ask for an extension or even decide to revoke article 50…..So what might  happen now? Skip this and move onto the next heading if you can’t bear it!

As they lost the meaningful vote, the government has to make a statement about their intentions within 3 days [was 21 but this was changed – now Monday 21st Jan] and then there is another vote by Parliament. What could the government propose in this statement?

  • It is another opportunity to persuade people to support the original deal with some more concessions or reassurance. There is unlikely to be anything from the EU by Monday but could be UK government assurances on things on workers’ rights and the environment, this was tried a bit before the meaningful vote.
  • Or this could be the moment to ask for an extension to article 50 but it would need an earthquake in No 10 for this to happen by Monday. Mass ministerial resignations over the weekend, for example?

We think it is most likely that the statement it will outline a UK consultation with parliamentarians (already announced) and then going back to Brussels. It seems (to us) that the only EU concession that might result in a change of result on the deal is a hard end or get-out clause for the UK on the backstop. That would get the DUP, a few Brexiteers and maybe some remainers over the line including maybe some Labour ones, but whether it would be enough to get it over the line is unclear – quite probably not.  Only three labour MPs voted for the deal this week.  But more might in a future attempt, especially if they are disenchanted with the Labour leadership.  But maybe not next week, maybe only nearer the deadline.

Other EU concessions that leave the deal largely intact (and so are doable in the time) seem unlikely to move enough people – e.g. on the divorce bill.

Apparently, the motion will be tabled on 21st and then a full day of debate (and a vote) will be on 22nd January.  It’s not clear what will happen in the meantime.  The vote on 22nd is apparently not a re-run of the meaningful vote, although there could be amendments to the motion and another interesting set of debates on Parliamentary procedure.  If the motion (whatever it says) is not supported on 22nd January, there is no next step set out formally in the process.  According to the process maps, we leave with no deal.  But in practice there is time for several more tries at getting the deal approved, or a vote on an extension to article 50.  And more opportunities for confidence votes too.

Anyone who wants a second referendum has to ensure that we get an extension to article 50 first.  It is still much more likely (we think) that our politicians will spend the next few weeks arguing, and that we simply end up falling out of the EU by default on 29th March without a deal.  It seems that only a few politicians (but maybe more of the population) actually want a no deal Brexit – but the lack of consensus about an alternative will get us there anyway.  What would avoid it?  The EU blinking on the backstop or a delay.

A delay to Brexit would need to be put to Parliament. Not necessarily by the government – amid all the talk of Parliament taking back control, the charge may be led by backbenchers (see below). And the EU would need to agree (which they would do  – they say if they thought it would lead to a change of attitude and approach, but probably even without that they would agree to it).  What might get us to that point?  A clear consensus in Parliament around something.

  • Most of the options seem so far away from the current deal as to be almost inconceivable without a change in government – e.g. softer Brexit options such as Norway style EEA membership, staying in the Customs Union on a permanent basis (Labour policy). Even proposing it might bring down the government if Brexiteers and the DUP vote with Labour in a confidence vote. Surely the only way these ideas will move forward is if there is either an election or a second referendum.
  • The Canada option is what the future political declaration might turn into. We floated the idea two weeks ago that there could be a longer extension to article 50 to negotiate the longer term deal before we leave – but the EU elections in the summer (inauguration of the new European parliament on July 2nd) make that look unlikely, apart from the fact that the EU have always said that they don’t want to negotiate the long term deal until we are out. This is an option in a no deal scenario too – leave and then negotiate. Tricky, and will take longer because there will be short term messy things to sort out first.
  • There could be a last minute delay just because there is no consensus. And then the arguments would continue for a bit longer but probably not with much substantial change.

The House of Commons library said on Wednesday:

Yesterday, Nick Boles presented a Bill before the House in connection with EU withdrawal, while today Dominic Grieve is expected to present two Bills in connection with provision for an EU referendum. Since these are not Government Bills, there are limited opportunities for MPs to debate and vote on them. The House’s own Standing Orders, which give priority to Government business, are therefore likely to be the subject of close scrutiny by those seeking to influence the Government’s next steps.  

The Nick Boles bill says that if the House of Commons haven’t passed the withdrawal agreement by 11th Feb then

“the Secretary of State must invite the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons to prepare and publish by 5 March 2019 a plan of action setting out a proposed process in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union”

We haven’t seen the Grieve ones yet, but this from the iNews “One bill seeks to launch preparations for a referendum while the other seeks to carry out the vote”.  You can follow them here as they will be  published here when ready.  As Private Members’ Bills as noted above, they may not get much further although we live in interesting times for Parliamentary procedures….

We also found this one – the EU (Revocation of Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, laid by Geraint Davies MP in December, which gets its second reading on 25th January:

“A Bill to….Require the Prime Minister to revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union unless two conditions are met;

  • to establish as the first condition for non-revocation that a withdrawal agreement has been approved by Parliament by 21 January 2019 or during an extension period agreed by that date under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union;
  • to establish as the second condition for non-revocation that a majority of participating voters have voted in favour of that agreement in a referendum in which the United Kingdom remaining as a member of the European Union was the other option;

 

and for connected purposes.”.

So we stick with our predictions from two weeks ago that either:

  • Politicians get some sort of comfort from somewhere and/or the EU come up with some weasel wording on the backstop at the 11th hour, and Parliament approves the deal – either by March 29th or by the end of June under a short extension.

OR

  • Chaos continues, and the UK leaves with no deal in March or June, leading in the short-ish term to a[nother] vote of no confidence and a general election, perhaps in 2020 if no deal turns out to be as bad as many people think it might be.

Accelerated Degrees

The regulations which will change the funding regime to allow accelerated degrees to charge different fees were considered in Parliament this week.

