Tagged / access and participation

HE policy update w/e 3rd May 2022

Parliament was prorogued on Thursday 28 April. The State Opening of Parliament will take place on 10 May and the Queen’s Speech will set the agenda for the forthcoming Parliament.

Research

Tech transfer: The Government has announced that Dr Alison Campbell OBE has been hired as CEO of the new Government Office for Tech Transfer which will support the Government to manages and commercialise its (estimated) £104bn worth of knowledgeable assets. Dr Campbell was previously the Director of Knowledge Transfer in Ireland’s national office helping businesses to benefit from access to public sector research expertise and technology. She started her career in the biotech industry and previous positions include interim CEO of the Medical Research Council’s technology transfer company (MRCT), and leading technology transfer and research support at King’s College London.

Technology transfer is the broad term applied to the transfer of assets, such as intellectual property rights, technology or new knowledge, from one organisation to another, with the aim of stimulating the development and adoption of new products, processes and services that benefit society.

The new government unit will sit within BEIS and is being developed to ensure that the public sector is maximising the value of its knowledge and innovation assets including intellectual property, software, processes and data. The unit will launch later in 2022 to provide specialist skills to support the way government manages its knowledge assets.

R&D Expenditure: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest figures on R&D and related expenditure by UK government departments, UKRI and HE funding bodies in 2020. Main points:

  • The UK government’s net expenditure R&D reached a new high of £15.3 billion in 2020. An increase since 2019 of £1.7 billion (in current prices), representing the largest percentage increase in current or constant prices since 2013.
  • Total net expenditure on R&D and knowledge transfer activities reached £15.5 billion in 2020 and represented 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP), which was in-line with the long-term trend of 0.6% to 0.7% since 2009.
  • UKRI contributed the most to net expenditure on R&D and knowledge transfer activities in 2020, at £6.1 billion, 40% of the total.
  • In constant prices (adjusted for inflation), civil net expenditure on R&D and knowledge transfer activities (excluding EU R&D budget contributions) increased by 28.9% over the long term, from £10.2 billion in 2009 to £13.2 billion in 2020.
  • Defence R&D expenditure was £1.1 billion in 2020 compared with £1.0 billion (in current prices) in 2019; a 4.8% increase.
  • UK contributions to EU R&D expenditure decreased to £1.3 billion in 2020, down from the peak of £1.4 billion (in current prices) in 2019.

Quick News

  • ECRs: The British Academy announced the third (and final) hub of the Early-Career Researcher (ECR) Network – a two-year pilot programme for UK-based postdoctoral researchers in the humanities and social sciences. It will be in Scotland and co-led by the universities of Stirling and Glasgow. The pilot ECR hubs will run until March 2023 and aim to establish an inclusive, UK-wide Network for ECRs in the humanities and social sciences, providing opportunities for skills development and networking across the whole country. The hubs previously launched are located in the Midlands and South West of England. Researchers join the ECR Network via the British Academy’s Registration Form . All humanities and social sciences researchers who identify as early career are eligible to join, regardless of their funding source or background. This includes those working outside of academia, in independent research organisations and other policy or third sector institutions, and those not in employment but with relevant links into Scotland, the Midlands and South West research communities.
  • Innovation Fellowships: The British Academy has unveiledthe projects that have received funding as part of the BEIS funded Innovation Fellowships (Route A: Researcher-led) scheme. The funding will facilitate projects which encourage collaboration between researchers, organisations, and business. (Wonkhe)
  • Horizon Europe deadline: Research Profession reports that UK researchers awarded some Horizon Europe grants have been given two months to move their projects to a European Union institution or risk having their funding cut. Full details are here. In response UKRI stated: We sympathise with researchers who receive this message from the European Research Council, but can reassure them that the Horizon Europe guarantee funding provided by BEIS via UKRI will allow them to receive the full value of their funding and continue their research in the UK. Awardees do not need to move abroad to an EU Member State or to an Associated Country to Horizon Europe to access this funding. There is detailed guidance on our website at ukri.org/HorizonEU. However, Caroline Rusterholz (Cambridge University) highlighted that even if UKRI steps in, the prestige of the ERC grant will be lost. The Guardian has coverage.
  • Student Engagement: Wonkhe – The Office for Students (OfS) and Research England have publishedinterim evaluation reports from projects funded by the Student Engagement in Knowledge Exchange challenge competition. The evaluation finds that student engagement improved students’ skills, strengthened students’ networks, increased students’ employability, and strengthened relationships between higher education providers and partner organisations and businesses. They also found that effective engagement required a mix of in-person and online attendance to enhance accessibility, pre-event briefings to minimise poor attendance, and regular and accessible communications to maintain momentum and student interest.

Parliamentary Questions:

Question: Ensuring UK educational institutions avoid relationships with non-UK organisations that (a) hold or (b) host items taken from Ukrainian territory.
Answer: Michelle Donelan – I…have recently written to the higher education sector to outline our expectation that universities review their partnerships with Russia and take appropriate action…This includes taking action on research partnerships as well as asking universities to review their broader investments arrangements… I am continuing to ask that all universities conduct due diligence when entering into all international partnerships and accepting foreign investment, in line with Universities UK guidance on ‘Managing risks in Internationalisation’.

Lifelong learning

UUK have published their response: University leaders support much-needed flexible learning revolution (universitiesuk.ac.uk)

Our response has five key messages:

  1. Universities are ready and willing to deliver on the LLE ambition
  2. The new system must appeal to potential learners of all ages and have wide course eligibility
  3. We need a greater understanding of the level of demand for modular study
  4. Information, advice and guidance will be at the heart of the LLE
  5. We should use existing regulatory and quality mechanisms to avoid new overly complex regulation

Full response is here: Our response to the Department for Education (DfE) consultation on the lifelong loan entitlement (LLE) (universitiesuk.ac.uk)

On the first point, which is a big deal:

  • The study of modules should allow progression to full qualifications, with exit points at levels 4, 5 and 6. Many higher education institutions will adapt how they deliver modular study to meet learner needs, such as changing study timetables. They will also give tailored wrap-around support and advice on progression routes. Higher education institutions can build on existing best practice and partnerships to collaborate to support transfer and credit recognition.
  • ….we recognise that the design and length of some courses may mean some are more appropriately funded per-academic year. We think that providers are best placed to decide this as they respond to learner and employer demand.
  • …The cost of modular delivery will exceed that of full-time provision for providers. This is partly due to the additional administration required. We also know individuals re-entering formal study may require additional academic and study skills support upon entry. This includes wrap around support such as careers guidance, counselling, and access to facilities
  • …High-cost courses and modules would need further support. For example those that use labs or specialist equipment. Therefore, deriving a fee from the qualification may not completely compensate where the take up of particular modules is more prevalent than others. A high level of unpredictability initially about learner demand for short courses could impact the cross-subsidy model that higher education providers operate. There is a risk that providers are disincentivised from offering expensive courses. We think these challenges could be mitigated through the strategic priorities grant, over developing models for differential fees
  • .. A learner’s previous assessment and module marks are not normally carried over at the point of transfer and institutions typically rely on marks received post-transfer. Some institutions require a certain percentage of a student’s learning to be completed in a single institution at level 6 to calculate the final classification. The regulation around the LLE will have to consider the implications of different practice across the sector when calculating classifications and assessing student outcomes and how these can be mitigated or managed.

And this:

  • The OfS should consult and review on the appropriateness of student outcome measures for learners studying under the LLE.
  • The non-completion measure would need revising and/or a clause added to accommodate modular learning. Leaving a provider without completing a full degree cannot in itself be regarded as an indicator of failure, either for the student or the institution, but particularly not in the case where a ‘step on step off’ approach is proactively encouraged. Employment and further study outcomes would also need to be reconsidered to account for non-linear work and flexible study patterns of learners, and/or the possibility that individuals already in ‘professional jobs’ are reskilling or up-skilling.

They raise an interesting concern about placement years: It is unclear from the proposals how the funding for sandwich programmes would work. This must be considered to avoid any unintended consequences for the learners. We believe that sandwich years should be funded and not draw from elements of the loan entitlement. Placement years attract a fee but at a lower rate reflecting that students are mostly with their employer but do receive support from academics and professional staff and can use facilities. Depending on the design of the LLE there is a risk that students who choose a 4 year degree may use up all their entitlement in one go, and that students who come to year 1 having studied a foundation year would be disincentivised from choosing a 4 year degree with placement to progress onto. We do not believe the DfE intends to restrict sandwiches years – after all these courses support graduates to be work ready and meet employer needs – but this needs clarifying.

The rest of this is worth reading too – but let’s not underestimate how huge a change this would be across the sector.

Student Loans

The Lords have expressed concerns over the lack of information on the impact of changes to student loans legislation. The Regulations have been laid by the Department for Education (DfE) and make changes which mean the current repayment thresholds for student loans that applied in the 2021-22 financial year will be maintained and continue to apply in the 2022-23 financial year. This avoids an automatic 4.6% increase of these thresholds on 6 April 2022. However, the Lords are concerned about the impact on those who have student loans. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (36th report) highlights that while DfE made it clear…that the changes made by this instrument will generate an expected £3.7 billion of savings in public sector net borrowing… [to] 2024-25, it is silent on any additional costs those with student loans might incur as a result of these changes.

Lord Hutton of Furness, Member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said:  In this instance, we are particularly concerned that while these changes will affect a large portion of the student population and possibly their families, the EM only emphasises the savings Government will make and is silent on the costs to those who have student loans.  This is unsatisfactory and the House may wish to raise this omission with the Minister. 

There are also several student loan related parliamentary questions:

  • The impact of the rise in inflation on the purchasing power of the average size maintenance loan
  • The impact on graduate disposable incomes of the increase in student loan interest rates. Michelle Donelan responded: The government has not yet made a decision on what interest rates will be applied to student loans from September 2022. We will be considering all options over the coming months and will confirm in due course the rates to apply from 1 September.
    Changes to student loan interest rates will not increase monthly student loan repayments…
    Over a lifetime, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has made clear that changes in interest rates have a limited long-term impact on repayments… We announced in February 2022 that we will be reducing interest rates for new borrowers and so from 2023/24, new graduates will not, in real terms, repay more than they borrow. Alongside our wider reforms, this will help to make sure that students from all walks of life can continue to receive the highest-quality education from our world-leading HE sector.
    Note that Donelan states limited long term effects – for the short term impact you may wish to read this short article from the IFS – High inflation set to cause interest rate rollercoaster for student loans which touches on the short term 12% contribution expected by the highest earners.
  • Student loan rates exceeding mortgage rates
  • Nurses repaying student loans & independent NHS pay review

Access & Participation

APPs: Wonkhe report on John Blake’s (OfS Director Fair Access and Participation) request that variations 2023/24 access and participation plans be submitted by 31 July. The variations need to address new key priorities – making APPs more understandable and accessible to students and key stakeholders, partnering with local schools, and creating more routes into higher education through expanding degree apprenticeships and flexible level 4 and 5 qualifications. But given where inflation is at and the wider cost of living crisis, Jim Dickinson argues on Wonk Corner that revisions may well also need to consider student financial support.

Parliamentary Question: National scholarship scheme – Government are currently considering the design of the scheme and to set a roll out date after this – As part of the higher education reform consultation, we welcome views on how the eligibility for a national scholarship scheme should be set to support students and address ongoing financial barriers that can restrict high achieving, disadvantaged students from achieving their full academic potential whilst studying in higher education.

Degree classification – what, where & grade impact on earnings

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), commissioned by the DfE, published Higher degree classes are associated with substantially higher earnings examining the financial benefits associated with different degree classifications. After controlling for student characteristics, higher degree classes are associated with substantially higher earnings. Degree class seems to matter most for those attending the most selective universities and studying subjects where future earnings are highest. Suggesting that access to ‘elite jobs’ is governed by what you study, where you study and how well you do at university.

  • The average premium for gaining a first class degree over an upper second (2.1) is 4% for women and 7% for men.
  • The penalty for getting a lower second (2.2) as opposed to a 2.1 is 7% lower earnings for women and 11% lower earnings for men.
  • Obtaining a lower class (below 2.2) degree is associated with 15% lower earnings for women and 18% lower earnings for men, again compared with a 2.1.

Main findings from the report:

  • The share of university students obtaining different degree classes varies substantially by subject studied and institution attended. Among the 2012–2015 cohorts of graduates, around 20% obtained first class degrees; just over half received upper second class degrees; around 20% received lower second degrees; and around 5% received lower class degrees. Subjects involving maths have a more even spread of awards across degree classes than other subjects. More selective universities tend to award higher class degrees.
  • There has been a long-term trend towards higher degree classes awarded in all subjects and at all levels of university selectivity, which accelerated around the 2010 graduation year. The share of people getting first class degrees more than trebled between the 1999 and 2015 graduating cohorts. Meanwhile, the share of 2.1s remained fairly flat; the biggest declines were in the share of people getting 2.2s.
  • Earnings differences between those graduating with different degree classes are large. Five years after graduation, median annual pre-tax earnings for both women and men who obtained a lower second class degree in 2013 were around £3,800 lower than for those who received an upper second class degree (or around 15% lower for women and around 13% for men). Women who obtained first class degrees earned around £2,200 (8%) more than women with upper second class degrees, and men with first class degrees earned £4,100 (14%) more than men who obtained upper second class degrees.
  • Payoffs for a higher degree class vary hugely by subject. For some subjects, degree class matters a lot for earnings, while for others it does not matter at all. For men and women studying law or economics, getting a lower second class degree rather than an upper second is associated with more than 15% lower earnings, whereas there is no significant difference for those studying education or English. Subjects with high labour market returns tend to have high degree class premiums and subjects with low labour market returns tend to have low degree class premiums. This suggests that even students of high-return subjects typically need to get at least a 2.1 in order to access highly paid jobs (except medicine, a high-return subject which does not usually award degree classifications).
  • Achieving at least a 2.1 has a much bigger payoff at more selective universities. Controlling for observable characteristics, both men and women who obtain a lower second class degree from the most selective universities earn 20% less on average at age 30 than those who achieve an upper second class degree, compared with around 6% for women and 8% for men who got lower second class degrees from the least selective universities.
  • There are stark gender differences in the payoff to achieving a first class degree at a very selective university. At the most selective universities (Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and the London School of Economics), the average payoff to a first class degree versus a 2.1 is near zero for women, but very large at around 14% for men.
  • Despite substantial increases in the average grades of graduates during the period there are no large changes in degree class premiums over time. Median graduate earnings five years after graduation fell by more than £5,000 between the 2002 and 2009 graduation cohorts in all degree classes for both women and men. Yet earnings gaps between degree classes have been constant throughout the period. This is consistent both with improvements in overall student attainment and with lower academic standards.

Ben Waltmann, Senior Research Economist at IFS and a co-author of the report, said: The findings imply that degree classification may matter as much as university attended for later life earnings. Other things equal, going to a more selective university is good for future earnings, and the fact that few students from disadvantaged backgrounds attend the most selective universities is a barrier to social mobility. But that being said, many graduates who get a 2.2 from a highly selective university might have got a higher-paying job had they attended a slightly less selective university and got a 2.1. Prospective students, parents and policymakers should take note.

More HE, more graduates, more jobs?

UUK have weighed in on the topic publishing Busting graduate job myths. They tackle four ‘myths’:

That everyone goes to university nowadays

This delves into technical data a little stating that using a more nuanced and accurate measure no cohort examined has reached a participation rate in higher education of 50%. Although 40% do and, over time, it looks likely that there will be a cohort of young people of which the majority will go through higher education or an equivalent of some kind. Which includes vocational and technical routes:

  • Even if half of the 18-year-olds from 2021 achieve a higher education qualification, many will do so later in life, or take unconventional and diverse routes.
  • Many critics of the current system suggest that it would be better for more people to achieve qualifications through routes other than the ‘conventional’ pathway of taking a traditional bachelor’s degree at university directly from school. The data shows that it would take only a small change in the way it is reported to show that this is already happening.

There aren’t enough graduate jobs

  • It’s hard to tell how many graduate jobs there are or how many graduates are in graduate jobs, in part because it depends on how you measure what a graduate job is.
  • There have been fewer graduate jobs during periods of high unemployment, such as during recessions. Institute of Student Employers (ISE) data shows that the number of graduate vacancies is now 20% higher than in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic. Job vacancies for graduates are expected to increase by more than a fifth (22%) in 2022 compared to 2021.
  • Data shows that most graduates are in jobs for which a degree is an appropriate qualification… There is little clear evidence that there existed a period in the past when the graduate labour market was considerably stronger.
  • The ONS Annual Population Survey estimates that there were 15,053,100 people with degree or equivalent qualifications working in the UK at the end of 2020. By looking at the data from the OfS’ graduate employment metrics in the same time period we see that in the UK in 2020 there were 15,978,200 employees in SOC categories 1 to 3.
    The gap is almost a million jobs. Graduate supply still does not meet demand.
  • The number of jobs for which graduates are suitable compared to the number of graduates seem reasonably well matched. There are both shortages of graduates in some fields, and obvious areas of graduate underemployment in others. The UK is not unusual in any of these respects.
  • It’s crucial to remember that longitudinal studies of graduates show that just because a certain proportion of graduates do not secure graduate-level work early in their career, does not mean that this proportion of graduates will never get a good job. In fact, most of those early underemployed graduates will not be underemployed for the rest of their careers.
  • How many graduates have a graduate job? The honest answer is that nobody knows. It looks to be a comfortable majority, but that depends on how you define what a graduate job is

Some degrees have little value to employers

  • If the data shows that the number of graduates and the number of graduate jobs available seem well-matched, why do we have underemployed graduates and skills shortages elsewhere?
  • Almost twice the percentage of the UK workforce are underqualified for their role than overqualified for their role. This might be due to low investment in adult skills training in the UK.
  • The labour market and jobs themselves are also constantly changing. At least a quarter of new graduates do jobs that did not exist 50 years ago. Many non-graduates may be in graduate jobs because the jobs themselves have changed over time.  The below chart – Figure 4 – shows the change in graduate market entry in the last 50 years.
  • In the UK, your degree subject matters less. Many employers are looking for well-rounded graduates with transferable skills, rather than specific degree subjects

All the best graduate jobs are in London

UUK suggest graduates are less mobile than actually believed with many choosing to work in places where they already have a connection. Only 20% work in an area where they do not already have a connection. Those than return home to their home area are the most likely to be in non-graduate jobs. Pages 23-24 (listed as pages 20-21 on the document) has a chart and further analysis explaining this. UUK conclude that the link to place (and therefore the levelling up agenda) is crucial: The levelling up agenda will need to take into account that graduates will tend to stay linked to places they know. A local university makes it much easier to attract and retain graduate talent.

  • Looking to the future UUK predict that Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to increase graduate demand further with healthcare, IT and marketing expected to see particularly steep rises.

More HE: The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change published We Don’t Need No Education? The Case for Expanding Higher Education arguing that the UK needs more graduates to counter a slowdown in growth and productivity over the past decade. Prior to publication Tony Blair pushed one of the report’s main recommendations – that the UK should aim to raise HE participation to 60% by 2030, and to 70% by 2040.

The research outlined in the report demonstrates how the expansion of HE over the past generation has become a progressively more important source of prosperity and the mainstay of economic growth since the global financial crisis. The analysis also suggests that if seven in ten young people completed HE, this would significantly raise the rate of productivity growth and boost the size of the economy by almost 5% over the next generation compared to allowing educational attainment to stagnate.

Former (Conservative) universities minister Lord (Jo) Johnson argues in the report’s foreword that the country needs more skills and that the skills we need are defined by future flexibility, rather than current employment needs. Jo Johnson:

  • the popular notion that “too many go to university” is rooted in the view that we churn out more graduates than befits our economy, and that public money is wasted on low-value courses.
  • As this paper acknowledges, we do need to tidy up some of the rough edges that lead to poor outcomes in some instances, and there are lower-level skills gaps in our economy that do not require higher education. But neither of these mean that we have reached “peak grad”.
  • The first reason is that we still don’t have enough highly skilled individuals to fill many vacancies today, for instance in professional occupations.
  • The second reason – and this is arguably the report’s most important message – is that we cannot just think about skills demand in a static way; we must also plan for a future economy that will look very different to the one we currently occupy
  • High-innovation economies, like South Korea, Japan and Canada, understand this and have boosted higher education; participation rates in these countries are already between 60 per cent and 70 per cent. We cannot afford for policy to remain steeped solely in today’s challenges, and our ambition should be to join them.

The report recommends:

  1. Aim to raise participation in HE at levels 4 and aboveto 60% by the end of this decade and 70% by 2040
  2. The goal would need to be paired with the policies and resources to improve school and pupil attainment
  3. Non-traditional routes into HEwould also need to be improved
  4. The government would also need to monitor the effect of recent moves to recalibrate student-loan repaymentsto ensure more debt-averse candidates have not been inadvertently discouraged from pursuing HE
  5. There is more to be done to make entry into HE an attractive decision to students from lower-income backgrounds, including reintroducing maintenance grants

Batting for the Government, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, responded in the Times criticising New Labour’s previous 50% target, and the new 70% figure proposed by Blair last week, as a “one-size-fits-all” approach and “condescending”. Adding that we should hear “a little less from Tony Blair, and a little more from Euan Blair” (Tony’s son who set up an apprenticeship-focused tech firm). The Blair Vs Donelan stance is perhaps not as polarised as it might seem. Higher level technical skills are a key part of the Government’s agenda. It remains to be seen whether HEIs delivery quality higher technical learning will be welcomed and whether the HE numbers reduction is really about the cost to the Treasury.

Wonkhe have a blog – The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change makes a case for (even) more graduates, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies argues there may be a graduate oversupply. David Kernohan tries to pull it all together

Freedom of Speech

There was notable criticism of the lack of progress on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill from Shadow Education Minister Matt Western:

  • What a palaver! This is less a carry-over motion and more of a carry on, if I may say so—”Carry On Regardless” being probably the most apt title…it is 358 days since the Bill was introduced to the House. Announced in the last Queen’s Speech, the Second Reading was debated nine months ago and the Public Bill Committee concluded its work over seven months ago. Since then, nothing—so is there a problem? The lack of urgency suggests it is really not that important after all. Certainly, the Secretary of State has not mentioned it once in the Chamber since his appointment five months ago, and the legislation would certainly have no effect on cancel culture, according to lawyers, media commentators and the sector itself. The Government now want another year to resolve their own problem—a problem of their making—which is more time that could be better used to address the immediate and pressing issues faced by the great British public…

FE & HE Minister Michelle Donelan responded:

  • Let me be crystal clear: the Government remain committed to delivering on our manifesto pledge by strengthening freedom of speech in higher education. We have not changed, and never will change, our position, because we recognise that free speech is the absolute cornerstone of democracy and a liberal society. Our universities should be centres of inquiry and intellectual debate, and places of new and independent thinking from which will grow the knowledge, learning and science that we need to tackle future global challenges. The reintroduction of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill reaffirms our manifesto commitment…

Research Professional also discuss the continuation of the HE Freedom of Speech Bill. Questioning why the Government is continuing with it given the isolated incidents and limited evidence there is actually a free speech problem within HE. They also highlight that a

  • Ministry of Justice consultation on a Modern Bill of Rights for the UK—which features its own specific reference to protecting free speech and academic freedom—concluded last week. Potentially, the legislation it trails could subsume the higher education-specific proposals.

Research Professional also state:

  • For Donelan, passing the bill is probably as much about advancement within Johnson’s Conservative Party as it is about reform of university culture. Frankly, we doubt that Donelan really believes very strongly in this nonsense.
  • …The bill as written survives and may yet make it to legislation. There is, however, a journey to be undertaken—and it seems unlikely that the House of Lords will take kindly to proposed legislation that is specific in its targets but vague in its actions.

Michelle Donelan  spoke on free speech at a Policy Exchange event. On the free speech ‘problem’ within HE Donelan said:

  • sadly, where once we found critical debate and arguments were won on their merits, today we see an upsurge in physical threats and complete intolerance of opposing ideas.
  • We witness examples of professors being harangued and hounded out of their jobs. We see prominent, well-respected, guests no platformed. We find academics self-censoring themselves out of fear.
  • Progress is no longer considered progress unless it conforms to an increasingly narrow ideology. And let’s be honest for a moment, successive governments have not put up enough of a fight. There has been a lot of talk and warm words, but not nearly enough solid action.
  • I am here today to tell you that this government is different. We are putting pen to paper in legislative action to once and for all challenge the forces that shut debate down… I will make sure each of our universities remains a fortress of ideas, putting an end to the nonsense of cancel culture by wielding the crucial majority that the British people gave us [i.e. Donelan suspects the Lords will oppose the Bill but intends to push it through using a 3 line whip in the House of Commons].

On the Bill Donelan said:

  • The Bill will put a duty on universities to promote free speech and academic freedom, not just protect it. It will put a duty directly on Students’ Unions to protect free speech.
  • And it will establish a new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom on the Office for Students Board – with the power to fine universities, colleges and students’ unions and recommend real redress for those who have had their speech unlawfully restricted. And it will provide a new legal tort as a critical backstop, offering a direct route to redress for individuals who have suffered loss due to a breach of the freedom of speech duties.
  • We need to effect a culture change that will reverberate through the sector, from the SU bar right up to the Vice Chancellor’s office. And let me be clear, this is not an issue for Vice Chancellors to shy away from. Frankly, this is not an issue that they will be allowed to shy away from.

Skills – attracting international investment

Following on from Dr Campbell’s appointment to head up Tech Transfer a new report from World Skills UK Wanted: skills for inward investors warns that the UK needs an investment strategy with skills at its heart to not miss out on foreign investment. It finds that if the UK fails to recognise the importance of technical and vocational skills it will be left behind as other countries reap the rewards of lucrative foreign direct investment (FDI). Key points:

  • The UK has been overtaken by France as Europe’s top destination for foreign investment. It argues that the UK needs a better integrated strategy on skills and inward investment to attract international firms to more parts of the UK.
  • The UK currently does not have an investment strategy and the Department for International Trade needs to develop one with skills and regional opportunities at its heart.
  • Almost half (46 percent) of foreign firms said they would move their operations abroad if they couldn’t get the skills they needed, compared to just over a fifth (22 percent) of domestic firms.
  • When asked about expanding their operations 61 percent of foreign firms said they would expand overseas if they couldn’t get the skills they needed in the UK, compared to just a third (32 percent) of domestic firms.
  • The UK’s FDI is too concentrated in the already economically dominant areas of London and the South East. It argues that delivering FDI to more parts of the UK is vital in creating the higher-skilled and better-paid jobs needed to drive the government’s levelling up agenda.
  • A post-Brexit vision of Global Britain needs to showcase the UK’s excellence in skills. It says WorldSkills UK should use its unique knowledge of world-class skills to work with more parts of the UK’s technical education sector to improve skills levels right across the UK.

Skills Taskforce for Global Britain Chair John Cridland CBE says: The countries successfully bringing in foreign investment have a sophisticated skills offer to attract investors. Put bluntly, if you want to attract investment you need high-quality skills, and if you want high-quality skills you need inward investment. We need the Department for International Trade to develop a coherent investment strategy that will deliver FDI throughout the UK and not just in London and the South East. Competition is becoming fiercer and the UK simply cannot afford to miss the opportunity to add skills to its international calling card. If the Government’s levelling up agenda is to be realised, the UK has to develop and promote the skills that will deliver a high-skill, high-wage economy and attract foreign investors.

Also on skills Wonkhe report that the DfE published new strategic guidance for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education for the 2022-23 financial year. One of the central aims of the strategy is to involve the institute in forecasting what skills will be needed in the future and working with the government as part of the new Unit of Future Skills. The strategy also calls on the institute to have oversight over the quality of T levels, contribute to economic recovery, and to improve the quality of apprenticeship assessments.

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

Spiking: The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has published a report on spiking. 81% of spiking victims were noted as students. We have a short summary of the report – contact us if you wish to read it. Wonkhe also have two blogs:

Prevent: Policy Exchange has published a report on the prevent counter terrorism strategy. Dods summarise: The report argues that Prevent has been undermined by anti-Prevent narratives and misinformation that has been spread by “Islamist groups” and allies. The groups named include the Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Engagement and Development and CAGE. Policy Exchange accuses these groups of running disinformation campaigns to undermine Prevent, with university campuses being a key arena in which anti-Prevent activism has been particularly vocal.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund: The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities  announced the allocations of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) amounting to £2.6bn of funding in total between 2022 and 2025. The government says the UKSPF matches the average spend from the European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund, replacing the pots after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. It will be increased from £400m in 2022/23 to £1.5bn in 2024/25, at which point the government says it will match the EU funds it has replaced. England has been allocated £1.58bn. Each English Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area will receive the same in real terms as it used to under EU funding, and within each LEP area an index of need will be used to allocated funding to each local authority. In addition to the funds allocated to nations, £129m of the UKSPF funding will be used for Multiply – the new UK-wide digital platform for adult numeracy. The DfE has also provided links to trailblazers’ Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) here.

And there is a Parliamentary Question on the topic: How will the Shared Prosperity Fund maintain Research and Innovation funding at a level matching funding available through the European Regional Development Fund? Answer – the UKSPF is not intended as a direct replacement for ESIF funds. The Fund’s policy and delivery structure significantly differs, with a focus to deliver more tangible Pride in Place benefits across the UK. Read more here.

Universities UK have announced that Vivienne Stern will succeed Alistair Jarvis as its chief executive

Careers: Wonkhe blog – Students often have an amazing story to tell, but low confidence can prevent students from accessing the careers support they need. Jon Down thinks through what can be done.

Online learning: Research Professional note that:

  • According to a report in The Mail on Sunday, Donelan wants to send Office for Students inspectors into 15 universities to take a look at what is going on. The inspectors—whoever they are—had better hurry up, since teaching has already finished on many campuses and will be all over bar the shouting everywhere else within a couple of weeks.
  • If The Mail is to be believed, university bosses “risk huge financial penalties” as the minister has thrown “down the gauntlet to the ‘stubborn minority’ of vice-chancellors and lecturers who are still working remotely”. Donelan has signalled “her intention to ‘put boots on the ground’ by sending teams of inspectors to investigate staff attendance rates on campuses across Britain”.
  • The reality of online teaching is also that we all know no-one is going to be fined for it, let alone incur “huge financial penalties” or be denied access to the student loan book. The Mail on Sunday interview is just the latest in a long line of ministerial grandstanding against the sector Donelan is supposed to have under her care.
  • Why might that be the case? Is the minister motivated by ensuring quality public institutions and looking after the interests of young people, or is she thinking about how her reputation stands within the Conservative Party at a time when a cabinet reshuffle might be on the cards?
  • If it is the latter rather than the former, Donelan will not be the first and probably not the last minister to think universities are easy game on the way to political advancement. Recent history shows, however, that universities ministers do not necessarily prosper politically once they have left their avowed ‘dream job’.

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 4th April 2022

A slightly quieter time with the House of Commons on recess.

Before they went on recess, the Skills Bill finally made it over the line.  If you are wondering why we are focussing on school level education at the moment, the first item here will explain why, as the OfS provides more insight into its views on the role of universities in schools age attainment, driven by the government’s levelling up agenda.  In this context, there was controversy over whether T levels meet the needs of lower performing pupils (despite it being marketed as an alternative to academic study), and the Social Market Foundation believe current careers advice risks entrenching inequalities by steering people towards different educational and employment options according to their parents’ income and background.

Research

There’s an article on Research Professional about priorities for the Nurse review of research arrangements.  It flags five “blind spots”:

  • The productivity of R&D is falling
  • A more systemic approach to R&D – “A more strategic approach is needed that aligns technology development, regulation, policy and test beds, and engages the public
  • Mobilising intelligence – organising around data and knowledge not property and resources
  • Focus on adoption and diffusion
  • Addressing the gaps around social science – “The UK is good at monetising economics, psychology, behavioural science, ethnography, design and other fields, often through consultancies and advisory services or teams within companies large and small. But this happens despite, not because of, how research is organised” and “serious action to shift incentives for social scientists and mobilise them to help society think ahead”

UKRI has published an updated policy on the governance of good research practices that will apply to new and existing grants from 1 April 2022. Updates include:

  • revised text with improved clarity on the individual’s and organisation’s responsibility to enable positive research practice for high integrity research
  • a policy change that organisations must inform UKRI upon deciding to undertake formal investigations.
  • clearer text stating that we will only seek observer status on investigations by exception, with examples.
  • clarification that UKRI will not investigate cases but will check processes at an institutional level.

UKRI has also updated its full economic cost grant and training grant terms and conditions.

  • UKRI has added a new condition to reflect the statutory requirements introduced through the National Security and Investment Act 2021. Research organisations will need to ensure they follow the rules of this legislation. The legislation enables government to scrutinise and intervene in certain acquisitions that could harm the UKs national security.
  • Revisions have been made to the terms and conditions in response to the new UKRI open access policy, which will apply to in-scope research articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022 and in-scope monographs, book chapters and edited collections published on or after 1 January 2024. The publishing your research findingssection should be read alongside the policy for further information on open access and how to acknowledge a grant.
  • UKRI has added information to employment and staff costs to clarify its position on funding that is eligible and how UKRI continues to support research staff. The updatedfEC and training grant terms and conditions will take effect from 5 April 2022 and are now available

Ukraine and Russia: The Office for Students has compiled information on the Ukraine crisis for providers offering transnational education in Russia and on research collaborations with Russian institutions.

  • There are 775 Ukrainian and 3,030 Russian students studying at English universities and colleges.
  • In addition, some English universities and colleges offer transnational education. There are 267 students studying in Ukraine and 3,113 students studying in Russia in this type of provision.

Wonkhe report that around 30 British universities have expressed interest in joining a new scheme which would see them twinned with an institution in Ukraine. As part of the scheme, universities may host academics and run summer schools for students to assist in catching up on lost learning. There is also discussion of providing Ukrainian academics with “ac.uk” email addresses to enable them to allow them access to resources. The scheme is supported by Universities UK and is being run by Cormack Consultancy Group. iNews has the story.

The OfS has published the interim outcomes of 20 projects that it has funded to develop and share understanding of effective practice in student engagement in knowledge exchange.

Parliamentary Questions

Money, money, money

There is an updated House of Commons library research briefing on student loan statistics.

The IfS have looked at the inflation rate and warned about the impact on student loans.  Although this doesn’t change the position that graduate repayments are linked to salary and therefore a lot of this high interest will not be paid at all but will just increase the government write off, it is still unhelpful, because of applicant perceptions and risk aversion.  And increasing the government write off doesn’t help their perception of the cost of HE either (see charts above).

  • English and Welsh graduates who took out a student loan since 2012 are in for a rollercoaster ride on student loan interest rates in the coming years. Today’s reading for RPI inflation means that the maximum interest rate, which is charged to current students and graduates earning more than £49,130, will rise from its current level of 4.5% to an eye-watering 12% for half a year unless policy changes (the interest rates for low earners will rise from 1.5% to 9%). This means that with a typical loan balance of around £50,000, a high-earning recent graduate would incur around £3,000 in interest over six months – more than even someone earning three times the median salary for recent graduates would usually repay during that time.
  • The maximum student loan interest rate is then likely to fall to around 7% in March 2023 and fluctuate between 7 and 9% for a year and a half; in September 2024, it is then predicted to fall to around 0% before rising again to around 5% in March 2025. These wild swings in interest rates will arise from the combination of high inflation and an interest rate cap that takes half a year to come into operation. Without the cap, maximum interest rates would be 12% throughout the 2022/23 academic year and around 13% in 2023/24. While interest rates affect all borrowers’ loan balances, they only affect actual repayments for the typically high-earning graduates that will pay off their loans.
  • This interest rate rollercoaster will cause problems. The way the interest rate cap currently operates disadvantages borrowers with falling debt balances for no good reason. Perhaps more importantly, sky-high interest rates may put some prospective students off going to university; some graduates will likely feel compelled to pay off their loans even when this has no benefit for them.

Fees and funding – Research Professional has an interview with Philip Augar

Financial pinch: Wonkhe – Students from England beginning higher education courses in September will see the largest ever real-terms cut in a single year, according to analysis highlighted in the New Statesman. The real-terms cut in maintenance support of 7 per cent comes in addition to the continued freeze of the income threshold required to qualify for the maximum maintenance support. And a new blog on a related topic – For Claire Callender, proposals that limit eligibility for student loans undermine recent rhetoric on levelling-up.

There’s a Wonkhe blog by David Kernohan on “what happens when providers run out of money” looking at processes and some examples: “Market exit, in other words, has still not been normalised. As much as we might pretend that the invisible hand makes the decisions – provider monitoring, insolvency, and student support – the actuality of the process remains as messy and human as it ever was. The pre-OfS strategy – of selectively limiting provider borrowing, loosely controlling provider growth and shrinkage, and (yes!) selectively bailing out providers if this was needed to protect the interests of students or applicants – feels like a more honest approach.”

Levelling Up

The Institute for Government (IfG) published Will the levelling up missions help reduce regional inequality? concluding that the Government’s 12 levelling up ‘missions’ – targets to be achieved by 2030 across a range of policy areas from crime to health to housing – will not reduce regional inequality. The IfG finds that only four of the 12 missions are clear, ambitious and have appropriate metrics against which the government will measure and demonstrate progress by 2030. IfG state the other eight missions need to be recalibrated if they are to deliver on the government’s promises to level up the UK. The IfG also calls on the government to put the right systems in place to ensure that ministers and civil servants are held accountable for progress on the levelling up agenda. They believe the proposed Levelling Up Advisory Council cannot provide rigorous expert advice and scrutiny when it operates only at the discretion of the government and cannot perform independent analysis. And without any idea of which departments are leading the coordination of policy contributing to each mission, it will be harder to hold government accountable if things are off track. 

The IfS press release summarises their main findings:

  • Five of the missions are not ambitious enough, meaning that little or no change would be needed to meet them. For example, one metric requires that pay increases in every region by 2030, but this is almost certain to happen regardless of policy.  
  • Three missions are too ambitious to be realistic, which will also fail to inspire policy action. For example, meeting the target of 90% of students achieving the expected standard by age 11 will be virtually impossible. 
  • Four of the missions do not define what success really looks like, making it hard for actors within and outside government to know what they need to do to make progress. For example, it is not clear what the government means by a ‘globally competitive city’, but one of the missions sets a target to have one in every region of the UK by 2030. 
  • Two of the missions have too narrow a focus, and risk diverting attention and resources away from other outcomes that would contribute to levelling up. 
  • One mission (on R&D spending) does not align with the overall objective of levelling up to reduce regional disparities. 
  • Important objectives, such as simplifying funding for local government, are not currently part of the proposed metrics. Other metrics, such as those on pay and productivity, are due to be tracked only over large geographic regions despite the white paper acknowledging significant inequalities within these regions.  

And while we are on the topic of levelling up, a key part of the government agenda is on part-time and mature students, with an ongoing consultation on the lifelong loan entitlement.  There is a House of Commons research briefing on part-time students.

Schools, skills and qualifications

Universities working with schools: The OfS published an insight brief Schools, attainment and the role of higher education providing examples and commentary on some the work HE providers are already doing in schools to raise attainment. BU’s books and stories scheme is celebrated on page 5.

  • Raising the expectations(rather than simply the aspirations) of pupils and their parents, teachers and guardians. Findings from the formative evaluation of the Uni Connect programme show that 79% of participants who responded to the survey had increased expectations for the future, while 94% had better knowledge of higher education options.
  • Appointing ‘influencers’ and running dedicated open days and interactive events for pupils with experience of local authority care.
  • Sponsoring local schools, as 73 universities and colleges reported in their 2019-20 access and participation plans that they were doing or about to do. Some have set up maths schools, such as the Exeter Maths School sponsored by the University of Exeter and Exeter College. The Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts has incorporated a primary school and a sixth form college into its LIPA Learning Group. Bridgwater and Taunton College sponsors a multi-academy trust.
  • Running summer school programmes for school pupils. Evidence suggests that participating in summer schools is associated with greater confidence and increased aspiration, and with higher GCSE grades and rates of progression to higher education.
  • Programmes of intervention in schools to raise attainment. The Education Endowment Foundation has rated interventions related to metacognition and self-regulation as highly impactful, and some universities and charities take this approach to raising attainment. Others focus their interventions on improvements to subject knowledge or to grades and capabilities e.g. BU’s Books and Stories programme which increased the reading age of participants.
  • Supporting attainment at Level 3through Access to HE courses taught in further education colleges.
  • Providing initial teaching training and continuing professional development to teachers. The Sutton Trust found that ‘for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning’. A separate report also found six teacher characteristics associated with increased attainment, including a strong pedagogical knowledge. Evidence shows that high quality continuing professional development has an average effect on pupil attainment equivalent to a month of extra learning.
  • Broadening the available routes into higher education to include short courses and apprenticeships. Over 100 universities and colleges offer degree apprenticeships, but some young people lack the knowledge to make an informed choice. With strategic partnerships, providers can show how diverse the sector is and help young people to choose a path to a successful career.
  • Staff and alumni involvement in school governor structures. For example, the University of Manchester has a longstanding staff and alumni school governor initiative. The university recently conducted an impact study showing that, if all universities in England and Wales adopted the initiative, they could fill more than 10 per cent of the current nationwide school governor vacancies.
  • Access and outreach work, which is often collaborative and can contain elements of raising attainment. For example, in the National Outreach Coverage project, between 2017-18 and 2019-20 over 80,000 activities related to skills and attainment were reported through tracking services in England.

New Government dashboard for pupils: Skills Minister, Alex Burghart, spoke at a Policy Exchange event stating that the new ‘Unit for Future Skills’ will begin publishing data in April. The Unit was announced in the Levelling Up White paper and is expected to be cross-government, publicly accessible, and produce information on local skills demand, future skills needs of businesses and the pathways between training and good jobs. A DfE spokesperson told news outlet FE Week that the unit would take over the work of the DfE’s skills and productivity board once its schedule of reports had been completed.