The Government’s intention is to allow provider to charge a 20% uplift above the usual annual fee caps for accelerated degrees. For students, this will result in a total overall fee saving of 20% for their degree.  Students would also save on living costs but it would be hard to work during their course.  “Accelerated degrees” include any first undergraduate degree delivered in a period at least one year shorter than the equivalent standard degree.  This can include degrees with work placements or overseas placement years. The government were intending to have the regulations in place for the 2019/20 academic year.

MPs from the House of Commons legislative committee raised concerns on the new limits, of £11,100 a year.

Research Professional say:

  • Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for higher education, further education and skills, warned that the two-year courses might be hard for disadvantaged students to access as there would be no opportunity to fund their studies by working during the holidays.  
  • “We would like a situation with fees in which students did not have to work part time as much as they do, but given that that is the case, perhaps the minister will admit that the giveaway in the accelerated degree proposals is that they are not focused on those sorts of people [disadvantaged students], but in many cases on richer or employer-funded applicants,” he said, later adding that higher annual fees  would “nudge people away from participating [in higher education], rather than nudging them towards it”.
  • …Marsden said that accelerated degrees could increase pressure on staff workloads and squeeze time traditionally set aside for research.
  • “The government have given little thought to the impact on staff workloads of accelerated degrees,” Marsden said. “There is a risk that the move to accelerated degrees will compromise time currently allocated by such teachers to research, and fuel—of necessity, if they are not prepared to do the relevant work—the use of even more casualised teaching staff to deliver provision during the summer months.” 
  • ..Skidmore said the government would assess the effectiveness of accelerated degree funding and access spending compared with traditional three-year degree courses, three years after the legislation has been put in place.

Apprenticeships

Research Professional report that the Commons education committee has raised concerns that institutions are “re-badging” courses in order to allow employers to pay for them using apprenticeship levy funds.

  • At a hearing on 16 January, the chair of the committee, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, said that some institutions were “re-badging expensive courses as apprenticeships” in order to attract students. He suggested this could be considered as “gaming” the apprenticeship system.
  • In one example, Halfon said that Cranfield University’s School of Management had “redesigned” its executive master of business administration (MBA) course, which costs £32,000 and is “pitched at middle managers wanting to move into a senior management role”, as an apprenticeship. “Was [the levy] supposed to be a vehicle for upskilling senior employees…or should it focus more than it does on those coming through school?” Halfon asked, saying the practice risked “depleting a crucial source of funding for those most in need”.
  • Education minister Damian Hinds said that the levy “as designed, covers all levels of apprenticeships”, and that there was a role for management education. “It is a pretty small minority [of apprenticeships that are] above level six,” he said. Asked whether the Department for Education was looking at “the potential gaming” of the apprenticeship system, Hinds said that there was to be a review after 2020 of how the levy works, which would take into account such concerns.
  • A spokeswoman for Cranfield School of Management said the “significant interest shown by UK businesses in management-focused apprenticeships” was indicative of “a latent need for better management practice”. “Through the apprenticeship levy, access to our leading postgraduate education has been opened up to people who would not otherwise have felt it was for them,” she said. “One in six of our applicants comes from a non-traditional education background and is accessing university education for the first time, a fact the committee should be joining us in celebrating.
  • “At Cranfield, we are proud of the role we are playing in creating the next generation of leaders and the role we are helping play in boosting future UK productivity.”

Other news

Former universities and science minister Sam Gyimah has been elected to the House of Commons science and technology committee.

The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill goes to Committee state in the House of Commons on 23rd January.

The Trade Bill continues to work its way through the House of Lords starting its HL Committee stage on 21st January– this is aimed at setting things up for after Brexit.  It started in the Lords (you can see why!):

Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements; to make provision establishing the Trade Remedies Authority and conferring functions on it; and to make provision about the collection and disclosure of information relating to trade.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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

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

Internships

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

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

(more…)

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…)

HE Policy update for the w/e 15th December 2017

Despite Sarah and Jane donning their sparkly Christmas jumpers there has been no let up this week – here is your fully stuffed pre-Christmas policy update (and not a turkey in sight)!
We’ll be back in the New Year unless anything really exciting happens next week.

Accelerated Degrees

The long awaited consultation on accelerated degrees has finally been launched.  The proposals are for students to study over the summer to complete their degree within two years. These degrees would be subject to the same rigour and quality assurance standards. Institutions will be able to charge higher fees per year (to a maximum which will be 20% less than the total for 3 normal years) to cover the additional costs of teaching through the summer, research time squeeze, and rental income lost on summer lets of student rooms. However, the overall cost to the student will be less, with lower living costs as well, and interest will accrue over a shorter time before the student starts work. The OfS will be responsible for determining whether a degree course can be defined as ‘accelerated’.

The Minister’s statement said that “The current means-tested living cost support package (the “long course loan”) available to students whose courses last for longer than 30 weeks and three days each academic year will continue to provide maintenance for students on accelerated degrees on the same terms.” It is not clear whether this will be enough to cover the additional costs for students on these courses.”

Jo Johnson says that these courses will appeal to: “highly motivated students hungry for a faster pace of learning and a quicker route into or back into work”.

He continues: “The growing dominance of the classic three-year residential degree reflects more the convenience of the sector and financial incentives on providers than the needs of students for flexible ways of pursuing higher education. I believe there is significant untapped potential for accelerated courses, starting first with degrees, in higher education. They offer benefits to students of lower costs, more intensive study, and a quicker commencement or return to the workplace. Innovative providers would like to offer more of these courses but face significant financial and operational disincentives in the current system.”

And later:  “Our aspiration is for the number of students enrolled on accelerated degree courses to build over the next decade to around 5% of the total undergraduate population[currently its 0.2%], and for an additional 100,000 students to have studied on this basis over that period.”

Accelerated degrees are expected to commence in September 2019, subject to parliamentary approval of the new fee arrangements.  The consultation press release sets out the benefits for the public purse:

For the taxpayer, it means significantly lower tuition loan outlay, higher rates of repayment and therefore a lower cost to the public purse of higher education. A higher proportion of students on accelerated degrees will also repay their loans in full”.

Jo Johnson and Les Ebdon expect the accelerated degrees to appeal to mature students. It’s clear that individuals currently in work, looking to take a sabbatical to upskill, then return to the sector are perfect candidates for accelerated provision. This scenario is certainly a perfect fit with the Industrial Strategy’s aspirations.  It also provides students with more options –depending on how may institutions offer them and the range of subjects covered. However, there could be some bumps in the road. Presumably the admissions process will select those most capable of intense study and who do not need to work part-time to fund their living costs– which leads to questions around widening participation. How will contextual admissions apply to accelerated provision? Will mature students with family commitments be considered to have the capacity to cope with an intensive degree? And what happens to those who find the pace too much or run into financial difficulty and switch back to the traditional 3 year model – would they end up paying more in fees in total? There may be concerns about student experience in the summer when services are often reduced and building maintenance is carried out.

Sector responses:

Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education: “It seems that every higher education policy from this government comes with another plan to raise tuition fees, with students on part time degrees now facing charges of over £11,000 a year. With universities facing uncertainty over Brexit, ministers must address concerns like the impact on staff workload before imposing more major changes. So far they have offered no concrete evidence that squeezing three years of learning into two will stem the huge drop in part-time students, or lead to better outcomes.”

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education: “Accelerated degrees are an attractive option for mature students who have missed out on the chance to go to university as a young person. Having often battled disadvantage, these students can thrive in higher education and I hope that now many more will be able to take up the life-changing opportunity to get a degree.”

Karl McCormack, who teaches accelerated degrees in Accounting & Finance at Staffordshire University, commented on the increased focus of students on accelerated courses. “I find that the accelerated degree offers so much more to students, including the extra focus, the drive and the immersive experience of constantly learning over the two years. Accelerated degrees appeal to a broad spectrum of students, including mature students who want to retrain and enter the workplace more quickly, and those who do not take a traditional A-level route into higher education.”

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI: “Making two-year degrees more attractive makes sense as the current rules aren’t great and more diversity is generally good in higher education – so long as quality is maintained. So the overall idea of altering the financial rules for two-year degrees is sound or even overdue. Lower fees for two-year degrees might increase demand, probably from older students as many school leavers are remarkably price insensitive and like the idea of staying at university for three (or more) years. It also might increase the supply of two-year degrees, although getting £11,100 to educate students for 40 weeks a year (£280 a week) rather than £9,250 for 30 weeks a year (£310 a week) is unlikely to make a major difference. ‘But it remains an open question whether there is sufficient support in Parliament for a higher tuition fee cap for a minority of courses. Overall, today’s announcement may not be a game changer.”

Read more on the consultation on accelerated degrees: widening student choice in HE.  Please contact Sarah if you would like to contribute to BU’s institutional response to the consultation.

Brexit

This week the Government and EU agreed continued contributions to the annual budgets for the years 2019 and 2020 (the remaining 2 years of the EU budget after the exit) as if the UK were remaining in the EU. This enables continued participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ until the end of the programmes. On Thursday evening the BBC reported this story.

The phase one negotiations concluded with assurances for citizen’s rights – hopefully reassuring for the 46,000 EU nationals within the UK university sector who can remain to work and gain settled status. Some questions remain, but it was clarified that EU citizens can live outside the UK for up to 5 consecutive years without losing their settled status.

In response UUK have stressed that phase two of the negotiations continue to be ‘hugely important’ for universities. They continue to push for access to the next European research and innovation programme (FP9) and to the Erasmus+ mobility programme. “Developing a post-exit immigration system, with minimal barriers to allow talented European staff and students to work and study in the UK, is a priority.”

Research Professional have a simple article tacking the main points of the Brexit progress: Now the real work begins. Amongst other points they highlight that with a majority of students registering an interest in studying abroad 12 months in advance the need for decision on whether EU citizens will be eligible for home fee status and loans for 2019/20 entry remains urgent.

Parliamentary Questions

Q – Joanna Cherry: What assessment she has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on staffing levels in universities.

A- Jo Johnson: EU staff make an important contribution to our universities. The UK and the EU have reached an agreement on citizens’ rights that will allow EU citizens to continue living here broadly as now, which will help to provide certainty to such staff in our institutions.

Joanna Cherry: Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Napier University in my constituency have made staff redundant, citing Brexit and the UK Government’s immigration policies as a proximate cause. Napier University has advised me that potential staff members from other EU countries are turning down job offers. What concrete reassurance can the Minister give these international award-winning universities that Brexit will not further affect their staffing levels?

Jo Johnson: That uncertainty is completely unnecessary. I point the universities to the joint report issued last Friday by the Commission and the UK Government that points to our continued participation in programmes such as Horizon 2020 not just up until March 2019, but until the end of 2020. They should appreciate that important reassurance.

Paul Masterton (Con):  Many of my constituents in East Renfrewshire work in academic research and are concerned about the impact of Brexit on collaboration with European institutions. What reassurance can the Minister give to my constituents that Brexit will not put that collaboration in doubt?

Jo JohnsonThey can take reassurance from the statement that was put out on Friday. We will participate in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ beyond the point of Brexit—until the end of 2020. That is of fundamental importance to our scientific endeavour.

Policy impact

A Research Professional article: University research ‘failing to influence parliament’ discusses the dominance of other sectors in capturing the parliamentary ear. Non-governmental organisations are most successful in translating their lobbying into policy with ‘other interest groups’ having far greater influence. University research contributed less than 10% of the evidence to elect committees. David Willets pointed out that the public funding of R&D is weighted heavily towards universities – which are having a very small impact on policy.

A Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology report stated “academic research frequently arrived too late to influence their work or never came at all, and was often “poorly presented with overly technical jargon”. David Willetts advises, “academics should try to engage more with what parliament’s policy preoccupations actually are”; he criticised REF and stated, “there is a need for a change in the incentives that drive academics”.

Mark Walport (former chief scientific adviser) commented that for politicians want an overview more than what the latest paper says. “If you’re advising government, what you’re interested in is the totality of the research.

BU’s Policy team support academics to present their research to Westminster. Contact Sarah if you would like to consider how your work could influence Government policy.

2017 – a year in Admissions

UCAS published the final two elements of the End of Cycle report for 2017 this week. Here is the full set – read the summary, the analysis of patterns of entry to HE, patterns by age, patterns by subject, patterns by geography, patterns by applicant characteristics, offer making, and an analysis of entry by qualification types and academic performance.

Here is Wonkhe’s summary of the last report: Overall, applications across the UK decreased by 3.1% (18,220) to 572,285 since last year, and acceptances are down by 0.5% to 462,945. Both the numbers and proportions of 18-year-olds accessing higher education in the 2017 admissions cycle were the highest they’ve ever been. 282,380 18 year-olds applied to higher education, up 0.5% on last year, and 241,585 were accepted (+1.1%). The overall decline in UK acceptances comes from a drop in older age groups entering HE. The number of 19 year-olds applying fell 5.2% on last year, while numbers for those aged 21-25, and over 25, fell 7% and 9.8% respectively.

And a Wonkhe blog neatly rounds up the key details of all reports in just 1,500 words, concluding: the data draws our attention to some important trends. The stark difference in patterns among different age groups within higher education, the changing demographics of the international student population entering the UK, and the largely unchanged gap in access between the least and most disadvantaged all require attention … and action.

Education and Society debate – House of Lords

This week during the Lords Education and Society debate there was critical comment about the value of the University sector. This comes at the end o f a year in which there has been very serious and sustained criticism of the sector across a range of topics and issues. It will be interesting to see whether everyone just needs a break – or whether this continues in the New Year.

Lord Adonis (Lab, former schools minister) called for “bold action” on apprenticeships, recommending that the Government should require every large public service organisation, including the Civil Service, the NHS and local authorities, to recruit as many apprentices as graduates. He also continued to campaign for tuition fees to be reduced to around £3,000 and a reduction in the student loan interest rate.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab) described the importance of having a good teacher, and argued the role of individual teachers shouldn’t be forgotten by policymakers. He went on to discuss the role of colleges, claiming they were being unaddressed and that they were “fundamental to the life opportunities of a section of the population who, in many ways, need them much more than people who go to university.”

Lord Rees of Ludlow (Crossbench, academic scientist and lecturer) said that the extreme sophistication of modern technology was, ironically, an impediment to engaging young people with reality and learning how things worked. Speaking as a lecturer he stated that the traditional honours degree was too specialised for almost all students.

Lord Storey (Lib Dem) questioned the Minster about the impact to reputation and integrity of essay mills on higher education.

The Archbishop addressed the business community’s calls for graduate to be “work ready”. He challenged this call asking “who here was work ready on their first day of employment?” Furthermore, he pushed back declaring that it was the “duty of employers to invest in their employees to take them from the first day of their employment to the last…and build up their skills.”

Widening Participation (WP)

Justine Greening spoke at the Reform social mobility conference on Thursday on why Britain has not ‘cracked’ social mobility and her ambition for education to turn disadvantage around. It called on all sectors of society to be part of the solution: “everyone’s problem needs everyone’s solution – if we’re going to achieve anything then social mobility, equality of opportunity needs to be a common ambition – with schools, colleges, universities, but also businesses, civil society, local communities all playing their part.”

She described a comprehensive strategy for lifelong learning. A national strategy that (in keeping with current Government trends, like the industrial strategy) is differently tailored to meet localised needs. The strategy: Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential was accompanied by a short summary. References to universities are interwoven but not addressed specifically, and fit with current political themes around productivity through the promotion of technical education. For example:

Creating high-quality post-16 choices for all

“We have more people going to university than ever before, including more disadvantaged young people, but we need to expand access further to the best universities. We need a skills revolution which includes making technical education world class, backed by a half a billion pounds’ investment at the last budget.” (Excerpt taken from the Minister’s speech.)

The messaging of the strategy is consistent with the Careers Strategy launched last week. Read BU’s summary of the Careers Strategy here.

Chinese internship programme

Earlier in the week the Minister also announced an expansion to the UK-China government-funded internship programme. It will offer 300 young people from a disadvantaged or less represented background the opportunity to live and work in China on an internship. “This scheme allows our young people to immerse themselves in different cultures, broaden their horizons and develop the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly global jobs market. Many of them will be people who were the first in their family to go to university and programmes like this help young people to experience first-hand just how far their talents can take them.”  (From speech at the UK- China People-to-People event.)

Parliamentary Questions

Q – Justin Madders (Lab): As chair of the all-party group on social mobility, I am very concerned to read the Social Mobility Commission’s report and the subsequent comments from the outgoing chair. Will the Secretary of State, or one of her ministerial team, agree to meet the all-party group to discuss where we go from here?

A – Justine Greening: I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to welcome the plan I will set out later this week. I think the time has come for us all to move on from talking about the problem, which we have done a lot for many, many years, to deciding that we have it within us to work together up and down the country to now tackle it. [This is the policy paper described above.]

Q – Gordon Marsden: With reference to paragraph 34 of the Government’s Careers Strategy… what discussions her Department has had with the Director of Fair Access to Education on the continuation of targeted career outreach interventions for disadvantaged pupils.