Data provided through a central-government dashboard will inform prospective learners whether peers taking a certain qualification in health and social care go on to work in health and social care, or whether they ultimately work in retail. The Government hopes the dashboard will improve the quality of information available to school pupils.

In response to a question from the audience about the timescales attached to the UFS, the minister said his department will be starting to release data this month, but was keen to stress that it will be on an “iterative basis” and so would only be “an indicator of the sorts of things we can start doing over time.”

Burghart also commented that a reduction in undergraduate numbers would be a good thing.

  • Perceptions of post-18 study are shifting. And they are shifting I think for the better.
  • I would not be at all surprised if, in 10 years’ time, many more people are choosing to become apprentices after leaving school or college – and that the consequence of this may be that there are slightly fewer undergraduates. I consider that to be a good thing. Now, I believe in the importance of universities and the power of university degrees. But I know they are not the be all and end all.
  • As I said at the start, I taught and lectured for a number of years in some wonderful universities. I was lucky enough to teach some very bright people. But it was clear that not all of them wanted to be at university, a number were there by default, because their parents wanted them to be there, or because they felt they had no other ladders to a good career.
  • Apprenticeships have the potential to create some of those other ladders. In doing so, they can help to transform opportunity. The chance to earn while you learn, to get a three-year head start on your undergraduate friends in the workplace, to build networks, experience, to not run up debt. They are surely a huge part of the future of skills. 

Careers advice: The Social Market Foundation (SMF) published new research demonstrating that careers advice and guidance risks entrenching inequality by steering people towards different educational and employment options according to their parents’ income and background. The report examines school leavers and adult learners’ experiences of careers information, advice and guidance (IAG) in England. SMF say it presents new evidence on the way that people engage with IAG and they make a number of policy recommendations to increase the personalisation, accountability, and accessibility of IAG.

Key findings:

  • The shape and quality of IAG services is patchy, varying substantially across and within schools and colleges
  • Support for those pursuing vocational options tends to be weaker, with students carried towards university by inertia
  • People tend to favour anecdotal information over hard data, but even those using formal information make limited use of government sources
  • There is a mismatch between the grand ambitions of IAG, and what users expect from it. Careers professionals view it as long-term career planning and skills development, whereas receivers tend to just want help with the next step.
  • Adults are largely unaware of IAG services and face significant barriers to accessing them

Six actions policymakers can take:

  1. Ensure every school leaver receives a minimum level of personalised careers support by offering an entitlement to three one-to-one sessions.
  2. Add careers provision to the four ‘key judgements’ on which schools are graded in Ofsted inspections.
  3. Set the Careers and Enterprise Company the objective of tackling inequalities between schools in the level and quality of information, advice and guidance.
  4. Aim to ensure all apprenticeship opportunities are listed on the UCAS system, perhaps by establishing and integrating local platforms.
  5. Partner with trusted private apps and websites to ensure official government data and information is easily accessible.
  6. Engage in a large-scale outreach programme promoting adult education and careers services.

There’s a Wonkhe blog on careers support here from Jon down of Grit Breakthrough programmes:

  • 98 per cent of careers professionals in universitiesfeel students do not engage with career development activities and 27 per cent of students believe that the biggest obstacle to future career success is not knowing what field to go into.
  • .. If we are to drive up engagement with career development activities, it seems clear that universities need to give thought to supporting students develop the confidence to make full use of their employability offers. As a starting point, this might include:
    • Creating experiences that raise young people’s self-awareness so they can articulate their unique combination of knowledge, experience, and attributes, and the contribution they can make.
    • Coaching students to arrive at their own goals and support them in building the resources to achieve them, rather than simply imparting information, guidance, and advice.
    • Reframing support so it is not all about finding a lifeline in a crisis but instead is about gathering what you need to be a success

T level criticism: The completion of the Bill won’t be popular with all. Lord Baker has spoken out to criticism the current T levels as too academic and not serving important elements of the UK population. Lord Baker is a former secretary of state for education and science (1986-1989) and was integral to the introduction of GCSE exams.

During a select committee hearing Lord Baker stated that the Schools White Paper should have promoted a skills-rich curriculum, as well as one that focused on knowledge. He outlined his surprise at how modest the paper was, with the focus centring on the improvement of literacy and numeracy, and stated he did not agree with the idea of raising the goal of the average grade to 5 from 4.5 as that would further disadvantage certain students.

On T levels Lord Baker explained that they had introduced new T Levels at his University Technical Colleges 18 months ago, and that his trust had found they were more suited to academically able students. He highlighted to the Committee that of the ten pupils who started, three dropped out because they weren’t academically up to it, and they were people who got below a seven in GCSEs. He went on to assert that he thought the T Levels were suited to students who were achieving above a seven in GCSE.

Lord Baker emphasised that education policy should be focused on the “bottom third” of students across the country who do not pass GCSE English and maths (at level 4 or above), and that there had been no progress for this group for over a decade. He added that the curriculum reforms introduced by former education secretary Michael Gove from 2014 had not improved outcomes for low-attaining students and stated this was one of the reasons why youth unemployment in the UK was double that of Germany.

Overall his view is that T levels are not suited to over a third of the UK child population and result in drop outs.  – a blot on the Government’s quality landscape, particularly at a time when they are pushing regulators to threaten punitive action for HE providers with higher dropout rates.

Meanwhile Wonkhe covered a new apprenticeships report: the apprenticeships system favours those from professional backgrounds and wealthy areas, according to a report published by think tank Onward. The research identifies a reduction in the number of people taking entry-level apprenticeships as businesses use their levy funds to support existing staff. The report’s recommendations include fully funding apprenticeships for those aged 16-18, giving mayors more responsibility to support SMEs to take on apprentices, and providing financial incentives for businesses to take on new apprentices.

And with all that in mind, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill finally passed: Last week we highlighted that the prorogation of Parliament would mean all Bills that weren’t finalised would have to navigate a carry over process to avoid being lost. One hanging in the balance was the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – stuck in the “ping pong” tussle between the Lords and the Commons over the withdrawal of BTEC qualifications. The Government heaved a sigh of relief as, at the last minute, the Lords conceded and dropped the disagreement over Amendment 15B which called for a 3-year wait before removing funding from applied level 3 qualifications (BTECs). Government Education Minister, Baroness Barran, calmed the discontent by playing down the implications and making small concessions. Key points from her speech:

  • Last November, the Education Secretary announced an additional year before funding would be removed from qualifications that overlap with T Levels, and the government have also removed the English and maths exit requirement from T Levels
  • A further delay will not benefit providers, AOs, employers or students – stakeholders need clarity on implementation timescales
  • Applied generals, such as BTECs, will have an important role to play alongside T Levels
  • To be approved for funding in future, quals will need to meet new “quality and necessity” criteria – students will be able to continue to take Applied Generals, including BTECs, alongside A Levels, as part of a mixed programme
  • Stressed they were not creating a binary system, but wanted students to be able to choose from a high-quality mixed system
  • Around 1,800 qualifications have low or no enrolments and will therefore have funding removed from August 2022
  • The next phase of reforms will be to consider qualifications that overlap with T Levels – they anticipate they will remove funding for “just a small proportion” of the total Level 3 offer, including BTECS: “This will be significantly less than half” she added
  • Expect to publish the list in due course, and there will be an opportunity for awarding organisations to appeal a quals inclusion on the list.
  • Qualifications identified as overlapping with waves 1 and 2 of T Levels will not have funding removed until 2024/25.
  • Qualifications identified as overlapping with waves 3 and 4 of T Levels will not have funding removed until 2025/26.
  • Employers will now have the opportunity to say if they believe quals support entry to occupations not covered by T Levels.
  • The new Unit for Future Skills, announced in the Levelling Up White Paper, will have a role to play in gathering evidence and regularly assessing the quality of qualifications.

All Peers also received a letter from the Education Secretary stating that all qualifications, including BTECs, have an important role to play in the education ecosystem, and appeared to ease off on the A Level/T Level binary approach.  Lord Blunkett, the architect of the troublesome amendment welcomed the Government’s small concessions.  In short, this means the Skills Bill now awaits the Royal Assent rubber stamp and will become an Act of Parliament.

Anti-Semitism

Wonkhe: Lord John Mann has been appointed to set up a new task force of senior ministers and MPs to look into the treatment of Jewish students in UK universities. Speaking at the Jerusalem Post London conference yesterday, Mann said the working group would “listen” to the voices of Jewish students. Justice minister Lord Wolfson also spoke at the conference, insisting that the IHRA definition of antisemitism does not shut down free speech. Jewish News has the story.

Wonkhe also report on The Times coverage that higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan is “considering a range of possible measures” against NUS following concerns about antisemitism within the organisation. Jewish News cover the calls from Lord Mann to not recognise NUS as the representative of student voice if things do not change, and an open letter from Lancaster University’s Students’ Union expressing concern over antisemitism in NUS.   The NUS have published a statement here.

Access & Participation

Parliamentary Question: the benefits of students having at least one family member who attended university, and whether it should be declared on applications if someone is a first generation HE student.

Disabled Students’ Commission

Wonkhe report on the Disabled Students’ Commission publication of its second annual report: It reports a degree awarding gap for disabled students of 1.1 per cent in 2020-21 – driving a Commission focus on improving the disabled student experience. The report highlights the ongoing challenges faced by disabled students, and recommends increased consultation and communication with students, consistent approaches to support across and between higher education providers, more flexibility in teaching, learning, and assessment, and offering certainty for disabled students that they will get the support they need.

Disability Voice Blog: Wonkhe inform that the blog of the Association of National Teaching Fellows (NTF) has a piece on amplifying disabled student voices.

Other news

Graduate outcomes: an interesting blog by Charlie Ball of JISC on Wonkhe.  In the light of all the government talk about poor graduate outcomes …how we can be in a situation where one group of stakeholders can hold the view that there are too many people going to university, and others can have spent many years worrying that they cannot find the graduates that they need to thrive.. Well, yes, good question.  The suggested answer is that we need more data.

Dropping out: Wonkhe have a quick write up following DfE drop out news – Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan has written on the DfE’s Education Hub blog about how the drop-out rates of students in the 2019-20 cohort has fallen below ten per cent for the first time. However, Donelan attributes this to the government’s recent push to drive up quality. On Wonk Corner, DK questions how recent policy announcements could have impacted on events in the past.

Admissions: In the context of the new UUK admissions code, there is a Wonkhe blog: Do applicants who end up on a course generally meet the entry requirements of that course? Jane White shares evidence that very often this is not the case

Hygge: A neat piece from Wonkhe on the benefits of the Danish hygge for students.

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To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk. A BU email address is required to subscribe.

External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 4th April 2022

The Government has announced the current Parliamentary session will be prorogued in April (date not confirmed yet) (you’ll remember that process from “that” prorogation).  A new session will commence with a State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 10 May. This means that legislation that is currently incomplete will either be dropped or will need to be allotted parliamentary time for a carry over motion debate (not quite as easy as it sounds). For HE this means the future of the controversial HE Freedom of Speech Bill is less certain although Wonkhe reported that it is likely to be carried over.

Meanwhile the Government has a plethora of consultations and white and green papers out. We can expect expectations for these to feature in the Queen’s Speech. For HE we will be watching for the legislative and regulatory changes required to implement the lifelong loan entitlement and the response to Augar (see our 3rd March update for more info. Consultations on many aspects of these things close on 6th May, so we won’t get definitive announcements on the detail that is being consulted on, and the Queen’s speech itself is very high level and so are the policy statements that come out with it.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills Bill is one they are trying to get through before prorogation.  The Skills Bill parliamentary ping pong continues with MPs rejecting the Lords amendment relating to the changeover from BTECs and T levels. The Lords attempted to delay the defunding of BTECs and force a public consultation but MPs overturned it through their majority in the Commons. Compromises were also made on vocational careers advice provided by schools.

The outcome and more details of all the Skills Bill amendment are available in this Dods summary. The Commons Library also have a useful publication highlighting the changes as the Bill has progressed through the legislative system, shorter version here.

Next: the Bill will pong back to the Lords on Thursday 7 April. The Lords will consider the MPs’ rejection of Lord Blunkett’s BTEC amendment, which attempted to attach conditions to the defunding of BTEC/level 3 technical qualifications. Potential options:

  • The Lords will accept the rejection and will not push for the amendment to added again (at this point, the Bill would have completed its passage and will be sent for Royal Assent)
  • The Government will bring forward a compromise amendment, and the Lords will vote on this (if it passes, it will have to go back to the Commons where it would be agreed)
  • Lord Blunkett will move to disagree with the Commons’ decision on his amendment and re-introduce it again in its current form (this is the least likely option, but it would then ping back to the Commons).

Compromise is the usual solution when there is a hard stop like this.

Levelling Up

Citizenship within Levelling up policy: The Lords Liaison Committee published a follow-up report examining the Government’s progress in  implementing the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement’s 2018 report. While the (new) report focuses on citizenship, including the educational delivery of citizenship, it is worth looking past this because the Lords highlighting the importance of citizenship within the Government’s current flagship levelling up policy. In brief, the Lords criticised:

  • Poor progress in improving Governmental coordination of citizenship and civic engagement policy since 2018. The Lords recommended a Minister with responsibility for Citizenship and Civic Engagement be appointed immediately within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) or the Cabinet Office. The new Minister to be given latitude and authority to facilitate integrated policymaking across the Government departments including a permanent seat on the Domestic and Economic (Levelling Up) Cabinet Committee.
  • The Lords are also concerned that as cabinet committee meeting are not available for public scrutiny that the Levelling Up Cabinet Committee may not be meeting or gaining traction. The related Inter-Ministerial Group leading on similar Citizenship content has not met since 2019: the Committee saw good intent in relation to the Inter-Ministerial Group for Safe and Integrated Communities and yet that group did not meet for three consecutive years. They’ve called for evidence of the scale of the work expected to be undertaken by the Domestic and Economic (Levelling Up) Cabinet Committee.
  • Also the Levelling Up Cabinet Committee is criticised for the lack of cross-departmental members particularly from the Cabinet Office and the DfE.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who was the Chair of the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement commented:

  • Things have gone backwards rather than forwards with citizenship education in the UK since our last report. This is despite the government’s clear commitment to levelling up across the country and an Elections Bill where great stress is being placed on the importance of engagement with our voting system…
  • We were promised a cross-department Minister, we didn’t get one. We were told that Ofsted should treat citizenship education is a core part of the curriculum, the evidence shows they don’t. The government had a chance to put things right in its Schools White Paper. It appears that they have missed the opportunity to do so. There is just one mention of citizenship in the Schools White Paper, and it is mentioned in the context of volunteering. We urge the Government to think again. Otherwise, they risk damaging democracy for generations to come.

Also on levelling up – Wonkhe report: Speaking to Chris Skidmore at a ResPublica event yesterday, Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove expressed his view that the number of students in higher education should be further extended, and drew links between recruitment and research and development in the creation of local high quality jobs. On the future development of the sector he saw a mixture of national missions and provider aspirations driving future developments. A twitter thread describes the key points of the discussion, and a recording is available.

Research

Dods have this on the research side of the Spring Statement:

In his Spring Statement to the House, the Chancellor also unveiled a new ‘tax plan’, part of which outlines what his focus will be for the Autumn Budget later this year. This included:

  • Considering whether the current tax system, including the operation of the Apprenticeship Levy, is doing enough to incentivise businesses to invest in right kind of training.
  • Reforming R&D tax credits to be more effective, expanding the reliefs to include data, cloud computing and pure maths, and considering whether to make the R&D spending credit more generous.
  • He said he would also cut the tax rates on business investment in Autumn, and would consult with employers and businesses in the run-up to the Budget.

On R&D tax reliefs, the Chancellor announced these would be reformed in the Autumn Budget 2021, following a consultation launched in the Spring Budget earlier that year.

  • “The government set out in the Tax Administration and Maintenance Command Paper that R&D tax reliefs would be reformed to include some cloud and data costs and refocus support on R&D carried out in the UK. The government has listened to stakeholders and can confirm that from April 2023, all cloud computing costs associated with R&D, including storage, will qualify for relief. The government remains committed to refocus support towards innovation in the UK, ensuring that the UK more effectively captures the benefits of R&D funded by the reliefs. The government recognises that there are some cases where it is necessary for the R&D to take place overseas. The government will, therefore, legislate so that expenditure on overseas R&D activities can still qualify where there are:
  • material factors such as geography, environment, population or other conditions that are not present in the UK and are required for the research – for example, deep ocean research
  • regulatory or other legal requirements that activities must take place outside of the UK – for example, clinical trials
  • To support the growing volume of R&D underpinned by mathematical advances, the definition of R&D for tax reliefs will be expanded by clarifying that pure mathematics is a qualifying cost. Where required, legislation will be published in draft before being included in a future Finance Bill to come into effect in April 2023.”

Delivering a UK science and technology strategy: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee heard evidence from NERC, the Medical Research Council and ESRC at the session on delivering a science and technology strategy. They covered funding and the relative responsibilities of the research councils and other delivery organisations. All the key points that you’d expect were touched upon such as 2.4% R&D funding, Horizon, interdisciplinary research promotion, research morale and opinion of UKRI, academic/industry interaction, and how the research councils will interact with Government departments and budgetary implications. Summary here. Your policy team was also happy to hear that incorporating more academic research into government policymaking was addressed and it was suggested that UKRI could do more to coordinate the work with research councils to this end. BU researchers who are interested in sharing their work with policy makers or interested in influencing policy making are encouraged to sign up to our regular influence digest which highlights opportunities, sector policy news and shares top tips to increase influencing success.

Russia research | Ukraine support package: The Government announced a £3m support package to support Ukrainian researchers at risk and the suspension of publicly funded research and innovation collaborations with Russian Universities and companies of strategic benefit to the Russian state. Research Minister George Freeman stated:

  • All payments for projects delivered through UK public research funds with a Russian dimension have been paused. I have commissioned an assessment, on top of the existing and strong due diligence processes of UK public research funders, to isolate and freeze activities which benefit the Russian regime.
  • We will not fund any new collaborative projects with Russia through our research and innovation organisations.
  • We have suspended existing government to government dialogue through our science and innovation network team in Russia including their collaborative science projects.
  • Where the UK is a member of multilateral organisations, we are working at pace with partners to respond appropriately – holding Russia to account for its actions while diminishing and isolating its influence.
  • We are standing up a £3 million package of support for Ukrainian researchers at risk. We stand with Ukraine, its democratically elected government and its brave people at this awful time.

Wonkhe tell us more on the Ukrainian package: The British Academy, UK National Academies, and the Council for At-Risk Academics have announced the Researchers at Risk Fellowship Programme – a new fellowship scheme for Ukrainian researchers who are fleeing the conflict or are already in the UK and unable to return. £3m is being contributed by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, and £0.5m from the Nuffield Foundation. The funding will provide visas, a salary, research costs, and living costs to successful applicants, and will be open to all postdoctoral or those with equivalent experience in all disciplines. Participatory institutions will need to identify six months’ worth of accommodation for recipients and their dependants. 

A parliamentary question asking if universities should take action against academics who promote pro-Putin propaganda (set within the backdrop of the Government’s steer on HE upholding free speech) is met with a beautifully fence sitting answer:  Alongside our allies, we are united in support for Ukraine. Universities, as independent and autonomous organisations, should decide whether to investigate such incidences.

Quick news:

  • Wonkhe – The Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, have announcedcollaborative UK-Japan projects which have been awarded funding to support international efforts to manage the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • George Freeman (Science, Research and Innovation Minister) provided a written ministerial statement on the Intellectual Property Office performance targets and transformation projects.

Parliamentary Questions

Blogs:

Financial sustainability of the HE sector in England and the Spring Statement

The Public Accounts Committee published the oral evidence from the latest Financial sustainability of the HE sector in England session. The DfE and OfS were called as witnesses. A shorter summary is here. The session covered grade inflation, international students, financial support/Augar, risk modelling, student satisfaction and outcomes, regulation, value for money, student protection plans, minimum entry requirements, and the new loan terms.

In the Spring Statement the Chancellor said that there would be a review of the apprenticeship levy.

Regarding levy reform, last month the CBI challenged the Government to pursue more ambitious growth with new policies – one of which was to replace the Apprenticeship Levy with a new Skills Challenge Fund, to “incentivise more flexible training to meet skill shortages and rewards firms who invest beyond their apprenticeship levy levels”. Leaders across the sector have raised Levy reform for some time, and today’s announcement could represent a step towards this.

PQs:

Education Committee: Universities

The Education Committee ran a session questioning witnesses on the HE sector. Topics included outcomes for disadvantaged students, anti-Semitism and free speech. The NUS was criticised by Committee Chair Robert Halfon as they did not provide a witness for the session. A summary of the committee session is available here provided by Dods and good coverage by Wonkhe is available in: Is OfS asleep or woke at the wheel?

Here are the key discussion points from the session (which at times felt like an echo chamber):

  • 92% of the British public believe antisemitism is a problem in universities.
  • The witnesses presented a number of points to evidence that universities are not upholding free speech.
  • The Committee criticised the OfS for not intervening enough to tackle antisemitism in universities including noting that the rapper Lowkey had been asked to attend the NUS conference, a rapper he said had made antisemitic statements. The committee then went on to criticise the University of Nottingham for revoking the honorary degree award to Tony Sewell following a report on UK institutional racism. Highlighting once again the difficulty of drawing the unclear free speech/antisemitism line with different actors believing it should be drawn in different places.
  • While headline figures suggest more disadvantaged pupils are going to university the number of part time students has dropped. Disadvantaged pupils remain less likely to access the higher tariff institutions, more likely to drop out and less likely to have good employment outcomes. Concern was express that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged is not narrowing.
  • On disadvantaged students witness McKellar (VP at UUK) said disadvantaged students started form a legacy of poorer education, and often had to do part-time work, because they lacked social capital.  There was a need for universities to create Access and Participation Plans (APPs) which supported disadvantaged students. He said in general these plans had worked better in other areas, such as closing the BAME attainment gap.
  • Witness Humphries (Chair, University Alliance) said the availability of more scholarships and support – including grants as low as £500 – would help. She also pointed to the role of peer mentoring and better careers guidance.
  • Dandridge (OfS) stated tackling disadvantage was a core priority as in addition to APPs the OfS looks at post-university progression, as poor progression after university could be a breach of a regulatory condition. Dandridge also stated disadvantaged participation was creeping up but measures not happening fast enough.
  • Careers and the role of research and knowledge exchange with employers were discussed.
  • Old chestnuts such as students not repaying their loans and is attending university really of value to society or enabling social mobility were trotted out. As were courses that were poor value for money (due to strike action, poor mental health support, high costs of tuition and lack of in-person teaching). Pensions were mentioned.
  • Blended learning was discussed with an overall positive tone.
  • BAME students drop out / lower degree classification and staff representation in senior roles were raised. Diversity at Board level was raised. McKellar (UUK) called for quotas for both academic staff numbers and senior representation of BAME staff. Dandridge (OfS) highlighted the UKRI programme on black progression into research careers.
  • On the Government’s implementation of the Augar review Clare Merchant (Chief Executive, UCAS) said recent UCAS analysis on GCSE English and Maths levels suggested that those on free school meals, some BAME communities, and those in certain disadvantaged areas, were less likely to obtain the requisite levels at GCSE. Other concerns about the impact of minimum entry requirements and possible student number caps and their disproportionately disadvantaging effect compounding existing disadvantage were raised by other witnesses.

Related to the above points made during the Education Committee are comments that Emma Hardy (previous Shadow Minister for FE & HE Education) made at an accountability meeting and again at the Treasury Committee Spring Statement session. Wonkhe report: At the Treasury Committee Emma Hardy highlighted the regressive nature of changes to student loans, and the impact of these changes on the national accounts. Rishi Sunak described the reforms as “sensible”, and emphasised that nobody will pay more back in real terms than what they borrowed. Hardy noted that this change would only affect higher earners, with lower earning graduates likely to pay more than under the current system. Sunak rejected Hardy’s characterisation of the changes as “a tax on low earners” despite the evidence presented from Office for Budgetary Responsibility and Department for Education figures. You can watch the committee session on parliamentlive.tv.

There’s also a very short Wonkhe explainer, snippet:

  • Hardy’s argument is that this has a place based effect – graduates earning around the average wage in Hull will pay a lot more than they currently do, graduates earning around the average wage in London will pay less than currently. The opposite – in other words – of “levelling up”.
  • There’s a tendency in expert commentary to see this as a niche issue affecting only a small part of the population – but with participation rates rising (and set to rise further if we take into account both demographic bulging and the LLE opening the loan system to more people) there is a sizable marginal tax rate impact for a large part of a generation.

Graduate Jobs

The Institute of Student Employers has released their 2022 Student Development report which compiles trends following a survey of the Institute’s employer membership base. It’s sat behind a paywall so here is Wonkhe’s synopsis:

  • Every year Institute of Student Employers (ISE) surveys its member employers to get their view of graduate skills – in this year’s Student Development Survey reportwe get the picture of the impact of the pandemic, as well as an update on larger trends in graduate employment, with data drawn from 107 employers. ISE analysis concludes “there is a renewed focus on the soft skills required for a post-Covid workplace.”
  • A third of respondents say their skills needs have changed as a result of Covid-19 – focusing on independence, resilience/growth mindset, adaptability, and confidence. 65 per cent of employers expect their new hires to be able to work remotely, up from 45 per cent in 2021. There is also greater expectation that graduates will arrive with technical skills such as coding and data analysis – or be able to acquire these skills. Expert insight from University of Leeds academic Helen Hughes suggests that early career hires may struggle to access development opportunities and secure visibility of their work if there is more hybrid and remote working.
  • There is a long term downward trend in retention of graduate hires three years post-graduation – down to 72 per cent from 79 per cent in 2011, suggesting that employers may need to work harder to retain early career staff in the post-Covid workplace. 61 per cent reported demand for mental health support has increased during the pandemic and 89 per cent report providing mental health support and counselling particularly for early career hires.

There’s also a blog written by Nicola Thomas of ISE: Never have the skills required to thrive in the workplace shifted so dramatically in a two year period as in the last two years.

Access & Participation

We wrote about UUK’s new Fair Admissions Code of Practice recently – as of 1st April there is a long list of universities who have signed up to it.

The OfS issued some data on their participation performance measures.

As you have seen in our recent commentary on the B3 licence condition consultation and TEF plans, continuation is a key metric for the OfS.  They note from this data that there is a difference of 3.7% for continuation between the most and least represented groups.  These splits will feature in the regulatory and the TEF data and so we can expect scrutiny of this – the Ofs target is “To eliminate the unexplained gap in non-continuation between most and least represented groups by 2024-25, and to eliminate the absolute gap by 2030-31”.

Wonkhe report on the black attainment (degree classification) gap:

  • The gap between the proportion of black undergraduate qualifiers and the proportion of white qualifiers in England achieving a first class degree has almost doubled in a decade, widening to almost 20 percentage points in 2020-21…..Its headline measure on “good honours” attainment, which combines first class and upper second class honours, saw further improvement as a continuation of a long term trend – but masks the significant differential when only considering firsts.

Similar issues apply to the degree outcomes for disabled students.

As well as updating the KPM analysis, OfS has updated its Access and Participation Dashboard with figures for 2020-21, updated sector-level information on student’s qualifications on entry to higher education and their subject of study, and published a report that summarises the key gaps in access, continuation and attainment at a sector level for different student characteristics.

Blogs

Parliamentary Questions

OfS

It is Ministerial letter time.  After the flurries of letters from Gavin Williamson, things had gone a bit quiet, but a letter appeared on 31st March 2022, offering guidance on strategic priorities.  It replaces  the previous guidance up to February 2021, but notably the guidance on teaching grant (strategic priorities grant) stays in place.  The priorities as set out will not surprise you.  Although the encouragement to the OfS to carry out in person inspections of 10-15 institutions is interesting and the instructions on how the new B3 enforcement regime will be carried out.

  • We are clear that HE has an important role to play in delivering the government’s moral, economic and social vision for levelling up: supporting strong regional and economic growth, developing partnerships with Further Education colleges and local employers to improve the skills base nationally, and working with schools to drive up attainment
  • We welcome the OfS’s ongoing engagement on the development of the LLE to date and would like this engagement to continue in 2022-23. Together we need to ensure that the LLE is supported by an appropriate regulatory regime, fully equipped to support radically different, flexible arrangements, measuring quality using metrics that are meaningful in the new system and which interact positively with our admissions regime
  • Cold spots…We would like the OfS to explore ways of encouraging the expansion of HE provision into new areas, while ensuring that high quality provision is maintained
  • We would like the OfS to work with officials to help to grow the uptake of high-quality technical education and degree apprenticeships including, where possible, through the use of access and participation targets, information and guidance, as well as supporting the raising of the profile of IoTs.
  • … it is our clear and firm expectation that the OfS will use the new outcome thresholds to identify providers with unacceptable levels of performance and challenge them. In the event that they cannot convincingly explain and justify their student outcomes data, then this should provide the basis for generating robust regulatory investigation and action. In cases where low and unacceptable quality is confirmed, action should include, where appropriate, financial penalties and ultimately the suspension or removal of the provider from the register (and with it, access to student finance)
  • our priorities for investigation are:
    • larger providers with university title which are below proposed numerical thresholds either for the whole provider, or multiple subject areas; and
    • a set of investigations focused on a major subject grouping with large numbers of students and high variation in outcomes, such as Computer Science or Law, with the intention to drive up the quality of those courses across the sector as a whole; and
    • providers where OfS has long-standing concerns about quality which are confirmed or strengthened by numerical data on student outcomes
  • Our expectation is that the OfS should … implement a visible and effective inspections regime against the other B (Quality) conditions of registration, that will involve on-site inspection of 10-15 providers next year, that will root out pockets of poor provision and will result in regulatory action where appropriate. Through this activity, we would expect the OfS to focus on the following priorities:
    • that online learning should be used to complement and enhance a student’s learning experience, not to detract from it;
    • the provision of sufficient contact hours, particularly where this has been flagged by intelligence from students; and
    • the importance of maintaining rigour in assessment, including appropriate technical proficiency in English necessary to secure a good outcome for all or some students.
  • …., we want to offer our support for the OfS proposals for a refreshed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and, in particular, welcome the proposed introduction of the new ‘Requires Improvement’ category
  • On APP: we would like the OfS to work at pace to publish guidance this spring, calling for providers to bring forward variations to their current A&P plans where these do not currently meet the new expectations. We would like to see these approved this autumn, to take effect from September 2023. Where providers with substandard plans fail to bring forward variations voluntarily, the OfS should not hesitate in calling on those providers to submit a new plan for approval.
  • We endorse the OfS’s proposal to move to a four-year A&P plan cycle, with a full rewrite of new A&P plans at the end of 2023, to come into effect by September 2024
  • We would also like to see providers incorporate data on completion rates and entry into professional employment, or further study, in all their advertising of subjects and courses from the start of the next admissions cycle
  • Anti-Semitism, freedom of Speech bill
  • We welcome the OfS’s publication of the statement of expectations on sexual harassment and misconduct last Spring …. in our view, the OfS should include this in a condition of registration as soon as possible.
  • we would like the OfS to work with officials and sector stakeholders to consider how we can ensure that the student interest is placed at the centre of fair and transparent admissions practices, and that the sector avoids practices where students may feel pressured into making decisions, including through the use of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers

And on funding – a separate letter also came out on grant funding.  Research Professional have a summary:

  • …the ministers set out how funding will be distributed next year after it pledged £750 million over three years last month to support “high-quality teaching and facilities” such as engineering and nursing.
  • The strategic priorities grant will rise by 5 per cent to £1,397m in 2022-23 from £1,330 million in 2021-22. Of the £56m rise, £32m is for strategically important subjects, particularly those connected to health.
  • Capital funding will be £450m between 2022-23 and 2024-25, compared with £150m in 2021-22. There will be up to £4m across the 2022-23 financial year to support Ukrainian nationals and Ukrainian-domiciled students affected by the war, and universities will have £5m to set aside for “emerging priorities”.
  • However, the student outreach programme Uni Connect will lose £10m next year after losing £20m this year, and student hardship funds will go without the £5m pandemic-related boost they received last year. 

More detail from RP here.  And you can find the letter itself here.  Some interesting points:

  • we want to further accelerate the growth of degree apprenticeships and encourage Higher Education Providers to expand their existing offers, or develop new ones, where they are best placed to do so. We will explore options with the OfS for supporting this important provision with up to £8m of funding for this goal
  • To encourage greater provision of level 4 and 5 qualifications we are providing £8m in the 2022-23 financial year to be allocated to providers with eligible learners on level 4 and 5 qualifications, through formula funding
  • we will explore options with the OfS for using an additional £10m of funding in the 2022-23 financial year to increase the amount of skills provision at levels 4 to 6 available in preparation for the launch of the LLE from 2025.
  • Mental Health: We have listened to students and the HE sector and would like the OfS to distribute funding, at a similar level to that disbursed last year, to give additional support for transitions from school/college to university, and through targeting funding to support partnership working with NHS services to provide pathways of care for students
  • No additional student hardship funding for 2022/23
  • Capital funding: We would like the OfS to continue allocating the majority of funds to providers through a competitive bidding process, to continue to target funds at specific projects and activities supporting high-quality, skills-based education but to do so using a multi-year approach.

In the meantime the OfS had published their 2022-2025 strategy focusing on quality and standards, and on equality of opportunity. The strategy aims for:

  • students to receive a high quality academic experience that improves their knowledge and skills, with increasing numbers receiving excellent provision
  • rigorous assessment and for qualifications to be credible and comparable
  • a focus on free speech
  • using incentivisation, regulation and providing a focus so that the subjects graduates study contribute usefully to the economy/industry and the levelling up agenda
  • student access, success and progression is not limited by their background, location or characteristics
  • a diverse range of courses and providers are available for students to choose from; provision is flexible and innovative and access to people at all life stages
  • harassment and sexual misconduct are responded to effectively if they occur
  • the environment supports student mental health and wellbeing to enable success in HE
  • HE providers are financially viable, sustainable and have effective governance
  • the promised academic experience is delivered to students and consumer protection is applied
  • minimising the OfS regulatory burden – action to meet the OfS goals and regulatory objectives

A summary is available here. Full content here.

Details of the latest appointments to the OfS board are here.

PQs:

Education Policies: White and Green

Education: Schools White Paper: The Schools White Paper – Opportunity for All: strong schools with great teachers for your child. Dods summary here (see first 6 pages).
Key aspects of the paper are:

  • Strong teaching (including aspects on teacher training, recruitment and the retention of teachers delivering key subjects in deprived areas through enhanced pay).
  • High standards for the curriculum (English and Maths are key foci, increasing average GCSE grade from 4.5 to 5 by 2030), behaviour and attendance (minimum 32.5 hours in school by 2023). Every school to have access to funded training for a senior mental health lead to deliver a whole school approach to health and wellbeing. New plans for sport, music and cultural education. New modern foreign language network hubs and professional development. More students to take the EBACC.
  • Targeted support for children who are behind in English and maths via a new parent pledge, guidance on the catch up (again with parent communications so parents stay informed) but without labelling and over testing; tutoring expected to be funded out of school core budgets including pupil premium.
  • All schools to be in a ‘strong’ multi-academy trust (MAT) by 2030 with new intervention powers to address MATs that are not strong. (There’s a new consultation on it here.) Plus transparency measures for parents to understand their top slicing of school budgets. Exceptionally schools may be able to move MATs. Local Authorities will receive ‘backstop powers’ to force trusts to admit children, and to object to schools’ published admissions numbers. Lots more on MATs in the summary.
  • A nice section in the summary page 5-6 which highlights the ‘re-announcements’ i.e. the aspects the Government have already released information or funding on. So if you are wondering if some aspects are new money or new interventions the ‘re-announcements’ detail what isn’t new but makes sense to sit under the White Paper umbrella.

SEN Green Paper: Nadhim Zahawi launched the green paper Special Education Needs and Disability Review through a debate in Parliament on Tuesday. Dods summarise the content here or there is a short Government press release: Ambitious reform for children and young people with SEND.

Other news

NUS: The NUS have elected new leadership. Wonkhe – NUS has announced that Shaima Dallali – currently President of City, University of London Students’ Union – was elected UK President for a two year term starting in July. Chloe Field – from Liverpool Guild of Students – was elected Vice President for Higher Education. Jewish News reports on concerns over Dallali’s “historic tweets” (since deleted), and her apology for them.

HE Data Reduction: Yes, you’ve heard it all before. Here’s the news from Wonkhe:  Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan has announced that she will chair a HE Data Reduction Taskforce. The new taskforce will meet every six weeks to “streamline and simplify reporting requirements” on higher education institutions. We understand that representatives from HESA, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the Student Loans Company, OfS, Ofsted, Ofqual, UCAS, and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education – along with experts from the wider sector – will have a particular focus on instances of duplication in data requirements. The Task Force will produce interim recommendations within three months, and a final report after six months.

This announcement comes following a written parliamentary question from Shadow HE minister last week asking Michelle Donelan what steps have been taken to ensure that higher education providers have a good understanding of (a) the reasons for which the Office for Students collects the data it does and (b) how it uses that data.

Turing mobility scheme: PIE news has a good quick read:

  • Improvements proposed for UK Turing scheme. Excerpt: while the new outward mobility program is being praised for the short mobility opportunities it presents and its weighting towards disadvantaged students, improvements could create a more efficient program, they have suggested.
  • UUKi is calling for the current 12-month project cycle to be shifted to a multi-year funding model.
  • “We think [that] would better support, not only the Global Britain agenda and the widening participation goals, but students to apply for actual funding so they can have funding confirmed earlier on,” said UUKi head of Global Mobility Policy Charley Robinson.

More here. And the second year of the Turing Scheme bids has opened.

Graduate shaped learning: Wonkhe – Miriam Firth explains why incorporating graduates’ working experiences into teaching is essential to helping students develop.

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HE policy update for the w/e 18th March 2022

A wide ranging update for you this week!

Parliamentary News

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his spring statement. Wonkhe predict: tough times are coming for a sector that almost certainly won’t feature in any list of political priorities. For students, thanks to the way these things have been historically calculated, inflation-linked rises to student maintenance will literally come too little, too late – eating into the buffer that funds participation in student life beyond the bare minimum…For universities in England, the announced fee cap freeze, coupled with rising inflation and energy costs, is a serious problem – and there’s little prospect of funding rising in line with inflation in the devolved nations. As providers grow student numbers just to stand still, students and staff will find worsening pay and conditions, and that resources are spread more thinly.

Of course, Wonkhe also have a blog: If the numbers don’t add up, something has to give. With inflation rocketing, cuts are coming. Jim Dickinson reviews the protection for students when the money isn’t there for promises to be met.

Ukraine: HE & FE Minister Michelle Donelan has called upon the HE taskforce to address the issues arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill: The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has entered ‘ping pong’ meaning it is at the final stages of its legislative journey. The Lords and Commons bat the Bill back and forth between the two houses as they thrash out the final amendments of details within the Bill. The next sessions will take place on 24 and 28 March so we will see the final form of the Bill shortly.

Research

R&D Allocations: The Government has confirmed the allocations of the 2022-25 £39.8bn research and development budget. Stated aims are to deliver the Innovation Strategy and increase total R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Key points taken from the Government’s news story:

  • R&D spending set to increase by £5bn to £20bn per annum by 2024-2025 – a 33% increase in spending over the current parliament by 2024-2025.
  • A significant proportion of the budget has been allocated to UKRI (£25bn across the next 3 years, reaching over £8.8bn in 2024-2025). This includes an increase in funding for core Innovate UK programmes by 66% to £1.1bn in 2024-2025.
  • Full funding for EU programmes is included. £6.8bn allocated to support the UK’s association with Horizon Europe, Euratom Research & Training, and Fusion for Energy (if the UK is unable to associate to Horizon Europe, the funding allocated to Horizon association will go to UK government R&D programmes, including those to support new international partnerships).
  • BEIS programmes will receive over £11.5bn over the next 3 years, of which £475m is earmarked for the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), £49m is allocated to the Government Office for Science (GOS), and £628m will go toward the Nuclear Decommission Authority (NDA).

In the Levelling Up White Paper, the Government committed to increasing public R&D investment outside the greater South East by at least a third over the Spending Review period, and for these regions to receive at least 55% of BEIS domestic R&D budget by 2024-2025. Also the £100 investment in three new Innovation Accelerators (as we mentioned last week) through the pilots in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and the Glasgow City-Region.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng stated: For too long, R&D spending in the UK has trailed behind our neighbours – and in this country, science and business have existed in separate spheres. I am adamant that this must change. Now is the moment to unleash British science, technology and innovation to rise to the challenges of the 21st century…My department’s £39.8 billion R&D budget – the largest ever R&D budget committed so far – will be deployed and specifically targeted to strengthen Britain’s comparative advantages, supporting the best ideas to become the best commercial innovations, and securing the UK’s position as a science superpower.

On Horizon Europe the Russell Group commented: We are…reassured by the confirmation that any funding required for association to Horizon Europe or an alternative will come from a separate ringfenced budget rather than the central allocation to UKRI and the national academies, which will help protect critical funding for the UK’s research base and provide researchers and academics with the long term stability they need.

UKRI Strategy: UKRI published their first five-year strategy. It outlines how UKRI will support the UK’s world class research and innovation system, fuel an innovation-led economy and society, and drive up prosperity across the UK. The strategy sets out how UKRI will invest in people, places and ideas and break down barriers between disciplines and sectors to tackle current and future challenges – all supporting the Government’s ambitions for the UK as a global leader in research and innovation. UKRI has proposed four principles for change:

  • Diversity– we will support the diverse people, places and ideas needed for a creative and dynamic system
  • Connectivity –we will build connectivity and break down silos across the system, nationally and globally
  • Resilience –we will increase the agility and responsiveness of the system
  • Engagement –we will help to embed research and innovation in our society and economy.