A – Anne Milton: The government’s careers strategy is clear that we want higher education institutions to continue working with schools and their pupils to encourage them to go on to higher education. We have spoken to the Office for Fair Access about their role in helping to deliver the strategy. Our most recent guidance asked the Director of Fair Access to be firmer with institutions to make sure that investment through access agreements is allocated to the most effective interventions, encouraging more investment in outreach.

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what [the] budget is for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme.

A – Jo Johnson: The Higher Education Council for England launched the ‘National Collaborative Outreach’ programme in January 2017. The programme budget was set at £120 million over two years. It has established 29 consortia to target those areas of the country where progression into higher education is both low overall and lower than expected given typical GCSE attainment rates. One of the consortia, Future U, led by the University of Central Lancashire and involving three other universities and five further education colleges, targets Blackpool and will receive a little under £2.3 million in funding over the two years.

Q – Eddie Hughes: What steps the Government is taking to ensure that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds go to university.

A – Jo Johnson: There are already record numbers of disadvantaged English 18 years olds benefitting from full-time higher education, and universities expect to spend over £860 million in 2018/19 on measures to improve the access and success of disadvantaged students, up from £404 million in 2009, through their access agreements.

The Higher Education and Research Act includes a transparency duty requiring all universities to publish applications, offers, acceptance and retention rates broken down by gender, ethnicity and social economic background. This will help to hold universities to account for their records on access and retention.

Q – Luciana Berger: who is responsible for the provision of counselling and wellbeing services to university students in England.

A – Joseph Johnson: As autonomous and independent organisations, it is for Higher Education Institutions to determine what welfare and counselling services they need to provide to their students. Each institution will be best placed to identify the needs of their particular student body, including taking actions in line with any legal responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010.

In addition, the department is working closely with Universities UK (UUK) on their ongoing programme of work on Mental Health in Higher Education. As part of this, UUK launched their Step Change programme on September 4, which encourages higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic imperative and implement a whole institution approach. UUK has also worked in partnership with the Institute for Public Policy Research to strengthen the evidence-base on mental health in higher education. Their independent report, Not by Degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities was published on 4 September 2017.

Q – Luciana Berger: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment her Department has made of the adequacy of access to mental health services for university students.

A – Jo Johnson: Mental Health is a priority for this government. This is why the Department for Health, together with the Department for Education, have published a joint green paper on Children and Young People which sets out plans to transform specialist services and support in education settings and for families.

In higher education, there is already much work underway to improve the quality of mental health services for students, alongside services provided by the NHS, including through the NHS programme ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’. The recently published green paper sets out plans for a new national strategic partnership with key stakeholders focused on improving the mental health of 16-25 year olds by encouraging more coordinated action, experimentation and robust evaluation.

Differential fees would undermine social mobility, argues MillionPlus

In advance of the UK Government’s review of higher education funding in England, promised by the Prime Minister Theresa May at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference, MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, on 13 December published a new policy paper focusing on differential fees and student maintenance grants.  The paper outlines why differential fees linked to graduate earnings or courses would undermine social mobility and lead to greater inequality in student funding. Instead, MillionPlus urges Ministers to adopt a ‘common-sense’ approach and restore student maintenance grants to help students now and save taxpayers’ money in the long run.

Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, said:

“All students deserve to study at well-funded universities, wherever, whatever and however they choose to study – full or part-time. Linking differential fees to graduate earnings or courses would switch resources to students from wealthier backgrounds and would simply rob Peter to pay Paul. Rather than promoting the social mobility that both Theresa May and Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, support, differential fees would create greater inequality in funding. 

“If Ministers want to help students and young people, they should restore student maintenance grants. This would reduce student debt and offer a lifeline to students for whom the cost of living while they are studying, presents huge challenges. In 2015, the government said that maintenance grants were ‘unaffordable’. It was a claim that never really stacked up and it’s time for Ministers to move on. Restoring maintenance grants is ‘common-sense’ economics and would be good for students but also cost-effective for taxpayers who would have to write-off less in unpaid student loans in the future.”

And the British Academy have published a report showcasing “practical, evidence based interventions which could be replicated in other parts of the country to improve relationships between communities of different ethnic backgrounds and to help new arrivals feel welcome”. “If you could do one thing…” Local actions to promote social integration

Parliamentary Questions

Q – Melanie Onn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether student loans are classed as complete income for the purposes of calculating universal credit eligibility.

A – Damian Hinds: When Universal Credit calculates eligibility, it takes into account the elements of student loans or grants which provide for the student’s basic maintenance. Universal Credit disregards elements paid for specific additional costs the student has, such as tuition or books. Once the total annual loan is calculated, Universal Credit applies a flat rate monthly disregard of £110 whilst the claimant remains a student.

Q – Lord Adonis: In respect of the duty of the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England to safeguard the efficient use of public funds, what assessment they have made of the value for money of salaries paid to vice-chancellors.

A: Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The government is determined to ensure that students and taxpayers can be confident that they get a good deal from higher education (HE). Over recent years, the government has become increasingly concerned about the level of remuneration for senior staff in the HE sector. It has asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England to look at this issue using its regulatory powers, which has resulted in updated guidance to the sector on senior pay and greater transparency in relation to vice-chancellor salaries. Holding universities to account for value for money has been a key objective of the HE reforms, enacted in the Higher Education and Research Act, and it continues to guide the government’s work as the Office for Students (OfS) is launched. The OfS has a statutory duty to promote value for money in the sector. The government will ask the OfS to use its powers to take action to protect value for money for students and taxpayers in the future.

Q – Lord Adonis: Whether Ministers and the Higher Education Funding Council for England plan to investigate the decision-making process at the University of Bath which led to an “exit package” being paid to the Vice-Chancellor… and whether they consider this was consistent with the proper and efficient use of public funds.

A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The government expects the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to look into issues related to value for money with regard to English higher education institutions…We understand that HEFCE is currently considering whether it should investigate the governance processes concerned with the Vice-Chancellor’s retirement.