Aspiring to:

  • People and careers –making the UK the top destination for talented people and teams
  • Places –securing the UK’s position as a globally leading research and innovation nation with outstanding institutions, infrastructures, sectors, and clusters across the breadth of the UK
  • Ideas –advancing the frontiers of human knowledge and innovation by enabling the UK to seize opportunities from emerging research trends, multidisciplinary approaches and new concepts and markets
  • Innovation –delivering the government’s vision for the UK as an innovation nation, through concerted action of Innovate UK and wider UKRI
  • Impacts –focusing the UK’s world class science and innovation to target global and national challenges, create and exploit tomorrow’s technologies, and build the high-growth business sectors of the future
  • Underpinned by a strong organisation – making UKRI the most efficient, effective, and agile organisation it can be.

Delivery will be outlined through strategic delivery plans for each of UKRI’s constituent councils and published later this year.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said: Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the transformative power of the UK’s exceptional research and innovation system to navigate an uncertain and fast-changing world. As we emerge from the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to empower our economy and our society, putting research and innovation at their heart. UKRI’s strategy sets out our five-year vision for how we will catalyse this transformation, investing in people, places, and ideas and connecting them up to turn the challenges of the 21st century into opportunities for all.

Quick News:

  • Science and Technology Strategy: The Lords Science and Technology Committee ran a session on delivering a UK science and technology strategy. It focused on the role of the new Cabinet Office group, its purpose and its long-term goals, as well as science diplomacy, engagement and national strategies going forwards. The committee also heard of approaches to international science diplomacy. A summary of the main content in the session is available here. And Wonkhe provide an even shorter synopsis: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee heard evidence on the introduction of a UK science and technology strategy, including from Andrew McCosh, director of the Office for Science and Technology Strategy. McCosh said that funding routes will not be changed for research academics where they are working well, but that the new office will support improvements. In response, Lord Krebs wondered why the government is creating further bureaucratic structures. McCosh also noted that the new National Science and Technology Council will provide a governmental steer in direction to UKRI, but it will remain UKRI’s responsibility to allocate research funding. You can watchthe full session on Parliament TV.
  • Diversity in STEM: The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee heard evidence for its inquiry into Diversity and Inclusion in STEM. Summary here. The session covered: funding and representation, Resume for Research, UKRI and representation, UKRI improvements, short term contracts, diversification, and the idea of a Universal Basic Research Income.
  • Horizon Europe funding guarantee – extended: The Government and UKRI also announced an extension to the financial safety net support provided to Horizon Europe applicants(originally launched in November 2021). It ensures that eligible successful UK applicants for grant awards will continue to be guaranteed funding for awards expected to be signed by the end of December 2022, while efforts continue to associate to Horizon Europe. The funding will be delivered by UKRI and details of the scope and terms of the extension to the guarantee will be made available on their website. You can read the Minister’s announcement letter here.  The Minister, George Freeman, commented: Since becoming Science Minister last year, my priority has been supporting the UK’s world-class researchers, which is why we have been so determined in our efforts to associate to Horizon Europe. Whilst it is disappointing that our association is still held up by the EU, our plans to develop ambitious alternative measures are well underway and I’m pleased Horizon Europe applicants in the UK will still be able to access funding through our guarantee, meaning that researchers will be well-supported whatever the outcome.

Blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student experience and outcomes

The OfS have launched a review of blended learning in universities.  It doesn’t say how they will conduct the review – or which universities they will be reviewing.

  • While most students have now returned to in-person teaching, many universities continue to deliver some elements of their courses (for example, lectures for large groups of students) online. There are no guidelines in place which prevent or restrict any kind of in-person teaching.
  • The review will consider how some universities are delivering blended learning. A report in summer 2022 will set out where approaches represent high quality teaching and learning, as well as approaches that are likely to fall short of the OfS’s requirements.
  • Professor Susan Orr has been appointed lead reviewer. Professor Orr is currently Pro Vice Chancellor: Learning and Teaching at York St John University and is the incoming Pro Vice Chancellor: Education at De Montfort University. A panel of expert academic reviewers will be appointed to work with Professor Orr to examine the way different universities and colleges are delivering blended learning.
  • Commenting, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:
    • ‘With the end of government coronavirus restrictions, students are back on campus and able to enjoy in-person teaching. There are clear benefits to in-person learning and where students have been promised face-to-face teaching it should be provided. This return to relative normality is important, and comes after an enormously challenging two years for students and staff. It remains very important that universities and colleges are clear with their students and their applicants about how courses will be delivered. If universities decide that certain elements are to remain online, this should be made explicit. Whether online or face to face, the quality must be good, and feedback from students taken into account.
    • ‘Our review of blended learning will examine the approaches universities and colleges are taking. There are many ways for blended courses to be successfully delivered and it will be important to harness the lessons learned by the shift to online learning during the pandemic. We are, however, concerned to ensure that quality is maintained, and through this review we want to gain a deeper understanding of whether – and why – universities and colleges propose to keep certain elements online.
    • ‘A report following the review will describe the approaches being taken by universities and colleges and give examples where blended approaches are high quality, as well as those that may not meet our regulatory requirements, providing additional information for universities and colleges, as well as students and applicants.’

On Wonkhe, David Kernohan has a take:

Running it through – in order of unlikeliness – there are three things that Orr could conclude:

  • Blended learning is great, and the complaints are largely without foundation
  • Blended learning is in routine use at a marked detriment to the student experience in order to save universities money.
  • There is a mixed picture on blended learning – there is a lot of great practice but some provision lags behind, and a mixture of enhancement and enforcement needs to be deployed to drive up quality.

None of these endpoints benefit either the Office for Students or the government.

In that context, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has published the latest provider-level statistics of higher education students not continuing into the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

  • For full-time first degree entrants, we see higher rates among mature students than young students.
  • Non-continuation rates among young, and mature, full-time first degree students have observed a further decrease in the percentage of 2019/20 entrants not continuing in HE following the small decrease observed for 2018/19 entrants.
  • With regards to other undergraduate entrants, the non-continuation rate for young, full-time students in the UK has seen a general decrease over the last few years, while for mature entrants there have been fluctuations in the rate.
  • Non-continuation rates two years after entry for part-time first degree entrants are slightly higher among those aged 30 and under than for those aged over 30.
  • Between 2012/13 and 2018/19 the proportion of full-time first degree students expected to qualify with a degree from the HE provider at which they started in the UK was showing a slight decline. In 2019/20 the proportion expected to qualify has increased again.

The Student Loans Company (SLC) has published the latest statistics on early-in-year student withdrawal notifications provided by HE providers for the purpose of student finance from 2018/19 to 2021/22 (Feb 2022).

Research Professional cover the stories.

OfS consultations on regulatory graduate outcomes and the TEF

We wrote about these three very significant consultations in our update on 21st January, and they closed this week.  As you will recall, this includes the consultation about calculating metrics, which is linked to the consultation on new licence condition B3 (the one with the minimum levels of outcomes).

The UUK responses talk about proportionality.  On B3, they raise concerns about outcomes being seen as the only measure of quality, and about how the new rules will be applied, in selecting universities to look at more closely, and specifically by looking at context.  They ask in particular that universities should not face an intervention where they are within their benchmark and that value add, student voice and geographical context should be considered alongside the actual metrics.

Jim Dickinson points out, though:

  • It’s one of the many moments where you can’t quite work out whether UUK knows that the key decision has already been taken here or if it genuinely thinks it will change OfS’ mind – it certainly paints a picture of the sector being stuck on the left-hand side of the Kubler-Ross grief curve.
  • Either way, we can pretty much guarantee that in a couple of months an OfS response will tell the sector that it’s wrong in principle, and anyway hasn’t read the proposals – which to be fair when taken in their totality along with the rest of the B conditions, do measure quality both quantitatively (via outcomes) and qualitatively (through proposals the sector isn’t too keen on ether, with a kind of be careful what you wish for vibe).
  • … It’s the threat of monitoring – with the odd provider made an example of – that should be causing people to both work on improving outcomes where the red lights are, and having “contextual” action plans ready that show that work off if OfS phones you up in September.

There was a separate consultation on the TEF (and the metrics one is related to this too).

On the TEF, UUK disagree with the name of the fourth category “requires improvement”.  As we have said in many TEF consultation responses, they disagree with “gold, silver and bronze” too and would like to redefine them.  They don’t think subcontracted provision should be included and they strongly disagree with the proposed timeline, asking for a Spring submission.

International student experience

The OfS has published an insight brief on international students.  It acknowledges that information about international students is incomplete and announces a call for evidence to “identify effective practice in ensuring that international students can integrate and receive a fulfilling experience in the UK”.  Using the data that they do have, the brief talks about numbers and fees as a proportion of total income.

The brief talks about NSS feedback (international students are generally more positive than home students) and the issues faced by international students, particularly when travel was restricted in the pandemic.

The OfS are concerned, however, that they don’t have enough data about international students, and for that reason they have launched a call for evidence on international student experience.  They are looking for responses on initiatives linked to three themes.  They will filter the submissions to identify case studies to feature in a report.

The themes they have identified are:

  • work to prevent and address harassment and sexual misconduct
  • how responding to the coronavirus pandemic has shaped practice in supporting international students to adapt to and integrate with UK higher education
  • work to ensure the accessibility and effectiveness of wellbeing and support services (such as student services, mental health provision, etc.).

While responding on those themes, institutions can also consider the relationship of their evidence to the following:

  • advancing equality of opportunity for students with one or more protected characteristic
  • partnership with international students
  • intervention that may also benefit home (UK-domiciled) students.

Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities

In April last year Dr Tony Sewell published the findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The Commission’s findings were criticised and equalities campaigners accused the group of cherry-picking data and pushing propaganda, while the United Nations described it as attempt to normalise white supremacy. Dr Sewell, who lead the inquiry in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations, has recently had his honorary degree from the University of Nottingham withdrawn amidst the controversy. This week the Government published its response to the report and findings of the Commission through the policy paper: Inclusive Britain: government response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

The Guardian report under the header: Denial of structural racism – Ministers will drop the term black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), more closely scrutinise police stop and search, and draft a model history curriculum to teach Britain’s “complex” past in response to the Sewell report on racial disparities. Launched as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests, the report caused controversy when it was published last year for broadly rejecting the idea of institutional racism in the UK. In the government’s response, called Inclusive Britain, ministers acknowledge racism exists but stress the importance of other factors. Taiwo Owatemi, Labour’s shadow equalities minister, said the report still “agrees with the original report’s denial of structural racism. Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have once again failed to deliver meaningful action.” The report sets out a long list of policies, some new and others already in place.

Relevant key action points follow below. There is nothing new in the HE elements.

Educational success for all communities

  • Action 29: To drive up levels of attainment for under-performing ethnic groups, the Department for Education (DfE) will carry out a programme of analysis in early 2022 to understand pupil attainment and investigate whether there are any specific findings and implications for different ethnic groups to tackle disparities.
  • Action 30: The DfE and the Race Disparity Unit (RDU) will investigate the strategies used by the multi-academy trusts who are most successful at bridging achievement gaps for different ethnic groups and raising overall life chances. The lessons learnt will be published in 2022 and will help drive up standards for all pupils.
  • Action 31: The DfE will investigate the publication of additional data on the academic performance of ethnic groups alongside other critical factors relating to social mobility and progress at school level, in post-18 education and employment after education by the end of 2022.
  • Action 32: The schools white paper in spring 2022 will look at ways we can target interventions in areas and schools of entrenched underperformance.

Targeted funding: Action 34: To maximise the benefits of the pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils, DfE amended the pupil premium conditions of grant for the 2021-2022 academic year to require all schools to use their funding on evidence-based approaches. To the extent possible, DfE will investigate the scale of these benefits.

Higher education

  • Action 43: To empower pupils to make more informed choices about their studies, the DfE will ensure that Higher Education Institutions support disadvantaged students before they apply for university places.
  • Action 44: The DfE will work with UCAS and other sector groups to make available both advertised and actual entry requirements for courses, including historic entry grades so that disadvantaged students have the information they need to apply to university on a fair playing field.
  • Action 45: Higher education providers will help schools drive up standards so that disadvantaged students obtain better qualifications, have more options, and can choose an ambitious path that is right for them.
  • Action 46: Higher education providers will revise and resubmit their Access and Participation plans with a new focus on delivering real social mobility, ensuring students are able to make the right choices, accessing and succeeding on high quality courses, which are valued by employers and lead to good graduate employment.
  • Action 47: To improve careers guidance for all pupils in state-funded secondary education, the DfE will extend the current statutory duty on schools to secure independent careers guidance to pupils throughout their secondary education.
  • Action 52: The government is consulting on means to incentivise high quality provision and ensure all students enter pathways on which they can excel and achieve the best possible outcomes, including exploring the case for low-level minimum eligibility requirements to access higher education student finance and the possible case for proportionate student number controls.
  • Action 53: To help disadvantaged students to choose the right courses for them and to boost their employment prospects, the Social Mobility Commission will seek to improve the information available to students about the labour market value of qualifications and, where possible, the impact of those qualifications on social mobility.

Innovation: Action 56: To equip entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds with the skills they need to build successful businesses, BEIS is supporting HSBC to develop and launch its pilot for a competition-based, entrepreneur support programme in spring 2022. The programme, which will be run in partnership with UK universities, will equip entrepreneurs with the skills they need for years to come.

Apprenticeships: Action 48: To increase the numbers of young ethnic minorities in apprenticeships, the DfE is, since November 2021, working with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and partner bodies and employers to engage directly with young people across the country to promote apprenticeships. This will use a range of mechanisms to attract more ethnic minority starts identified in the Commission’s report, such as events in schools with strong minority representation, relatable role models, employer testimonies, data on potential earnings and career progression. It will also explore the impact of factors that influence a young persons’ career choices.

Alternative provision (AP)

  • Action 37: The DfE will launch a £30 million, 3-year programme to set up new SAFE (Support, Attend, Fulfil and Exceed) taskforces led by mainstream schools to deliver evidence-based interventions for those most at risk of becoming involved in serious violent crime. These will run in 10 serious violence hotspots from early 2022 targeted at young people at risk of dropping out of school: reducing truancy, improving behaviour and reducing the risk of NEET (those not in education, employment or training).
  • Action 38: DfE will invest £15 million in a 2 year-programme to pilot the impact of co-locating full-time specialists in Alternative Provision in the top 22 serious violence hotspots.

Teaching an inclusive curriculum

  • Action 57: To help pupils understand the intertwined nature of British and global history, and their own place within it, the DfE will work with history curriculum experts, historians and school leaders to develop a Model History curriculum by 2024 that will stand as an exemplar for a knowledge-rich, coherent approach to the teaching of history. The Model History Curriculumwill support high-quality teaching and help teachers and schools to develop their own school curriculum fully using the flexibility and freedom of the history national curriculum and the breadth and depth of content it includes. The development of model, knowledge-rich curriculums continues the path of reform the government started in 2010.
  • Action 58: The DfE will actively seek out and signpost to schools suggested high-quality resources to support teaching all-year round on black history in readiness for Black History Month October 2022. This will help support schools to share the multiple, nuanced stories of the contributions made by different groups that have made this country the one it is today.

Further Education: Action 63: The DfE will encourage governing bodies to be more reflective of the school communities they serve and will recommend that schools collect and publish board diversity data at a local level. The DfE will also update the Further Education Governance Guide in spring 2022 to include how to remove barriers to representation, widen the pool of potential volunteers and promote inclusivity.

The Government did not accept the Commission’s Recommendation 18 to develop a digital solution to signpost and refer children and young people at risk of, or already experiencing criminal exploitation, to local organisations who can provide support.

Access & Participation

Wonkhe report on new research from Disabled Students UK: 41 per cent of disabled students believe that their course accessibility improved through the pandemic. However, 50 per cent of respondents report that their course both improved and worsened in different ways. The report recommendations include taking an anticipatory approach to issues, better equipping staff, reducing administration for disabled students, and cultivating compassionate approaches. The Independent has the story.

Academic quality

HEPI published a new policy note, written by the Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for HE exploring what quality means in UK HE today.

There’s a nice explanation of the quality continuum:

  • In many sectors, the notion of quality control is straightforward. Quality control tests a sample of the output against a specification. The required standard is set by identifying measures for outputs, and then testing everything else against those measures. In this way, it is easy to demonstrate how quality requirements are being fulfilled (typically within an acceptable tolerance).
  • No matter the sector, quality control is only part of the picture. To be really efficient, one needs to provide confidence in the cycle of production; to reassure that there are systems and processes in place to ensure that the output consistently meets, if not exceeds, the quality benchmarks that have been set. This is where quality assurance comes in. Quality assurance acts prospectively to provide confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled. Assurance relates to how a process is performed or a product is made. Control is the retrospective, post-production inspection aspect of quality – it focuses on the product or output itself. Arguably, without the underpinning processes, outcomes cannot be guaranteed – they are achieved (or not) by luck. In our sector, assurance gives us the confidence that a provider understands (and self-reviews) how it is producing its outcomes.
  • But in higher education, we are not simply producing identical products for customers. QAA’s definition of academic quality refers to both how and how well higher education providers support students to succeed through learning, teaching and assessment. This is because higher education is not a product, as classically defined. It is an intrinsically co-creative, experiential process. Students and teachers collaborate to progress and reach their potential and, ideally, the learning from that collaboration is mutual as we constantly rethink what we thought we knew. That is why there is an additional dimension to higher education quality. It is not just about checking we are still doing the same thing effectively, it is also about quality enhancement – that drive continuously to improve the processes, both incrementally and transformationally. 

PQs

  • Student Loans: the modelled overall reduction in future costs to taxpayers from student loans…are wholly attributable to the two-year tuition fee freeze and changes to student loan repayment terms, as set out on page 13 of the higher education policy statement & reform consultation, and do not incorporate other elements of the reform package. The savings do include the changes to the Plan 2 repayment threshold for 2022/23 financial year, announced on 28 January 2022, prior to the announcement of the whole reform package.
  • Levelling Up White Paper: which NHS-university partnerships will receive the £30 million in additional funding; and what the criteria is for the allocation of that funding.

Other news

Young Welsh Priorities: The Welsh Youth Parliament chose its areas of focus for the Sixth Senedd.: mental health and wellbeing, climate and the environment, and education and the school curriculum.

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He policy update for the w/e 10th March 2022

A bit of a catch up on a range of issues this week after an education focus in our last couple of updates.

Ukraine – UK HE’s approach

Wonkhe readers will already have seen their round up relating to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Here it is for those who haven’t caught it yet:

  • Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science wrote to the Bologna Follow-Up Group and key organisations across higher education in Europe asking that Russia be expelled from the European Higher Education Area and the Bologna Process, which seeks to achieve comparability in the quality and standards of higher education qualifications across Europe, and as such facilitates cross-border recognition and mobility.
  • Ukraine’s National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education also issued a statement… appealing to the global higher education community to suspend Russian participation in all European and global higher education networks and organisations. The statement also called on all educators and researchers to stop all collaborations with representatives of the Putin regime, and to stop all cooperation with Russia’s higher education and research institutions and representative associations.
  • The response from European and UK representative bodies has been moderated by a hesitation about whether it is appropriate to punish Russian university staff and students, especially where they oppose the invasion. The European University Association has undertaken to cease contact and collaboration with all Russian central agencies and those who support the invasion, and has advised its members to ensure that any new collaboration with Russian institutions is based on “shared European values.”
  • Universities UK International has taken a similar stance, advising UK universities to risk assess existing partnerships and collaborations and make decisions on a case-by-case basis rather than urging a “blanket academic boycott.”
  • Women and Equalities select committee chair Caroline Nokes proposed in The Times that UK universities coordinate a national programme that would enable students from Ukraine to take up places at UK universities.

PQs:

Research

On Tuesday the Lords Science and Technology Committee ran a session on Delivering a UK science and technology strategy. The Committee received evidence and discussed the UK science and technology strategy, focusing on Government support for research and development, early stage and late stage funding opportunities, the talent pool, and the relationship between universities and industry.

The Chair commented that the Research Excellence Framework could act as an inhibitor. However, Kennett, who was invited to provide oral evidence disagreed. She stated it was important to consider how could business work better with the REF. For example, it was important to consider where there was potential for applied science, which could perhaps be measured in a different way under the REF.

Lord Sarfraz (Con) asked if the UK was indeed the best place to be a founder and launch a start-up. Suranga Chandratillake, Partner at Balderton Capital, commented this was a deceptively simple question. In his opinion, the UK was a very good place to launch a start-up, but it was more difficult to develop it into a large enduring business. The UK punched above its weights from a scientific point of view in terms of technology first start-ups. The data also demonstrated this, as early stage research funding were completed by UK-based funds, whereas the later stage funding included more foreign capital.

Baroness Rock (Con) asked the witnesses a question about the perception that ideas were born in UK universities and commercialised elsewhere. Chandratillake said they worked a lot with universities. In his opinion, today the companies were still being started in the UK, with the innovation remaining in the UK. At the early stage, the UK had a very strong ecosystem of investors public and private. However, issues remained at the stage of scaling up, which meant that many had to go abroad to find later stage capital (with many companies floating abroad).

Toon explained that science was about learning new knowledge, whereas innovation was about solving a problem. The UK was probably number two for discovery science in the world, with some of the world’s leading academic institutions based in the UK. However, the UK struggled with applied research, which fit between the science and innovation.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con) asked the witnesses if the intellectual property (IP) laws were fit for purpose. Toon said that the IP regime was broadly fit for purpose. The challenge, however, was around ensuring that IP was handled appropriately in the innovation and research cycles, without restricting the freedom of businesses to operate

Lord Rees of Ludlow (CB) asked the witnesses a question about the talent pool and links to universities. Toon said that the UK had a massive talent pool in the leading institutions, which should be safeguarded. In his opinion, it was important to continue to create links between academic institutions and industry.

Quick news:

  • The Intellectual Property Office has signed a new declaration of intention with the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property. They intend a co-operative relationship focusing on sharing of best practice in areas of mutual interest and modernising and enhancing services for IP users. The sharing of expertise and know-how between the offices is key and the declaration provides for the potential secondment of staff between the two offices to enhance skills and knowledge. It will help both offices embrace the global challenges and opportunities presented by emerging and future technologies, for the benefit of the wider IP community.
  • Wonkhe – The Russell Group has written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of the Spring Statement to outline how research and development funding could be used moving forward. The letter also calls for “a fully-functional, extended Guarantee” to those who have been accepted for Horizon Europe projects as the current government funding guarantee is too limited. Oral Questions within the House of Lords also touched on Horizon Europe this week: Lord Callanan confirmed that money for Horizon Europe will go to research if association is not possible. Lord Fox highlighted that many institutions are already experiencing a drop in postgraduate research applications. Claiming that “the brain drain is already happening,” he asked about attracting and keeping talent now. BEIS have also updated the Horizon Europe information available online.
  • Also a parliamentary question on Horizon Europe: what steps his Department is taking to support researchers whose funding offers have been revoked due to delays in EU approval of UK participation in Horizon Europe. Answer:  the Government has already committed to support the first wave of successful UK applicants to Horizon Europe who are unable to sign grant agreements with the EU due to these delays… awardees [will] receive the full value of their funding…We encourage the UK sector to continue applying to Horizon Europe calls and to continue forming consortia.
  • Blog: The academic other in research management. There are many researchers in academia who aren’t on research contracts. Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg asks how we can be sure of hearing their voices. Excerpt: If academic and professional management roles are similar in responsibilities – and if increasingly many PhD-qualified staff are joining the ranks of research management due to an absence of employment opportunities within the academic disciplines – what is preventing us from exploring the creation of hybrid roles which make best-use of both a person’s academic skillset as well as their administrative acumen? I suggest it is perhaps our entrenched habit of othering either “those academics” or “university administrators”… Change is afoot, however. Recent UKRI consultations on equality, diversity and inclusion and research bureaucracy have explicitly extended an invitation to research management professionals to respond… I still think the sector is missing a trick. Due to our inclination to other we are under-utilising the skill sets that people have, stifling our ability to make the University sector a better place. As a hybrid or third-space Other, what “managerialism” has taught me is that people-development skills, succession planning and good administrative strategies can lead to research quality, enhanced (academic) staff wellbeing and employee satisfaction.

Parliamentary Questions:

The partnerships will develop plans to accelerate innovation-led growth in their city regions, building on local strengths and opportunities. They will receive dedicated support from the UK Government and will have access to a new £100m fund to support transformational R&D projects that grow R&D strengths, attract private investment, boost innovation diffusion, and maximise the combined economic impact of R&D institutions.

Catapults may be a part of Innovation Accelerators but are sector specific, designed to support innovation and de-risk the transition from research to commercial delivery for small, medium and large businesses. They achieve this through the provision of R&D infrastructure, specialist knowledge and expertise, partnership and collaboration building capabilities and business support.

Parliamentary News

In an effort to shore up Boris’ standing as PM, he has created a series of Conservative policy committees to give backbenchers more of a steer on policy decisions. Guido Fawkes published the chairs and vicechairs of the new MP-led Conservative policy committees. Here’s the list (Chair first, Vice Chair second):

  • Education: Miriam Cates. Miriam formerly taught science in Sheffield, she also continues to run a Finance and Technology business. She’s been an MP since 2019 and her election campaign was strongly supported, in person, by Boris. Her stated political interests are public transport, education, the NHS and communities.
  • DCMS: Philip Davies, Tom Hunt
  • Health & Social Care: Caroline Johnson, Chris Green
  • International Trade: Bob Blackman
  • Treasury: Anthony Browne, Aaron Bell
  • FCDO: Giles Watling, Mark Logan
  • Home Affairs: Tom Hunt
  • Justice: Gordon Henderson
  • BEIS: Andrea Leadsom, Jo Gideon
  • Transport: Chris Loder (MP for West Dorset), Simon Jupp
  • LUHC: Cherilyn MacKrory, Sally-Ann Hart
  • Defence: John Baron, Sarah Atherton
  • Union: Andrew Bowie, Robin Millar
  • DEFRA: Chris Grayling
  • Work & Pensions: Nigel Mills

Richard Harrington has been appointed as Minister for Refugees  with the position co-hosted by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Home Office. Harrington will become a member of the House of Lords, having stepped down as Watford’s MP in 2019. During his time as an MP Harrington served as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State with responsibility for Syrian refugees.

Former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson CBE MP has received a knighthood.

Legislation – The Welsh government has released a written statement criticising the UK government for wanting to imminently move to the report stage of the Professional Qualifications Bill in the House of Commons. This would mean that the devolved governments would not be able to consider the amendments or provide consent to the legislation. (Wonkhe.)

Thoughts are turning to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement – Research Professional have a write up.

The Women and Equalities Committee ran a one-off session on Levelling Up and equalities which focused on protected characteristics within the context of the levelling up agenda and considered assessing gender identity and the ethnicity pay gap. Contact us for a summary of this session.

Admissions

Swiftly following the announcement in February that the government is no longer proceeding with plans to introduce post-qualifications admissions, UUK have published their fair admissions code of practice.  This comes with a request that all universities sign up to it.

The code sets out an overarching guiding principle – that admissions processes must protect and prioritise the interests of applicants, above the interests of the universities and colleges, including that they should support student choice and not create unnecessary pressure.

Behaviours that demonstrate this principle:

  • Above all, universities and colleges put the interests of applicants above their own. This includes an individual’s experience as an enquirer, applicant, and their student experience and ability to succeed should they be admitted to the university or college.
  • Universities and colleges ensure that applicants have all the information they need to make an informed decision about the best course of study for them, and ensure entry requirements mean that applicants who are admitted can succeed on the course.
  • Universities and colleges avoid applying undue pressure through their offer making practices or use of incentives. This means:
  • Universities and colleges do not make ‘conditional’ unconditional offers or offers with significantly lower entry requirements based on the type of choice applicants make (for example, for those who apply through UCAS, whether an offer is made ‘firm’ or ‘insurance’).
  • Universities and colleges only make use of unconditional offers when the applicant:
    • already holds the required grades or qualifications for the course
    • applies to a course where admissions decisions have been substantively informed by an interview, audition, or additional application procedures (such as the submission of a portfolio or skills test)
    • requires special consideration due to mitigating circumstances, such as illness or disability
    • is applying to a university or college where non-selective admissions to undergraduate programmes is a core part of the founding purpose of the university or college
  • Universities and colleges ensure that the use of incentives does not place undue pressure on the decisions that applicants make, or the timescales in which they should make them, meaning:
    • All incentives should be published clearly, consistently and accessibly, and communicated to applicants in a timely manner. This includes in relation to aspects of an offer communicated to applicants within or outside of UCAS that are tied to accommodation and other material and financial incentives.
    • Universities and colleges should review their use of incentives against the revised principles set out in this code of practice.
  • Universities and colleges do not use offer holder events or aspects of the admissions process that are used for assessment (such as interviews or auditions) to put undue pressure on applicant decision making.
  • Universities and colleges value and support the achievement of applicants on their existing studies and develop offer making practices that uphold this value.

There are then additional principles that applicants can expect.

Admissions processes that are transparent

Universities and colleges abiding by this code of practice should provide the information applicants need to make an informed choice (such as information about the admissions process, the entry requirements, and selection criteria) consistently, clearly and efficiently through appropriate mechanisms.

  • Universities and colleges use clear and simple language in admissions policy documents that is accessible to applicants and their advisers. Where possible, they use a common shared language (see the glossary for common examples) and the same language that is used in other guidance resources (such as the UCAS website).
  • Universities and colleges can clearly explain admissions processes (including how qualifications, prior experience, and additional assessment such as personal statements, interviews and auditions are taken into consideration) and why types of offers are appropriate (including the use of contextual offers).
  • As recommended in the Fair admissions review, universities and colleges aim to allow applicants to make use of historic, actual entry requirements to understand where past applicants may have been admitted holding lower grades. They can explain why students might have been admitted with lower entry requirements than advertised.
  • Universities and colleges make the application deadlines clear and ensure they are aligned with relevant sector dates. They do not use deadlines to put undue pressure on applicants. They are also transparent about other relevant deadlines, including for provision of supporting documentation, final certificates, and applying for accommodation.
  • Where possible, universities and colleges give useful feedback on request to unsuccessful applicants.

Admissions processes that enable universities and colleges to select students able to complete a course, as judged by their achievements and potential

  • Universities and colleges give applicants the information they need to make an informed decision about the best course for them including course content, the award given, costs, and the university’s terms and conditions (in line with consumer rights legislation). Marketing and recruitment materials give potential applicants a clear idea of what studying at that university or college will be like.
  • Admissions criteria do not include factors irrelevant to the assessment of merit.
  • Universities and colleges only make use of unconditional offers when the applicant:
  • already holds the required grades or qualifications for the course (this can include Scottish Qualification Authority Highers, where many applicants apply with grades suitable for entry)
  • applies to a course where admissions decisions have been substantively informed by an interview, audition, or additional application procedures (such as the submission of a portfolio or skills test)
  • requires special consideration due to mitigating circumstances, such as illness or disability
  • is applying to a university or college where non-selective admissions to undergraduate programmes is a core part of the founding purpose of the university or college

Admissions processes that use reliable, valid and explainable assessment methods

  • Where decisions are made differently to advertised criteria (such as where a university or college receives a higher than anticipated volume of applications), universities and colleges can explain to the applicant how and why such decisions were made.
  • Universities and colleges indicate ahead of time what other considerations they may take into account in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
  • Universities and colleges make use of the latest research and good practice relating to admissions and adjust their approach accordingly.
  • Universities and colleges monitor and evaluate the link between admissions and student outcomes, such as examining the link between types of offers and retention and attainment.
  • Interviews, auditions, or additional application procedures (such as a submission of a portfolio or skills test) are appropriate and necessary.

Admissions processes that minimise barriers for applicants and address inequalities

  • Universities and colleges ensure admissions processes do not disadvantage applicants and actively seek to address any access gaps related to protected characteristics. Admissions form part of broader institutional equality, diversity and inclusion strategies.
  • Universities and colleges use consistent communication methods, ideally using a single channel such as the UCAS Hub, and take an applicant’s access to resources into account.
  • Where contextual offers are used, they are used in situations where they minimise barriers to entry for applicants and address inequalities, while maintaining standards. Universities and colleges can clearly explain their use of contextual offers, including why contextual offers are made, what evidence is used, how context is taken into consideration, and the benefits of disclosing contextual information. – Universities and colleges aim to use a shared language to talk about contextual offers and make information regarding them clear and readily accessible. They should consider the publication of a shared sector-level statement on their websites as recommended in UUK’s Fair admissions review.
  • Data used to inform contextual admissions is used consistently and makes use of available data sources, as recommended in UUK’s Fair admissions review (such as free school meals status, index of multiple deprivation data, and care experienced status).
  • Universities and colleges monitor their progress against equalities targets and take steps to address any gaps.

Admissions processes that are professional and underpinned by appropriate institutional structure and processes

  • Universities and colleges uphold the highest standards of conduct to support the stability of the higher education sector.
  • Admissions processes are part of a whole institutional approach to providing a high-quality experience for students.
  • Admissions teams are sufficiently resourced and structured as to allow for an efficient and professional service.
  • Admissions processes form part of broader institutional strategies and commitments to ensure equality of opportunity through widening participation or access.
  • Universities and colleges consider how admissions processes and practices can be reviewed as part of wider organisational governance, including evaluating compliance against the principles and behaviours outlined in this code of practice.

Wonkhe have a blog: Conditional unconditionals.

Access and Participation

Universities working with Schools: A Wonkhe blog suggests that generalised support for boosting school attainment may be less effective than specialised partnerships focused on areas of particular need. Excerpt (referring to specialist maths schools):

  • …the central lesson is that these relationships can be effective where partners are supported to do the work they are best at. Equally, there is still more to be done in stimulating academic collaborations between teachers and university academics.
  • It is clear from the time we’ve spent working together that school and university partnerships can be impactful when they are carefully constructed. The university is not an expert in teaching A levels but we nevertheless play a central role in supporting the governance of the school, brokering relationships with partners, providing facilities, supporting widening participation work, and giving advice to the leadership team.
  • Equally, the work of the maths school provides the university with insight it could not otherwise attain. It brings the university closer to students who may apply here or elsewhere, it provides opportunity for sharing advice and practice on changing qualifications, and it exposes University of Liverpool staff to colleagues with different and complementary expertise.

Careers Advice: Wonkhe – The Sutton Trust has published a report highlighting inequality in access to information and guidance on careers and education for students from different socio-economic backgrounds. It also found a disparity between the amount of guidance given to students on academic routes and those on technical routes, with information on apprenticeships reaching just ten per cent of pupils. The report noted a significant difference between the perceptions of headteachers and classroom teachers on career provision with the latter expressing less optimism on the efficacy of career links within the classroom curriculum. FE Week and Tes have covered the report.

Social Mobility: The Social Mobility Foundation responded to the reports that the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) has dropped its 65% target for tuition to go to disadvantaged pupils. Sarah Atkinson, CEO of the Social Mobility Foundation, said:

  • It is deeply worrying that the government has dropped its pupil premium target in the flagship initiative to support education recovery.
  • Re-tendering the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) was an opportunity to overhaul the programme and close the widening attainment gap. This move does the exact opposite. Attempting to cover the NTP’s shortcomings by removing targets for the pupils who would benefit most from tuition is nothing short of shameful.
  • We are increasingly concerned that the government has lost interest in whether its interventions are succeeding.

There was also a social mobility parliamentary question this week: In the Government’s response to the Augar report what assessment they have made of the impact on their (1) social mobility policy, and (2) Levelling Up policy, of (a) the decision not to restore maintenance grants for university students, and (b) the extension of the tuition fee loan repayment period.

APPG University Access and Participation Meeting

The All Party Parliamentary University Group published the notes from its 22 February Access and Participation meeting. Queen Mary University was recognised for the levels of disadvantaged students recruited and its forthcoming Institute of Technology. Professor Colin Bailey, Queen Mary’s President and Principal, stated that it was not solely the responsibility of universities to raise school attainment and that they should play a role but not be held accountable. Queen Mary sponsors two multi-academy trusts and is therefore engaged with 113 schools in London and 60 schools outside of London in known cold spots to support white ‘working-class’ boys under-represented in HE access.

On contextual offers Professor Bailey stated that until the inequalities embedded in schools are addressed, they will continue to be an important part of the admissions process. Explaining how dropping the grade requirements by only 1 or 2 points supported students who come from schools performing below average, had spent time in the care system, were refugees, or had participated in an access scheme.

Professor Bailey was opposed to postcode and proxy measurements stating that free school meals data and other individual indicators are needed. He also said that the ‘bums on seats’ rhetoric often seen in the media was totally incorrect and there is nothing more demoralising for vice chancellors than seeing students fail to succeed.

James Turner, speaking on behalf of the Sutton Trust, agreed that overall universities have been good for social mobility, young people from poorer homes that go to university have much better outcomes than those who do not on average. He said that it was the newer universities that had done a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to social mobility. He felt that it was a critical time for fair access, with questions over whether outcomes from higher education represent good value for money. James reiterated familiar messaging that more needs to be done to widen fair access to the most selective universities as they were still the surest route into influential and highly selective careers. James highlighted inequalities in the opportunity to go to university focusing on attainment as the main reason for this. James was in favour of more radical contextual admissions to rectify this and felt it was something that could be done now and was in the gift of universities but that the complex and long term problem of the attainment gap in schools also had to be addressed. In conclusion he stated while it is right that universities are asked to engage with this agenda, there are limits on what is possible and how long it might take to see change.

James was also in favour of increasing the number of degree apprenticeships and that they should foster a similar culture of widening participation in their recruitment and outreach, to make sure they reach those who stand to benefit most. Finally he called on the APPG to make sure changes to access and participation activities were evidence based to avoid wasting energy and money, and letting down young people.

Susie Whigham, Interim CEO of the Brilliant Club, spoke in favour of collaboration between universities and schools. The minutes state [Susie] felt that universities had an amazing resource of undergraduates and PhD researchers that should be mass mobilised into attainment raising. In her experience, Susie said schools were looking forward to working more with universities but wanted genuine co-production which needed buy-in from senior leaders in both schools and universities.

Finally John Blake, Director of Access and Participation at the OfS, highlighted the conclusions of the review he conducted into access and participation plans (APPs), including:

  • The need to link access and participation together, to ensure disadvantaged young people got value from their degrees once they had got into university
  • The need to make APPs more accessible to students, parents and carers, clearly stating universities’ commitments and evaluation
  • Greater inclusion of degree apprenticeships and non-traditional modes of study in APPs
  • The disproportionate burden of the APP process on smaller providers.

He noted that since the pandemic the attainment gap is widening again.

He stated the OfS review of the quality regime would reframe the way providers think about quality and standards.

John set out his aspirations for access and participation:

  • a significant expansion in the evaluation of what works across the whole sector, seeing providers generate more high quality and more public evidence, with the help of TASO and the Office for Students’ own work on this.
  • greater alignment between the access and quality processes.
  • the significant role of school and university partnerships in raising attainment, and evolution (rather than revolution) of the APP system.

John stated this year’s monitoring round would be risk based and sector guidelines on variations to the access and participation plans to capture and expand the role of school engagement work and evaluative work will be provided.

John Blake also blogged for the OfS this week highlighting his passion for an evidence-led approach to Access and Participation.  The full blog is here.

  • That is what I mean by an ecosystem of evidence-based practice. Those at the frontline do not have to themselves be researchers but need to understand what evidence suggests is best practice and be willing to feed back on their own work. That feedback should go to researchers who are keen to identify and improve best practice, and write with an audience of practitioners in mind. Institutional leaders need to ensure that those involved in widening participation have the clout within the organisation to change direction where the research suggests it is needed, and build the partnerships inside the provider and out which allow the work to be done. Everyone must be open to the possibility that favoured interventions may prove not to be effective, and that activity perhaps previously seen as undesirable, may be more useful.

The OfS also published the fourth evaluation of the Uni Connect partnership programme. On its publication John states: It is clear from the review that partnerships are delivering a huge amount of useful and effective outreach and evaluating their activities. In some cases, activity has not resulted in the improvements we hoped – but that itself is useful in helping us identify future interventions.

And calls on universities to:

  • think more widely about how we build the ecosystem of evidence-based practice we need…we want to see more higher education providers developing and sharing high-quality evidence, and more practitioners plugged directly into useful and practical research to enhance their effectiveness. This will help ensure all those considering higher education get the best possible support, advice and intervention to achieve their aspirations.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA): The Government has tendered to reform the DSA. On the notification NUS call for disabled students to have a strong voice within the changes.

NUS commented:

  • SLC have announced changes to how DSA needs assessments, assistive technology supply, and assistive technology training will be conducted for the next academic year…Over the pandemic it has become increasingly evident how important it is for changes to have Disabled people at their heart.
  • It is essential that during this tender, SLC and any other decision makers recognise the critical importance of including Disabled students and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) in providing effective, meaningful, and sustainable support within HE. NUS UK and the UK’s Disabled community champion the ethos of “nothing about us, without us”. It is imperative these reforms echo our community’s needs for a DSA that supports our independence, upholds our freedom of choice, and crucially understands and addresses our intersectional experiences.
  • Quality provision is essential for Disabled student continuation and success. We are concerned by the news that a quality assurance framework will only be created after contracts have been awarded. Disabled people cannot have faith in a reform process that is conducted in the absence of an up-to-date quality assurance framework, especially given the last DSA quality assurance audits took place before December 2019. Disabled students have learnt from experience not to place our trust in a process that considers quality last.
  • From PIP to Universal Credit, Disabled people have already experienced many so-called “positive” reforms that prioritise cost reduction over quality. SLC must proactively take steps to rebuild trust with Disabled people and to build Disabled students’ confidence in a system that is supposed to be designed for our benefit. Any changes to DSA must be towards a bespoke service that enshrines students’ choices rather than quashing them.

Wonkhe have commentary on the DSA reforms:

  • Just 29 percent of students in England and Wales with a known disability received Disabled Students Allowance in 2019/20 – and those who have complained of bureaucracy, long delays, inconsistent quality of support and a lack of communication in getting the support, according to a new report from ex-paralympic swimmer Lord Chris Holmes.
  • Describing DSA as “a gem of a policy”, Holmes argues but too many potential recipients are unaware of its existence – and says a 30-page application and lengthy assessment process are daunting, and that the “administrative burden can act as a barrier to study rather than the support intended by the scheme”.
  • The SLC said there were a number of reasons why students may not apply for or be eligible for DSA and said reforms were already under way to improve and speed up the DSA application process. “It will remove key pain points in the customer journey, provide the student with a single point of contact and support throughout the process, and contractual control to ensure consistent quality of service.”

And a Wonkhe blog on the topic: A new report shows disabled students are being failed by the system that is supposed to fund their access. Jim Dickinson finds things getting worse rather than better.

HE financial sustainability and the OfS role as regulator

The National Audit Office (NAO) published Regulating the financial sustainability of higher education providers in England. It reviews the financial situation of the English HE sector along with the performance of OfS and the DfE. The NAO’s aim is to hold government to account and help improve public services through their audits. The report identifies a number of areas in which the OfS should improve.

  • The proportion of providers with an in-year deficit, even after adjusting for the impact of pension deficits, increased from 5% in 2015/16 to 32% in 2019/20.
  • Financial stress is not confined to one part of the sector. Higher education providers are a very diverse group, with different business models and financial performance reflecting wide variations in their numbers and type of students, size and sources of income and extent of research activity.
  • The number of providers of all types that appear to be facing short-term risks to their financial sustainability and viability is small but not insignificant.
  • Short-term financial risks are dominated by COVID-19, but medium- and long-term risks are systemic.

Recommendations:

DfE should:

  • review, improve and agree with the OfS the key performance measures and other indicators it uses to hold the OfS to account, to include measures of the impact of the regulatory regime, rather than measures outside the OfS’s control;
  • make clear what tolerance the government has for provider failure, and the circumstances under which it would or would not intervene; and
  • together with the OfS, assess how redistribution of student numbers between providers, as a result of higher A-level grades awarded in 2020 and 2021, has affected students’ experiences and providers’ finances, and draw on this to understand the likely consequences following release of A-level grades awarded in 2022

OfS should:

  • communicate more effectively with the sector to build trust in its approach as a regulator; improve providers’ understanding of its attitude to risk and how it defines risk-based, proportionate, regulation; and be more ready to share sector insights to improve efficiency and competitiveness in the sector;
  • set out how it will secure provider and stakeholder views of its work;
  • review, improve where necessary and then reauthorise student protection plans for all providers to ensure they remain adequate and can respond to new risks; and
  • prioritise finalising its key performance indicator on how it assesses the value for money students see in their education and set out how its work will reverse students’ declining satisfaction rates.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: While no higher education providers have failed under the regulation of the Office for Students, the number in deficit has risen significantly. Sector-wide issues that were causing financial stress before the impact of COVID-19 have not gone away and will continue to add pressure.

The sector’s financial sustainability can have a profound impact on the value for money of education for twomillion students every year. The Office for Students should improve how it communicates with individual providers to build trust in its approach. As it matures as a regulator, it should also be making better use of its insights to reduce risks that could lead to financial failure.

Nicola Dandridge, outgoing chief executive of the OfS, stated: Universities and other higher education providers are responsible for running their businesses, and the OfS has always been clear that it is not our role to bail out those that would otherwise fail. Where a provider is facing financial challenges, we will intervene to ensure that it takes action to enable students to continue their studies. The data and other intelligence we routinely collect ensures we stay alert to risks and challenges for individual providers and the sector as a whole.

 We are carefully reflecting on the NAO’s recommendations on where we could do more in our engagement with universities, colleges and other providers. So, for example, we are currently taking forward work to capture providers’ perspectives on a range of issues, including financial sustainability, and we will take the NAO’s views into account in that context.

Wonkhe have a blog on the report: Who paid the price for provider survival during the pandemic?

The Research Professional HE Playbook also offers a short insightful commentary  analysing the implications of the report (scroll down to mid-way).

PQs:

  • Student Loans: what plans the Government has to ensure that those who take maternity leave are not penalised with higher-than-average increases in lifetime student loan repayments.
  • A balanced response from the Apprenticeships Minister on the comparative assessment of the average salary of a person who has completed (a) an apprenticeship and (b) a university degree.

Other news

Careers: It’s National Careers Week. FE and HE Minister Donelan wrote to parents and student about education, training and work choices post-GCSE. While the text mentions HE and A levels alongside apprenticeships, Higher Technical Qualifications and T levels, the case studies are all on the technical or traineeships.

HEI gender imbalance: U-Multirank released their analysis of gender balance within HEIs. They find:

  • today there are strong gender imbalances among males and females in academic careers. While women in total count for half or more of bachelor’s (BA) and master’s (MA) students, their share is smaller among PhD students (48%), academic staff (44%) and professors (28%)… at institutions with a majority of graduates in STEM fields, women are underrepresented both at the student level and among academic staff women are still a minority in most of the science and engineering subjects, both among students and academic staff, subjects like nursing, social work, education and psychology are still strongly dominated by women…
  • Among the subjects with the most balanced gender ratio are business studies, economics, political science, agriculture, history and – as the only science subject, chemistry.
  • Findings from the U-Multirank data show that women are particularly underrepresented in research intense universities. Only 23% of professors are women in institutions with high or very high percentages of expenditures on research – compared to 38% in institutions with a low share of research expenditures…

Loan repayments: With the cost of living rising the recent policy changes unfreezing the student loan repayment threshold may be more onerous than the Government initially intended. Two Wonkhe blogs tackle the subject:

The “cost of living” crisis means access to higher education could be about wealth again, says Zahir Irani.

A stealthy change in student loan terms will have huge impacts, finds Jim Dickinson.

FE crisis: The Association of Colleges have reported that the FE sector is experiencing its worst staffing crisis in 20 years and calls for a concerted national push to tackle the recruitment and retention problem before it worsens. The report casts doubt on the Government’s intent to use FE as a major vehicle in levelling up Britain. Learning support roles within FE are a major area of persistent vacancies. Also that the high level of vacancies is increasing the pressure on existing staff and having a significant impact on the amount FE is spending on agency fees to fill the gaps. The Association of Colleges call for comparable pay with the teaching profession highlighting that teachers are paid £9,000 more than college lecturers despite the lecturers specialist knowledge  and industry experience. Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, commented: The report puts the government on notice that skills, T Levels, and the ‘levelling up’ agenda will fail unless it quickly improves its attitude to college funding and urgently changes course. This is essential reading for Boris Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi and Michael Gove.”

NUS call for change: Students Unions have joined 796 signatories to demand that the education sector break their links with companies who uphold colonialism and imperialism. The open letter, which was also signed by Members of Parliament, student officers, and supporters from the wider public, called for universities and colleges to stop investing in and partnering with fossil fuel and arms companies. Instead, signatories demand that money should be reallocated to fund anti-racist initiatives. As well as investments, links between education institutions and colonial companies often include universities platforming companies during career fairs and tailoring courses and research to secure funding.

Health and Social care: Colleagues following the Commons Health and Social Care Committee can read the oral evidence presented for the Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care inquiry. The latest on the Health and Care Bill is here.

Place-based education and skills: The Lifelong Education Commission published a report exploring how a place-based approach to education and skills can transform lifelong learning. It draws on Doncaster’s local Talent and Innovation Ecosystem. Among the recommendations it makes for Government is:

  • Introduce a statutory right to retrain regardless of prior attainment, to support even more working adults in deprived areas to progress along the skills escalator.
  • Remove all restrictions on engaging in training for individuals receiving welfare benefits.
  • Consider both loan and maintenance support for the Lifelong Loan entitlement.
  • Enable the Lifelong Loan Entitlement to provide a single system that can bridge between modules, including micro credentials, at various levels, including post-graduate.
  • Enable a ‘big data’ approach to skills planning by allowing anonymised learner data to be freely accessed and analysed at the local level.
  • Introduce high-quality Career Development Hubs in priority areas for levelling up.
  • Introduce levy flexibilities and tax incentives in high-skilled ‘cold spots’ to address skill gaps in exportable growth sectors.

Extend the scope of the Education Investment Areas to look at wider outcomes for lifelong learning (levels 4-6) and the ‘cradle to career’ journey.

Graduate Outcomes: Wonkhe – 2022 will see HESA release its graduate outcomes data for the 2019-20 cohort as a new single package “Graduate Outcomes 2019/20: data and statistics”, according to a blog published on the site by Director of Data and Innovation Jonathan Waller. Providing an update on upcoming graduate outcomes survey data release, Waller also notes the data will no longer be referred to as “experimental”, and will continue to publish its assessment of the impact of the pandemic on graduate outcomes.

Government Social Media Spend: If you’ve ever wondered how much the DfE spend on social media advertising each year the answer is just under £2.5million! Across Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter and, more recently, YouTube. HE and FE Minister Michelle Donelan stated: Every year, the department runs a range of campaigns to support essential work, including recruiting and retaining teachers and social workers, increasing awareness of the full range of opportunities available for young people when they leave school and for adults looking to retrain or boost their skills. The department uses paid media channels to target audiences who will take up these opportunities or training.

Student satisfaction: Wonkhe blog – Curriculum flexibility is not associated with higher student satisfaction, find Talisha Schilder, Johan Adriaensen and Patrick Bijsmans.

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HE policy update for the w/e 17th February 2022

As it is Parliamentary recess, we thought we would do a general policy round up this week

Fees, funding and finance

We’ve updated our  separate paper on fees, funding and finance for BU readers while we wait for the final response to the Augar review.

Research and knowledge exchange

Post-Brexit there is still a great deal of uncertainty about whether we will be able to join Horizon Europe and what happens if we don’t.  Science Minister George Freeman has started talking about Plan B domestic funding (£6 billion) to replace it, although that doesn’t deal with issue about collaboration on EU projects.

Linked to productivity and regional economic success, there is a big focus on the “right sort” of research. We will continue to see a focus on industry led rather than university led projects and a downturn in funding for humanities and social sciences research, with priority given to projects that lead directly to improvements in productivity and economic gain, as well as medical or health benefits – rather than “pure” or theoretical research.  The other focus is on “place” – linking research and funding to local and regional needs.

  • The government are pressing ahead with the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA). The Bill is awaiting Royal Assent in February 2022.  The first CEO has been appointed and he has come from DARPA, the US agency on which ARIA was partially modelled.
  • The KEF outcomes and REF outcomes (due in April 2022) will inform this agenda. This explains how to use the KEF dashboards. You can view the dashboards for individual institutions here and compare two providers here. UKRI have consulted on changes to the KEF for the future.  In May 2021 UKRI launched a review of the REF to plan for the future.
  • The House of Commons Library have a useful review of Research and Development funding policy from November 2021.
  • The R&D roadmap announced in July 2020 repeats the commitment to R&D investment of 2.4% by 2027 and public investment will be £22bn by 20204/25.
  • There was a consultation and the outcomes were published on 21st January 2020: “In the coming months, we have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&Dand we are working across government and with the devolved administrations to develop this”.
  • However, since then there has been a lot of concern about what would be included in this target – whether some of it would be paid to the EU for associate membership of Horizon Europe, and there have been cuts in the development budget with an impact on research (UKRI stated most of its aid-funded research projects are unlikely to be funded beyond 31 July as a result of the Government slashing its overseas aid development budget (from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (BNI) The full UKRI ODA letter is here).
  • Research Professional report that quality related (QR) funding will be cut by £60 million. This is in addition to the cuts to the research relating to the aid budget and the uncertainties surrounding how Horizon association will be funded. See this RP article for far more detail on the various cuts, changes and uncertainties to research related funding streams
  • The Government launched an independent review into UK research bureaucracy led by Professor Adam Tickell, Vice Chancellor, University of Sussex. The last time bureaucracy came up was when they attacked EU research bidding processes as part of the Brexit discussions, announced they were dropping impact statements in UK bidding and then quietly admitted they were just moving them to another bit of the form. It is unclear what new bee they have in their bonnet but anyone applying for the government restructuring funding announced in the summer of 2020 may need to demonstrate the leanness of their professional services functions and internal processes, or at least show that they are willing to tackle them once restructured.  The interim report was published in January 2022 and identified some themes for future work – more is due this Spring.

Education:

We don’t yet have a letter to the OfS from the Secretary of State, Nadhim Zahawi setting out his priorities – in contrast to his predecessor, who wrote many such letters.  We do have a letter about access and participation from November 2021, announcing the new Director of Fair Access and Participation and directing a change in approach.  He has also engaged in the ongoing discussions about antisemitism on campus.

The Universities Minister has taken a much higher profile role now that she is a member of cabinet, writing directly to universities, and even phoning them, apparently.  According to a speech at a UCAS event in February 2022, her priorities include quality, fair access and transparency.  She is actively campaigning on a range of issues including mental health support, the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of bullying and harassment, advertising in HE and the use of personal statements in admissions. And unconditional offers. Just a side note on admissions – speaking to UCAS and not mentioning the DfE consultation on post qualifications admissions really does suggest that it has been kicked into the very long grass.  This was Gavin Williamson’s thing…and once again the complexity of the change required seems to have stopped it progressing.

Access and Participation

In his November 2021 letter, Nadhim Zahawi said:

  • The current system for Access and Participation in HE has had some successes. The proportion of children receiving FSM progressing to higher education by age 19 has increased from 19.8% in 2010/11 to 26.6% in 2019/20; similarly, the proportion of state school entrants to Oxbridge has increased from 59% to 66% between 2015/16 to 2019/20. We want this progress to continue. But the gap between the most and least advantaged students remains stubbornly open. White British young males who received free school meals are amongst the least likely to enter higher education, with just 12.6% progressing to higher education by age 19 by 2019/20. We also see persistent gaps in the attainment of students from different ethnic groups within higher education, with the number of Black students achieving 1st or a 2:1 being 18.3 percentage points lower than for White students. It also cannot be right that some notional gains in access have resulted from recruiting students from underrepresented groups onto courses where more than 50% of students do not get positive outcomes from their degree.
  • We would like to see the whole higher education sector stepping up and taking a greater role in continuing to raise aspirations and standards in education – and we would like to refocus the A&P regime to better support this.

And

  • we welcome a fresh focus from the OfS on the outcomes achieved by disadvantaged and underrepresented groups in higher education. Providers should not be incentivised, nor rewarded, for recruiting disadvantaged students onto courses where too many students drop out or that do not offer good graduate outcomes.
  • Within this A&P refresh, where courses exist on which significant numbers of students who start drop out or do not progress to graduate jobs or further study, the OfS should expect such providers to set clear, measurable targets to improve the outcomes of such courses, hold them to account for meeting those targets, in a similar manner to how the OfS expects to see access targets in high tariff providers.

The OfS has shared more than a hint of what is to come under the new Director for Fair Access and Participation (read more here).

Quality and standards

The big thing in 2022.  We did a detailed review of all of the current proposals in our policy update on 21st January 2022.  It’s all there – absolute numbers for baseline standards on student outcomes metrics (continuation, completion and progression to highly skilled employment or further study), to be published split by subject and a wide range of other criteria including student characteristics, to support the access and participation agenda noted above.  But also a whole load of other licence conditions about keeping courses up to date and coherent, to ensure that they develop relevant skills, that students are supported to achieve high quality outcomes, that students are engaged with course development and that courses are properly resourced.

Building on these “baselines”, we also have a new TEF!  With a new category of “requires improvement”, still using the NSS, and with a new “aspect” of educational gain.  While not a subject level TEF, again, all the data will be published using similar splits to the regulatory data referred to above (including subject and student characteristics) and the way that the ratings are awarded means that problems in subject areas or for particular groups of students could pull down institutional ratings.  The 20 page submission will be expected in mid-November 2022.

And the OfS are still reviewing the NSS.

Skills agenda

This is still a thing, although the white paper that is supposed to define how it will be implemented is still not available so no-one really knows what it all means.  We hear a lot about the lifelong loan entitlement and modular learning.  The Skills Bill itself is at report stage in the House of Commons in February 2022, having been though all stages in the Lords.

We were hoping for more information in the Levelling-Up white paper.  We covered this extensively on 7th February 2022.  As we said, more than a third of the 300 pages is data analysis, and even in the policy sections there’s a lot of waffle and reviewing of previous initiatives to justify the new approach – 12 big “missions for 2030”.  A lot of the policy stuff is in the “things we are already doing or have announced before” box.  There is very little in here for Dorset either.  And there are thin pickings in terms of HE policy.

One thing that is in the bill – a clause aimed at outlawing essay mills.

Financial sustainability

After a big focus on this through the pandemic, worries seem to have subsided.  The last report is from the OfS in June 2021:

  • The sector is forecasting a decline in financial performance and strength in 2020-21, relative to 2019-20, followed by an expected slow recovery from 2021-22.
  • Higher education providers have generally responded to the challenging circumstances brought about by the pandemic through sensible and prudent financial management, including good control of costs and the effective management of cashflow to protect sustainability. There is evidence of prudent management of liquidity, building contingency to accommodate the financial pressure expected from coronavirus. This has been achieved through the generally effective management of cash outflow, including restraint on capital expenditure, where this has been possible.
  • The sector in aggregate experienced stronger student recruitment in 2020-21 than many predicted at the height of the pandemic. 2020-21 saw overall strong demand from UK students, and overseas students held up well, albeit at lower levels than were forecast before the pandemic.
  • Despite this, an overall decrease in income in 2020-21 will reduce the financial operating performance. Net operating cashflow, necessary to support longer term sustainability, fell from 8.4 per cent of total income in 2019-20 to 4.2 per cent in 2020-21. This appears to be manageable in the short term, but at this level will not support sustainability in the longer term.
  • Some higher education providers have applied borrowing instruments, including through some of the government-backed loan schemes, as contingency to safeguard operational cashflows in the event of financial risks. Many of these borrowing instruments remain in place, but are not drawn down and are not forecast to be drawn down.
  • Despite the overall satisfactory findings of our analysis at this time, significant uncertainty remains, and the impact of the pandemic globally could change quickly. Issues that could affect income include restrictions on the movement of students domestically and internationally, higher numbers of students dropping out, and reduced income from accommodation and commercial activities that rely on open buildings and facilities.
  • While the aggregate position is reasonably positive, relative to the risks that have been managed recently, there continues to be significant variability between the financial performance of individual providers, and we expect this will continue as providers adapt to the post-pandemic operating environment. However, we consider that, at this time, the likelihood of multiple providers exiting the sector in a disorderly way because of financial failure is low.
  • Overall, the sector is forecasting continued income growth in the next four years, supported primarily by expectations of strong domestic and international student recruitment. Domestic and international student numbers are projected to increase by 12.3 and 29.5 per cent respectively between 2020-21 and 2024-25, with associated rises of 14.4 and 46.6 per cent for the related income. UCAS data on applications for the 2021 cycle at the January equal consideration deadline indicates increased demand from UK and non-EU students to study at English providers. The forecast growth in fee income from domestic students is based on a broad assumption that there is no material change to level of government funding of teaching, be that through tuition fee loans or OfS grant funding.
  • Net liquidity (net cash holdings) is forecast to be lowest in 2020-21 and 2021-22 as providers manage the financial implications from coronavirus. However, in aggregate, net liquidity remains at reasonable levels and we also know that the banking sector has often provided short-term finance facilities to providers as contingency, in the rare circumstances when this is needed. All tariff groups forecast steady growth in net liquidity from 2022-23, underpinned by expectations of strong student recruitment.
  • While the sector is hopeful of a post-coronavirus recovery in financial performance from 2021-22, there are a number of potentially significant financial challenges to overcome in the forecast period. Examples could include: extended operational restrictions from new variants of coronavirus, which could affect student recruitment; the implications of global economic recovery for spending, business interaction and the employment market; and the need to secure the financial sustainability of pension schemes.

Free speech

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill has made fairly slow progress, at the report stage in the House of Commons as at February 2022, with the whole Lords process still to go.  The culture wars rage around this.  Was xx no platformed or simply not invited?  Did a protest mean someone was “cancelled” or was it a legitimate protest?  Does it depend on the subject matter and whether those opining agree or disagree with the position of those protesting?  Where is the line between legal, but controversial, speech, and speech that breaks the (existing) law.  Which speakers will be protected for their controversial, but legal speech, and which won’t because, although legal, their speech was in some other way deemed to be unacceptable.  Hmm.  There’s a neat summary from February 2022 here.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update for the w/e 14th February 2022

Hi all, Parliament are in recess but there is plenty going on.  We start with last week’s reshuffle and research, but there are strong hints about new plans for access and participation

Mini Reshuffle

Last week there was a mini reshuffle of the parliamentarians holding Government. The appointments effectively draw his loyal staff ever closer and bolster up support for Boris personally within the Cabinet.

  • Michael Ellis MP has been made Minister for the Cabinet Office on top of his current role as Paymaster General and will be attend cabinet. The role was previously held by Steve Barclay. Ellis has become more visible lately as the minister most often sent up to the despatch box to answer urgent questions around ‘partygate’.
  • Stuart Andrew MP becomes Minister for Housing, leaving his role as Deputy Chief Whip and replacing Christopher Pincher at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. As the Mirror points out, this makes him the eleventh housing minister in almost as many years, narrowly overtaking the ‘curse’ of the Universities Minister.
  • James Cleverly MP becomes Minister for Europe, leaving his role as Minister for Middle East, North Africa and North America and replacing Chris Heaton-Harris who has been made Chief Whip.
  • Heather Wheeler MP becomes Parliamentary Secretary in the Cabinet Office, a ministerial role previously held by Julia Lopez, in addition to her current role as Assistant Government Whip.
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg MP becomes Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency and will attend cabinet. He leaves his role as Leader of the House of Commons. It also looks as though he might take on the former responsibilities of Minister for Efficiency and Transformation – the position held by Lord Agnew until last month when he resigned over the Government writing off furlough fraud.
  • Mark Spencer MP becomes Leader of the House of Commons (and Lord President of the Privy Council) and will attend cabinet. He leaves his role as Government Chief Whip to replace Rees-Mogg.
  • Chris Heaton-Harris MP becomes Chief Whip and will attend cabinet. He leaves his role as Minister for Europe (FCDO), a role he held for roughly 51 days, to replace Spencer.

In addition, last week these appointments were made:

  • Steve Barclay MP, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, took up the post of the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff following the resignation of Dan Rosenfield.
  • Andrew Griffith MPwas appointed Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, having already served as Johnson’s PPS for some time, following the resignation of Munira Mirza.
  • Guto Harriwas appointed Director of Communications following the resignation of Jack Doyle. He previously worked with Johnson during his time as London Mayor. His appointment sparked controversy.

Research

Research Spend: Andy Westwood reminds us of some key research spend points in Research Professional’s Sunday Reading Balancing the Books: The R&D mission

  • to increase public spending outside the greater south-east (in this case, the ‘golden triangle’) by a third over the spending review period and by 40 per cent by 2030 is to be welcomed. So too is the commitment to spending 55 per cent outside the greater south-east by 2024-25…As commentators…have pointed out, this is not much of a departure from existing spending and should be easily achieved. Richard Jones… has also suggested that this spending is likely to be more at the applied end of R&D, and the stated expectation of a “2:1 private sector match” more or less confirms this. It should also remind us that this R&D mission has an explicit purpose of boosting productivity, pay and economic success rather than just dividing up the spending review’s spoils.
  • But that spending context is important—as are the government’s longer-term targets of spending 2.4 per cent (and eventually more) of GDP on R&D by the middle of the decade. The spending review allocations offer real headroom for growth and much of this spending remains unprescribed. Of the £20 billion promised across government by 2024-25, only £5.9bn will be spent on the “core research budget”.
  • So it’s less a fight over research councils and quality-related funding and more about other R&D spending, such as that distributed elsewhere in BEIS and by other government departments, including health and defence.

Horizon Europe: the prospect of the UK joining Horizon Europe appears to be slipping away. Last week in the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Science Minister, George Freeman, stated:, It’s clear to me we can’t go into a financial year with ongoing uncertainty. So, internally, our thinking is that we need to be ready in the new financial year to start to release some of the funding that we’ve put aside for Horizon into programmes so that the science community isn’t left sitting on the bench, as it were, rather than on the pitch. What I’m keen to do is make sure that those could seamlessly—like a motorway’s slipway—segue back into Horizon association, were that to materialise after the French election [in April].

Research Professional suggest that 31 March will be make or break decision time. Research Professional report: Freeman spoke to the Financial Times about the UK’s ‘Plan B’, describing a £6bn global science fund to run over three years. The science minister is quoted as wanting a “coherent and ambitious plan for international science…based on the elements of Horizon that researchers find most valuable: global fellowships, strong industrial challenge funding [and] innovation missions around tomorrow’s technologies”. He added: “Outside Horizon, we have the freedom to be more global.” … The UK is not alone in feeling excluded from Horizon, with Switzerland similarly feeling its membership is being held up over debates around the wider political relations between the country and the EU…The FT story is not so much news as a periodic reminder that making a decision on association seems as difficult as ever.

Here’s the latest from the European Affairs Committee on Horizon Europe.

The ongoing campaigning to remain part of Horizon Europe has been a regular news feature this week. Wonkhe: Organisations across Europe are calling for science to be put above politics as the UK and Switzerland’s association with Horizon Europe remains in limbo. Universities UK has partnered with the Royal Society, Wellcome, EPFL, ETH Zurich, and the ETH Board to launch the Stick to Science campaign, which argues that the UK and Switzerland’s inclusion in the scheme will bring an estimated €18billion in additional funding, and are inviting signatures for the initiative. The PIE News and the Financial Times cover the story.

UKRI Chair: Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, was reported as vetoing the appointment of Jonathan Michie for UKRI’s Executive Chair role for party political reasons. The Guardian also run the story.

Global Talent: Wonkhe – The government’s new Global Talent website has launched with the aim of attracting research experts to come and innovate in Britain. The site, which is a collaboration between UKRI and several government departments, will provide information on working in and with UK universities, innovation, and business.

Destination Australia: The Russell Group call for closer research and mobility ties with Australia. In a joint letter sent to the Australian and British foreign and trade ministers, the Chairs of the Group of Eight (Go8) and the Russell Group, their countries’ key representative bodies for world-class research-intensive universities, said they would establish a new committee to look at ways to increase two-way research collaboration and explore how this could be used to boost trade and investment and support economic growth.

Parliamentary Questions:

France took up the rotating six-month Presidency of the Council of the European Union in January with the motto Recovery, strength and a sense of belonging. The agreed priorities for the next 18 months are:

  • To protect the citizens and freedoms by focusing on respecting and protecting European values such as democracy, rule of law, gender equality, and on strengthening the Schengen area and the EU’s common asylum and migration policy
  • To promote a new growth and investment model for Europe, based on sustainable green growth and strengthening the EU’s industrial and digital sovereignty
  • To build a greener and more socially equitable Europe that better protects the health of Europeans
  • A global Europe that promotes multilateralism and renewed international partnerships and adopts a shared vision among the 27 member states on strategic threats

Pages 4-5 of this briefing indicate more on the above themes and is an interesting short read. Also in the document is analysis of what the French premiership means. While the above listed items are the EU priorities France intends a particular focus on climate change, digital transformation, and security. The priorities have connotations for both research priorities and budgets as well as economic competition between the UK and EU.

Skills Bill – OfS’ proposed new powers

Proposed amendments to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill tabled by the Government aims to change the way the Office for Students (OfS) publicises investigations with HE providers and protect it from defamation claims. The OfS will be able to state publicly if it intends to investigate, or already is investigating, a provider or individual and will be protected from defamation claims. Where it publicises an upcoming investigation it must also publish the findings, even if no decision is reached or no further action is taken. The provisions would allow the OfS to publish notices, decisions and reports given or made in the performance of its functions, while considering:

  • The interests of HE students, potential applicants, alumni, and HE providers
  • The need for excluding from publication any information that “would or might, in the opinion of the OfS, seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of that body or individual”
  • The public interest

Publications relating to a decision to conduct an investigation are to be protected from defamation claims if they include information on:

  • A statement of the OfS’ decision to conduct the investigation,
  • A summary of the matter being, or to be, investigated, and
  • A reference to the identity of any higher education provider or other body or individual whose activities are being, or to be, investigated.

Wonkhe: …new clause 67C. In publishing details of a decision to conduct an investigation, summarising the matter that is being investigated, and naming the provider (or other body) under investigation the OfS is protected from defamation claims. This doesn’t apply to other information that the OfS may publish, and – wonderfully – it doesn’t apply if the publication “is shown to have been made with malice”.

The clause is controversial as this sort of disclosure risks damaging the reputation of HE providers even when the OfS decides not to take further action or implement sanctions.  It also came up in the context of the consultation on student protection directions in 2020.   In that context, there were concerns about the impact on an institution that was in difficulty if the OfS published their market exit plans.  In that context the guidance now says that they will consider the public interest when considering publication.

The DfE has published an updated assessment of how the Skills Bill interacts with human rights legislation, to account for the new provisions. There are also questions over how the Skills Bill will interact with the Freedom of Speech Bill.

Here’s the short Wonkhe blog on the topic.

In other OfS news last week Susan Lapworth was appointed as the OfS Interim Chief Executive from 1 May until the end of 2022. This covers the recruitment period for a permanent OfS chief executive. Susan takes over from Nicola Dandridge’s planned departure as her tenure in the chief role ended.

Lord Wharton, chair of the OfS, said: This is an excellent appointment to see the OfS through an important phase of our work, including the delivery of our reforms to quality and student outcomes. Susan has worked closely with the board since the OfS was established and is perfectly placed to lead the team through this period. Her experience and expertise has been invaluable to the OfS, and I am looking forward to working closely with her in this new role.

Access & Participation

The OfS has shared more than a hint of what is to come under the new Director for Fair Access and Participation.

In a presentation, there was the following advice:

  • We strongly encourage you to vary your plan to take account of the priorities outlined by the Director for Fair Accessand Participation.
  • We will publish advice on how to do this in spring 2022.
  • The advice will include information on the areas that should be covered in variations. This is likely to cover:
    • strategic partnerships with schools to raise attainment
    • improving the quality of provision for underrepresented students
    • developing non-traditional pathways and modes of study
    • the production of two-page access and participation plan executive summaries using an optional template.

We even get a mention in the speech!

  • But we are expecting providers to pull their weight on pre-16 attainment, a challenge which affects us all.
  • We will be generous in our expectations of the work providers undertake in this area.
  • It may be expanding evidence-led, provenly-successful interventions like Bournemouth University’s work on literacy in primary schools. Their student ambassadors worked with Year 6 pupils through a 10 week reading programme, which saw the reading ages of two-thirds of the participants increased.
  • It could be new thinking and tools for measuring and enhancing the knowledge and skills of disadvantaged pupils in subjects and year groups where we do not yet have coherent curricula matched with integrated, informative assessment.
  • It will almost certainly include both place-based policy initiatives tied closely to localities and more wide-reaching regional and national initiatives.
  • We are keen to see innovation and experimentation – provided there is commitment to independent, published evaluation.

Wonkhe blogs:

Research Professional (writing before the well-trailed speech was delivered)

Admissions

The English exam boards published information on the 2022 GCSE, AS and A level exam adaptations which adjust for Covid related learning disruption. Plans for grading will be more generous for summer 2022, with boundaries likely to be lower than in previous years. Ofqual is planning on returning to pre-pandemic grading over a two-year period, meaning this year there will be a ‘mid-point’ set between 2019 boundaries and the grade levels used in teacher assessments last year. Also:

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:

  • Examsare the best and fairest form of assessment, and we firmly intend for them to take place this summer, giving students a fair chance to show what they know.
  • We know students have faced challenges during the pandemic, which is why we’ve put fairness for them at the forefront of our plans. The information to help with their revision published today, as well as the range of other adaptations, will make sure they can do themselves justice in their exams this summer.

EPI have published Covid-19 and Disadvantage gaps in England 2020. It considers the national disadvantage gap (the gap in grades between disadvantaged students and their peers) in 2020 at key stages 4 and 5. Highlighting the impact of the 2020 (teacher assessed) grades on different students. Dods have provided a summary of the report and the recommendations here. Or these are the high-level points:

  • The gap in GCSE grades between students in long-term poverty and their better off peers has failed to improve over the last ten years.
  • More students have now fallen into longer-term poverty.
  • Fears that the switch to teacher assessed grades for GCSEs in 2020 would penalise students from disadvantaged backgrounds are largely unfounded – with no evidence poorer GCSE students lost out under this system.
  • But for students in college and sixth form (16-19 education), the gap in grades between poorer students and their better off peers widened in 2020.
  • This was driven by A level students gaining a whole grade more from teacher assessments than those who studied qualifications such as BTECs.

Also this week Teach First have published Rethinking pupil premium – a costed proposal for levelling up.

Balancing FE & HE

The Civic University Network and partners published Going further and higher: How collaboration between colleges and universities can transform lives and places. It calls for greater collaboration between colleges and universities and setting out recommendations for governments and sector leaders to support regional priorities and deliver UK-wide economic recovery.

Recommendations for sector leaders, which focus on creating strong local networks:

  1. Agree the institutions who are involved in the network and embrace the local geography and specialisms that already exist.
  2. Develop a cohesive education and skills offer for local people, employers and communities built around lifelong learning, ensuring inefficient duplication and competition is reduced.
  3. Move beyond personal relationships and agree how the whole institution is involved in collaboration, with clear roles and shared responsibility for partnership.

Recommendations to governments across the four nations to build better education and skills systems:

  1. Set an ambitious 10-year strategy to ensure lifelong learning for all and to deliver on national ambitions.
  2. Balance investment in FE and HE to ensure the whole education and skills system is sustainably funded so that colleges and universities can work in the interests of their local people, employers and communities.
  3. Equal maintenance support across loans and grants for HE and FE students, regardless of age, personal circumstances, or route into education.
  4. Tackle the ‘messy middle’ by defining distinct but complementary roles for colleges and universities to avoid a turf war over who delivers various types of education and training.
  5. Create a single funding and regulatory body for the entire post-16 education and skills system in each nation to deliver more aligned and complementary regulatory approaches that will ensure smoother learner journeys.

The report fits well with the Government’s cohesive approach to sharing learners such as emphasising the technical education route as an equal status to HE academic study. Planning education from schools to postgraduate with interaction of industry and the education providers at each level has long been a Conservative ideal and was apparent in this week’s speech from the newly-appointed OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation (more here).

Research Professional analyse the report and weave it together with the Government’s current intent on Levelling Up, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, Augar, the OfS and vocational education.

Students

Careers 2032: Wonkhe report on a new Careers report –A new research report on the future of careers support from Handshake, in partnership with AGCAS, the Institute of Student Employers and Wonkhe, finds that 32% of students worry they aren’t good enough or ready for a graduate job, rising to 39% of students from less privileged backgrounds. Employers are primarily worried about retaining the graduates they hire, with 71% concerned about rising to this challenge in the decade ahead. For careers professionals, dealing with the fallout from Covid-19 and responding to students’ knocked confidence will be a major priority in the coming years. The Careers 2032 report brings together insight from student representatives and SU professional staff, employers, and careers professionals to explore how careers support is changing – concluding that deeper collaborations within and outside universities will be needed to support a more personalised journey towards graduate employment for a greater diversity of students. For further analysis have a look at Wonkhe’s blog.

Wonkhe also published their report with UPP and the Student Futures Commission “A Student  Futures Manifesto”.  This calls all institutions to work with students to develop actions and commitments to securing successful student futures by the end of the 2022/23 academic year.  It also calls for better IT, a “what works” review of online teaching and assessment and a “challenge fund” for mental health and wellbeing.

Wonkhe blog by Mary Curnock Cook here.

Student Drug Use: Wonkhe report that a major new taskforce has been established to tackle student drug use, investigate how a common approach to reducing harm might be developed, and determine how collective action might tackle the supply of drugs on campus. It follows concerns about the impact of student drug use, with the associated risks of learning and mental health problems, damage to future job prospects, addiction and avoidable deaths. The group, chaired by Middlesex University vice chancellor Nic Beech, has been established by a partnership between Universities UK, Unite Students, GuildHE and Independent HE, and will include input from a range of government departments, sector agencies, charities and law enforcement.

Blog: which areas of the new taskforce investigation will need particular care in order to avoid unintended consequences.

This week the Times also ran an article on why county lines gangs are targeting students.

Mental Health: Student Space has been extended to July 2022.  Wonkhe review the underpinning evidence.

Gambling: Parliamentary Question on supporting students with gambling addictions.

Cost of living: The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has published Government uses high inflation as cover for hitting students, graduates and universities. The article begins: The government is quietly tightening the financial screws on students, graduates and universities. Students will see substantial cuts to the value of their maintenance loans, as parental earnings thresholds will stay frozen in cash terms and the uplift in the level of loans will fall far short of inflation. This continues a long-run decline in the value of maintenance entitlements… Separately, the student loan repayment threshold will also be frozen in cash terms. This is effectively a tax rise on middle-earning graduates. A graduate earning £30,000 will need to pay £113 more towards their student loan in the next tax year than the government had previously said. Finally, tuition fees will remain frozen in cash terms for another year, which hits universities and mainly benefits the taxpayer. On the whole, as our updated student finance calculator shows, the government is saving £2.3 billion on student loans under the cover of high inflation. More here.

Research Professional report on the IFS article and include opposing comment by Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI.

PQs

Other news

We talked in a recent update about the new TEF and the requirements to explain what we are doing about learning gain there is a Wonkhe blog here calling this out as “virtue signalling!.

Apprenticeships: Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announced a new flexible apprenticeship scheme.

AI & Data Converts: DCMS has announced that up to £23 million in government funding will create more AI and data conversion courses, helping young people from underrepresented groups including women, black people and people with disabilities join the UK’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry. Up to two thousand scholarships for masters AI conversion courses, which enable graduates to do further study courses in the field even if their undergraduate course is not directly related, will be available. The Government is calling on companies to play their part in creating a future pipeline of AI talent by match-funding the AI scholarships for the conversion courses. They highlight that industry support would get more people into the AI and data science job market quicker and strengthen their businesses.

Subscribe!

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 7th February 2022

Parliamentary news

Michelle Donelan responded to oral questions within the chamber this week. They covered low-quality university courses (including in relation to disadvantaged access) and non-disclosure agreements. Research Professional (RP) has an interesting write up on low quality courses in the playbook. They note how few (41) courses don’t meet the quality threshold and that Russell Group institutions are among those courses. With so few courses of concern the Government’s campaign to prevent this low quality seems more bark than bite. In fact, RP note:

  • Given how many degree courses are on offer across the country —50,000…only 41 in England dip below both a 75% completion rate and a 60% progression rate. More would be captured with a progression metric of 80%, but not so many as to make you think there was a problem that required the full regulatory machinery of the OfS and the political muscle of ministers at the Department for Education.
  • It is hard to imagine that the near 50% non-repayment rate of the student loan book is the result of poor student outcomes on those 41 degree courses. It is also hard to imagine that the OfS will ever have to make a regulatory intervention at the universities where they are taught.
  • …the most likely fate for degree courses that fail to live up to OfS-mandated thresholds is that they will simply be pulled. No university management team worth its salt would allow one or two courses to threaten institutional reputation or access to the student loan book…The most likely result of outcome thresholds will therefore be departmental closures and staff redundancies.

Parliamentary question: Student outcomes approach

Next Donelan tacked HE freedom of speech including a mention on the balance between respect for religious values and freedom of speech. Free speech was also touched upon during the Topical Questions when Jonathan Gullis (Conservative) lamented that the ‘wokerati’ complained and tried to silence a professor’s comments. There is also a freedom of speech parliamentary question.

During the topical questions John Penrose (Conservative) called on Alex Burghart (Education Under-Secretary) to: discuss the universal accreditation scheme proposed in my recently published “Poverty Trapped” paper…It would mean that universities and colleges could give credit for knowledge and skills gained not just in formal education but in work or informal settings, to make it easier, cheaper and faster to switch careers and to level up opportunities so that everyone has a better chance to succeed Burghart responded that FE providers can use discretion, there was no mention of HE.

On Wonkhe: Nadhim Zahawi wants school leavers to get detailed data on in-person teaching, rather than “vague intentions”. Jim Dickinson interprets the signals.

Growth Business Council: Wonkhe – The Prime Minister has launched a new business council to support the government’s Plan for Growth. The Secretary of State for Education will have a standing position on the council to focus on the skills element of the plan, alongside the business and trade secretaries.

Levelling Up

Last week’s big, and long anticipated policy announcement, the levelling up white paper, got a bit lost in the politics of the moment and the big geopolitocal stories.  Has the extra time taken the reason it is so big?  Or, as less kind commentators have said, is it so big to disguise the thinness of the policy initiative?. More than a third of the 300 pages is data analysis, and even in the policy sections there’s a lot of waffle and reviewing of previous initiatives to justify the new approach – 12 big “missions for 2030”.  A lot of the policy stuff is in the “things we are already doing or have announced before” box.  We appreciated the jaunty red, white and blue colour scheme, too.

We are promised more detail on implementation.

I’m using page numbers from the web version below not the printed page numbers.  There’s really very little in here for Dorset – apart from being an Educational Investment Area.  There’s a summary of what they are already doing in the South West from page 314, including the investment from the Towns Fund in regenerating Boscombe.

What is it all about – you have to look at page 120 for the logic.

You can read the “12 missions” at the end of the web page.  They include on reading, writing and maths at primary school and this on skills:

  • By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

And this on R&D funding:

  • By 2030, domestic public investment in Research & Development outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth
  • The White Paper also announces 3 new Innovation Accelerators, major place-based centres of innovation, centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and Glasgow-City Region. These clusters of innovation will see local businesses and researchers in these areas backed by £100 million of new government funding 

And on devolution:

We will invite the first 9 areas to agree new county deals and seek to agree further MCA deals, extending devolution across England. 

  • The first 9 areas invited to begin negotiations will be Cornwall, Derbyshire & Derby, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, Durham, Hull & East Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire & Nottingham, and Suffolk.
  • The White Paper announces negotiations for a new Mayoral Combined Authority deal for York and North Yorkshire and expanded Mayoral Combined Authority deal for the North East, as well as negotiations for ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers – with these deals acting as blueprints for other Mayoral Combined Authorities to follow.
  • By 2030, every part of England that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one.