Q- Gordon Marsden (Lab): Friday’s National Audit Office report on the higher education market is hugely damaging. It says that the market is failing students and that such practice anywhere else would raise questions of mis-selling. Meanwhile, the Student Loans Company is in crisis. This is all under the watch of the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. What does he say now to the NAO?

A – Jo Johnson: The National Audit Office rightly pointed out that students want value for money, which has been the guiding objective of our entire suite of HE reform programmes. That is why we have set up the Office for Students, which will ensure that universities are held to account for the teaching quality and value for money that they deliver to our students.

Credit Transfer

Sheffield University, in partnership with HEFCE, have published Should I stay or should I go? drawing on student perception of mobility and credit transfer. It calls for the OfS to consider these issues from the student perspective and press for HE providers to facilitate easier transfers between courses and institutions. Students felt universities only offer limited support at present, which exacerbates their difficulty at such a transition point in their lives. It also notes that students are concerned about the message transferring to another university sends. Contemplating whether it devalues their degree (lecturers also expressed concern about the intellectual integrity of a degree ‘broken’ across institutions) and whether changing course and/or institution makes the student look unreliable. The report recommends an independent and impartial advice service to help students identify when transfer to another provider is the right for them.

Industrial Strategy – Engineering and Technology Crisis

The Institution of Engineering & Technology published a report on skills and demand in industry which noted the industrial strategy needs to tackle the skills gap if it is to work. The report describes the lack of diversity in the workforce as contributing to the recruitment shortage.

  • 81% stated employers need to provide work experience to help improve the supply of engineers and technicians
  • 87% of employers don’t have LGBT/BAME diversity initiatives in place
  • Only 15% of employers make particular efforts to attract and retain women in engineering and technical roles (beyond the statutory equality requirements)

Joanna Cox, IET Head of Policy, said: “As the UK goes through a period of economic uncertainty, the skills shortage in engineering remains an ongoing concern for engineering companies in the UK. Employers tell us that tackling this problem is fundamental to making the Government’s Industrial strategy viable. We must now bring businesses, academia and Government together and strengthen their working relationships to ensure that the next generation of talent has the right practical and technical skills to meet future demand.

Read more here.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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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 27th October 2017

Freedom of speech, censorship and bias

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

OfS Regulation

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

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

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

[The OfS will have four primary objectives:

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New point on schools:

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

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

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

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

Widening Participation

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

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

Recommendations include

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 8th September

Well, Parliament is back and we have had a lively start to the autumn.

REF 2021

On 1st September 2017 HEFCE published the initial decisions on REF 2021. This does not include decisions regarding submitting staff, output portability or the eligibility of institutions to participate in the REF. There is another consultation on those issues and BU’s response is being prepared by RKEO – please contact Julie Northam if you would like to be involved. Thanks to Julie for these highlights of the announcement:

Assessment weightings:

  • Outputs 60% (down from 65%)
  • Impact 25% (up from 20%)
  • Environment 15% (same but now includes impact strategy)
  • HESA cost centres will not be used to allocate staff to UOAs. Responsibility for mapping staff into UOAs will therefore remain with institutions.

UOA structure:

  • Total UOAs reduced from 36 to 34
  • Engineering will be a single UOA – UOA 12
  • REF 2014 UOA 17 will be restructured to form UOA 14: Geography and Environmental Studies and UOA 15: Archaeology
  • ‘Film and Screen Studies’ will be located and included in the name of UOA 33: Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies
  • HEFCE will continue consulting with the subject communities for forensic science and criminology to consider concerns raised about visibility. A decision is expected this autumn.

Timetable:

  • Impact: Underpinning research must have been produced between 1 Jan 2000 – 31 Dec 2020 andimpacts must have occurred between 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Environment: Environment data (such as income and doctoral completions) will be considered for the period 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Outputs: The assessment period for the publication of outputs will be 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Dec 2020.
  • The draft REF 2021 guidance will be published in summer/autumn 2018 and the final guidance will be published in winter 2018-19. The submission will be in autumn 2020.

Outputs:

  • Interdisciplinary research:Each sub-panel will have at least one appointed member to oversee and participate in the assessment of interdisciplinary research submitted in that UOA. There will be an interdisciplinary research identifier for outputs in the REF submission system (not mandatory).There will be a discrete section in the environment template for the unit’s structures in support of interdisciplinary research.
  • Outputs due for publication after the submission date: A reserve output may be submitted.
  • Assessment metrics: Quantitative metrics may be used to inform output assessment. This will be determined by the sub-panels. Data will be provided by HEFCE.

Impact:

  • Impact will have a greater weighting in REF 2021 (25% overall plus impact included in the environment template and therefore weighting).
  • The guidance on submitting impacts on teaching will be widened to include impacts within, and beyond, the submitting institution.
  • Impacts remain eligible for submission by the institution in which the associated research was conducted. They must be underpinned by excellent research (at least REF 2*).
  • The number of case studies required – still not confirmed – HEFCE are exploring this in relation to the rules on staff submission and the number of outputs.
  • Case studies submitted to REF 2014 can be resubmitted to REF 2021, providing they meet the REF 2021 eligibility requirements.
  • The relationship between the underpinning research and impact will be broadened from individual outputs to include a wider body of work or research activity.

Institutional-level assessment (impact case studies): HEFCE will pilot this in 2018 but it will not be included in REF 2021.

Environment: The UOA-level environment template will be more structured, including the use of more quantitative data to evidence narrative content. It will include sections on the unit’s approach to:

  • supporting collaboration with organisations beyond HE
  • enabling impact – akin to the impact template in REF 2014
  • supporting equality and diversity
  • structures to support interdisciplinary research
  • open research, including the unit’s open access strategy and where this goes beyond the REF open access policy requirements

Institutional-level assessment (environment):

  • Institution-level information will be included in the UOA-level environment template, assessed by the relevant sub-panel.
  • HEFCE will pilot the standalone assessment of institution-level environment information as part of REF 2021, but this will not form part of the REF 2021 assessment. The outcomes will inform post-REF 2021 assessment exercises.