Looking at the main report, there’s an interesting productivity chart on page 38, the earnings one is on page 40 and the skills distribution is on page 42 and some health charts follow.

The paper uses all this data to conclude where is most left behind. On page 72 it identifies “20 locations in the UK identified as potential priorities for investment and for harnessing existing economic assets for levelling up.”  The Solent area is one of these, along with the area around Exeter, what they call “Cyber Valley”, which is around Cheltenham (GCHQ) and what they call “Western Gateway” – Bristol-Swansea. There are more areas identified for employment and skills linked to net zero on page 86 – again Solent for “Green Finance” and Exeter for onshore wind.

Dorset is highlighted on page 89 as an area with a high proportion of jobs at risk from automation.  There’s a skills map on p93.  Our area is in the middle.

The “so what” starts on page 137, but there are pages and pages of the history of previous policy initiatives and explaining why “missions” are the way to go. It highlights the complexity of funding arrangements (you don’t say – see the chart on page 159).

The proposed devolution deals are on page 166 (not our area or close to it).

You get to the “policy programme” on page 191.  On R&D:

  • “... the UK Government will need to support the growth of R&D hotspots across the UK, including through fostering greater collaboration between national funders, local leadership, the private sector and high-quality research institutions. It also requires a greater focus on innovation alongside research, which will be supported by the 36% real-terms increase for Innovate UK annual core funding between 2021-22 and 2024-25, amounting to a cash total of at least £2.5bn over the SR21 period. While some information is already collected and published, there are currently significant evidence gaps that prevent policy makers from tracking and measuring where public R&D funding is spent. The UK Government will ask the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the UK Government Ofce for Science to work with all departments to collect and publish subnational data on their R&D spending

On education, it is nearly all about schools.  This bit on page 222: “The UK Government will drive further school improvement in England through new Education Investment Areas (EIAs). These will cover the third of local authorities in England where educational attainment is currently weakest, plus any additional local authorities that contain either an existing Opportunity Area (OA) or were previously identified as having the highest potential for rapid improvement.” Dorset is one of these Education Investment Areas.

  • To ensure access to high-quality academic education, including post-16, DfE is opening eleven new specialist 16-19 maths schools, with a commitment to one in each region of England. DfE has opened three so far – King’s College London, Exeter and Liverpool. It will open a further eight in Cambridge, Durham, Imperial College London, Lancaster, Leeds and Surrey, as well as a further two in the East of England and West Midlands. Going further, the UK Government will ensure that talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a college, school sixth form or 16-19 academy, with a track record of progress on to leading universities, such as Harris Westminster Sixth Form and Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form Free School in Norwich. To drive this commitment, DfE will open new 16-19 free schools targeted at areas where they are most needed. The selection process for these schools will prioritise bids located in EIAs, in particular those areas that will benefit from additional support.

Skills come from page 225.  Local Skills Improvement Plans are highlighted (the DfE is piloting these).  Not much new in this area, existing work on apprenticeships and higher technical education.

  • The UK Government has also announced nine new Institutes of Technology (IoT) across England, building on the 12 already established since 2019 and taking the total to 21 – exceeding the UK Government’s manifesto commitment to 20. IoTs are collaborations between colleges, universities and employers, specialising in delivering higher technical education in areas across England. As IoTs are employer-led, they can react quickly to the current and evolving technical skills needs of an area. The lead organisations for the nine new IoTs and the wider areas they will cover are: a. Blackpool and The Fylde College (Lancashire LEP area); b. Cheshire College South and West (Cheshire and Warrington LEP area); c. Chichester College Group (Coast to Capital LEP area); d. DN Colleges Group (Sheffield City Region LEP area); e. Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group (Stoke on Trent & Staffordshire LEP area); f. Solent University (Solent LEP area); g. South Essex College (South East LEP area); h. University of Derby (D2N2 and Leicestershire LEP areas); and i. University of Salford (Greater Manchester LEP area)

Universities finally get a mention on page 229

  • The UK Government will continue to work with the OfS to reform barriers for entry to the English HE sector, so that new high quality HE providers can open across England, joining the 400+ providers already on the register, to increase access to HE particularly in towns and cities without access to this provision.
  • The HE sector has a key role to play in levelling up areas by improving access to opportunity, in addition to supporting regional economies, so that every young person and adult, regardless of their background or geographic location, can get the high level professional qualifications needed to secure rewarding, well-paid jobs benefiting their families and communities. Changes are being made to the role the HE sector plays in levelling up opportunities for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The UK Government has committed to ensuring that HE providers work closely with schools and colleges to raise educational standards and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds in their communities, through refocusing universities’ Access and Participation Plans. The OfS will require all English universities to refocus their Access and Participation Plans on true social mobility, making getting on at university as important as getting in, and emphasising activities which have a direct impact on student attainment. Activities could include tutoring, running summer schools or helping schools and colleges with curriculum development. These changes will help to raise the quality of local education and training providers.
  • From 2025, DfE will transform the student finance system, which helps fund study in level 4 to 6 courses. This will help deliver greater parity between FE and HE, and bring colleges and universities closer together. As part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, a flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement will provide individuals in England with a loan entitlement equivalent to four years’ worth of fees for post-18 education. It will be available for both individual modules and full years of study at higher technical and degree levels, regardless of whether they are provided in colleges or universities.
  • The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is laying the groundwork to put loans for approved modular courses on a solid statutory footing. 

David Kernohan summarises the relevant bits for universities on Wonkhe.

Wonkhe have an article from James Coe on intergenerational levelling up.

Dods summarise the education parts nicely for us:

 The following are new announcements and plans featured in today’s Levelling Up White Paper:

  • A new online UK National Academy: the new digital education service will support pupils from all backgrounds and provide free, online support for schools’ work, allowing students to acquire additional advanced knowledge and skills.
  • 55 new Education Investment Areas (EIAs) in places where educational attainment is currently weakest:
  • These will cover the third of local authorities in England where educational attainment is currently weakest, plus any additional local authorities that contain either an existing Opportunity Area (OA) or were previously identified as having the highest potential for rapid improvement
  • DfE will launch a consultation on moving schools in these areas with successive “Requires Improvement” Ofsted judgements into strong multi-academy trusts, so that they can better access the support they need to improve
  • DfE will support strong trusts to expand into these areas and offer retention payments to help schools with supply challenges to retain the best teachers in high-priority subjects
  • DfE is opening eleven new specialist 16-19 maths schools, with a commitment to one in each region of England
  • DfE will open new 16-19 free schools targeted at areas where they are most needed (which have been termed ‘elite sixth forms’) to “ensure that talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a post-16 provider with a track record of progress on to leading universities” – the selection process for these schools will prioritise bids located in EIAs
  • From April 2022, the Free Courses for Jobs programme(where all adults in England who do not have a level 3 qualification are able to take one for free) will be expanded on a trial basis to enable any adult with a level 3 qualification or higher who earns below the National Living Wage or who is unemployed to access a further high-value level 3 qualification for free, regardless of their prior qualifications – MCAs and the GLA will have the flexibility to determine the low wage thresholds in their local areas
  • DfE will set up a new Unit for Future Skills which will work with BEIS and DWP to bring together the skills data and information held across government:
  • The Unit will produce information on local skills demand, future skills needs of business, the skills available in an area and the pathways between training and good jobs
  • This will be a multi-year project, but the Unit will aim to improve the quality of data available within and outside UK Government in the short-term to strengthen the quality of local plans and provision, and their alignment with labour market need, as well as enable the updating of apprenticeship standards, qualifications and accountability measures
  • Its work will also feed into DfE’s commitment to provide a single-source of labour market information to learners to improve their choice of training courses and careers
  • Successful Institutes of Technology will be able to receive Royal Charter status in order to secure their “long-term position as anchor institutions within their region and placing them on the same level as our world-leading historic universities” – DfE will set out the criteria and application process for Royal Charter status this spring.
  • Government will target £100m of investment in three new Innovation Accelerators, private-public-academic partnerships which will aim to replicate the Stanford-Silicon Valley and MIT-Greater Boston models of clustering research excellence
  • These pilots will be centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Glasgow City-Region
  • new devolution framework, providing different powers and functions depending on the level, which could include:
  • Devolution of Adult Education functions and the core Adult Education Budget
  • Providing input into Local Skills Improvement Plans
  • Role in designing and delivering future contracted employment programmes

And also from Dods a list of the things featured, but already previously been announced in either Budget, SR21 or other policy documents/press releases:

  • Nine new Institutes of Technology with strong employer links will be established in England, helping to boost higher technical skills in STEM subjects (this was announced in the 2021 Spending Review)
  • Local Skills Improvement Plans, together with supporting funding, will be set up across England to set out the key changes needed in a place to make technical skills training more responsive to skills needs. (already announced, centrepiece of the Skills Bill)
  • The £1.5bn Further Education Capital Transformation Programme will upgrade and transforming college estates across England (this was announced in the 2021 Spending Review)
  • Nine new Institutes of Technology across England, building on the 12 already established and taking the total up to 21. (already announced in Spending Review 2021)
  • The forthcoming Schools White Paper will focus on improving literacy and numeracy for those furthest behind. It will set out a clear vision for a system in which schools are in strong MATs that are able to drive improvement for all their pupils. DfE will take a place-focused approach, working with local partners to build strong trusts and investing in diocesan trusts to ensure every type of school can benefit (previously announced)
  • Government will invest £300m to build the network of Family Hubs and transform Start for Life services for parents and babies, carers and children in half of local authorities in England, and a further £200m to expand the Supporting Families programme in England (already announced in 2021 Spending Review)
  • Government intends to reform funding and accountability for further education(already announced in Skills for Jobs White Paper)
  • Aim to quadruple the number of places in England on Skills Bootcamps(previously announced in 2021 Spending Review)
  • Encouraging work-based training through apprenticeships in England, increasing funding to £2.7bn by 24/25 (announced in Spending Review):
  • Includes an enhanced recruitment service for SMEs, which are more likely to employ younger apprentices and those living in disadvantaged areas
  • Making it easier for large employers to transfer their Apprenticeship Levy to SMEs to further support apprenticeships in disadvantaged areas
  • Also rolling out higher technical qualifications (HTQs), which are new and existing level 4 and 5 qualifications that have been assessed against employer-led standards
  • Government will bring greater alignment to the delivery of employment and skills interventions in new Pathfinder areas(already announced):
  • Brings together local delivery partners from DWP and DfE, including Jobcentre Plus, careers services, local employers, education and training providers, and local government to respond to intelligence about local employers’ skills needs, supporting people into work and identifying progression opportunities for people in part-time work
  • These employment and skills Pathfinders will help individuals and employers take advantage of the extensive range of skills provision on offer
  • Part of the launch of the £2.6bn UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), adults across the whole of the UK will benefit from the Multiply numeracy programme, offering national and local support for people to gain or improve their numeracy skills, worth £559m over the SR21 period (previously announced in 2021 Spending Review)
  • From 2025, DfE will introduce a flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement, providing individuals in England with a loan entitlement equivalent to four years’ worth of fees for post-18 education, available for both individual modules and full years of study at higher technical and degree levels (already announced)
  • The Government’s forthcoming Food Strategy White Paper will take forward recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s independent review towards a National Food Strategy to help ensure that everyone can access, understand, and enjoy the benefits of a healthy and sustainable diet
  • In line with Dimbleby’s recommendations, a joint project will be launched between DfE and the Food Standards Agency to design and test a new approach for local authorities in assuring and supporting compliance with school food standards
  • The project will engage with multiple local authorities in March, with pilots expected to go live in September
  • Adopting Dimbleby’s recommendations around eating and learning, the UK Government will invest up to £5m to launch a school cooking revolution, including the development of brand new content for the curriculum and providing bursaries for teacher training and leadership
  • To support this, the UK Government will invest up to £200,000 to pilot new training for school governors and academy trusts on a whole school approach to food
  • Through these interventions, the Government will aim for every child leaving secondary school to know at least six basic recipes that will support healthy living into adulthood.

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

  • “It’s positive that the Levelling Up White Paper recognises that research and innovation is central to the UK’s long term economic, social and environmental wellbeing. Together, universities and businesses across the country are delivering world class innovations and contributing to their local communities and regional economies. We applaud the Government for recognising the central role and important role that research and innovation plays in our future growth, right across the UK.
  • “Today’s White Paper recognises that our research base will be a key building block to drive real change across the UK. NCUB has long called on the Government to establish a network of ‘Innovation Collaboration Zones’ across the UK to help the country level up. The announcement of these three new Innovation Accelerators is therefore particularly welcome. However, the devil will however be in the detail especially around their selection, the expected impact and benefit but also where future ones will be located. What is clear is that the research and innovation that our universities and businesses deliver, is vital to building stronger places and is central to driving growth and opportunity.”

Research

ARIA – Advanced Research and Invention Agency

The ARIA Bill continues within the ‘ping pong’ stage whilst the Commons and Lords agree the final amendments (tweaking) of the Bill. Here’s a summary of the latest changes and those that have been rejected.

Dr Peter Highnam has been appointed as the first CEO of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA). He will lead the formation of the agency and direct its initial funding of high-risk research programmes taking up the post on 3 May 2022 for a 5-year period. Peter will move across from his role as the Deputy Director of America’s DARPA research agency. Previously he has held positions as the Director of Research at National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, as Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, and he worked at the US Department for Health and Human Services from 2003 to 2009, serving as senior advisor in the National Institute of Health. Peter was born in the UK and studied at Manchester, Bristol and Carnegie Mellon Universities.

The written ministerial statement presented by Kwasi Kwarteng announcing Peter’s appointment is here.

Wonkhe blog: Canadian HE expert Alex Usher shows that when it comes to student loan repayments and moonshot research, other political choices are available.

Horizon Europe: Wonkhe – The House of Lords European Affairs Committee heard evidence on the UK’s association with Horizon Europe. Peter Mason, head of international engagement at Universities UK International, and Robin Grimes, foreign secretary at the Royal Society, advocated for the economic and cultural benefits of the Horizon programme, and its importance to the UK research community. The committee also heard evidence from the Secretary General of the League of European Research Universities Kurt Deketelaere, who noted the positives of collaboration between EU and UK institutions. You can watch the full session on Parliament TV.

REF: Blog – Ahead of the deadline for feedback on the REF2021 process, Phil Ashworth makes the case for radical simplicity in research assessment.

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

EIAs: Wonkhe – The Department for Education has released its methodology for selecting education investment areas, which will be based on pupil outcomes at key stages two and four at local authority level.

Blogs:

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

UK Digital Economy: The Office for National Statistics have published statistics on research into frameworks for defining the digital economy (composition, size, and characteristics).

Student Finance: Provision has been made through a parliamentary statutory instrument to include a new eligibility category for persons who have been granted leave under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and to clarify existing provisions on the Secretary of State’s right to recover overpayments of fee loans from academic authorities. Details here.

HE staff: HESA released their HE staff statistics for 2020/21. Research Professional highlight key points. Wonkhe state: New HESA data shows little movement in the numbers and diversity of academic staff in universities…The number of staff on teaching contracts has not increased in line with student numbers, going from around 100,000 full-time staff with some teaching responsibility in 2019-20 to a little over 106,000 in 2020-21. Overall, women make up 47 per cent of academic staff but just 42 per cent of those on full-time contracts – but 56 per cent of those on part-time ones, and 54 per cent of staff on zero hours contracts. We don’t yet have the full breakdown of staff ethnicity but the number of black professors of the nearly 18,000 professors in the UK remains at just 160.And they have a blog: David Kernohan takes a look at the HESA staff data and comes to the conclusion that workforce expansion is inevitable in the near future.

Technical: Wonkhe – The final report of the Research England funded TALENT Commission on the higher education technical workforce argues that there is a lack of national strategic insight into technical capability and future technical skills needs in UK higher education. Drawing on data analysis, stakeholder insight and research with technical staff, the commission sets out a vision for greater recognition and support for technical staff, roles, skills, and career development. Recommendations include investment in a pipeline of technical talent, facilitation of movement between technical and academic roles, targeted action on specific diversity challenges, expansion of entry routes to technical careers, inclusion of technical experts in recruitment, and new partnerships between employers and training to identify future skills needed to deploy emerging technologies.

Young employment: Wonkhe – A new report from the Resolution Foundation, Leaving lockdownhighlights the experience of young people seeking employment – including full time and part time higher education students – during the pandemic.

Community contributions: Wonkhe – NCUB has published ten case studies from across the UK of examples of universities contributing to their local economies.

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 28th January 2022

The big news this weekend was the quiet announcement of at least part of the government’s response to the Augar review – a freeze on the inflation linked threshold increase for student loan repayments.

Student loan repayments

The statement that generated a fair amount of weekend press coverage is here.  It looks like a very technical announcement but this is at least part of the long awaited response to the Augar report – fiddling with repayment arrangements to reduce the overall cost of HE to the government.  They have not (yet) done the other things that were rumoured, like change (reduce) the interest rate or extend the repayment period but of course none of that has been ruled out.

  • I intend to bring forward regulations that will keep the repayment threshold for Plan 2 student loans [post 2012 loans] – the income level above which post-2012 student loan borrowers are required to make repayments – at its current level for the financial year 2022-23. The threshold will be maintained at its financial year 2021-22 level of £27,295 per year, £2,274 a month, or £524 a week.
  • The post-study interest rate thresholds that apply to Plan 2 loans will also be kept at their current levels in accord. For financial year 2022-23, the lower interest rate threshold will remain at £27,295 – to align with the repayment threshold – and the upper interest rate threshold will remain at £49,130.
  • I can also confirm today that the repayment threshold for postgraduate student loans will remain at its current level of £21,000 per year, £1,750 a month or £404 a week for financial year 2022-23.

As Jim Dickinson points out for Wonkhe, in an article which is worth reading:

  • The announcement officially marks a first formal break in policy on loans since Theresa May’s “British Dream” – in the speech where she launched the Augar review, she also raised the repayment threshold to £25,000 and announced it would be annually uprated by earnings, “putting money back into the pockets of graduates with high levels of debt”.
  • As such, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) saysthat the announcement effectively constitutes a tax rise by stealth on graduates with middling earnings.

Ah, the days when the government was worried about having lost the student vote.

Student Loan Rate: Wonkhe tell us that the Telegraph has an explainer on student loans and repayments as the loan interest rate hits 4.4 per cent.

PQs:

Parliamentary News

Antisemitism on campus remains a key focus for Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi. This week he hosted a closed door antisemitism summit with this news story setting the scene. Wonkhe have a short piece on the topic and there is a Government news story.

Michelle Donelan blogged for Conservative Home: Our new plan to crack down on low-quality higher education. The blog sweeps through the intent behind the regulatory changes we explained in last week’s policy update and then continues to trot through a reiteration of previously trailed Government intent for several policies related to HE.

Michelle Donelan also launched a campaign for every university to sign a pledge to end the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) when handling complaints of sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment. Speaking about the “#CantBuyMySilence” campaign, supported by former equalities minister Maria Miller, she told BBC Woman’s Hour: This is a moral contract and I don’t think any vice-chancellor is going to look me in the eyes and not do this. Taking to Twitter she added: Victims of sexual harassment in universities should no longer be silenced by NDAs. I’m committed to stamping out sexual harassment on our campuses. That’s why I’m campaigning for every university to sign the pledge to end the use of NDAs in these circumstances. The DfE also issued the press release: Ministers and campaigners back new pledge to end the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements within universities to silence complainants in sexual harassment cases.

PQ: NDAs in schools

Finally the DfS is considering restructuring their staff and activities.

Research

Quick News

  • The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry reporteda lack of digital skills among those currently working in the life sciences sector, they intend to work with HE institutions and industry placements to increase the needed digital skills.
  • Science, Research and Innovation Minister George Freeman has made an announcement on the future uses and considerations of genomic science. And the Government Office for Science has published a report on genomics beyond healthcare
  • The reproducibility and research integrity inquiry continues (see here), the last session centred around AI.
  • Former universities minister (and current chair of the University APPG), Chris Skidmore, has been appointed as a member of the UK delegation to the new UK-EU Parliament Partnership Assembly. Skidmore has saidhe aims to highlight the need for continued partnership and collaboration in R&D, higher education and approaches to tackling climate change.
  • UK’s future exhaustion of intellectual property rights regime – consultation outcome inconclusive

Blogs:

Parliamentary Questions

Student Statistics

HESA published their HE Student Statistics for 2020/21, their summary here. It is interesting data because 2020/21 was the first full academic year within the Covid pandemic bringing nuance to the statistics. Wonkhe have a chew through the data here and highlight the key points as:  HESA puts an 8% increase in student numbers down to a combination of demographics, pre-existing trends; more students meeting offers due to centre assessed grades, and a 16 per cent increase in students deciding to progress to postgraduate study. There’s been a dramatic drop in the number of students studying abroad for part of the year, and following a drop in qualifications awarded in all categories in 2019–20, there has been an increase everywhere except postgraduate research for 2020–21.

The ONS also published the experimental statistics from the Student Experiences Insights Survey which surveyed final year HE undergraduate students on their behaviours, plans, opinions and well-being within the influence of Covid. Main points are here.

Complaints: Wonkhe – The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published its Operating Report for 2021, which saw record numbers of complaints and a six per cent increase on the 2020 numbers. OIA was successful in settling 15 per cent of cases. The Operating Plan for 2022 has also been released which focuses on four key areas; reviewing student complaints, sharing learning, effective working with others, and continued organisational development. Operating Plan here.

Admissions

UCAS End of Cycle provider level data (2021 cycle) was released. UCAS set out the top analysis points here. They include

  • 606,645 people of all ages applied to HE in 2021 (+5% on 2020), with 492,005 accepted (+1%).
  • 81% of students gained a place in their first choice university or college (up from 76%).
  • Overall, 38.3% of UK 18 year olds gained a placed in 2021 (up from 37% in 2020 and 34.1% in 2019).
  • 9% of students eligible for FSM entered higher education – a record high. 2021 also saw a record proportion of students from the most disadvantaged areas enter university or college.
  • The number of applicants achieving the top A level grades almost doubled compared to 2020 (19,595 from 12,735) and nearly quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels (5,655 in 2019). As a likely result, 103,010 UK young people were accepted at higher tariff providers, up 11% from 92,650 in 2020.
  • UCAS’ Career Finder apprenticeship searches jumped 50% in a year to 1.5 million, with half of UCAS pre-applicants telling us they are interested in learning about apprenticeships as well as traditional undergraduate degrees.
  • UCAS state the UK remains globally attractive UCAS, with their recent ‘Where Next: the experience of international students connecting to UK higher education’ report indicating that nearly 9 out of 10 students find the UK a positive place to study. (Other key points from the report here.)
  • Internationally, a total of 142,925 people of all ages applied (-5% on 2020), with 70,005 accepted (+1%). 111,255 people applied from outside the EU (+12%) with 54,030 accepted (+2%); while 31,670 people from within the EU applied (-40%) with 16,025 were accepted (-50%).
  • Unconditional offer-making fell from a high of 15.7% of all offers made in 2020 to 3.3% in 2021, with ‘conditional unconditional offers’ all but eliminated within this cycle.

Wonkhe have a quick data run through with their usual charts and short explanations style highlighting some of the key points and nuanced anomalies.

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive at UCAS, said:

  • “The 2021 cycle was the first admissions cycle that took place end to end during a global pandemic, and the tremendous hard work and resilience of students has been justly rewarded with the increase in placed applicants as well as those getting their first choice…Today’s data also shows a significant move away from unconditional offer making as universities have sought to provide greater stability to students and address concerns from schools and colleges.
  • This year sees the return to exams and is the second year of what will be a decade of growth of 18 year olds in the UK population. As we are set to hit a million applicants by 2026, it will be even more important that the higher education admissions system meets the needs of students in this increasingly competitive environment.

Alistair Jarvis CBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK said:

  • The data on unconditional offers shows that universities have responded to recommendations in our Fair Admissions Review, aimed at building greater levels of transparency, fairness, and trust in the system, and worked hard to provide stability during the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
  • To build on this progress, we are currently working with UCAS, universities and school leaders to develop a new admissions code of practice that will further improve fairness, deliver for students, and continue universities’ commitments to widening access and participation in higher education.

PQ: 2022 exams going ahead and outline of adaptations. The latest DfE exams explainer to students is here.

Another Wonkhe blog considers whether there is diversity of access within the increased student numbers– in essence the answer is ‘yes – but…’!

80 HE providers (including BU) have confirmed they will accept the new T level qualification for entry onto at least one courses. Of the 80 providers 10 are Russell Group members. Here’s the list of HE institutions accepting T levels.

The content and assessment of GCSE French, German and Spanish will change. Contact us if you’d like a short summary.

Access & Participation

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published Education, social mobility and outcomes for students receiving free school meals in England: initial findings on earnings outcomes by demographic and regional factors. These are experimental statistics delving down to a deeper level than previously possible as the education data is linked with LEO’s earnings data at the population level.  Key points:

  • At age 25 years, 23% of free school meal (FSM) recipients recorded earnings above the Living Wage (42% were below the threshold; 29.2% recorded as no earning).
    Comparison: 43.5% of people not eligible for FSM recorded earnings above the Living Wage. For both females and males, the difference between FSM recipients and non-recipients earning the living wage was broadly similar in every region.
  • Females earn less – 18% of FSM females recorded earnings above the Living Wage compared with 28% of FSM males. Non-FSM people recording earnings above the Living Wage were 39.3% (female) and 47.5% (male). In every region, the proportion of males who received FSMs earning above the Living Wage was larger than the proportion of female FSM recipients.
  • The East of England had the greatest proportion of FSM recipients with recorded earnings above the Living Wage (29.5%), the smallest proportion was in the North East (19.9%).

PQs:

Care Leavers

Wonkhe: The Student Loans Company has published new data on the number of care leavers and estranged students who received student finance between 2017-18 and 2021-22 which are lower than in 2020–21 but still show an increase on 2017.

Ofsted has published findings from a survey of children in care and care leavers on the planning and preparation that happens before they leave the system. Over a third of care leavers feel that they left care too early, regardless of whether they were ready or not. And care leavers’ experience of preparation has been varied.

Ofsted set out the key findings as:

  • More than a third of care leavers felt that they left care too early. This was often because the move out of care happened abruptly and they were not ready for all the sudden changes.
  • Of those who did feel that they left care at the right time, not all felt they had the required skills to live more independently. Many care leavers told us that they were not taught essential skills, such as how to shop, cook or manage money.
  • Many care leavers felt ‘alone’ or ‘isolated’ when they left care and did not know where to get help with their mental health or emotional well-being. Many care leavers had no one they could talk to about how they were feeling or who would look out for them. A third of care leavers told us they did not know where to get help and support. For many, no plans had been made to support their mental health or emotional well-being when they left care.
  • Although statutory guidance requires that young people should be introduced to their personal adviser (PA) from age 16, over a quarter of care leavers did not meet their PA until they were 18 or older. Care leavers saw PAs as helpful in preparing to leave care, but a fifth felt they met them too late. Two fifths of the children still in care told us that they did not yet have a PA, meaning that some about to leave care still did not know who would be helping them.
  • Some care leavers could not trust or rely on the professionals helping them to prepare for leaving care. Care leavers needed someone they could rely on for help when they felt scared or worried, but sometimes they felt that professionals were ‘rude’ or ‘uninterested’, or showed a lack of respect, for example by cancelling meetings, turning up late or ignoring their feelings.
  • Care leavers were not involved enough in plans about their future. Around a quarter of care leavers reported they were not at all involved in developing these plans. Some felt that, even when they expressed their wishes, they were not listened to, or that they did not fully understand the options. Some felt that plans did not match their aspirations. For many, this had a long-term impact on their education or career path, as well as their emotional well-being.
  • Many care leavers had no control over where they lived when they left care, and many felt unsafe. Only around a third of care leavers had a say in the location they’d like to live in and even fewer (a fifth) in the type of accommodation. One in 10 care leavers never felt safe when they first left care. Many care leavers were worried about the area or people where they lived. Sometimes the area was completely unfamiliar to them or was seen as a crime and exploitation hot spot. Many care leavers also felt unsafe living on their own.
  • Many care leavers felt unprepared to manage money. Some were not aware of what bills they needed to pay, or how to budget. In some cases, this led to them getting into debt, losing tenancies, or not being able to afford food or travel. Some care leavers were still in debt years later. When they were asked what made them feel unsafe when they first left care, being worried about money was the most common reason reported. A few care leavers reported getting into crime when they left care in order to get money, or because they were not able to manage their finances.
  • Some care leavers said they did not find out about their rights until they were already in serious difficulties. In some cases, care leavers were already in debt or homeless before they were told about the help they could access. Only around half remembered being told about the support and services available in the local care leaver offer. A similar proportion reported being told how to complain and even fewer were told how to get advocacy support. Care leavers (or their carers) who had engaged advocacy services had found this help to be vital.

The National Foundation for Educational Research in England and Wales warns that the changes to Free Schools Meals eligibility will make tracking the progress of disadvantage pupils ‘almost impossible’. Full report here.

Student accommodation

The Scottish Government is considering regulating purpose built student accommodation.

PQs:

PQs

Other news

Green Jobs: The Government  published its response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on green jobs. The committee’s report found that the Government was not sufficiently grappling the skills gap needed for net zero, resulting in missed opportunities. The Government’s response outlines the Government’s actions on green jobs and confirms that the new Green Jobs Delivery Group will include ministers from multiple departments alongside an industry co-chair.

Non-vaccinated nursing students: Wonkhe – Nursing students in England who have not been double vaccinated against Covid-19 by April will not be able to undertake clinical placements, risking their ability to complete and join the register. Newly updated guidance published by Health Education England (HEE) on changes to vaccination rules notes some temporary exemptions for unvaccinated nursing students who have recently had a confirmed Covid-19 infection which prevents them from having the jab for 28 days after, and for those who are pregnant and may choose to take a “short-term medical exemption”. The Royal College of Nursing continues to call for a delay to the implementation of the policy.

Skill Shortages: The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has published experimental statistics on skills shortages and skills gaps in the DCMS sectors for 2019.

 Skills Shortages

  • 4% of DCMS Sector vacancies were attributed to skills shortages (i.e. applicants did not have the right skills, qualifications and/or experience), lower than 24.4% for All Sectors.
  • 2% of DCMS Sector businesses have at least one skills shortage vacancy, compared with 5.5% of All Sectors.

 Skills Gaps

  • 8% of the DCMS Sector workforce had skills gaps (staff judged to be not fully proficient in their role), slightly higher than 4.5% for All Sectors.
  • 2% of DCMS Sector businesses have at least one skills gap, the same as for All Sectors (13.2%).

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HE policy update w/e 17th January 2022

As the PM tries to focus on policy to reduce the chat about parties, it may be that the levelling up white paper finally sees the light of day fairly soon, and some big OfS consultations are also expected, so hold on to your hats for the next update!  In the meantime, plenty on research priorities.

Parliamentary News

Michelle Donelan gave a ministerial statement on 5 January about reforms to support the government’s skills revolution – ie levelling up by filling skills gaps to boost the economy. Nine more Institutes of Technology were announced (12 already running), T levels announcements were made, and it also covered access to flexible short courses for retraining: More than 20 universities and colleges will offer the courses in subjects where there are skills shortages such as digital, Net Zero, Education, STEM and Healthcare, and offering an alternative to studying a traditional three-year degree. Student finance will be available to students taking the courses, marking the next step in the development of the government’s Lifelong Learning Entitlement which, from 2025, will provide individuals with a loan entitlement to be the equivalent of four years of post-18 education they can use flexibly over their lifetime.

The DfE statement contains more detail.

Education Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, also made a statement. It focussed mainly on schools and Covid issues related to compulsory schooling. However, on international HE students Zahawi stated: We continue to welcome international students to the United Kingdom, and universities stand ready to support any students who are required to quarantine on arrival. Overseas students should not worry, because visa concessions remain in place for international students to allow them to study remotely until 6 April this year.

Research

ARIA: The ARIA Bill has passed through Parliament with limited amendments. Plans for recruitment of the ARIA Chair and Chief Executive are at various stages but it is not known if a preferred candidate has yet been selected. ARIA will have a budget of £800 million over the next four financial years. Wonkhe have a blog.

2022 Ministerial Science Plan: Science Minister George Freeman outlined his core missions and priorities for 2022 on Twitter. Here’s the basics:

  • Horizon: push for final sign-off on the UK’s Horizon Europe membership (£80.5bn). As political disputes continue to hold up membership in Brussels the Minister stated he is still working on a “bold Global Britain Plan B” should Horizon membership fall through.
  • Research Ecosystem: implementing the Nurse, Grant and Tickell reviews which address the research landscape, UKRI, and research bureaucracy. All three reviews are expected to be published this year.
  • ARIA: Establishing the £800m Advanced Research and Invention Agency as the UK’s “science satellite” to ensure the UK “stays on the frontline of exploring new ways of doing new science”. The Bill is now awaiting Royal Assent.
  • Science Cabinet: Establishing the new National Science & Technology Council, which Freeman calls the “Science Cabinet”. The Council, which was announced last year, will be chaired by the PM and the chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance. Freeman also committed to establishing an R&D inter-ministerial group to provide a “joined-up cross-Government” approach to R&D policy.
  • Funding: Allocating the £20bn R&D funding promised by 2024-25 at the last spending review to help reach the government’s target of increasing R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP. He also commits to work with the Chancellor, Treasury, and industry to “take forward” the Patient Capital Reviewon supporting business to scale-up to “unlock great UK pension and fund investment” in high-growth companies.
  • Regulation: Freeman also commits to support the implementation of the recommendations of the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform– of which he was a member prior to being appointed – which he says will “unlock UK leadership in regulatory innovation for leadership in setting the global standards for fast-emerging new sectors” such as AI and nutraceuticals.
  • Levelling Up: The Minister plans to map and focus on the roughly 30 R&D clusters around the UK as the basis for how science and innovation can support the Government’s level-up ambitions, creating “new jobs, opportunities & companies key to sustainable long term growth.” The Levelling Up White Paper is expected to be published in the first half of this year.
  • Quantum: Developing a ‘UK Quantum Computing Technology and Industrial Strategy’ to “consolidate the UK’s global leadership in the science of advanced computing into commercial leadership in innovation & industry.”
  • Strategies: The Minister committed to implementing the 2021 Life Sciences Visionto “ensure we repeat the successes of our first industrial strategy”, as well as the UK Innovation Strategy to “help create the next high growth sectors”. Plus the UK Space Strategy to develop the £16bn UK space tech sector. Freeman pledges to implement key reforms of the R&D People and Culture Strategy (published by the previous Minister).
  • International: Establishing new Global Britain science fellowships, working with global allies and the National Cyber Security Centre to “ensure research security against hostile industrial and sovereign research espionage and IP theft.”

In response, Hetan Shah, writing for Wonkhe calls for the inclusion of social sciences, arts and humanities in achieving the science minister’s priorities for research and development in 2022.

AI: The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has published the second edition of its AI Barometer, analysing the most pressing opportunities, risks and challenges associated with AI and data in the UK. And the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dtsl) has published information on the development of a standard approach for AI and autonomy in networked multi-sensory systems in security and defence.

Research Integrity: The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee met on 15 December as part of the Reproducibility and Research Integrity inquiry. Dods have summarised the session here.

Parliamentary questions:

Research Bureaucracy: The Independent Review of Research Bureaucracy has published its interim findings focusing on the role funders play within the research system. You can read a summary of the interim findings or the full interim report. The final report is due in Spring 2022.   The report sets out themes and the next steps for the review to consider, rather than recommendations, including:

  • How funders might adopt a risk based approach to assurance
  • Streamlining reporting including across concordats and the possibility of collective resources
  • Simplifying applications and moving admin post-award
  • Triaging applications via an expert panel and simplifying assessment criteria
  • Maybe controversially – capping the number of applications an institution can submit to a scheme
  • Reviewing contracting processes, procurement and change processes
  • Digital platforms – portals and interoperability
  • Looking at how individual universities manage research and building case studies – the implication being that a lot of the bureaucracy is self-imposed within universities

There will be consultation and the next report will have recommendations.

Admissions

Exams: Wonkhe tell us that the Times reports that Minister for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, has insisted that school exams will go ahead this summer.

BTECs: The Nuffield Foundation & Oxford Brookes University have issued a press release Students with BTECs are successful across a range of university outcomes. The headlines are drawn from this report (the 60 second summary from page 3 is useful). The political context for this release is the DfE’s intention to cease some BTECs and reduce the number of others offered as the country moves towards the T level curriculum. The results provide balance to previous reports that suggest BTEC students achieve lower outcomes that A level entrants. Key points from the press release:

  • Students who take A levels are less likely to drop out of university and more likely to graduate with a 2:1 or a first than those with BTECs.

However:

  • The majority of graduating BTEC students gain at least a 2:1.
  • BTECs provide the route into university for 1 in 4 young student entrants from England, and they are more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds than their A level peers.
  • Over 80% of students with just BTECs stay at university after their first year and over 60% of graduating BTEC students gain a 2:1 or above.
  • However, students who enter with only BTECs are almost twice as likely (11% vs 6%) to drop out before their second year compared to similar A level students. They are also 1.7 times more likely to repeat their first year and around 1.4 times more likely to graduate below a 2:1.
  • BTEC entrants with ‘average’ GCSE results had a 25% chance of graduating below a 2:1 compared with an 18% chance for A level entrants with the same GCSE grades and similar other characteristics.
  • There are differences in university outcomes between entrants with a combination of A levels and BTECs compared with just A levels, but they are smaller than the differences between those entering with only BTECs and only A levels.
  • Analysis of data from one university providing detailed module scores suggests that those with BTECs perform less well on exam-assessed than coursework-assessed modules.  Since recent reforms, BTECs must have a proportion of external assessment which may prepare BTEC students better for university exams – the research subjects predated these reforms.
  • The type of A levels (e.g. traditional) and whether an A level in the degree subject was held had an impact on degree outcome read more in the report and press release on the above links.

Dr Dilnot (report author) said: Reform of level three qualifications is high on the Government’s agenda, with the publication of a policy document in July 2021 on the defunding of large BTECs in the context of introducing a more clearly two pronged approach to further study and training, with A levels on the one hand and T-levels on the other.  We welcome the planned postponement of the removal of funding for most BTECS and would encourage further consideration of their future. It’s very important to note that although there are differences between outcomes for BTEC and A level students, the overwhelming majority of students entering with BTECs or combinations do not drop out, and the majority of those graduating do so with at least a 2:1.

Dr Wyness (report author) commented: It is clearly important to address the differences in university outcomes between those with A levels and BTECs…But it should be remembered that, without the availability of BTECs, many disadvantaged students might not have attended university at all.

Access & Participation

First in Family – part 1: The Nuffield Foundation & UCL published First in family: higher education choices and labour market outcomes highlighting that women who are the first in their family to graduate from university earn 7% less in their mid-20s compared to female graduates whose parents attended university. They are also less likely to attend an elite institution, 4% more likely to drop out than those with graduate parents and female first in family students often face multiple disadvantages. The report is set against the recent political backdrop whereby the Government is pushing universities to reduce dropout rates and introduce new targets which support disadvantaged students through university and into highly paid, skilled jobs.

On the female multiple disadvantage the report finds the first in family female (FiFF) pay gap is impacted by:

  • Unlike first generation male graduates, FiFF graduates have, on average, lower pre-university educational attainment than their female peers with at least one graduate parent.
  • FiFF are less likely to attend a more selective university;
  • FiFF tend to work in smaller firms, and in jobs that don’t require a degree;
  • FiFF are more likely to become mothers by the age of 25;

Moving forward lead author, Dr Morag Henderson, said: Universities should target first generation students in their recruitment and ensure that there are systems to support them while at university. We recommend that universities target some of their successful mentoring schemes specifically to first in family students to reduce the risk of dropout among this group…And while it is encouraging to hear the government suggesting that university is ‘as much about getting on as it is about getting in’, their new plans to reduce dropout rates and set targets for entry into well-paid jobs among disadvantaged graduates should consider those who are first in their family to attend university.

Other recommendations within the report are:

  • Use Contextual Admissions to make offers to students which consider socioeconomic status, individual characteristics and type of school attended. It remains all the more important that universities are able to identify students who have a high potential to succeed, irrespective of their background.
  • Given that first in family status is an important indicator that could be key in efforts to widen participation at universities: we recommend that University College Admissions Service (UCAS) increase its efforts to improve measurement and validity of the first in family measure.
  • We recommend that early intervention among the potential first in family group is important, where there should be more coordination and resource to raise attainment [and non-cognitive skills] among this group throughout schooling to ensure that students are able to pursue higher education should they choose to.
  • We recommend that efforts are made by graduate employers to support the Widening Participation agenda beyond higher education. By targeting these groups in their graduate training programmes and recording first in family status data in applications through to recruitment, they can ensure a diverse workforce.

First in Family – part 2: Meanwhile HEPI published: New report finds ‘first-in-family’ status flawed as a way of helping disadvantaged students. It states with over two-thirds of students able to be classified as first in family it cannot be a useful indicator for widening participation activities, particularly because it is self-declared and unverifiable. The report argues only a tighter first in family indicator should be considered and only for lower stakes widening participation activities. For higher stakes activities, such as contextual offers at highly selective universities, it should be used only as part of a basket of measures. Overall the paper agrees with the data mentioned in the Nuffield study above and the short version is the authors recommend first in family be used in combination with other measures to target support (such as free school meals). While this HEPI report and the above Nuffield study seem to disagree ultimately they both recommend a granular approach acknowledging multiple deprivations and organisations working together to enhance the validity of the looser measures. So the same messages that have been around for several years.

Drilling down further the HEPI paper also recommends:

  • delivering outreach for the parents of groups that are under-represented in higher education, and:
  • providing student mentors for first-year undergraduates to help them build networks.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: This research has changed my thinking on “first-in-family” students. It is a description of majority status that has been masquerading as a description of minority status.