Jo Johnson’s UUK speech – the next steps for regulation

Jo Johnson gave a speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday –prefaced by a deluge of press coverage. See the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, for a sample.  He started with a summary of the current state of the national debate on universities:

Recent criticisms of higher education in the UK fall into two distinct camps: we might call them the Statists and the Pessimists. The Statists direct their criticism at student finance. They argue that the most important thing we can do is to abolish tuition fees.” and “The second group of critics, the Pessimists, have an altogether bleaker view of Higher Education. They argue that university is inappropriate for many students, that student numbers should be significantly reduced and that students should pursue other types of post-18 education”.

The Minister rejected the calls for a change to the fee structure, consistent with other speeches over the summer (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017).   He said that the “Statist” approach is “bad for social mobility, bad for university funding, bad for taxpayers”. [ See the UUK announcements on this below. In the FT on 8th September, it is reported that Theresa May is soliciting views on tuition fees policy in an attempt to close the generational gap, with Lord Willetts attending a meeting at No 10. So despite the regular assurances of no change, this is still one to watch.] To the Pessimists, his message was that “Post-18 education is not a zero-sum game, where to improve further education we must restrict and ration higher education to a privileged few”. But he said that there must be a strong economic return from a “mass system of higher education”. He highlighted graduate salaries, an increase in GDP and national productivity. [see below for the UUK position on fees and funding]

The Minister referred to concerns about value for money and used the same words as when launching the Green Paper, talking about “patchy teaching”. He also attacked the sector for grade inflation: “There has been a significant increase in the proportion of people receiving firsts and 2:1 degrees over the past five years that cannot be explained by rising levels of attainment. Grade inflation is tearing through English Higher Education. On the face of it, the facts are shocking.Grade inflation can fuel disengagement on both sides – if students know that 80-90 per cent will get a 2:1 or first from a high-reputation provider, there is less incentive to work hard – and less incentive by the provider to focus on teaching.” The Minister attacked league tables for encouraging grade inflation by using first degrees as a metric.

And he listed 5 measures that would deliver value for money:

  • The TEF – including subject level TEF (see more below in the TEF update)
  • A focus on grade inflation – as part of the TEF (see below), and be requiring the OfS to report on degree classifications and challenge providers to explain any data that suggested grade inflation, and calling on the sector to take action themselves, for example by developing a sector-recognised minimum standard. This is something that will no doubt be the subject of debate in the months to come. This could have parallels in some PSRB accreditation systems – an analogy that may be worth exploring.
  • Student contracts -this was also discussed in the July speech (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017). This time, the Minister said that the Competition and Markets Authority guidance was only “patchily observed”. The OfS will be asked to “embed in the system student contracts that are clear, quantifiable and fair”. There is a consultation to follow on making this a registration condition.
  • Accelerated degrees – we are waiting for the formal response to the call for evidence last year but a consultation will be taking place on the new fee cap that would be required to support this – allowing providers to charge more than £9250 per year (but with a lower overall cost for the whole programme).
  • VC Pay – the OfS to introduce a new condition of registration that they publish salary data for the top earners and provide a justification, supported by guidance. The OfS will analyse and publish this data. The Minister called for the Committee of University Chairs to develop a new Remuneration Code.

UUK position

In a blog on 5th September 2017, Chris Hale, the Director of Policy of UUK responded to the debate over the summer, referring to a report from UK2020 that was published this week and repeated allegations of the sector operating a cartel to fix prices for degrees.  In a speech presumably written without advance knowledge of what the Minister was going to say, and trailed in the press on Tuesday, the new President of UUK, Professor Janet Beer, VC of Liverpool University did call for changes to undergraduate funding. She referred to “vexed issues and opportunities” and gave a staunch defence of the sector and its contribution to health, happiness and the economy.

On student finance, Professor Beer said that the system was not broken but that it needed to feel fairer, and highlighted three areas for action:

  • Targeted maintenance grants
  • Lower interest rate for low and middle-income earners. [On this point it is interesting to note that this is how it already works – see the blog from Martin Lewis on MoneySavingExpert.com which he tweeted again to respond to this story and the clip below]
  • Ensuring that the benefits of the current system are better understood – e.g. 35% of the cost of educating students is contributed by the government and 75% of students have some of their debt written off.

UUK have now published a Parliamentary briefing on the funding issues.

On senior pay:

  • “It’s understandable that high pay is questioned and it is right to expect that the process for determining pay for senior staff is rigorous and the decision-making process is transparent. It is also reasonable to expect that decisions are explained and justified.”, and continuing:
  • However, the current debate has lost sight of the facts and shows little understanding of the role that present-day vice-chancellors play not only in their own university, but in their communities, regions and on the national and international stage. The role of the vice-chancellor has evolved from leading a community of scholars, to leading large, complex, global organisations; organisations with multi-million pound turnovers, with thousands of staff working in a variety of roles, and which play an increasingly prominent role in the economic prosperity of our regions and nations. First-rate leadership is necessary for a university to be successful, and competitive remuneration is needed to attract the best leaders with the skills to lead these complex global organisations.
  • There have also been questions raised about the pay of our leading researchers and senior professional staff. We should remember that senior staff are choosing to work at our universities to deliver public good when they might otherwise choose to work in the private sector, attracting far higher remuneration. We must not let them be put off by comments that they are not worth it or their contribution is not valued.”