Harriet Coombs, the author of the report, stated: The first-in-family problem is, at root, a fair access one rather than a widening participation one…the bigger problem is not getting more first-in-family students into higher education, but rather getting more first-in-family students into highly selective institutions. Further to this, highly selective universities now need to ensure they retain first-generation students as well as just recruit them.

Student transfers: Parliamentary Question on the background of students changing HE provider; (context: the proportion of higher education students who transfer between higher education institutions in any given year; and the assessment of the socio-economic backgrounds of those students). Edited answer:

  • 9% of students who entered the first year of a full-time first degree in England in the 2018/19 academic year had transferred to a different provider one year after entry.
  • The statistics are disaggregated by student characteristics, including two measures of disadvantage. These show that:
    • 4% of students from Participation of Local Areas (POLAR4) [1] quintile 1 (lowest higher education participation) backgrounds had transferred to a different provider one year after entry, compared to 3.0% for those from quintile 5 (highest higher education participation);
    • 8% of students from Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD)[2] quintile 1 (most deprived) backgrounds had transferred to a different provider one year after entry, compared to 2.5% for those from quintile 5 (least deprived).

Rebooting Widening Access: Another offering from HEPI written by NEON Director Professor Graeme Atherton Giving widening access a real reboot argues that if the government really wants to move the widening access agenda forward then it needs to be more radical than was suggested by the Minister for Higher Education in November last year. A ‘real’ reboot of widening access to higher education would:

  • Revise graduate outcomes targets to make them both broader to encompass both other measures of success alongside income and also local/regional as well as institutional.
  • Move away from the POLAR measure as a tool to orientate the work of outreach and access work.
  • Initiate collaboration across the student lifecycle.
  • Make the Office for Students more outward facing.
  • Link outreach to careers work through a change in the admissions system.

Old Vs New Advice: Finally Wonkhe report on The Centre for Global Higher Education’s working paper written by former OfS director of fair access and participation Chris Millward, reflecting on his experience working in higher education access. On Wonk Corner, Jim Dickinson notes sections that shed light on Millward’s views on universities being asked to raise attainment in schools – which he approached with “caution” given questions over how “appropriate” such advice would be for the regulator of higher education.

Degree Apprenticeships

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has reported the responses to their consultation on reforming degree apprenticeships. You can read a summary here. There was support for the planned changes to how degrees are included in apprenticeships. This included further integration of on-the-job and off-the-job training, aligning the end point assessment with the final assessment of the degree, and the alignment of all degrees within apprenticeships with the occupational standards (the employer-defined knowledge, skills and behaviours that must be learned to prove occupational competency) to avoid existing degrees being re-badged as apprenticeships.

Separately this parliamentary question has warm words from the Minister on degree apprenticeships.

International

The Department for Education has updated the Covid-19 guidance for international students before they travel to the UK.

Parliamentary Question: International students are permitted to start a course from overseas through distance learning without a visa.

Wellbeing

Wonkhe report on a National piece which highlights new research from Glasgow University on the wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers. The research, which surveyed PGRs across 48 UK institutions, found that “almost a quarter of respondents (23 per cent) had considered suicide or self-harm in the past two weeks”.

Wonkhe also have a wellbeing blog – In difficult times communications can enhance or erode student wellbeing. Sunday Blake talks to student welfare officers to learn the lessons of the pandemic for connecting with students.

Sexual Violence

UCU published a new report on eradicating sexual violence in tertiary education. The report calls on employers to do more to tackle sexual violence. UCU found in the last 5 years:

  • 12% of women and 5% of men had directly experienced workplace sexual violence
  • 52% of those who directly experienced sexual violence did not disclose or report it to their employer
  • 70% of those who directly experienced sexual violence experienced it as an ongoing pattern of behaviour rather than a one-off incident
  • Staff on non-permanent contracts were 1.3 times as likely to experience direct sexual violence than those in permanent roles
  • Staff on insecure contracts, those with disabilities, those who are trans & non binary, those in racialised minorities and those with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual are all at significantly greater risk of sexual violence

PQs

Other news

Free speech:

  • Wonkhe report that Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has saidon Twitter that he will consider supporting a new amendment to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, proposed by Jesse Norman, that would require universities to declare all overseas contributions of more than £50,000 to the Office for Students (OfS). The amendment, also supported by education select committee chair Robert Halfon, would see OfS publishing a searchable database of such donations annually and would require institutions to report all applicable contributions made since April 2013. The bill is currently awaiting a date for report stage debate in the House of Commons.
  • A new short Wonkhe piece on students’ self-censoring their viewpoints and commenting on a You Gov survey which polarises opinion between prioritising free speech or preventing hate speech.
  • PQ on Guidance to accompany the Free Speech Bill for HE sector and a consultation will be published in due course (0.24% events cancelled on campus – not necessarily due to free speech issues).

National Security (& research):

  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has made an announcement on new laws to strengthen national security coming into effect: The National Security and Investment Act came into force this week, granting the Government powers to scrutinise and intervene in certain acquisitions made by anyone, including businesses and investors, that could harm the UK’s national security, better reflecting the threats we face today.
  • The government now has the power to block deals ranging from research projects for foreign corporations and funding of PhDs to the establishment of joint research centres and the purchase of spinout companies
  • The government will also be able to impose certain conditions on an acquisition or, if necessary, unwind or block it – although it is expected this will happen rarely and the vast majority of deals will require no intervention and be able to proceed without delay, in the knowledge that the government will not revisit a transaction once cleared unless false or misleading information was provided.
  • The new regime is more transparent about the types of deals the government could examine, and requires businesses and investors to notify the government of certain acquisitions across 17 sensitive areas of the economy, including Artificial Intelligence and Civil Nuclear.
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published guidance to help higher education institutions, other research organisations and investors in this area to understand the scope of the NSI Act, which came into force on 4 January 2022.

Appointments:

  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsEnvironment Agency – Sarah Mukherjee and Mark Suthern appointed as Non-executive Directors to the Board from 10 January to 9 January 2026; Natural England – Tony Juniper CBE reappointed as Chair for a second term from 23 April to 22 April 2025.
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: John Edwards appointed as Information Commissioner for five years from 3 January; BBC – Muriel Gray appointed to the Board as Scotland Nation Member from 3 January to 2 January 2026; Charity Commission – Ian Karet’s term as Interim Chair extended from 27 December 2021 to 26 June 2022, whilst the appointment process for a permanent Chair is conducted. Household name Laura Kuenssberg is to stand down as BBC Political Editor after seven years in the job, she will remain in the post until Easter; Deborah Turness appointed as CEO, BBC News and Current Affairs.
  • Government Equalities Office: Equality and Human Rights Commission – Akua Reindorf appointed as a Commissioner and Board Member.
  • Department of Health and Social Care: NHS Business Services Authority – Silla Maizey’s re-appointment as Chair extended from 1 January to 31 March; Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority – Margaret Gilmore’s and Ruth Wilde’s re-appointment as Non-executive Members extended for three months from 1 January; Anne Lampe’s re-appointment as Non-executive Member extended for three months from 1 February

Interest Groups:

  • Beaver Trust – Sandra King appointed as Chief Executive.
  • The Clink Charity – Yvonne Thomas appointed as Chief Executive.
  • Crisis – Matt Downie MBE appointed as Chief Executive.

Student Engagement Tech: Wonkhe report that Jisc and Emerge Education have released a new report on how technology can be used to improve student engagement. The report presents several case studies of technology being used to enhance engagement across the sector and suggests that both digital strategies and working with students should be adopted by institutions. On Wonk Corner Will Awad has some thoughts on what’s next for technological advancements in the sector.

Doctoral recruits: Wonkhe inform that The Natural Environment Research Council has published best practice principles for recruiting doctoral candidates. The aim of the principles are to assist Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) and Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) to improve their diversity, equality and inclusion. The CDTs and DTPs need to be implementing the principles from October 2022 if they have not already begun.

HE reputation: Research Professional – University reputations ‘at risk’ from Office for Students’ focus on compliance. England’s regulator risks accidentally damaging higher education’s reputation by not focusing on positive examples, Universities UK has warned.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

End of year HE policy update December 2021

2021 drew to a fairly quiet close from an HE policy point of view – with all the excitement saved for the new year, as the government focuses on other things (which might well also be very present concerns in the new year too).  This is our last (planned) policy update for 2021, so we look forward to seeing you after the break.

The festive period is usually a time for much speculation and opinion as various people set out their “what I would like to be different in the New Year” thoughts in the press, a bit like new year’s resolutions for other people, and the rumour mill can get a bit carried away if there isn’t enough real news and people have time on their hands.  So don’t believe everything you read over the holiday.  We predict a slow start in the new year for HE policy changes although it may be a big year when it gets going.  Although here’s what we said this time last year:

  • …it is already clear that 2021 is going to be an important year in terms of tougher rules and interventions from the OfS driven by the government agenda.
  • Meanwhile, the government have announced that the budget will be on 3rd March.  Is that the date we will hear about the response to Augar and plans for the TEF?
  • And of course Brexit.  Who knows what is going to happen there.  MPs are starting their Christmas recess on Thursday – but they are likely to be recalled if a deal is achieved …

Well, Brexit happened.  But we are still waiting for most of the rest.

Big changes…on hold

Apparently the levelling up white paper is delayed because it has not been agreed by government, which is not really surprising given the tight deadline that was given for it.  We have not had the second part of the OfS consultation on quality and standards that we were promised, or the TEF consultation that would build on those minimum baselines.  Is it a coincidence, or is that related to the fact that we have not had the white paper, or policy paper or whatever it was going to be that gave us the definitive answer to the outstanding HE-related questions in the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding?

So whether these are all connected and part of a grand plan that will be unveiled at some point, or whether they will dribble out as people get used to working in the new normal 3.0 after the holidays, we end another year with a lot of water having passed under various bridges, but very little clarity about the potentially big changes that are coming.  And given how tired everyone is, and how disappointed we are to be approaching the end of the year festivities with a strong sense of pandemic-related déjà vu, that’s probably just as well.

Levelling up: Labour stated the Government is in “disarray” over its levelling-up plans, arguing that it has failed to devise a “single idea” for effectively reducing regional inequality. However, government sources dismissed this, and Boris insisted that reforms will ensure a “win-win” situation for the whole UK, rather than wealthier areas losing out to others. Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, has suggested the aim of the paper will be to help young people “stay local and go far,” creating opportunities outside London and the south-east. The paper is expected to set out new proposals for devolution including county mayors and a shake-up of boundaries of existing mayoralties.

Dods report that insiders say it will offer a “framework” for more devolution, with details to be agreed in consultation with local leaders. Other themes are likely to include skills, transport and investment – but not planning, with reforms to the planning system still on “pause” as they are reconsidered. Revised proposals are not expected to be published until the new year. More information here.

There was also a levelling up Tweet that garnered much interest this weekend.  Esther Webber summarises things for Politico.

YouGov’s recent polling highlights public opinion on levelling up priorities:

  • Further education should be prioritised by the Government to ‘achieve levelling up’, according to a new YouGov survey of 1,712 UK adults, commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation.
  • Overall, four in 10 UK adults (40%) said further education should be prioritised for achieving levelling up, when asked to select their top three. This was followed by investment in transport (33%), and work-based training and continual professional development (32%).
  • In contrast, just 15% of the public said that higher education was a top three priority, with the same number indicating that early years education was important for levelling up.

Augar: Oral Education Questions took place in the House of Commons. Wonkhe provide a succinct summary: Michelle Donelan once again promised a response to the Augar Report “shortly” and “in due course”. Sustained questioning from Andrew Bowie, Carol Monaghan, and Matt Western did not yield any insight into thinking about changes to the student loan repayment threshold level. Donelan also fielded questions on visas for international students and researchers. SEND, technical qualifications and studying abroad were also discussed. You can read the detail of what was said in Hansard. And for a more entertaining take on the personalities involved take a quick skim through this Times article.

TEF, Wonkhe blogs:

Skills Bill: Wonkhe: The Commons Skills and Post-16 Education committee met for its fifth and sixth sitting during which they discussed several amendments including a change which would alter the definition of higher education courses to allow for the recognition of individual modules as well as full courses. The Lords also discussed universal credit entitlement while studying and sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans.

Free Speech: The Lords debated Freedom of Speech last week. There were numerous mentions of universities including: the dangers of playing it too safe and not discussing controversial topics, of avoiding group-think and building resilience, condemning recent events were staff members lost or stepped away from their job after outcry for their expression of opinion, of the line between sensitivity and hurtful, of the silencing of the gender-critical voice, and voices challenging the currently fashionable, progressive consensus.

Lord Sandhurst placed a foot in both camps: In December 2019, the Policy Institute at King’s College London published an important report after a survey of some 2,150 students. It observed that universities increasingly face criticism over freedom of expression and for a perceived increase in safe-space policies and no-platforming. Yet this perception, it found, was often disproportionate to the number of instances where freedom of expression had actually been violated…None the less, it is important to note that the same report found signs of a “chilling effect” whereby some students were reluctant to express their views for fear of repercussions.

And there’s a parliamentary question: Free speech on university campuses

Labour Reshuffle

Labour reshuffled the shadow Cabinet replacing the Kate Green with Bridget Phillipson as Shadow Education Secretary and Stephen Morgan takes up the post of Shadow Minister for Schools (replaces Peter Kyle). Matt Western remains as Shadow Minister for Further Education and Universities, and Toby Perkins remains in post as Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Lifelong Learning. TES have a good short piece –The key battlegrounds for Labour’s new education team. It gives brief insight into the new shadow education and school ministers and the challenges they face.

Research

Horizon Europe: BEIS published a written ministerial statement guaranteeing to provide a financial safety net for successful UK applicants to Horizon Europe. Delays to association are laid at the feet of Europe and the Government insists it continues to be a priority to associate to Horizon Europe.

  • UK researchers, businesses and innovators have been able to apply to calls as ‘Associated Candidates’ since early 2021. So to provide reassurance to UK-based applicants, the Government has decided to guarantee funding for the first wave of eligible, successful applicants to Horizon Europe who have been unable to sign grant agreements with the EU. The guarantee is a short-term measure intended to address the continued delays from the EU to formalise the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. The funding will be delivered through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) who will publish details on how the guarantee will work including eligibility, scope and how to apply in the coming weeks.
  • The Government has always been clear that our priority is to support the UK’s research and development sector and we will continue to do this in all future scenarios. As announced in the 2021 Spending Review, in the event that the UK is unable to associate to Horizon Europe, the funding allocated to Horizon association will go to UK government R&D programmes, including those to support international partnerships.

PhDs: The Economic and Social Research Council has formally responded to October’s review of the PhD in social sciences. The council pledges to raise funding from three to three-and-a-half years, it will ensure that support on “research in practice” is included in all doctoral training, and a Master’s will no longer be a prerequisite for an ESRC-funded PhD. These and other changes – including the requirement for an equality, diversity, and inclusion strategy – will form a part of the doctoral training centre recommissioning process, due to start in early summer 2022. (Wonkhe)

UKRI review: The Westminster government has published terms of reference for the independent review of UKRI. Led by David Grant, the report will examine questions of efficacy, efficiency, accountability, and governance, and is projected to publish a final report by summer 2022. (Wonkhe)

Research Integrity: GuildHE has announced it will be partnering with UK Research and Innovation and Cancer Research UK to explore indicators of research integrity. The partnership hopes to open a national and international discussion on the topic and its direction, noting that no agreed framework currently exists to define integrity indicators in research. (Wonkhe)

University/Business Collaboration: The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) published analysis on the number of interactions between universities and businesses, which finds that collaborations and partnerships fell by nearly a third (31%) between 2018/19 and 2019/20 as the impact of the pandemic started to be felt. In one year, there was a 39% fall in the number of SME interactions and a 2% fall in the number of interactions with large businesses. Despite falls in the number of interactions, universities’ contribution to research commercialisation grew in 2019/20, with the number of licenses granted increasing by nearly a third (30%) compared with 2018/19. Full report here.

ARIA: Wonkhe – The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill was discussed in the House of Lords [on Wednesday 14 December]. Amendments around intellectual property were debated, with Lord Lansly stating that the Bill does not explicitly enough define ARIA’s relationship to intellectual property or whether the agency will be able to benefit from revenue from its investments.

Blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

Access & Participation

Disabled Students: The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced a new Access to Work Adjustment Passport scheme to help ease the transition for disabled students from university into employment by reducing the need for repeated health assessments when starting a new job.

A passport will be offered to students who already receive extra support while studying at university, capturing information about their condition and the adjustments they already benefit from, avoiding repetitive disclosures when it comes to applying for the grant once they start work. The passport will also support potential employers by documenting the in-work support the student requires and raising awareness of Access to Work and the possibility of support the student could receive.

The scheme is being piloted, as part of the National Disability Strategy, at University of Wolverhampton and Manchester Metropolitan University with 2022 graduates the first to use the Adjustment Passports. The pilot will be completed by March 2023, but if it’s successful the Government intends to consider rolling the scheme out before it ends. DWP will also be piloting Adjustments Passports with disabled young people on a supported internship, apprenticeship or a traineeship, in March 2022.

Meanwhile Wonkhe report that a series of questions discussing the Disabled Student Allowance have been raised in the House of Lords. Several peers stated that they believed the scheme needed overhauling, with Lord Holmes of Richmond calling for changes to “the 150-day wait between application and potential award” to better serve the scheme’s applicants. The discussion is here.

And Wonkhe report on a policy briefing from the Child Poverty Action Group which raises concerns that the length of time it takes to receive an assessment for universal credit may stop disabled learners from entering higher education. The Independent has the story.

Care Leavers/Student Finance:

  • DfE: Colleagues at Student Loans Company England (SLC) have resolved a funding issue for care leavers who are the responsibility of the Local Authority but live with their parents. These students previously had been turned down for student finance as a care leaver, but it has now been agreed that these students will be treated as care leavers for funding purposes. It is estimated that this will help around 400 young people per year. Interim process – The student application portal will take these students down a non-Care leaver route due to the fact they live with parents. The portal is being updated to provide an alternative route as soon as it is developed. NNECL explain and provide a template here.
  • HEPI have a blog about care leavers: Creating an inclusive and sustainable future for estranged and care experienced university students (HEPI)

Hardship: The BBC have also reported on the rise in students seeking hardship funds.

Blogs:

Disability/WP: NEON: New regulations will come into force on 15 December 2021 that further restrict access to universal credit (UC) for disabled young people in education. This contradicts government policy to support disabled people ‘to live independently and achieve their potential’ by making it harder for them to advance their skills or in some cases complete basic education. Evidence from the Child Poverty Action Group shows that this change will severely affect disabled young people who reach the age of 19 before finishing non-advanced education, and those continuing to higher education. The forthcoming regulations will force disabled young people to make an impossible choice between continuing education and not accessing the means-tested benefits they need, or dropping out of education to access these benefits and damaging their future employment opportunities. You can read Child Poverty Action Group’s briefing here

Why University? An article in Conservative Home by Dean Machin aims to challenge the ‘productivity’ view of university attendance – it is worth the short read. It also highlights 3 reasons why student choose to attend university.

  • It’s a pervasive aspiration – parents want their children to go.
  • The UCAS system is universal and ‘easy’ – Dean argues that FE and apprenticeships need such a system.
  • With reference to disadvantaged students: school leavers have few good alternatives to university but – and this is the central point – for disadvantaged young people, university is by a long way their best bet. The state pays upfront for their education and offers (means-tested) living-costs – weighted to enable them to move to another town or city. There is no comparable level of support for any other option. if you do not live in a place that offers many economic opportunities, and if you have few financial resources and little social capital (so no friendly aunt in Islington to provide lodging while you find your way in the media), university is your best bet to reduce the degree to which your background determines your future.

Interestingly Dean’s point that the Government’s well-intentioned reforms might have perverse consequences, for which he gives the example of the Apprenticeship Levy which unintentionally resulted in decline in intermediate and advanced apprenticeships at the same time as a significan[t] increase in higher apprenticeships, is familiar to some.

In fact Matt Hancock and Nadhim Zahawi state similar views in their book Masters of Nothing:

  • For too long, policymaking made assumptions about how people ought to behave, without stopping to observe how we actually do…It is astonishing…that even as events tested prevailing assumptions and found them wanting, no-one listened.

Hancock and Zahawi were writing about the financial crisis of 2008, and Research Professional who highlighted the book draw a parallel with the current pandemic and the tussle between scientific advice and Government policy. The irony is that, as Dean highlights, it also applies to the current speculation about changes in HE. It seems likely that the Government’s hopes for changes within HE may be sent off course by what people actually do in response.

Access Cap: Part of the end of year speculation is continued talk of minimum grade entry requirements to access the student loans to attend HE provision. Over the weekend the Guardian highlighted data analysis conducted by MillionPlus on DfE data which finds that 48% of disadvantaged pupils in England would be ineligible for a student loan if the Government decides on a minimum level 4 (old system ‘C’) GCSE entry level for higher education. This is because only 52% of disadvantaged young people achieve a grade 4 in English and Maths compare to the 71% national average. Particularly controversial is that the analysis highlights that northern England would be disproportionately hit harder by the policy than the south. Research Professional explain it all nicely in Entry Barriers and particularly emphasise what it means for specialist provision such as music degrees or for refugees with limited English.

Mental Health

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, has called on all universities to sign up to the Student Minds Universities Health Charter within five years. Donelan noted the good work taking place in this field already but pushed for more progress particularly given the increased concern for student welfare during the disruption caused by the pandemic. Institutions will have the opportunity to sign up from summer 2022. And Wonkhe report that the DfE will also commission a new survey of university policies on mental health, wellbeing and suicide prevention. University Business has the story.

HE Staff

Wonkhe tell us about a new report on HE staff in higher education (written by Alison Wolf and Richard Jenkins, published by King’s College London, and funded by the Nuffield Trust). It finds

  • that there has been a sharp increase in the numbers of senior managerial, administrative and teaching-only staff in a little over a decade. Numbers of managers and non-academic professionals increased by 60 per cent to almost 51,000 between 2005-06 and 2017-18, with a decline in support staff for academics in the same period. Of the increasing number of non-academic professionals, many are in marketing positions to attract new students, or are focused on the student experience, including welfare workers and careers advisors.
  • The authors found an 80 per cent increase in teaching-only staff in the 13 years to 2017-18, compared to an increase of 16 per cent in traditional roles combining teaching and research.

OfS priorities

The OfS published its annual review stating all students should expect a good quality experience of higher education. The review looks at the state of the English HE landscape, as well as the work the OfS has carried out in the last year, and what it expects to prioritise in the next. It makes clear that most HE courses in England are high quality, with the majority of universities and colleges expected to comfortably meet the OfS’s requirements in this area. It argues that a minority of providers are letting students down with poor quality and uninspiring courses. And that poor quality courses – even in otherwise highly performing universities – are not acceptable.

They also outline research conducted around graduates moving into the labour market with their degrees. They find that almost a third of employers are only sometimes able to recruit the quality of graduates they want. A similar survey in 2019 by the CBI found a quarter of respondents dissatisfied with the literacy and numeracy skills of young people leaving education. Other research has found that weak literacy skills are relatively common among graduates in England, and that poor literacy may keep graduates in jobs that school leavers could do.

On equality of opportunity, the regulator says that, despite progress, stubborn gaps in terms of both access and success mean that talented people still miss out on the life-changing opportunities higher education can bring.

OfS Priorities for 2022:

  • Quality
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Harassment and sexual misconduct

The Times has also reported that new (incoming) OfS Director for Fair Access, John Blake, is planning a “crusade” against campuses. They say an associate of Blake said that he had been fired-up by the poor university experiences of pupils he had taught. He said: “For 12 years as a school teacher, [Blake] told his students to strive to go to university because it was the best way to improve their lives, but it turned out that simply wasn’t true for many of the young people he taught. Now he wants to right this wrong. This isn’t a political project: it’s a moral cause.”

Alongside John Blake in the Fair Access role (starts January), there will be a new OfS Chief Executive (April) and a free speech champion role is also being created. It all dovetails nicely with the newer ministerial team who have already clearly stated the Governmental priorities for the OfS to address on the Government’s behalf.

HEPI have a blog on the new reportable events framework: Rebooting the regulatory framework

Student Accommodation

While concerns start to mount about the impact of the Omicron variant of coronavirus and what it might mean for students starting or returning to university in January (with red list requirements in place for many already, and bad memories of last year’s “stay where you are” requirements for home students), there is a House of Commons Library set of FAQs on student accommodation in the pandemic.

Unipol and the NSS have done a survey about student accommodation costs.

  • The average annual cost for student accommodation in the UK now stands at £7,374 but in London it is £9,488
  • …even if students received the full student maintenance loan, rent would consume 88% of it in London, leaving students just £38 per week to spend on anything else.
  • Outside of London accommodation costs account for 72% of the maximum loan, leaving students with £69.52 to spend on other living costs
  • …Student rents have risen by 16% since the last survey in 2018/19 and 61% since 2011/12. Last year, rents increased by 4.4%.
  • Private providers dominate the market, with 70% of the bed spaces surveyed, as universities move away from their own accommodation provision

There are lots of recommendations including about universities and the sector working together (Bournemouth gets a mention as an example of good practice but the report doesn’t say more about that), increasing bursary support as well as providing better information about costs, and a specific redress system for private student accommodation.

In the meantime, Wonkhe report:

  • …the way that private renting is regulated in England is “not effective” in ensuring the sector is consistently fair for renters or that housing is safe and secure, according to a new reportfrom the National Audit Office (NAO). Noting that tenants face several barriers to enforcing their rights, and arguing that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) does not yet have a detailed plan to address the problems that renters face, the report notes that the department does not have any formal joint working arrangements with the Department for Education.

Wonkhe blogs on the topic:

PQs:

Admissions

UCAS provides insight from the 2021 end of cycle analysis data highlighting a record number (103,010) UK 18 year olds were accepted onto courses at the most competitive (higher tariff) universities and colleges in 2021 (up 11% from 2020, up 28% from before the pandemic in 2019). The 11% rise contrasts with the 3% increase in the UK’s overall 18 year old population during the 2021 cycle.

The number of applicants achieving A level grades equivalent to three A*s nearly quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels to 19,595 (5,655 in 2019), and close to doubled compared to 2020 (12,735). UCAS are careful to note the impact of Teacher Assessed Grades whilst emphasising that these grades were deserved alongside the flexibility shown by universities and colleges.

Other key headlines include:

  • The proportion of all UK 18 year olds with a confirmed place increased to 38.3% (275,235 students), up from 37.0% (257,895) in 2020 and 34.1% (241,515) in 2019.
  • 223,315 UK 18 year olds secured their first choice of course (81% of all those placed), up from 194,035 (75%) in 2020 and 177,680 (74%) in 2019.
  • The number of UK 18 year olds choosing to defer starting their course for a year rose by 3,185 to 24,855, a 15% increase.
  • 606,645 people of all ages across the UK applied (+5% on 2020), with 492,005 accepted (+1%).
  • Internationally, a total of 142,925 people of all ages applied (-5% on 2020), of which 70,055 were accepted (-18%). This is split between 111,255 people from outside the EU applying (+12%), with 54,030 accepted (+2%); while 31,670 people from the EU applied (-40%) and 16,025 were accepted (-50%).
  • A total of 749,570 applicants of all ages and domiciles applied in the 2021 cycle (+ 3% on 2020), of which 562,060 were accepted (-1%).

However, what we don’t know is where students were placed (data to be released in January 2022). This will highlight whether the expansion at the most selective universities will have widened access and admitted proportionally more disadvantaged students or changed their traditional recruitment patterns in other ways.

The Commons Library has also published a briefing on HE student numbers. The paper considers  trends in the size of the student population, changes in the number of entrants overall and for different types of students/courses and entry rates for different groups and areas. It notes concerns where there has been a downturn in student numbers such as part-time undergraduates, some postgraduates students, EU students, mature students and some disadvantaged groups and considers the impact of the pandemic. For a quick read there is a shorter summary.

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

One Nation Universities: a new HEPI paper The One Nation University: Spreading opportunity, reducing division and building community.

International: Wonkhe describe a new report from former universities minister Jo Johnson, Shashank Vira, Janet Ilieva, Jonathan Adams and Jonathan Grant for the Policy Institute at King’s College London on UK-India collaboration highlights India’s contribution to several areas of knowledge and suggests a comprehensive India-UK knowledge partnership including making it easier for students to move between the UK and India through mutually recognised qualifications, tackling visa fraud, promoting international student exchange, and increased funding for collaborative science project.

Careers Guidance: Wonkhe: The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing on careers guidance for schools, colleges and universities in England. The briefing outlines how careers advice enhancements promised in the Skills for Jobs white paper have been incorporated into the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.

UUK changes: Chief Executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, tweeted to confirm he will leave UUK in June 2022 to take up the post of Pro Vice-Chancellor (Partnerships and Governance) at the University of London. Jarvis has served more than 8 years in UUK’s senior leadership team, 5 of which have been as chief exec.

International students: UUK have published an 8 page briefing – The UK immigration system must keep attracting exchange students ­– calling on the Government to reform the visitor immigration route so that short-term exchange students can stay in the UK up to one year without need for a student visa (c. £700). Wonkhe have a blog. Research Professional discuss UUK’s briefing here.

Gender Based Violence: EmilyTest – a Scottish charity that tackles gender based violence in education – has released a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Charter for Colleges and Universities. The charter lays out minimum requirements that the charity states need to be in place at institutions to tackle GBV and pass the “Emily Test”. The Herald has the story. (Source: Wonkhe.)

Turing Exchange Scheme: The Guardian covers criticisms of the announcement that the administration of the Turing exchange scheme has been awarded to Capita over the British Council.

Essay Mills: Wonkhe blog – The essay mills debate in Parliament may not be perfect, but Gareth Crossman and Michael Draper argue that they may be good enough to make a difference.

Student Loans: The DfE announced a change to maximum Plan 2 and Plan 3 student loan interest rates. From 1 January 2022 until 28 February 2022, the maximum interest rate applied to Plan 2 Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) student loans and the interest rate applied to Postgraduate loans will be capped in line with the prevailing market rate for comparable unsecured personal loans, which have recently reduced. From 1 March 2022, the maximum Plan 2 and the Postgraduate loan interest rates are expected to revert to RPI +3%.

Student Midwives: Health Education England has celebrated that record numbers of students were accepted to study nursing and midwifery. Over 30,000 students were accepted places which represents a 35% increase in comparison to 2018. (Wonkhe)

Placements: Student placement agencies or migration agents that have faced disciplinary action and had legal troubles are recruiting international students for universities and colleges around the world, PIE News reports. (Wonkhe)

Civic London Mapped: An interesting short blog on HEPI where Diane Beech of London Higher introduces the map illustrating the combined civic engagement of the London universities. Map here.

Value for Money: Wonkhe report on the latest OfS key performance indicator which asks students if they are getting value for money through their HE education – Of the 614 undergraduates surveyed, 32.9% said they thought they were receiving value for money, down from 37.5% the previous year.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                               Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 25th November 2021

Welcome to your two-week round up on the biggest HE news.

Fees and funding

We’re still expecting imminent announcements on funding structures, linked to the lifelong loan entitlement, but possibly going further with at least hints about the future (or non-future) for the Augar recommendations and other changes to the funding structure.  BU readers can find our comprehensive review of the current arrangements for funding and fees here.

A student perspective is given in a report by HEPI and the Centre for Global Higher Education. The main findings of the report include:

  • Graduates think income-contingent student loans offer access to higher education and regard the repayment system as manageable, with the income repayment threshold protecting against low earnings. Monthly repayments are seen as affordable and automatic repayments are valued.
  • However, graduates consider tuition fees and interest rates to be too high, see the amount of debt owed as a burden and feel the repayment period is never-ending.
  • Graduates describe emotional and psychological disturbance from their debt, with graduates in the post-2012 reforms cohort considerably more negative about their student loan debt.

Access & Participation Changes

We’ve been waiting for a while for detail some potentially significant changes that will support the implementation into HE of the government’s vision for levelling up and building back better.  The new Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS has been announced as John Blake and the Government have outlined their changed expectations for what were previously the Access and Participation Plans. The Government’s press release sets the tone.

Before we look at the substance, there is an interesting process point – we were expecting monitoring guidance for the 2021-21 APPs which has had to be delayed.  The existing 5 year plans are likely to be ended early and reformulated – which doesn’t sound much like reducing bureaucracy (which is a stated aim).  You could read references to this in the many publications this week as sounding a bit defensive.  And also a bit blame-y…the implication is that we make it bureaucratic ourselves by the way that we do it: All access and participation work will need to be focused on actions that support learners, with needless complexity and bureaucracy cut out.

There’s a focus on quality  – with the point being made again that it is not ok to encourage disadvantaged students to go to university – they have to have the same outcomes as less disadvantaged students when they leave.  Getting on not just getting in.

Universities are expected to take a local and regional focus working with all young people (not just disadvantaged) as part of the levelling up agenda. That’s reminiscent of the Theresa May government’s suggestion that all universities should ‘sponsor’ local schools academy trusts. Stretching targets are expected to be set to reduce dropout rates and increase progression into highly skilled (and well paid) employment. Universities will need to demonstrate how they improve educational outcomes for all disadvantaged students in the area (or region) not just those progressing to university. This includes supporting outcomes for those who intend to take up apprenticeships, employment or other options. Universities will be expected to set targets to increase the proportion of students studying degree apprenticeships, higher technical qualification or part time courses.

Of course there are some inherent conflicts within this. Is it ethical to spend tuition fees funded by student loans on the upskilling of the local community (which for many won’t be the community they grew up in)?  It isn’t really possible to demonstrate a direct causal impact a university can have on a school pupil’s success?  Even with the best programmes can universities demonstrate what is being asked of them? Some student groups are more at risk of drop out than others and some don’t want to make the post-graduation geographical choices that would lead to a higher paid job. Will the Government’s monitoring and targets perversely encourage universities to avoid recruiting these students? It is unlikely that universities would do this, but will there be a punishment for not doing?

We can expect changes to apprenticeship funding models and success targets in the future too. This all sits within the context of the Government’s agenda for fewer young people to attend university (more to consider apprenticeships and non-academic route options) and the public purse concerns surrounding funding the funding and maintenance costs as we emerge from the demographic dip in 18 year olds.

The Government also announced £8 million for 13 projects to remove barriers to post-graduate research for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, with projects looking at admissions and targeted recruitment. The 13 projects will work collectively to support the entire PGR lifecycle using innovative methods and approaches. This includes reviewing admissions processes to tackling offer rate gaps, and plans to extend routes into doctoral study via professional doctorates and partnering with the NHS. Other projects will focus specifically on intersectional inequalities related to Black female students, and prioritise the mental health of their PGR students of colour… This is only one of many first steps, as systemic inequalities will not disappear overnight. We are acutely aware of how much further the sector needs to travel to be in a position to allow people of all backgrounds to flourish and establish the most outstanding research and innovation sector with a formidable research culture to match.

Wonkhe have a guest blogger who discusses why John Blake was chosen to lead the new access and participation agenda. It is worth a slow read, there is much unsaid between the lines and colleagues will want to be aware that the author, Jonathan Simons, is a partner at right leaning Public First. Do read the comments and responses to the blog. Also worth a read is the open letter blog to John Blake by two student unions. Once you get past the initial credibility ticking and trumpet blowing it makes good points about what helps students stick and achieve at university – calling on the OfS to ask universities to emphasise these aspects in their new plans.

The OfS issued a lot of material alongside the announcement. Amongst the new guidance is this letter from Nadhim Zahawi about the “future of access and participation”.  Some extracts that show the ton:

  • It also cannot be right that some notional gains in access have resulted from recruiting students from underrepresented groups onto courses where more than 50% of students do not get positive outcomes from their degree. 
  • At 25 higher education providers, fewer than half the students who begin a degree will go on to highly skilled employment or further study within 15 months of graduation, and even within providers above this threshold, there will frequently be one or more subjects which are below it. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are being let down by these courses. [We’ve heard that before, it refers to this experimental metric released by the OfS called “proceed” which combines completion rates and graduate employment rates. 10 of them are private or specialist providers].
  • We would like to see the OfS rewrite the national targets to better align with this new focus, and renegotiate A&P plans with providers to meet these new priorities, including due consideration of regional inequalities, prior attainment in schools and a focus on the findings of the white working-class boys report, which identified that they are one of the groups least likely to attend university. We encourage the OfS, in the renegotiated plans, to require providers to promote equality of opportunity before entry to higher education, and support schools to drive up academic standards. 
  • This refocusing of the system is not about creating a new, burdensome industry. These changes should streamline the planning, monitoring and evaluation process. Plans should be short, concise, and both accessible and easy to understand. They should focus on results and best practice. Most importantly, plans should be comprehensible to students and parents, and clearly signposted on university websites, so that they can hold institutions to account on their commitments. We would also expect providers to see material efficiency benefits from this less bureaucratic approach.

Michelle Donelan also spoke at a Times Higher Education event.  The tone, again, is interesting:

  • … the normal, status quo, comfort zone approach to education is in my view something that COVID has helped to break us out of, and as a result, we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact historic reforms that are long overdue….
  • …the guiding principle for me is ‘when we learn is as important as what we learn’…For too long HE has been predominantly undertaken between the ages of 18- 22 and our system has not supported or developed a culture of lifelong learning….
  • … I want to talk about this revolutionary change into further and higher education, namely the Lifelong Loan Entitlement or LLE which the Prime Minister announced as part of the “rocket fuel that we need to level up this country.” I want the LLE to be a fundamental and seismic shift in the way that we fund and enable students to access higher and higher technical education in this country.
  • …In less than four years young people will not be channelled, regardless of fit, into a straitjacket of a traditional three-year degree, but instead will have a genuine choice with the flexibility to choose from a range of options that work for them. We need you to create that choice – and whilst we can create the system to allow it we need you to develop the modules working hand in hand with industry….
  • … it is unacceptable that so many still find themselves on courses where fewer than 50% of those who start have good outcomes after leaving, or are encouraged onto courses that providers know have poor completion rates…Data from the Office for Students shows clearly that disadvantaged entrants are less likely to continue after year 1, less likely to achieve a first or upper second-degree classification; and less likely to progress into highly skilled employment or study…
  • ..So, just as the Russell Group have become used to having to set ambitious targets for recruiting state school pupils in order for their plans to be accepted, from now on universities with poor outcomes will have to set ambitious targets for reducing drop-out rates and improving progression to graduate employment….

Chris Millward (outgoing Director for Fair Access and Participation at OfS) blogged for HEPI: Fair equality of opportunity means a fair chance to succeed. It talks of hearing the student voice, of how disadvantaged students struggle to bridge the fabled gap between talent and opportunity and has some charts on reducing the disadvantage gap.  Some excerpts:

  • …universities can recognise that the grades of many disadvantaged students demonstrate that they have travelled further and offer greater potential to succeed in higher education. Universities have independence in relation to their admissions precisely so they can make nuanced individualised judgements of this kind. 
  • This is not an easy route to equality of opportunity. The students I meet in universities identify the importance of a sustained package of support, including academically stretching work before admission and an academic offer that reflects their potential, as well as financial support to meet the cost of living during their studies. 
  • Alongside this, universities can give greater priority to routes other than young, full-time, full-degree entry within their access and participation strategies, enabling more people to enter higher education when they are older, and thereby diminishing the influence of attainment gaps in school. 
  • People who study locally are more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds and to seek employment in their home region. This means that the geographical disparities… have a profound effect on the employment prospects of the most disadvantaged students… One answer to this might be to encourage graduates living in these places to move away from their local area to study and work… If, though, the most educated people leave an area to gain good employment, this can only compound the challenge for future generations… Another approach might be to encourage people in areas where there are lower school grades and graduate earnings not to go to university at all, for example by completing their studies at lower levels and going directly into work… But it would be profoundly unfair to prevent people from having the opportunity to benefit from higher education due to the circumstances in which they have grown up. It would also be unlikely to succeed, given increasing levels of demand for universities in this country… I am pleased that discussions about social mobility have shifted from enabling people to leave their local area to improving their prospects if they want to stay. But this must not lead to a new binary divide between mobile academic routes for those who get the right grades in school and local technical routes for others. 

Meanwhile The Sutton Trust have published a research brief which notes the importance of less selective universities taking disadvantaged students of varied academic potential: Less selective universities take on the majority of poorer students who attend university. While they often have lower graduate earnings on average, many of their graduates from poorer homes in fact go on to achieve well in the labour market. This is further emphasised when the characteristics of their students, including their school attainment, is taken into account.

The brief looks at the effect universities have on social mobility and ranks the top 20 institutions based on their contribution. Unsurprisingly, due to the unique demographics, London institutions come out top. The brief is well worth a read and there are good charts illustrating the points made. We like this one that highlights how the socio-economic background types feed through the university types to their end bearing on earnings.

The report also highlights known truisms which speak to the changes the Government announced – particularly on high employment outcomes:

  • The very best-performing institutions in terms of their labour market success admitted few FSM students. Similarly, the universities with the highest FSM access rates have below average success rates. However, across all universities, the correlation between access and success of -0.24 is relatively weak. Some universities do reasonably well on both metrics.
  • Adjusting earnings for cost of living differences across the country improves the mobility rates of Northern universities, and lowers those in London and the South East. It does not change the overall ranking of universities very much, however. London universities still dominate the top of the mobility distribution, and the most selective universities still perform poorly.

The OfS have published the APP monitoring outcomes for 2019-20.

  • 60 per cent of targets were reported as having made expected progress
  • For access, targets focused on gender saw the least progress made (using both categories of no and limited progress). We do not consider gender in isolation as an underrepresented group and for APPs from 2020-21 onwards, there are fewer targets using this category.
  • For the success and progression stages of the lifecycle, particularly for continuation, many targets that were not focused on specific groups, but instead related to whole cohorts of students, did not make expected progress. Furthermore, for progression, there was a very small number of targets set for care experienced students and white disadvantaged students where no progress was made.

Some interesting bits of context:

  • Changes to academic regulations were cited in a number of returns as additional measures by which student success had been supported…[these included no detriment policies, alternative methods of assessment, broadening extenuating circumstances criteria and assignment extensions]…The OfS expects rigour to be maintained when a provider makes changes to its academic regulations, whatever the reasons for those changes.
  • Creating and fostering a sense of ‘belonging’ was seen as an important way to retain and ensure a high-quality experience for all students, and some providers described how this was especially important with the move to online learning.
  • Mental health and wellbeing was a topic frequently highlighted in both provider and student submissions. Providers acknowledged how critical an issue this was to student success, particularly for underrepresented students given the additional and disproportionate pressures that the pandemic may have on them…Many providers noted how they had expanded their student support services and reflected on the benefits of moving mental health and counselling services online.
  • Some providers anticipated worsening student success outcomes from 2020-21 onwards due to the pandemic. For example, 10 per cent of providers predicted worsening performance in respect of continuation. Some providers also reported increasing numbers of students requesting to withdraw or suspend their study.
  • Whilst some providers acknowledged the difficulties associated with their graduates gaining different types of work experience during the pandemic, there were positive examples of how providers had responded. For example, some providers reported the creation of new in-house internship programmes or expanded existing internship programmes, and that work experience and internships had also moved online.
  • Placements were particularly affected by the pandemic, as well as some students being made redundant or furloughed. In response, one university offered a number of micro-placements to estranged students, care experienced students and students from low-income households.

And in relation to the student submissions:

  • In many of the submissions, communication was a key concern. For example, students felt that it was at times slow and sometimes did not include a clear rationale for why decisions were made.
  • Furthermore, students reported that they considered some aspects of support, such as safety net and no detriment policies, and digital support funds and hardship funds, to be at times inadequate, slow to be implemented and reactive rather than proactive. Some students felt there were inconsistencies within the support offered and how this affected different underrepresented groups.
  • There were reports that students working on access and participation delivery were unaware of the plan and the wider strategic activity. Suggestions were made on how providers could better inform and engage students in the delivery and monitoring of the plan, including training or inductions for students working on access and participation activities.

And on poor employment outcomes Wonkhe summarise a HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) report produced jointly with the University of Warwick that examines the impact of degree classifications on graduate earnings. The report – Graduate Earnings Premia in the UK: Decline and Fall? – finds that the earnings premium over non-graduates for graduates born in 1990 with a 2:2 or below was just 3%, a sharp drop from the 17% premium for similar graduates born in 1970. The report authors…argue that this drop is consistent with their conception that increased higher education and a rise in the proportion landing upper seconds and first has made a “good” degree the new default. However, there is evidence that this effect may be slowing as participation growth slows down. Wonkhe also have a blog where David Kernohan ponders if employers are changing their opinions: Fresh HESA/Warwick research describes how earnings and outcomes have been affected by degree attainment and classification.

And back to Public First – Wonkhe report that Public First polled the public’s views on the levelling up agenda and finds that a third of people view lower tuition fees for people attending their local university as a way to level up their area. There’s a blog about the research on Conservative Home.

Homelessness Access: Wonkhe tell us – The University of Chichester and the UPP Foundation have developed a toolkit to encourage access to university for those with experience with homelessness. The Adversity to University programme is a 12 week course where students – who live in or have been supported by a local homeless shelter – develop the academic and critical thinking skills needed to thrive in higher education. If the students complete the course successfully, they can apply to study a degree at the University of Chichester. The Times covers the scheme.

OfS

Following last week’s publication of the OfS strategy Wonkhe ran a series on the Office for Students:

Research

Research England:  David Sweeney will retire from his Executive Chair role at Research England. Recruitment for his replacement has begun.

Horizon Europe: BEIS Parliamentary Under-secretary George Freeman stated the UK is ready to associate with Horizon Europe but the EU delays persist. He said:

  • We see no legal or practical reason why we should not be able to formalise our participation swiftly, and urge the EU to do so.
  • Our priority is to support our UK’s R&D sector and we will continue to do this in all future scenarios. We have been allocated funding for full association to Horizon Europe, as stated in the Spending Review. In the event that the UK is unable to associate, the funding put aside for Horizon association will go to UK government R&D programmes.

Funding: Wonkhe – Research England has published a breakdown of their £6 million in funding allocations for participatory research. The funding has been distributed to providers based on their total recurrent quality related research, with a minimum and maximum allocation of £5000 and £150,000 respectively. Further documentation for providers is available.

ARIA: The ARIA Bill is being discussed at Committee Stage in the House of Lords (summary here). There were objections to an amendment which attempted to ensure that consideration of climate and environmental goals were embedded within ARIA’s function – the amendment was withdrawn. Lord Willetts called for bureaucracy to be curtailed in other research institutions (as well as ARIA) and for ARIA to pursue a happy balance between missions versus technologies. The ARIA Board was discussed as was ARIA’s deliberate separation from UKRI and the Civil Service. An amendment which required the devolved nations to be represented on the ARIA Board also failed. Dods have also provided a summary of the second Committee session here. And Wonkhe say: there were no surprises in Grand Committee – the government amendments to do with the way devolved governments will interact with the proposed new research funding body passed, and others were not moved. Concerns still exist around ARIA’s transparency and ways in which it can be scrutinised, and the overall purpose and goals of ARIA – these are likely to return at report stage.

The ARIA Bill will shortly move to the report stage.

Xinjiang/research: The Government has published their response to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on the UK’s responsibility to act on atrocities in Xinjiang and beyond. Recommendation 28 is of relevance to the UK higher education sector’s ties with China.

  • Recommendation 28: Where a Chinese institution possesses known or suspected links to repression in Xinjiang, or substantial connections to Chinese military research, UK universities should avoid any form of technological or research collaboration with them. They should also conduct urgent reviews of their current research partnerships, terminating them where involved parties are found or suspected to be complicit in the atrocities in Xinjiang.
  • The Government is committed to providing support to UK universities and research institutions to help them to make informed decisions and manage risks when undertaking technological or research collaborations with other countries, including China. We will not accept collaborations which compromise our national security or values. However international research collaboration is central to our position as a science superpower, and our research sector therefore needs to be both open as well as secure. A range of measures are already in place to support UK universities and research institutions to manage these risks, including:
  • Launching the Trusted Research campaign, which included the publication of new detailed guidance by Universities UK on the risks involved in international collaborations. The new guidance, ‘Managing risks in internationalisation: security-related issues’, advises UK institutions to assess reputational, ethical and security risks when conducting due diligence on prospective partners. The Government is also working with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation, to ensure that its employees and grant holders adhere to the latest Government guidance.
  • Under the UK’s export control regime, the Government rigorously assesses all export licences against strict criteria. We continuously strengthen protective measures and expect universities to do the same.
  • The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is currently recruiting a new Research Collaboration Advice Team to help raise awareness and understanding of Government advice on security related matters, including export controls, cyber security and the protection of intellectual property. The new BEIS team will also provide support to researchers to help them to pursue safe international collaborations.
  • The Academic Technology Approval Scheme, which the Government expanded in March 2021, also provides robust procedures to protect national security and counter foreign interference.

Wales: Wonkhe report – First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced research and development priorities for the Welsh government. He commits the government to work to secure R&D funding levels “at least equivalent to those received historically via the European Union,” and to address “historic underfunding” from UK investment. Funded research will support priorities around climate change, environmental recovery, and decarbonisation. There will also be a new cross-government innovation strategy with a focus on driving impact.

Admissions

The Ministerial letter from Michelle Donelan which set out the changes to Access and Participation (and repeated much of what we summarise above) also raises some admissions issues.  It asks universities to consider what will happen if there are changes to arrangements for students seeking admission to university again this year, e.g. if exams have to be cancelled or to deal with another year of potentially higher grades: We believe that planning now and building resilience into your offer-making strategies to avoid either over or under subscription at individual institutions in all scenarios is a vital part of your own contingency planning. We encourage you to be thoughtful when setting your offer requirements and to consider any additional measures which would allow you to plan as effectively as possible.

And then a focus on “student focussed admissions practices”:

  • As you will be aware, the OfS temporary registration condition, Z3, which prohibited the use of conditional unconditional offers and other types of offer making practices ended on 30 September this year. Whilst Z3 is no longer in place, I would like to strongly encourage you to continue to act within its spirit and adhere to the principle of ensuring students’ best interests are safeguarded during these difficult times – which I know has been the case over the last 2 admissions cycles. This includes avoiding the use of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers and other practices which may place undue pressure on students to make choices.
  • .. It is therefore disappointing that, during previous admissions cycles, there have been instances of providers introducing oversubscription conditions that permitted them to withdraw places where the number of students meeting offer conditions exceeded the number of places available.

MD therefore welcomes a statement from the Competition and Markets Authority on admissions.  The CMA rarely speaks on HE but its guidance on consumer protection as it applies to students is covered in our licence conditions.  The CMA has issued a short statement about offers to students:

  • When an HE provider makes an offer of a place to a prospective student and the offer is accepted, in our view a binding contract is made between the HE provider and …. The HE provider has agreed to reserve a place and allow the student to enrol on the relevant course if they meet any specified entry requirements (where applicable).
  • The terms of that contract must be fair. If terms are unfair then they are unenforceable against a consumer (i.e. student). It should be noted that transparency is not enough, on its own, to make a term fair…
  • A term may be open to challenge if it could be used to cause consumer detriment even if it is not at present being used so as to produce that outcome in practice…
  • A term that affords a wide discretion to the HE provider to withdraw or cancel an accepted offer effectively means the HE provider could simply choose not to comply with the terms of the offers it has made to prospective students. A provision that has this effect is likely to be unfair under unfair terms legislation….
  • in the CMA’s view terms that purport to exclude or limit the liability of a HE provider if it fails to meet its contractual obligations are inappropriate and potentially unfair…

The OfS response is here re-emphasising the importance of this – extracts:

  • Ongoing condition of registration C1 requires providers to have regard to relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer protection law, including that published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), when developing and implementing their policies and terms and conditions.
  • A potential breach in consumer law may prompt the OfS to investigate and, if appropriate, carry out enforcement action to address any failures to comply with one or more of the conditions of registration.
  • All registered providers should familiarise themselves with the CMA’s statement and guidance and take action to review and change their terms and conditions where necessary.

Free Speech

With the parliamentary passage of the free speech Bill still in motion matters such as the resignation of Kathleen Stock (Sussex) continue to receive attention. The Lords debated her resignation which highlighted the OfS have opened an investigation.

Baroness Barran (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State) said: No academic should have to fear for their personal safety, particularly as a consequence of expressing lawful views. This incident demonstrates why this Government are pressing ahead with legislation to promote and defend freedom of speech on campuses. This week the Times also reported on a social anthropology lecturer who has chosen not return to teaching duties after being cleared of racism accusations.

HE: Intergenerational Perspective

The Intergenerational Foundation published an analysis of what has changed for young people over the last decade across 10 policy areas. Out of the 10 policy areas investigated, young people have fallen behind in 9 of them over the last 10 years, with the environment being the only area where progress has been mainly positive. The report finds:

Higher education

  • The proportion of the population with a university degree has risen from 26% in 2004 to just above 40% in 2019. This has largely been driven by the rapid increase of younger people in higher education – from 2019 onwards, for the first time in history, over 50% of young people in the UK are attending university. In many ways, these statistics can be viewed as a success story. While it is difficult to quantify the public benefit of a higher-educated workforce, research by IF suggests that the tax premium on graduates – including the extra tax paid compared with non-graduates – was around £291,000 for each graduate in 2017. There are also many positive social externalities associated with undertaking a higher education. These include: high graduate engagement in valuable voluntary work; graduates tend to be more law-abiding than non-graduates; and graduates are less likely to engage in riskier lifestyles and therefore present less of a burden to both the NHS and criminal justice costs.
  • However, the number of graduate jobs is not keeping up with the number of graduates: in 2019, approximately 45% of recent graduates and 35% of nonrecent graduates were working in non-graduate roles. This calls into question the value of obtaining a university degree and suggests that the UK may actually have a problem of over-education with a mismatch between the number of graduates available and the number of graduate job opportunities available (reference)
  • The total outstanding student debt in the UK has tripled since the fee cap was raised to £9,000 and then to £9,250 – from £46,700 million in 2011/2012 to £140,000 million in 2019/2020. The report (page 24) highlights that the notion of the graduate premium is flawed – it discusses why it is intergenerationally unfair and that students from wealthier backgrounds avoid the 9% tax rate, further exacerbated by the higher maintenance loan value students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds may take out. The details are in the report, it concludes: Therefore, rather than acting as a tax on workers earning a “graduate premium”, the 9% student loan repayment tax just makes it incredibly difficult for young adults with student debts to save, especially for big milestone purchases such as a house deposit or having a family. It is no wonder then that many graduates return home to live with their parents soon after graduating. And if the Government decide to retrospectively change the loan repayment period to 40 years they can, although it may be politically unpopular.
  • Graduates with a post-2012 student loan have a 41% marginal tax rate on earnings above £27,295, rising to 51% if they earn above £50,270. Only 25% of current graduates are forecasted to repay their loan in full.

Health: Spending on health per person has increased at a similar rate over time for pensioners and working-age adults; however, for children spending has stagnated since 2010/2011. The percentage of young adults with some evidence indicating depression or anxiety has risen over the last decade: from 18% in 2009/2010 to 25% in 2017/2018.  More details on Health at page 35.

Skills & Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill received its second reading in a lively House of Commons session (summary). BTECs were mentioned with repeated calls for the phase out to extend to a 4 year period. Minister Zahawi stated apprenticeship outcomes were important (because there has been a big drop in apprenticeship take up) and that skills, schools and families were the Government’s mantra with the increased investment in FE highlighted. The Bill to eradicate essay mills was also mentioned in passing.

The English and Maths exit requirements will be removed from T levels. The Minister stated that T Levels and A Levels should be at the forefront of the level 3 landscape, but stressed that other qualifications would still be needed alongside them. “It is quite likely that many BTECs and similar applied general-style qualifications will continue to play an important role in 16-to-19 education for the foreseeable future. The Minister also indicated the Government intends to consult on reforming level 2 technical qualifications.

Chris Skidmore (former Universities Minister) called for the ELQ rule to be abolished and for universities to be recognised within a genuine place based approach. The Lifetime skills guarantee received much debate (nothing new), local skills improvement plans were discussed. Alex Burghart (Under-Secretary of State for Education) summed up the Government’s position: he was pleased to hear the Opposition support changes on level 2 English and maths as an exit requirement for T-levels, because Government want these new gold-standard qualifications to be open to as many people as possible. For students at level 3, there would be world-class qualifications designed with employers leading to degree-level apprenticeships, work and higher education, because more than 50 universities already accepted T-levels. For students who were at level 2 at 16-19, there would be world-class qualifications designed with employers leading to traineeships, apprenticeships or work or the opportunity to take up the lifetime skills guarantee at level 3.

The Bill will now proceed to the Public Bill Committee (Committee stage).

PQs

Other news

  • Education Staff Wellbeing: The DfE published Robin Walker’s written ministerial statement launching the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter aimed at schools and colleges and a new £760,000 mental health support scheme delivered by the charity Education Support. Glossy version here.
  • Health Education England: Dods highlight that the HSJ is reporting that Health Education England is going to be merged into NHS England. The merger is expected to take place in April 2023. HEE were reportedly arguing for an unaffordable funding settlement, which ultimately has led to its demise. The HSJ’s source said the merger was disappointing, but “in the longer term it is the right decision, or at least not a bad decision. If HEE had proportionately been given the money NHSE has received over the past eight years it would have made a massive difference. We need to align service finance and workforce planning and this does that. Being outside the ring fence [around NHSE funding] is not a good thing.” Since writing Wonkhe report that the Secretary of State for Health, Sajid Javid, has announced that Health Education England, the body responsible for the training of NHS staff, will be merged with NHS England, NHS Improvement, NHSX, and NHS Digital.
  • Student MPs: At PMQs this week Jane Hunt MP asked what the PM was doing to encourage students from all backgrounds to inspire them to become MPs or the Prime Minister. Johnson responded that none of the bad parts of politics should deter anyone from becoming a representative.
  • HESA head: The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has named Rob Phillpotts as its next chief executive. Phillpotts, currently managing director of HESA, is to replace outgoing chief executive Paul Clark following his departure on 17 December (Wonkhe).
  • Kindness: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator have a Wonkhe blog on how they use a kindness approach when addressing student complaints.
  • Essay Mills: Wonkhe report that: The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has built a briefing for its members on identifying work produced via essay mills.
  • TASO: The Director of TASO blogs to reflect on the mid-term survey highlighting TASO’s successes and challenges.

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HE policy update for the w/e 12th November 2021

Here’s our round up of the news from the last couple of weeks.

Parliamentary News

David Thomas, a co-founder of the Oak National Academy, has been appointed as a part time policy adviser to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi. His policy brief will focus on recovery, academies and remote education. Former free school founder Mark Lehain has been appointed as Zahawi’s policy special adviser.

All change at the OfS

The OfS have announced that chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, will leave the regulator at the end of April 2022. This was anticipated as Dandridge’s original term was extended for one year to cover the period to April 2022. The recruitment of her successor will be closely watched with many a keen eye judging the impartiality of the process.

But in the meantime, they are not wasting any time, as they have launched a consultation on their next year strategic plan.  The contents are not very surprising given what we have been hearing from them and from Ministers.  There is a Wonkhe article here which is a little bit critical….

  • What’s missing? An opportunity to say something on sector cohesion and co-regulation has been missed. There should really have been something about external pressures – the recovery and change as a result of Covid-19, the wellbeing of staff, the incoming demographic pressure on the system.
  • If you were writing a new strategy for anybody involved in English higher education, your environmental analysis would include the potential government response to the Augar report and the incoming Lifelong Loan Entitlement … You will search the strategy consultation in vain for more than a single line noting the LLE might be a thing. So maybe a goal around delivering and supporting systemic changes. And another about working in partnership with other agencies.
  • There’s a school of thought that would suggest waiting until you have all your senior roles filled before you wrote a strategy – the whole point of recruiting good board members and directors is to let them have an input into things like this, surely?
  • .. Now if you were an organisation whose principal beneficiaries were named in your title, you might reasonably set about involving those beneficiaries in determining those priorities, right?… Nothing. Nada. Even the paternalism doesn’t sound especially benevolent this time around. There’s a couple of pages reminding us that 25 different directions in ministerial guidance letters have helped shape the strategy, both not a single word on how students have.

Anyway, extracts from the consultation proposal are here.  As well is what is missing, we invite you to form your own views on how chilling it is.  Spoiler: it’s chilling.

Regulatory approach

Our approach is based on a set of minimum expectations that we refer to as the ‘regulatory baseline’.

  • The regulatory baseline is a set of regulatory expectations that represent the minimum performance to which students and taxpayers are entitled. The baseline is predominantly expressed through our conditions of registration and all providers are required to satisfy these. We also use statements of expectation and other tools to express this minimum level of performance from providers to which students and taxpayers are entitled.

…During the next strategic period, our work will be strongly focused on ensuring that providers are meeting these expectations. Performance that falls below our regulatory baseline fails students, who contribute through their time, effort and fees. It fails taxpayers, who support a significant investment of public funds through grants and subsidised loans. It also fails to deliver the objectives set out in our regulatory framework.

We use a range of regulatory approaches to secure compliance with the baseline: setting clear expectations for compliance with our conditions of registration; taking proportionate action to secure compliance with this baseline, escalating enforcement action where it is breached; and intervening where a provider is at risk of dropping below it. We also communicate information and use influence to incentivise compliance with the baseline.

Where it is proportionate to do so, we regulate to ensure that providers cannot continue to access student loan funding, grant funding, and degree awarding powers, if their performance falls below this baseline.

In regulating providers against this baseline, we use a risk-based and proportionate approach. This means that we prioritise and act according to the risk posed to students and taxpayers, and that our interventions are proportionate to that regulatory risk. This approach enables us to minimise burden on providers where possible: providers that represent low risk to students and taxpayers will experience lower regulatory burden.

Above the baseline, we believe that autonomous providers making their own decisions is the best way to ensure the sector can flourish and innovate. We do not prescribe how universities and colleges should operate beyond our minimum requirements, and most of our activity will be designed to ensure that providers meet these expectations.

We will, however, influence and incentivise providers to perform beyond our minimum requirements over the next strategic period. Student choice has a significant role in shaping the sector to respond to students’ needs and goals: effective information, advice and guidance plays a major role in driving high quality outcomes. We will therefore take steps to ensure that students and their advisers have access to relevant and targeted information to inform their choices about whether, what and where to study.

 We will also use other methods. For instance, in using our funding powers to incentivise certain outcomes or through such mechanisms as the TEF.

Areas of focus

The two areas that we will focus on from 2022 to 2025 are quality and standards, and equality of opportunity. … These areas of focus are important in their own right, and they have only become more so in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. In response to the pandemic, we paused some of our reporting requirements as higher education providers adapted to the novel and fast-moving environment. As we transition out of the early stages of the pandemic over the next strategic period, we know that quality and standards will be of utmost importance to students. Many have faced significant disruption to their education during the pandemic, while new opportunities have emerged from the significant change that came with it. Meanwhile, gaps in opportunity have for the most part stagnated or widened during the last two years, and longer-term effects are still unclear, adding further imperative to focus on this area.

Goals

Quality and standards

  • Students receive a high quality academic experience that improves their knowledge and skills, with increasing numbers receiving excellent provision.
  • Students are rigorously assessed, and the qualifications they are awarded are credible and comparable to those granted previously.
  • Providers secure free speech within the law for students, staff and visiting speakers.
  • Graduates contribute to local and national prosperity, and the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Equality of opportunity

  • Students’ access, success and progression are not limited by their background, location or characteristics.
  • Prospective students can choose from a diverse range of courses and providers at any stage of their life, with a wide range of flexible and innovative opportunities.
  • Providers act to prevent harassment and sexual misconduct and respond effectively if incidents do occur.
  • Providers encourage and support an environment conducive to the good mental health and wellbeing that students need to succeed in their higher education.

Enabling regulation

  • Providers are financially viable and sustainable and have effective governance arrangements.
  • Students receive the academic experience they were promised by their provider and their interests as consumers are protected before, during and after their studies.
  • The OfS minimises the regulatory burden it places on providers, while ensuring action is effective in meeting our goals and regulatory objectives.

Is University worth it?

The University All Party Parliamentary Group (supported by Universities UK) published Is university worth it? Young people’s motivations, aspirations and views on student finance. The Group commissioned this research to gather better evidence of prospective students’ views on the student finance system as it stands, potential reforms to the system and the post-18 education options available to them. They found that less affluent students could be worst hit by a reduction in the number of universities or the number of courses on offer. Read more – there is a good short summary of the report available on the APPG website.

Research

The Spending Review reconfirmed the Government’s intentions for research but lengthened the timescale, speech:

So we will also invest more in innovation. The UK is already a world-leader. With less than 1% of the world’s population, we have 4 of the world’s top 20 universities; 14% of the world’s most impactful research; And the second most Nobel Laureates. We want to go further.

I can confirm we will maintain our target to increase R&D investment to £22bn. But in order to get there, and deliver on our other priorities, we’ll reach the target in 2026-27. Spending, by the end of this Parliament, £20bn a year on R&D. That’s a cash increase of 50%. The fastest increase ever. And I can confirm for the House that this £20bn is in addition to the cost of our R&D tax reliefs. Combined with those tax reliefs, total public investment in R&D is increasing from 0.7% of GDP in 2018 to 1.1% of GDP by the end of the Parliament.

How does 1.1% compare internationally? Well, the latest available data shows an OECD average of just 0.7%. Germany, investing 0.9%. France, 1%. And the United States, just 0.7%. This unprecedented funding will:

  • Increase core science funding to £5.9bn per year by 2024-25, a cash increase of 37%.
  • Meet the full costs of associating with Horizon Europe;
  • Establish the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency with £800m by 2025-26.
  • And strengthen our focus on late-stage innovation, increasing Innovate UK’s annual core budget to £1bn……double what it was at the start of the Parliament.

More detail:

BEIS will receive £14.2 billion for R&D funding by 2024/25, an increase of £3 billion from 2021/22. As a result, core science funding to National Academies, universities and research institutions will rise to £5.9 billion by 2024/25. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will receive £5 billion by 2024/25 to fund health research via the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), with £2 billion spent in 2024/25.

Other key announcements include:

  • £2.1 billion will be allocated for association to the Horizon Europe funding programme;
  • The Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) budget, which contains funding for research, will return to 0.7% of GDP by 2024/25;
  • The new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) will receive £800 million by 2025/26, with £50 million in 2021/22.
  • In addition, £95 million will be invested in increasing the uptake of innovation in the NHS and £30 million invested in in research skills and training, which will focus on improving diversity by increasing the number of life science researchers from under-represented groups. NHS England will receive £5.9 billion to help clear the backlog of patients waiting for tests and treatments. Genomics England will launch a pilot scheme to detect rare diseases, Generation Genome, which aims to sequence 100,000 new-borns; and a Diverse Data project will aim to tackle healthcare inequalities by increasing the proportion of under-represented groups in genomics research.

ARIA: The Committee stage of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill in the House of Lords is scheduled to begin from 17 November.

Clean Tech: The Prime Minister has launched an international plan to accelerate the delivery of affordable clean technologies worldwide by 2030. Modelled on the UK’s Net Zero Strategy, the Agenda will see countries and businesses coordinate and strengthen their climate action each year to dramatically scale and speed up the development and deployment of clean technologies and drive down costs this decade. The aim is to make clean technologies the most affordable, accessible and attractive choice in each of the most polluting sectors by 2030, especially supporting the developing world to access the innovation and tools needed to transition to net zero.

Innovation: The Council for Science and Technology have written to the Prime Minister giving advice on encouraging scale up investment in innovative science and technology companies.

Parliamentary Question: Shared prosperity fund

Admissions

It was confirmed that 2022 exams will go ahead with results to be released on the usual days. Meanwhile Ofqual published details of the contingency arrangements for awarding Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) for use in the event that exams are not able to go ahead in summer 2022 due to the pandemic. Ofqual’s document follows the Sept-Oct 2021 consultation on the arrangements – responses highlighted the following themes:

  • The importance of clear and timely communication around the decision to implement contingency plans, including establishing the level of disruption required before implementing TAGs nationally and providing sufficient notice ahead of this.
  • Exam boards should take a greater role in any TAG process in 2022, compared to 2021 arrangements. Exam fees should be proportional to the level of services provided and regular exam fees would not be justifiable. A greater level of refunds should be offered if exams are unable to go ahead, and awarding organisations should provide additional support through exam papers or question banks, moderation and/or marking, among other services.
  • Any TAG process for 2022 should follow the process from 2021 as closely as possible to minimise confusion among teachers, students and parents.
  • Some respondents called for exams to go ahead regardless of underlying circumstances. These respondents felt exams were the best way to assess student knowledge and it would be difficult to ensure the fairness and consistency of TAGs across the country.

Following the consultation, if the pandemic disrupts the exam diet again in 2022, students will be given extra help to prepare for GCSEs, AS and A Levels as follows:

  • students taking GCSEs in English literature, history, ancient history and geography will not need to cover the usual range of content in the exams
  • students taking GCSEs in all other subjects will be given advance information about the focus of the content of the exams to help them focus their revision
  • students taking AS and A levels will be given advance information about the focus of the content of the exams to help them focus their revision
  • students taking GCSEs in mathematics will be given in their exams copies of formulae they would in other years have to memorise
  • students taking GCSE physics and combined science will be given in their exams a sheet covering all the equations they might need to apply in the exams
  • If exams had to be cancelled in summer 2022, students’ grades would instead be determined by their teachers, using a Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) approach similar to that used in summer 2021.
  • The advance information for GCSE and AS and A levels will be published no later than 7 February 2022. The government retains the flexibility for advance information to be deployed at other points ahead of 7 February if circumstances require.
  • Some changes have also been made to the way non-exam assessments that are used in some GCSE, AS and A level subjects are taken, to address difficulties that might otherwise be caused by the pandemic.
  • Ofqual has decided that grade boundaries for summer 2022 will be set so that more students than was the case before the pandemic receive higher grades, providing a safety net for students in this transitionary year.
  • Centres should plan assessment opportunities to a timetable that secures evidence which could be used to inform TAGs if necessary.

Ofqual has produced guidance for schools, colleges and other exam centres and written to centres, students and private candidates.

Access & Participation

Several weeks ago we brought you news that Katharine Birbalsingh was the Government’s intended choice for the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC). High level appointments such as hers undergo a pre-appointment hearing at the appropriate parliamentary committee. The Women and Equalities Committee has published its report following Katharine’s pre-appointment hearing finding her a suitable candidate for Chair of the SMC, and recommending she be appointed for an initial term of three years.

In their conclusion to the report, the Committee notes Birbalsingh has several major strengths, including a track record of enhancing the life chances of disadvantaged young people through education, excellent communications skills, and a forceful character with the ability to challenge institutions and received wisdom. They note her forthright views on education which they say she defends robustly but also note that she will need to demonstrate her ability to listen to, and work collegiately with, colleagues and stakeholders with whom she will not always agree.

The Committee also comment on her relatively narrow field of experience in secondary education and that her vision for social mobility beyond the sphere of education was much less clear. Because of this they say they believe she will need further support from a wide range of fellow Commissioners with diverse backgrounds, knowledge and experience across all relevant areas of social policy and sectors of the economy.

In part due to the above the Committee urges the Minister to recruitment the new Commissioners immediately and recommends their terms be staggered so that they do not all expire at the same time.

Student Finance

The Spending Review did not set out the Government’s intentions towards implementing remaining aspects of the Augar review – despite all the hype. More information is promised later – although as this tweet highlights we’ve heard that one before!

You may have missed our recent updates giving loads of background and context to the ongoing speculation about possible changes to HE funding.  In case you did, we have created a briefing which puts it all nicely in one place along with the latest speculation on what next.  BU readers can find it here.

The Department for Education has published a written ministerial statement on higher education student finance arrangements for the 2022/23 academic year.

  • Tuition fees will be frozen for 2022/23 at the same levels as 2021/22, meaning the maximum fee level for a standard full-time course will remain £9250.
  • Maintenance loans will see an increase by forecast inflation of 2.3 percent, including for DSA.
  • The same increase will be applied to postgraduate loans.
  • Individuals relocated under the Afghanistan Relation and Assistance Scheme will qualify for student support and home fee status.
  • Home fee status will also be extended to the family members of all persons settled in the UK, subject to three years residence in the UK and Islands immediately before the start of the course.
  • Those who have settled status on arrival in the UK, who come to the UK from specified British Overseas Territories and who are starting full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in 2022/23 will be eligible for tuition fee loans.
  • Government will lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2022/23 in November.

Michelle Donelan, Minister for Higher and Further Education said in a written ministerial statement:

  • The changes set out above demonstrate our commitment to supporting economic development in the British Overseas Territories and enabling those who wish to study at one of our world class education providers to be able to do so.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2022/23 in November. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Government continues to consider the recommendations made by the Augar Panel carefully. We plan to set out a full response to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in due course.

Michelle Donelan has also reportedly agreed to improve official information on maintenance loans for students in England after the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, Martin Lewis, wrote a formal letter requesting this in June. The letter explained that there is what he calls the implicit “parental contribution” built into the student finance system and argued it needs to be made explicit.

Donelan tweeted yesterday saying:

  • “I’m working with [MoneySavingExpert.com] to make our loan system simpler & more transparent for students/parents – inc. highlighting what family income means-testing means for parents’ contribution to their children’s study.
  • “This ensures that Govt support prioritises disadvantaged students from low income households, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend university. This in turn increases access, opportunity and opens up higher education to talented people from all walks of life.”

Not being overt about this information leaves many parents unprepared and unable to find the cash to help.  It all adds to the confusion and concern about student finances.  These changes don’t affect the amount provided – but do set expectations more clearly.  Our fees, funding and finance brief gives a lot more information on how this all works.

NSS

The OfS have announced the NSS will run as usual in 2022. The questions will be the same as 2021 (without the specific Covid questions) plus a pilot of a new set of questions. A consultation on the future of the NSS will run in summer 2022.  More information here.

Higher Technical Qualifications

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has published information and guidance on higher technical qualifications (HTQs). It explains how the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has launched a national opt-in approval scheme for new and existing qualifications, which will recognise prestigious HTQs that provide the skills that employers want. Awarding bodies can submit qualifications to be approved against the Institute’s occupational standards at levels 4-5.

The first approvals cycle for Digital qualifications concluded in Summer 2021, with the first approved qualifications available to be taught from September 2022. Cycle 2 will launch on 5 July 2021 for submissions of qualifications for Health & Science and Construction, with a further opportunity for Digital qualifications. This will be followed in 2022 by submissions for:

  • Business and Administration
  • Education and Childcare
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Legal, Finance and Accounting

These will be followed in 2023 by:

  • Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care
  • Catering and Hospitality
  • Creative and Design
  • Hair and Beauty

Sexual Violence

Dods summarise a new study examining sexual violence by male HE students. You can read the one-page summary and recommendations for universities here.

Guidance – undertaking education abroad (Turing)

The DfE published new guidance for students undertaking education or placements abroad, including the Turing Scheme, Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

Subjects: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has launched a new consultation on 13 Subject Benchmark Statements, which have been reviewed by QAA in collaboration with expert Subject Advisory Groups.

Covid: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the latest statistics (to 1 Nov 2021) from the Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) in England, which includes information on the behaviours, plans, opinions and well-being of higher education students in the context of guidance on the pandemic. Main points:

  • The majority (91%) of students have said they had already been vaccinated against coronavirus (COVID-19) at least once.
  • A significantly higher proportion of students reported having had two vaccine doses in late October (85%) than reported in late September (78%).
  • A minority (8%) of students said they had not been vaccinated against COVID-19; of those, half (51%) said they were fairly or very unlikely to take a vaccine if offered, and a third (32%) said they were fairly or very likely to accept the vaccine if offered.
  • Around half (49%) of students had taken a COVID-19 test in the previous seven days.
  • If they developed symptoms, 92% of students reported they would request a test.
  • Students who had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine were significantly more likely to request a test if they developed symptoms (95%), than students who had not been vaccinated (73%).
  • When asked what they would do if they developed symptoms, 57% of students reported they would stay at home for 10 days; this is similar to late September (58%).
  • The average life satisfaction score for students was 6.6, which was significantly lower than those aged 16 to 29 years in general (7.0) and the adult population in Great Britain (7.1).
  • Students were significantly more likely to report their mental health and well-being had worsened (32%) compared with late September (26%); however, this is still significantly lower than in late May (50%).

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HE policy update for the w/e 8th October 2021

Parliament was still in recess whilst the Conservative Party Conference takes place. We have the news from the Conference, some movement on Essay Mills and several new reports.  And we have a big primer on student finance, ahead of the budget.

Conservative Party Conference

After the first day of the Conservative Party conference Wonkhe speculate what the personalities and lack of fiscal room for manoeuvre mean for HE in the forthcoming spending review (looming on the later October horizon):

  • At last night’s Policy Exchange fringe meeting, new Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi represented a breath of fresh air insofar as he was keen to stress that decisions would be “evidence-led”, that he understood that universities delivered vocational skills and that a consultation is still coming over aspects of Augar. But the spending envelope isn’t his call – and the big question for this spending review remains “What does Rishi Sunak want?” If he wants to balance the books and demonstrate fiscal prudence – and all the signs point to a reining in after the immense scale of public spending during Covid-19 – then universities could be in for a rough ride when stacked up against other pressing priorities. The potential for a fee cut, in particular, will be keeping university finance directors up at night. Without a complete rethink of the funding system, there are few good available options to reduce the overall cost of the system. Thanks to inflation, even maintaining the status quo of the frozen fee level means diminishing funding to higher education over time.
  • It now seems likely that a new financial settlement, aimed at reducing the Treasury’s exposure to higher education, will see changes to graduate repayment terms, perhaps even retrospectively for existing students. Last week, former universities minister David Willetts, in a pamphlet for the Higher Education Policy Institute, suggested that this option is more politically defensible at a time of constrained public spending than reducing funding to universities via tuition fee cuts. Minimum entry standards could also do its bit to cap the supply of students over time, thus saving Her Majesty’s Government a little more money, though with few outside the fringes of the Conservative Party genuinely believing that fewer people benefiting from a higher education is a desirable outcome, and ever-growing numbers of school and college leavers hoping to go – it’s a policy that if implemented could end up coming back to bite the Conservatives in the future.
  • So with so many moving fiscal and political parts around the spending review and Budget, there’s every chance that late deals could lead to unexpected outcomes and changes to what was previously thought to be a direction of travel. As ever in politics, decisions are not made until they are announced in public, and with this prime minister in particular, huge changes of direction can be made on a whim

New Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi gave a keynote address at the Conservative Party Conference. It focussed heavily on schools (including emphasis on English and maths). Nadhim also gave HE a nod in crediting Oxford University for the vaccine development. The Government’s intention towards T levels remains.

  • DfE is investing in maths hubs, while at post-16 there is funding for a further 2m courses. One day soon I want T levels to be as famous as A levels.
  • Zahawi promised a schools White Paper in the new year to focus on illiteracy and innumeracy. I will work tirelessly…to unleash the brilliance of young people in this country.
  • Nadhim added that as Vaccine minister he used evidence to deliver a world-leading vaccines programme and that DfE will deliver the same for education.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised new scholarships in artificial intelligence:

2,000 elite AI scholarships for disadvantaged young people within the Government’s focus on innovative technology which he stated was a sign of the party’s ambition for the future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a particularly colourful rambling speech to entertain the Conference attendees. It was light on HE content. Within the context of levelling up he questioned why York (2 universities) had so many graduates yet Doncaster (a FE/HE college) didn’t. Perhaps not the best example his aides could have chosen.

  • There was also familiar messaging about the alternative routes than university: our universities are world beating, I owe everything to my tutors and they are one of the great glories of our economy but we all know that some of the most brilliant and imaginative and creative people in Britain and some of the best paid people in Britain did not go to university and to level up you need to give people the options the skills that are right for them and to make the most of those skills and knowledge and to level up you need urgently to plug all the other the gaps in our infrastructure that are still holding people and communities back
  • On foreign investment: It was not the government that made the wonder drug it wasn’t brewed in the alembics of the department of health. It was, of course it was Oxford University, but it was the private sector that made it possible behind those vaccines are companies and shareholders and, yes, bankers.

Lots of focussed discussion took place during the Conservative Party Conference fringe events. Here are some summaries of the content prepared by Dods with bold emphasis added so you can pick out the most relevant HE points.

Contract Cheating

On Tuesday the DfE stated it will introduce a ban on ‘essay mills’ via the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament. The Government intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise cheating services for financial gain to students taking a qualification at any institution in England providing post-16 education including universities.

You’ll recall from our regular coverage on contract cheating that Lord Storey has campaigned to this end for a long period, including introducing two Private Member’s Bills (PMB) which the Government was not opposed to but neither succeeded. In contrast to Lord Storey’s PMB the DfE’s intention is to apply the legislation to all post-16 providers including colleges and sixth forms.

Previously the Government urged the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education), UUK and the NUS to collaborate and produce institutional guidance on combatting the threat from essay mills and compiled guidance for students to make them better aware of the consequences to send the clear message that these services are not legitimate.

Minister for Skills Alex Burghart said: Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do. We are taking steps to ban these cheating services. We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them. [Perhaps meaning to pursue T levels and an alternative route than university.]

Gender Differences in subject choice

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) paper Gender differences in subject choice leads to gender pay gap immediately after graduation highlights how course choice exacerbates the gender pay gap.  IFS notes:

  • In 2019 – before the pandemic disrupted data collection – women were paid 16% less per hour than men on average. The gap in average annual earnings was even larger, at 37%, since women are much more likely to work part-time.
  • The financial return to getting a degree – how much more a graduate earns compared to an otherwise similar non-graduate – varies enormously across subjects. Previous IFS research estimates that studying economics at university boosts women’s pay by 75% by age 30; this is more than ten times the return to studying creative arts (7.2%). However, women make up nearly two-thirds of creative arts graduates but less than a third of economics graduates.
  • In general, women are overrepresented in degree subjects with low financial returns. There are some exceptions – for example, medicine and law both have average or slightly above average shares of female students and very high returns.
  • Differences in degree subject choices explain most of the gender pay gap soon after graduation.
  • Of the 5% gap in annual earnings at age 25, 2.9 percentage points (55%) can be accounted for by university subjects, with A-Level subject choices making up a further 0.2 percentage points (5%).
  • Subject choice continues to contribute between 3 and 5 percentage points to the gender pay gap over graduates’ early careers.
  • But over this period, other factors lead to a widening of the gender pay gap, so that by age 30, subject choice explains only a fifth of the total gender pay gap.
  • Other factors that come into play could include motherhood, gender differences in attitudes towards risk, recognition for group work, hours worked, the propensity to bargain over wages and ask for promotions, and discrimination.
  • We should be concerned if information on the returns to different subjects isn’t easily available to young people, and if the large differences in subject choice (arts for girls, economics for boys) are driven as much by gender stereotypes as by true preferences.
  • When it comes to a subject like economics, which delivers the very highest financial return for female (and male) graduates, there is an additional concern that many students cannot access the subject at all because it is not offered in their school.
  • More needs to be done to educate and inform young people about subject choices at A level and university, particularly in a system like the UK where subject choices narrow at an early stage and where decisions taken early can have long-lasting effects.