Nick Hillman of HEPI also writes in response that autonomy is more important than regulation in this area: “Just a few months ago, when the Higher Education and Research Act was still in short trousers, there was widespread concern that the Office for Students would not have due regard to university autonomy. Insisting they tackle vice-chancellors’ pay as one of the most urgent priorities (and before they have taken charge) will not assuage such concerns.”

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) update

In his speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday, Jo Johnson referred to a lessons learned exercise that the government has carried out on year 2 of TEF. This used the UK survey we referred to in the Policy Update w/e 1st September 2017 as well as feedback from a range of stakeholders and desk based research of the metrics. The full report plus the specification are due to be published later in September 2017. These changes will also be included in the subject level TEF pilot. The UUK review is also discussed on Wonkhe here.

  • A new metric on grade inflation (see context in Jo Johnson’s speech above). This will be a supplementary metric which will not form part of the core metrics and the process of assessing the initial hypothesis, but will be considered by the assessors while considering Rigour and Stretch (TQ3). This will be based on a provider declaration and will “record the proportion of firsts, 2:1s and other grades as a percentage of all classified degrees at that provider 1, 2, 3 and 10 years before the year of assessment”.   If the data shows that there has been grade inflation the provider will presumably have to use their written submission to demonstrate how it is being addressed. Also, the number of firsts and 2:1s cannot be considered as evidence for the quality of teaching.
  • Changes to the NSS weighting – these are interesting – particularly as there was no formal weighting for any metrics in the TEF guidance before, and no specific weighting for metrics v the written submission either. That was why there was so much interest when the Chair of the TEF Panel, Chris Husbands, suggested that the role of the NSS in the decisions on TEF should be downplayed. The paper describes this in more details in Annex B – this is a change to the way that the “initial hypothesis” (based on metrics) will be formed.
  • Changes to address the NSS boycott, by averaging the scores across the three years or simply omitting 2017.
  • Part-time providers (those with over 35% part-time students) will also be able to provide additional information relating to their part-time students and a separate assessment will be formed for part-time students.
  • Absolute values: in a change which has been flagged as a nod to the Russell Group providers who received Bronze awards in the TEF (and who, in some cases, complained about the benchmarking process), alongside the benchmarking, the top and bottom 10% values for each metric will also be highlighted (with stars and exclamation marks). This will reinforce a positive or negative flag but can also be taken into account by the assessors – although a star will be ignored if there is a negative flag or a negative flag for a split metric (so that high performing institutions with negative flags for disadvantaged groups cannot benefit). Exclamation marks will be ignored if there is a positive flag.
  • Longitudinal Education Outcomes data (LEO) will be included as “supplementary” data – this will not affect the initial hypothesis but will be considered alongside the submission. The metrics to be included are the proportion of graduates in sustained employment or further study three years after graduation and the proportion of graduates in sustained employment earning over the median salary for 25 – 29 year olds (currently £21,000) or in further study
  • Gaming” – the Director for Fair Access will be given an opportunity to comment on “gaming” has taken place (defined as “a significant alteration in a provider’s student profile since the last TEF assessment, that involves a reduction in the proportion of students from disadvantaged groups”. In extreme cases, this might lead to disqualification.

Separate from all this a research paper by Camille Kandiko Howson of Kings College and Alex Buckley of the University of Strathclyde has been published which looks at the UK Engagement Survey – something that was tipped to be a potential metric for TEF if it was more widely adopted.

Widening Participation

Justine Greening announced that the new Director of Fair Access and Participation when the Office for Students if formed will be Chris Millward, who has been Director of Policy at HEFCE. The new role will have a focus on progression and outcomes as well as access for disadvantaged and under-represented groups in Higher Education.

Brexit

In the meantime, the Brexit negotiations continue and a flurry of papers have been published by the UK government and the EU.  The most interesting one is the one on Collaboration on Science and Innovation. The paper has lots of warm words on collaboration but little detail on what a future arrangement with the EU might look like.  On Horizon 202, the paper suggests that the UK will be seeking “associated” status (it says “associated countries have the same level of access to Horizon 2020 as EU Member States. Associated countries do not have a formal vote over the work programme, but can attend programme committees, which provides them with a degree of influence. Terms of association (including financial contributions) vary, and are determined by international agreements with the EU.“)

The overall conclusions are:

  • The UK wants to continue playing a major role in creating a brighter future for all European citizens by strengthening collaboration with European partners in science and innovation.
  • To this end, the UK will seek to agree a far-reaching science and innovation agreement with the EU that establishes a framework for future collaboration. There are a range of existing precedents for collaboration that the UK and the EU can build on, but our uniquely close relationship means there may be merit in designing a more ambitious agreement. The UK hopes to have a full and open discussion with the EU about all of these options as part of the negotiations on our future partnership.
  • The UK would welcome dialogue with the EU on the shape of a future science and innovation agreement, reflecting our joint interest in promoting continued close cooperation, for the benefit of UK and European prosperity”

Of course, the other interesting Brexit story was the paper we weren’t meant to see – the leaked draft on migration (read more in the Guardian report). The draft proposed work permits for EU citizens with a two year limit, language tests for EU students and ensuring that they have sufficient funds before they come to the UK (which implies that they will not qualify for student loans). None of these things is particularly surprising even if unwelcome – essentially the same type of restrictions would apply as apply currently to international students. What is most interesting about this is the reaction and the timing – Amber Rudd has only just announced a review of the impact of international students and a review into the social impact of Brexit – both of which will not report until September 2018. Damien Green on the Today programme said that the real paper would be launched “in a few weeks” – at the Conservative Party Conference?

Other interesting reading

The Higher Education Policy Institute published:

  • a blog on graduate entrepreneurs and what universities could do to support them
  • a report on the crisis in the creative arts in the UK – looking at what has happened in schools and suggesting that the increased and simplistic focus on graduate employment outcomes will impoverish education and damage outcomes (see the TEF report above).

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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