Research

Research and innovation review: BEIS published the terms of reference for the Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape. The independent review (announced on 22 July) will be led by Sir Paul Nurse with the final report expected during Spring 2022.  The goals of the Review are to:

  • explore the features and characteristics in the existing ecosystem of RDI-performing organisations across the UK, learning from the best in the world and drawing on transformative examples
  • identify whether improvements to the organisational research landscape are required to deliver the government’s objective for the UK to be a science superpower at the forefront of critical and emerging fields of science and technology, and drive economic growth and societal benefit
  • futureproof the UK landscape of organisations undertaking all forms of RDI, from pioneering, visionary blue-skies research to practical support for innovators to commercialise or implement their ideas, and ensure an agile and sustainable system that can respond to future priorities and developments

The Review will consider the full and varied policy and funding context within which RDI-performing organisations are set up and operate. The Review is focused on the landscape of organisations that deliver research rather than on mechanisms for funding research and will:

  • analyse how the various organisations that contribute to the ecosystem of RDI-performing organisations across different parts of the UK – including universities, institutes and laboratories, across UK government and the devolved administrations, public, private and non-profit sectors – compare to each other and that of other countries with strengths in RDI
  • learning from international examples, consider the role that different mixes of organisations can play in delivering economic and societal impact from RDI, and the mechanisms and business models that will best enable the UK to capitalise on emerging and new fields of science and invention
  • consider how best to secure an organisational landscape now and in the future that delivers high-quality RDI outputs, and which is sustainable and cost-effective
  • consider options to support the UK’s strengths and what targeted interventions in the public sector might enhance the quality and diverse mix of RDI-performing organisations through our policy framework and the policies of the devolved administrations

Research Budget distribution: MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, published a policy briefing calling for the pledged increase of the R&D budget to £22bn to be shared more equitably around the country in the name of the Government’s levelling up goal.  The briefing emphasises the importance of re-balancing the way research in the UK is funded so that modern universities, many of which sit in marginalised areas of the country, and those hit hardest by the pandemic, can do more to support a world-class system of research and innovation, for the benefit of their regions and the country. Recommendations:

  1. Scale up the Higher Education Innovation Fund, so that knowledge exchange makes up a greater proportion of overall grant funding from Research England.
  2. Increase the number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships funded across the UK.
  3. Expand the Strength in Places Fund.
  4. Ensure that the Shared Prosperity Fund is devolved, based on long-term funding cycles, and accessible to universities and local businesses.

MillionPlus also published Innovate and generate: modern universities supporting local businesses aiming to highlight the partnerships that modern universities with local roots and an industry-facing outlook  have with businesses in their regions. The document emphasises their calls for Government to prioritise and dedicate specific R&D funding streams for such relationships and the positive impact it can have on levelling up the UK.

Quick news

  • Incentivising business innovation through taxation – CBI Economics consider the arguments for R&D tax credits
  • Imperial College London announced their new Institute for Infection. The aim of the Institute is to address some of the biggest unanswered questions in the field of infectious disease, such as how is climate change impacting the spread of diseases transmitted by flies and mosquitoes, how can gene-editing technologies help to reduce the spread of disease (such as Dengue and Zika), and how can animal vaccination programmes help to curb diseases which also affect humans.

Access & Participation

Student Hardship funding: Hitting the news last week (from the July OfS Board papers) was that £1.66 million of the additional £70 million hardship funding provided by the Government was unspent and recovered by the OfS.

Wonkhe say: Despite overwhelming evidence that the hardships caused by Covid-19 were near universal, the government was wedded to the idea of individual student problems rather than the systemic issues felt across the whole cohort. There were conditions attached to allocation: providers had to distribute funds to students that expressed a specific need, and all of the money needed to be handed out by 31 July…The complexity of existing hardship fund arrangements at providers (many had to recruit extra staff to administer the process) and the tight deadline (three months for the final tranche) made it difficult to get the money to where it was needed.

Mental Health

The Mental Health Foundation released new research combining evidence with expert opinion and public views. You can read about it here but in short it recommends (in order of popularity):

  1. Be aware of using drugs to cope with difficult feelings
  2. Build money skills and seek financial support if you need it
  3. Get more from your sleep
  4. Develop awareness of your feelings and emotions
  5. Have something to look forward to
  6. Get closer to nature
  7. Speak to someone you trust for support
  8. Stay curious and open to new experiences

Almost as popular (chosen by at least 45% of the public panel) were:

  • Have a healthy diet
  • Help others, contribute to something bigger
  • Engage in physical activity
  • Practice gratitude and cultivate hope
  • Strengthen social connections

Our research shows that it’s the fundamentals of life that protect our mental health: our finances, our relationships and our experiences

Student Finance

The DfE updated the information on who is eligible for undergraduate, postgraduate and further education financial support from Student Finance England. The update includes new policy notes on the rights to home fee status and student support for people covered by the Withdrawal Agreements who make a valid late application to the EU Settlement Scheme, and rights for joining family members under the EU Settlement Scheme:

Possible changes to fees and funding have been in the news a lot over the autumn in the build up to the Comprehensive Spending Review on 27th October when, yet again, we are promised the final response from the government to the Augar report and an outcome for the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, which Augar was meant to inform.

Some changes have already happened:

  • Some OfS funding for “non-strategic” subjects was cut this year – but it was a small cut to a tiny amount of funding. Anxiety was heightened because the former Education Secretary kept saying in the HoC and to newspapers that he was “slashing” funding, but he was exaggerating.  A lot.  The OfS got very defensive about it.  You can read what they did here.  Anyway, it set the tone for what may be more to come.  The OfS were told to stop calling the main funding a “teaching” grant and call it a “strategic priorities” grant.  You get the point.  Let’s hope the updated Ministerial team choose their language more carefully, to avoid future misunderstanding.    Words matter.
  • The OfS decided to distribute a chunk of their capital funding via a competitive bidding arrangement, in a big departure from previous allocation methods. You can read what they did here.  This may well also set the tone for the future, and is consistent with what is expected to happen with some streams of research funding going forwards.

The main pre-announcement that we are expecting to see followed through with a consultation at the end of the month is on minimum entry requirements.  This is a technique to reduce or at least limit the growing cost of the student loan portfolio by applying a floor to the academic entry requirements that applicants must meet in order to qualify for a student loan.  Students could still go to university, if they pay their own way, of course, or are able to borrow the funding another way.  Widely criticised as a cap on aspiration and a retrograde step for social mobility, because of the risk that many of the potential students who will be excluded from university will be those whose prior attainment does not reflect their true potential, and because many of those will be in that position as a result of some form of disadvantage.   We have commented on this extensively before and note that Augar suggested that it be deployed as a last resort if universities did not clean up their act on quality.  We note that we are not convinced that there is necessarily a direct link between “quality” and low entry tariffs and that it feels a bit early in the cycle for last resorts.  But there you are.  The definition of quality debate is a much bigger one that is ongoing now as the OfS looks at its licence conditions.

And there could be many other things announced.  Most of the press coverage recently has been about a potential cut to the repayment threshold (increased by Theresa May in a shock move after the 2017 election that cost the government a lot of money).  This idea has not been well received by students or recent graduates.  We note that retrospective changes to the terms of loans (other than interest rates) are not usually allowed (for banks, for example), and that there is a general feeling that students and recent graduates, who have not had a great couple of years, will be asked to fill a government financial hole “because they don’t vote conservative anyway”.  Given that Theresa May put the floor up precisely because she was worried about the so-called youthquake in the 2017 election, the link seems to be a fair one.  The Tories in 2017 didn’t have the majority that they have now.  And the financial hole is very big.

BU staff can read our May 2021 summary of what else we might have to look forward to here.

Given that there is likely to be a flurry of press stories, better or less-well informed opinion, social media excitement etc, around any changes, we wanted to give you a bit of context.  Apologies to regular readers or those with students in the family who know all this, all too well, but here we go.  And apologies to readers in the devolved nations, we are focussing on England here.  Also we are focussing on undergraduates.

Undergraduate tuition fees

These are capped.  The cap hasn’t moved for a long time.  There is very little prospect of it moving for a long time to come.

They are not tuition fees.  The OfS in their most recent publication on the subject (well worth a read) calls them “course fees”.  They aren’t really that either.

When they were introduced they replaced a big chunk of government funding for universities and, apart from those universities with huge numbers of international or post-graduate students, or huge proportions of research or donor income, these fees are the main source of income for most universities.  They therefore pay for staff, services, loan interest, depreciation, building maintenance, IT, OfS registration fees, and so on – the lot.  They famously cross subsidise research which is generally funded at less than cost.

If a student has a tuition fee loan (most do as otherwise they need to pay up front), the fee is paid by the Student Loan Company directly to the university in three chunks across the year.  The biggest chunk (50%) is paid in the summer AFTER the student has completed most of the year.  This helps avoid a situation where the university gets money for students who don’t stick around.  But it also explains why cash flow across the year is a talking point in universities, and why a temporary change took place last year when the second instalment was paid early because of concerns about financial sustainability of universities in the pandemic.

Maintenance loans

These loans are made available to UK students to help with their living and other costs while at university.  They replaced the grant system.  Before loans were introduced, if students didn’t qualify for a grant they needed parental support or another source of income.  That is still the case.  There is a minimum amount for a maintenance loan, but above that loan eligibility is means tested according to the income of the student’s family.  So the vast majority of students in the UK still need parental support for their maintenance costs, and if that isn’t available, they will need to work or borrow money instead.

You can see more in the SLC document for 2021/22 students.

Maintenance costs are a huge issue for many students.  Unlike the tuition fee, which is paid by the SLC to the university, this is cash the students need to find and spend.  There has been a lot of coverage of the high cost of accommodation in many places (often more than the maximum loan) and of the particular unfairness of the situation over the last two years when students were told by the government not to return to accommodation they had paid for, with money neither they nor their families could afford.  That’s a long and separate story.

Student loans

Although they are called loans, student finance arrangements are very different from the usual loan arrangements we are all used to, and this is where it gets complicated and political.  So apologies again.  This very useful paper from the House of Commons library (September 2021) has lots of context on this.

As noted above, student loans are made up of two items, tuition fees and maintenance loans (you can also use a student loan for postgraduate support but that’s a different story).

Interest starts to accrue on the loan balance straight away, while the student is at university.  Interest rates are very high – compared to some other rates available in the market.  But the interest rate charged varies over time and according to the income of the graduate (not their family, this time).

From an SLC document describing 2021/11 arrangements:

  • While studying and until 6th April after you finish: RPI pls 3%
  • After that:
    • Income £27,295 or less – RPI only
    • Income above £27,295 to £49,130 – Interest applied on a scale from RPI to RPI + 3%
    • Income above £49,130 – RPI + 3%

Martin Lewis explained the latest rate for Money Saving Expert in October 2021:

  • On 1 October 2021, for students from England and Wales who started university in or after 2012, the headline student loan interest rate decreased from 5.6% to 4.1% in line with the current RPI, and the temporary ‘Prevailing Market Rate’
  • Despite the decrease, this rate is still higher than most mortgages, and far higher than for students from prior cohorts. And, the headline rate is expected to increase again, to 4.5%, on the 1 January 2022. 

Repayment arrangements

This is where student loans really start to look different from “normal” loans. The student finance arrangements we have are not really loans at all.  Really what we have here is a graduate tax.  But shhh – it isn’t called that.  Because people don’t like taxes, so it could never be called a tax.

The notional amount of the student finance grows throughout out the time that a student is studying, and interest is added during that time and afterwards.  So far so like a loan.

But – graduates only start to repay it from the April after their course ends, and only when their income reaches a threshold.  Most students are on what is called “plan 2” and we are going to use their data:

  • You’ll only repay when your income is over £524 a week, £2,274 a month or £27,295 a year (before tax and other deductions).
  • G. Your annual income is £28,800 and you are paid a regular monthly wage. This means that each month your income is £2,400 (£28,800 divided by 12). This is over the Plan 2 monthly threshold of £2,274. Your income is £126 over the threshold (£2,400 minus £2,274). You will pay back £11 (9% of £126) each month.

In other words, repayments are means tested, and only the income over the threshold is used to calculate the repayments.  Clearly in a lot of cases that means that the amount you are repaying is not enough to cover the interest that is also still accruing.  So the overall amount just keeps on going up, just as it would with a “normal” loan if you didn’t pay enough off each month.

The other big difference with a “normal” loan, though, is what happens at the end.  The whole thing, interest and all, is written off after 30 years from the April after your course finished.  That is a big and growing cost to the government.  This very useful paper from the House of Commons library (September 2021) gives some context on what this means.

  • The RAB charge is the difference between the amount lent to a cohort of students, and the value of their repayments as graduates. For 2020/21 it is predicted by the Government to be 53%.
  • … repayments for the 2020/21 cohort will range from just over £1,000 on average in decile 1 to almost £63,000 for decile 10. The average lifetime repayment across all borrowers is just over £19,000.
  • “Overall, 22% of borrowers are forecast to repay their loans in full, this rate varies from 0‑2% in the bottom four deciles to 87% in decile 10”

So when students say that they are “paying” tuition fees – they aren’t paying it yet, and in fact most will never pay it all back.  Only the highest earners, mostly men, will pay it all back.  The paper has charts showing the difference for women and men.

We should also note that the loan is not treated like a normal loan when you are taking out a normal loan, either.  Your potential repayments are taken into account when considering your ability to pay, but it is not treated the same way for your credit score as a typical loan would be.  So it is treated more like a mobile phone contract than a car loan.

So it’s really a graduate tax which stops after 30 years.  Or an income dependent contingent loan (which is written off after 30 years).

Potential changes

The government would clearly like to recover more of this money.  It must be noted that it was never intended that it would all be repaid, however.  When the system was set up it was deliberately intended that only the students with higher income would pay it all back.  This was meant to be progressive.

That’s why there has been little sympathy for arguments to reduce the interest rate.  On the face of it, students seem to be “paying” a high interest rate.  But they aren’t in fact paying it at all, and most of them will never pay it.  It accrues at a high rate, and then most of it is written off.  So increasing the interest rate may be an option instead:

  • The impact of a 1 ppt increase in the interest rate would mean that the average repayment per borrower would increase by £1,500 or 5.2%.
  • However, this increase is not spread evenly across borrowers. Only those with higher earnings pay back more. The number of borrowers who repay their loan in full would drop from 22% under the current system to 18%.

For a long time the government was able to keep this cost “off the balance sheet” until the auditing rules were changed and the whole cost was added to the national debt.  That started to change perceptions about it.

And of course, since the scheme was introduced, the number of students going to university has increased, we are just emerging from a demographic dip.  So the potential cost just keeps on going up.

We have already mentioned changes to the repayment threshold may be under discussion.  That has all sorts of consequences – but they are not very progressive (another HoC library paper):

  • Middle earners would see the largest absolute increase of around £4,000 on average, while the highest earners would see their repayments fall slightly.
  • While the increase for lower earners is below average in absolute terms, it represents the largest percentage increase at around 30%. The number of borrowers who repay their loan in full would increase from 22% under the current system to 25%.

There has also been talk of extending the payment term from 30 to 35 years (Augar said 40) and increasing the rate of repayment (different from the interest rate).  Another helpful briefing paper here.

  • both measures result in increased lifetime repayments especially from middle to higher earners.

What next

We’ll see.  But we think there will be some tinkering with repayment arrangements – despite the fact that these would be retrospective changes to the agreed terms.  And there may be other changes that will reduce the number of people eligible to take these loans out in the future – as well as the minimum qualifications requirement.

Or there may a cut in the tuition fee.  The latter would reduce the loan book and the notional interest  – and give the government more direct control of university funding though the use of “strategic priorities” to top up (some of) the difference  – consistent with the current direction as noted at the start of this section.

There could be caps on the numbers of students studying particular subjects, or at particular institutions (if they don’t meet quality thresholds, for example). Note in this context that the government is increasingly linking definitions of quality to “outcomes”, by which they mean highly skilled employment and relative earnings.  And that is a whole different subject which we have discussed before, and will again.

Mature students

The Lifelong Education Commission, supported by ResPublica and chaired by former universities minister Chris Skidmore MP, published The Pathway to Lifelong Education: Reforming the UK’s Skills System. It is the first of 8 reports the Commission has planned on on lifelong learning and the UK’s skills system. The Commission recommends how the barriers to adult learning can be removed; what future investment is needed to support this; and what change is needed to ensure the maximum flexibility that will benefit learners and deliver on the promise of a whole system change for lifelong education.

Recommendations:

  1. All citizens will be able to access the loan entitlement regardless of prior qualifications, or how they choose to study, including: modular or full qualifications; part-time or full-time; via face-to-face or distance learning.
  2. The Lifetime Loan Entitlement should allow funding to be applied to different modules of learning to enable (i) existing qualifications to be unbundled into smaller units (e.g. 30 to 60 credits) and (ii) microcredentials to be stacked as part of larger units.
  3. A more ambitious reform would be to create a unified credit-based funding system that does not distinguish between different modes of study and provides equal access and support for learners regardless of how they learn or where learning takes place.
  4. Alongside the loan entitlement, Government should consider means-tested maintenance grants to provide support with living costs and encourage adult learners to access higher technical qualifications, particularly those for whom debt will be viewed as a disincentive and a barrier to reskill.
  5. Government should: (i) Build on the existing credit framework and regional consortia approach to design a networked system that can guarantee the autonomy of higher education providers while enabling the transfer and accumulation of credit. (ii) Consider reform of the wider regulatory framework to simplify the jurisdiction between various bodies (HEIs, the Institute, QAA, Ofsted, OfS, etc.) regarding higher technical qualifications, which has the scope for duplication and inconsistency. (iii) Consider Scotland’s ‘articulation agreements’, which provide a good model for clearer routes between FE and HE.
  6. There is, especially in England, a need to bring together and better integrate the various parts of the careers system: (i) A single integrated careers service is required for all citizens at all stages of their working life. This will need to provide high level, specialist advice, available in every locality. (ii) A system should be established to regulate and support the continued professional development of careers advisers. As a minimum, all careers advisers should be registered with the Careers Development Institute and have relevant qualifications at Level 4 or above.
  7. Retain part-time student premium funding and make part-time learning an explicit priority for the teaching grant to incentivise lifelong education and training.
  8. Remove the remaining restrictions on ELQs so that available funding (including loans for fees and maintenance) can support those who want to study for a second higher education qualification in a different discipline.
  9. Government should explore options, including a ‘Flexible Skills Levy’ and ‘Tax Credits’ to incentivise employer investment in skills training.
  10. In addition to employers and educational institutions, Mayoral Combined Authorities in England with devolved responsibilities for adult skills should play a central role in the coproduction of local skills plan. Moreover, MCAs should be given genuine power over issues of essentially regional concern. Almost all of the functions currently exercised by the Department for Education could be devolved.

Former universities minister Chris Skidmore said: If there is one policy to deliver ‘levelling up’, it is adult learning and skills. Acquiring new skills is something we all do throughout our lives. Yet the formal process for acquiring them is incredibly constrained. There are too few opportunities to return to learning for those who have left it. And those willing to retrain or re-skill can barely see the wood for the trees; the pathways are so complex.

The government is embracing adult learning at just the right time. The Lifelong Learning Entitlement, combined with the prospect of modular and course-based learning and the expansion of Level 4 and 5 provision, has the potential to create new journeys into learning for those for whom a graduate route was not the way. But if these reforms are to succeed, it is essential that new partnerships are forged between HE and FE providers.

Grammar and spelling – the next stage of the culture war?

The OfS have published an ominous paper on this.

  • This review examines the policies on spelling, punctuation and grammar in written assessment at a small number of higher education providers. It features anonymised examples of approaches that maintain rigour in student assessment, and examples of approaches that do not.
  • The purpose of the review is to highlight to higher education providers which assessment policies are likely to be a cause for regulatory concern, and encourages providers to adjust their policies accordingly.

This supports the position in the recently closed consultation on quality conditions.

New condition B4.2: 

…the provider must ensure that:  …c. academic regulations are designed to ensure that relevant awards are credible;   ….

“credible” means that, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, relevant awards reflect students’ knowledge and skills, and for this purpose the OfS may take into account factors which include, but are not limited to:  …ii. whether students are assessed effectively and whether assessments are valid and reliable;  ….

Guidance re “Credible”: …identifying circumstances in which it is likely to be concerned about the credibility of a provider’s qualifications:…c. Students are not penalised for poor technical proficiency in written English. For example, for assessments that would reasonably be expected to take the form of written work in English and for which the OfS, employers and taxpayers, would reasonably expect such proficiency, the provider’s assessment policy and practices do not penalise poor spelling, punctuation or grammar, such that students are awarded marks that do not reflect a reasonable view of their performance of these skills. ….

Key bits from the report itself:

  • Because of the importance of these issues, we undertook a short review during summer 2021 to gather evidence and examples of practice from a small number of providers about the extent to which technical proficiency in written English is being assessed. This report summarises our findings and sets out their implications for our ongoing regulation of higher education providers.
  • We sought voluntary cooperation from a small number of providers, selected to allow us to explore a range of assessment practices. The inclusion of a particular provider in the review was not driven by whether or not it had featured in press reporting about its assessment practices, and this report does not identify the providers that were involved in the review
  • The common features we have seen in the small number of cases we have considered in this review suggest that the practices and approaches we have set out in the case studies may be widespread across the sector. We are therefore drawing the attention of all registered providers to our findings, because they highlight matters that are likely to raise compliance concerns, now and in the future.
  • The findings in this report are shared as case studies; we have not conducted a formal regulatory investigation. Any regulatory judgements we make in future would depend on the circumstances of an individual case, and would involve detailed consideration of the impact of a provider’s policies on the marks awarded to students.

If we were to consider compliance with our current regulatory requirements for the practices described in the case studies, we would be likely to have regulatory concerns about the following: 

  • Case studies 1 and 2: In these examples, it seems plausible if not likely that some students are not being assessed on their proficiency in written English. This is because learning outcomes do not include this requirement. In these circumstances we would have concerns about whether the provider’s courses are well designed and provide a high-quality academic experience. We would also have concerns about whether the qualifications awarded to students are valued by employers or enable further study. We would consider whether such qualifications represent value for money for students and taxpayers. 
  • For Case study 2, we would take a particular interest in the effect of the policies on groups of students whose first language is not English
  • Case study 3: In this example, we would have similar concerns as for case studies 1 and 2. We would also consider the adequacy and effectiveness of the provider’s academic governance arrangements, which have the potential to create inconsistencies in the requirements for students in different subject areas.

We are currently consulting on proposals to clarify and strengthen our regulatory requirements for quality and standards. We will consider all consultation responses carefully before reaching a decision about whether or not we should take forward our proposals, in full or in part. For illustrative purposes, if we were to implement the proposals as set out in the consultation document, the practices we have seen would be likely to raise concerns in relation to proposed conditions B1, B2, B4 and B5

If the policies and approaches identified in this report are leading to students getting higher marks than they otherwise would, for instance because poor proficiency in written English is not being routinely assessed, then this not only undermines the rigour of assessment processes, but also contributes to unexplained grade inflation. 55. We will test this hypothesis for individual providers through our investigatory work.

Local Digital Skills Partnerships

DCMS published the findings of an independent Evaluation of the Local Digital Skills Partnerships  which assessed the impact made by six regions operating Local Digital Skills Partnerships (LDSP). LDSPs are designed to build regional capacity to improve digital skills capability at all levels. They bring together and connect partners from the public, private and third sectors to upskill the current workforce, advance digital inclusion, and raise awareness of the importance of digital skills regionally. The evaluation found the LSDP model to be agile and worked effectively. Therefore, DCMS have confirmed they’ll consider the key findings, and look to build on this early success and expand the model to other parts of the country.

Other news

Academic lockdown time recovery: A Wonkhe blog on the impact of lockdown on academic parents with suggestions on how to help them catch up on missed research and professional time:

  • Potential solutions here are: using a different form of annual evaluation, reducing the teaching load in future semesters on academic parents who’ve seen their research completely stalled, providing more teaching assistants or other types of support to reduce the teaching load, temporarily reduce service and administrative burdens, and/or have better parental leave arrangements. One respondent indicated that their university developed a working parent task force, to get input from the working parents and think about solutions together.
  • Taking a step back, we recommend developing a culture of care, and making our universities places where compassion and solidarity are important values.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update for the w/e 1st October 2021

It’s conference season, so official news is thin,  However we have a fascinating change in roles and responsibilities for HE, some updates from the Labour conference and some good news about research funding.

Ministerial sharing

Late on Friday Parliament confirmed that Michelle Donelan’s role will be renamed Minister of State for Higher Education and Further Education. As we explained in last week’s update she shares the skills remit with Alex Burghart MP who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Skills). Here is how they share the remit – it is interesting to see the thinking here with WP and student experience in HE being split off (and given to Alex Burghart) and quality and funding staying with MD.

Donelan:

  • strategy for post-16 education
  • higher technical education (levels 4 and 5)
  • further education funding and accountability
  • lifelong learning entitlement
  • Institutes of Technology and National Colleges
  • universities and higher education reform
  • higher education quality
  • student finance (including the Student Loans Company)
  • coronavirus (COVID-19) response for universities, higher education institutions and further education services (jointly with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Skills))

Burghart:

  • further education providers including provider finances and workforce
  • T Levels and qualifications reviews (levels 3 and below)
  • apprenticeships including pre-apprenticeships [and presumably degree apprenticeships]
  • adult education, including the National Skills Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund
  • Skills Accelerators and Industry Training Boards
  • careers education, information and guidance including the Careers and Enterprise Company [this includes HE]
  • reducing the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training
  • student experience and widening participation in higher education
  • international education strategy including education exports and international students
  • coronavirus (COVID-19) response for universities, higher education institutions and further education services (jointly with Minister of State (Minister for Higher and Further Education))

Labour Party Conference

Shadow Universities Minister, Matt Western, critiques the Government’s education policies and states Labour’s approach in this Research Professional article. There is also this more in-depth article by Andy Westwood, Manchester’s Professor of Government Practice looking at where the priorities for policy should be for both major parties.

Here are the summaries (provided by Dods) from some of the most relevant Labour Party fringe events.

Wonkhe report on Kier Starmer’s leadership address: A commitment for research and development spending to rise to 3 per cent of GDP, familiar from both the 2017 and 2019 Labour manifestos, was the only offering in Keir Starmer’s 2021 conference speech for higher education. In a speech that drew heavily on his family background, the leader of the opposition noted in passing that he was the first member of his family to attend university, and spoke about the need to invest in the skills – including digital skills – of young people. You can watch the speech on YouTube or read it online.

Research

  • Recurrent research funding from Research England will remain at current levels during 2021-22, but additional one-off funding will be available to support providers in “building back better” after the pandemic. In total, an additional £132m will be distributed next academic year – and will support knowledge exchange including support for government priorities, research degree programme recovery, preparatory work in enhancing research culture, and the sustainability of specialist research providers. BEIS guidance to Research England emphasises the need to help the sector manage the impact of the pandemic, the need to work in partnership with the OfS on areas including support for postgraduate research students, and RE’s role as a major funder of Jisc in maintaining research infrastructure. The additional funding allocated today returns the balance of QR to project research funding to the government target of 64p in the pound. (Wonkhe summary)
  • The Government has published a study into the technical feasibility, cost and economics of space-based solar power (SBSP), as a novel generation technology to help the UK deliver net zero. The main attribute of SBSP is the ability to deliver clean, baseload energy at day and night throughout the year and in all weathers. SBSP is the concept of collecting solar power in a high earth orbit and beaming it securely to a fixed point on the earth. The Government says that recent technology and conceptual advances have made the concept worthy of consideration by the UK.
  • The Ministry of Defence has published a Data Strategy for Defence, outlining its vision for data and setting outcomes to be achieved by 2025. It aims to ensure data is treated as a strategic asset to support decision-making and make Defence more capable and efficient. The Strategy also gives a structure for data leadership that unites all Defence organisations. It will drive Defence to evolve how data is organised, shared and used to deliver better outcomes, giving battlespace advantage and business efficiency.
  • The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy has released guidance for bidding for Horizon Europe funding. The guidance covers funding eligibility, specific support for different sectors, and where potential bidders can obtain more detailed advice. (Wonkhe)
  • Chemistry: Unless people feel they belong, they are unlikely to thrive in our profession. The Royal Society of Chemistry published A sense of belonging in the chemical sciences. Researching what belonging means to chemists and what helps or hinders their sense of belonging in the chemical sciences. They state: Belonging matters. It affects chemists’ ability to share ideas, try new things, collaborate and ultimately to enjoy their work and stay in the profession.
  • THE: Ethical research – Stefano Caria argues that randomised control trials can be delivered more ethically without compromising quality

Parliamentary Questions:

Freedom of Speech (HE) Bill

Politics Home analyses the potential cost for the HE sector to implement the HE Free Speech Bill in  Freedom of Speech Bill Could Cost Universities And Student Unions £48m. Excerpts:

Universities and students’ unions could see collective costs of up to £48.1m from the likes of legal insurance premiums to protect from claims that would be allowed under the Bill, according to the Department for Education’s own impact assessment… concerns over the price tag have already been raised by some MPs at Committee Stage.

Familiarisation costs, costs of complying with regulation and enforcement, administrative paperwork costs, and the cost of updating and introducing new codes of practice for student unions could also contribute to the new financial burdens.

Lawyer Smita Jamdar continues to speak out about the Free Speech Bill in the Times’: It’s absurd to use legislation to enforce free speech on campus – A bill to prevent perceived threats to free speech at universities is not the answer.

Student Matters

Student Loan Repayments

The Financial Times (FT) announced the Government plans to reduce the salary threshold level at which graduates start repaying loans. They state it aims to save the Treasury money and push more young people towards cheaper vocational education. [Although when have technical or equipment heavy subjects ever been cheaper?]. …Chancellor Rishi Sunak wants to overhaul student financing in his spending review ahead of next month’s Budget, reflecting Treasury concerns that the taxpayer is footing too great a burden of funding university courses.

Graduates currently begin repaying their loans when they earn £27,295. The Augar Review (2019, still no full response from the Government, promised for the spending review…maybe) recommended the threshold be lowered to £23,000 which was the median non-graduate earnings at the time. While HEPI modelled a cut to less than £20,000.

The FT reports that no final decisions have been taken but one minister said a £20,000 threshold was considered to be “a bit low.”… A figure of £23,000 could save the Treasury just under £2bn a year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, while a graduate earning the current threshold would have their take-home pay cut by more than £800 annually, after deductions due to this month’s increase in National Insurance contributions are taken into account.

FT report the DfE as stating it was continuing to consider “the recommendations made by the Augar panel carefully”. Augar also recommended cutting the cap on annual tuition fees from £9,250 to £7,500 — such a cut would be welcomed by students.

There are the usual lines about rethinking HE as the default option and ensuring all those with the talent and desire to attend higher education are able to do so, whilst ensuring that the cost of higher education is fairly distributed between graduates and the taxpayer.

FT: Henry Parkes, a senior economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said lowering the threshold would be “virtually indistinguishable from a tax rise targeted at young workers alone”… HEPI director Nick Hillman said the option was better than alternatives, bringing “very significant” savings “without seriously harming on-the-ground services”.

Here is David Willetts’ paper published by HEPI:  How to boost higher education and cut public spending.

Willetts was the Universities and Science minister (2010-14) both he and Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) were instrumental in introducing HE tuition fees. Brief summary:

  • Higher education has fallen out of favour. But it boosts earnings, wellbeing and the prospects of people and areas left behind. Conservatives are increasingly worried that graduates are left wing but the Party’s problem is with young people more widely. The best way to tackle this problem is by helping them fulfil their aspirations – to own their home, get a decent job, and – yes – go to university.
  • It is in the interests of students that universities are well funded. But that should not come at the expense of taxpayers. It is wrong that forecast loan write-offs have risen from 28% under the Coalition to 53% today.…This is the result of the mistaken decision to raise the repayment threshold to £25,00 and index it thereafter…. Too many graduates have the depressing experience of their student debt rising each year when they could be paying it off. That’s why I believe the repayment threshold should be brought back down to £21,000 saving £3 billion of public spending a year.
  • Universities are crucial to levelling up and boosting earnings as well as delivering vocational training. That means breaking down old-fashioned assumptions about universities shaped by the long dominance of the Oxbridge model. Higher education comes in many forms. The so-called “bad” universities are very useful indeed in vocational training and applied research. They are anchor institutions boosting local economies across England…Universities are a great national asset. We should use them and build more of them.
  • More graduates in an area boosts the earnings of non-graduates. The levelling up agenda means we need more university students from low-participation areas. That is unlikely to be achieved if it is a zero-sum game dependent on lowering participation in high participation areas.
  • There should be a quinquennial review of the levels of fees and loans so they can be recalibrated as the labour market and the economy change.
  • …universities should have the opportunity of taking a stake in the debt of their own graduates so they gain if their graduates’ earnings rise.

An interesting point on apprenticeships: …higher level apprentices were more white, more male, less likely to be disabled and less likely to be from a deprived area. Social barriers to apprenticeships may be one reason why disadvantaged groups have rapidly increasing levels of participation in higher education which has more diverse and open recruitment.

Willetts is also opposed to the binary divide forcing 16-19 year olds to choose between T levels and A levels. He sees a clear role for universities in the delivery of higher technical provision. He is in favour of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement but caveats that mature students are more averse to loans than younger students, who can see the promise of the graduate route whereas it may be harder for older people to shift career. It is likely therefore that take up of the four-year loan entitlement will be greatest among younger students. This is an opportunity to move to four-year degrees, a historic opportunity to tackle England’s worst education problem – early specialisation.

Wonkhe highlight that Willetts’ paper calls for the repayment threshold of £21,000 would return it to the original recommended level set by the Browne Review. Wonkhe also highlight an aspect that the Government may find pleasing – that providers should be allowed to hold their own graduate debt, and should be supported by the Student Loans Company in contacting their own graduates.

Arguing against the lower repayment threshold Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert warns the Government against possible retrospective changes to the terms and conditions of existing student loan contracts.

  • If repayments continue to remain at 9% of earnings, that would mean students having to pay around £400/yr more; meaning the lowest earning graduates would end up paying more, and for longer.
  • My concern here is there is no note on whether this change may or may not be retrospective and whether this change would hit those who have already signed contracts – and remember, the student loan is a contract, to repay.
  • In my view, it would be an absolute breach of natural justice to retrospectively change the terms of a contract that people have signed and I would certainly raise my voice very loudly again. We cannot allow a reverse contractual change.
  • In 2015, Martin hired lawyers to investigate a judicial review looking at preventing the Government from freezing the student loans repayment threshold. The 2019 Augar report into student loans also agreed with Martin’s view not to make retrospective changes to the system.

MoneySavingExpert.com approached Government to comment on the legitimacy of the FT’s article. The Government spokesperson stated: We do not comment on speculation in the run up to fiscal events. We’ll see what happens on 27 October, although we expect more leaks and the arguments to flare in the run up.

NUS:

  • We would be totally opposed to any plans on reducing the salary repayment threshold for student loans. Like the Government’s decision to increase National Insurance contributions, this burden targets people earning lower incomes – after eighteen months of such hardship, and with the looming hike in energy prices set to hit millions of the most vulnerable this winter, the injustice is simply astounding.
  • They should get their priorities right, end the marketisation of the higher education sector and scrap tuition fees. The Government must re-envision education, and begin to view it as a right for all, not a product that can be bought and sold for individual gain. Only then can we begin to build the student movement’s vision of a fully- funded, accessible, lifelong, and democratised higher education system.

With both Martin Lewis and NUS lined up to oppose any retrospective changes to the student loan repayment thresholds for recent graduates the Government may well consider if retrospective changes are a battle they wish to begin. The FT article tested the opinions and reaction very well at a key point before the Treasury makes its move, a deliberate leak perhaps.

Covid Vaccinations

NUS research:

  • At least 83% of students are fully or partially vaccinated.
  • Three in five students moving into halls of residence are concerned about Covid-19 related risk of living with others.
  • Only 11% of those moving into halls disagreed that students should test for Coronavirus in advance.

NUS: Despite reports of low levels of vaccine uptake among young people and students a very high number are vaccinated against Covid-19. By August 2021 83% of students had received at least one vaccination and a further 9% either having it booked in or intending to book. Given our survey closed over one month ago, this figure is now likely to be considerably higher.

Parliamentary Question: Visas for students studying abroad (clarification on departmental responsibility)

Admissions

Lots of news this week on the 2022 exams. Here are the main links:

  • Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi  has made an announcement on  adaptations to the 2022 summer exams
  • Ofqual’s approach to grading exams and assessments in summer 2022 and autumn 2021
  • Wonkhe summarise: Ofqual and DfE have set out plans for level three qualifications taken in 2022 and 2023. With exams expected to return, there will be advance information provided on the focus of exams to focus students’ revision in subjects, and support materials like formulae sheets in maths. Grade boundaries next year will be set by exam boards to reflect a midway point between 2021 and 2019 – and are expected to return to the usual grade profile by 2023. Results for exams next year will return to their normal format, with AS and A levels being released on 18 August, and GCSEs on 25 August. There’s also a similar document on arrangements for vocational and technical qualifications. The BBC, the Times and i News cover the announcement.
  • Alongside this, Ofqual is consulting on contingency plans for 2022 – which would involve the use of teacher assessments to determine grades in the event of further Covid-19 (or other) disruption. The consultation ends on 13 October 2021.

Access & Participation

Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission has published guidance on disabled graduate employment. Designed to help disabled graduates transition into the labour market, the guidance recommends that universities tailor their employability, career and enterprise guidance to disabled students’ needs. Elsewhere, the guide calls on employers to ensure that work experience and internship programmes are inclusive of disabled graduates.

The Social Mobility Commission launched a sector specific toolkit to encourage socio-economic diversity and inclusion in the creative sector workforce. It aims to widen access to the creative industries for people from working class backgrounds to tackle the ‘class crisis’ in the sector (27% workers from working class background, 23% music and performing arts).

  • It offers practical support and guidance to creative employers on how to identify and remove invisible barriers that arise at every stage of the employee journey.
  • The unique structures of the creative industries workforce are cited as driving this imbalance, with factors including the high numbers of ‘professional’ jobs within the sector, an entrenched reliance on freelance workers as well as an abundance of unpaid internships creating additional barriers to entry for those from low socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Disproportionate numbers of those in senior roles who attended private school or Oxbridge may also have served to perpetuate understandings of cultural ‘fit’ and accepted behavioural codes within the creative industries, presenting an additional barrier to those from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There are a wealth of specialist and research inquiries and consultations at present. See the policy influence digest for their listings. Contact us if you don’t already receive the digest.

Other news

Unistats dataset: Wonkhe –  The Higher Education Statistics Agency has published the first iteration of the Unistats dataset for the 2021-22 academic year. The release adds information on graduate experiences drawn from the Graduate Outcomes survey.

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HE policy update for the w/e 24th September 2021

Lots of people news – the latest high profile sector appointments announced as the ministerial shuffling finishes. The Commons sessions highlight the cost the Freedom of Speech Bill may have for the HE sector and there are briefings, reports and lots of interest surrounding student financing.

All change, please!

Haven’t they just had a ‘holiday’? Parliament has entered recess for the party conference season. While this might offer a temporary break from the repetitive and dispiriting Freedom of Speech Bill arguments (“oh no it doesn’t”…”oh yes it does”) we can expect familiar themes to waft around in the media during the Conservative party conference as new ministers and their junior counterparts rush to impress in their new positions.

The ministerial reshuffle continues into this week with the responsibilities of some of the junior ministers still to be officially confirmed. A Government department has undergone a name change to refocus its agenda. The former Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This statement outlines the new department’s responsibilities with the change intended to embed levelling up commitments and policy on governance in the United Kingdom and elections within a single department which already manages relationships with local communities, local government and the housing sector.

Science, Technology and Research minister Amanda Solloway has been moved to the Whip’s Office. She is replaced by George Freeman (also see this THE article on George).

As you will have spotted from our update last week the Education team had a massive overhaul and only Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, remained in post. Baroness Barran sits in the Lords chamber with responsibility for the school system.

Here is the top level DfE team as currently stands:

  • Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education
  • Michelle Donelan, Minister for Universities
  • Robin Walker, Minister for School Standards
  • Will Quince, Minister for Children and Families
  • Alex Burghart, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills
  • Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System

Michelle Donelan will attend Cabinet and has some responsibility for apprenticeships and skills within her expanded ministerial brief. Alex Burghart was appointed as the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills to lead on technical education including the qualifications review and the new T levels but MD’s job description gives her joint responsibility for post-16 education strategy with him.

Guido Fawkes outlines the SpAd movers and shakers including:

  • Kwasi Kwarteng has scooped up Marcus Natale from No. 10’s research and briefing team as a new policy SpAd to cover the energy and climate change brief.
  • Nadhim Zahawi has Tom Kennedy and Iain Mansfield (Iain is former Head at Policy Exchange and ex DfE civil servant).

The Sutton Trust cabinet analysis tells us that of the 30 Cabinet ministers:

  • 47% of the new Cabinet attended Oxbridge (was 50%) – quite a lot higher than the party or overall Commons rates (27% Conservative MPs, 24% of all MPs attended Oxbridge).
  • with 60% of new Cabinet privately educated, a decrease of 5% (compared to 29% of MPs overall were privately educated);
  • and 27% were both privately educated and attended Oxbridge.
  • Nadhim Zahawi (Secretary of State Education) was privately educated and attended UCL.
  • Michelle Donelan attended a comprehensive school and went to York university.

Appointments

A number of high level positions have recently changed hands or been reconfirmed.

Andy Haldane has now been confirmed as the new Head of Levelling-up within the Government. He is the former Bank of England chief economist and will join as a permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office on secondment from the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) for 6 months. He will head up the Levelling Up Taskforce that will report jointly to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, said: Andy is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improve our public services and restore people’s sense of pride in their communities. Andy Haldane said: Levelling up the UK is one of the signature challenges of our time. It has also been a personal passion throughout my professional career.

Health Education England announced the re-appointment of its chair, David Behan, and that of his non-executive colleagues on the board, Liz Mear and Andrew George. All three will continue in their roles until 2024.

Dr Jo Saxton has taken up her post as the new Chief Regulator at Ofqual (replaced interim Simon Lebus). One of the key challenges facing the new chief regulator will be tackling grade inflation, as well as finalising plans for the 2022 assessment series. Dr Saxton said: As chief regulator, pupils and students will be at the heart of every decision we make at Ofqual: their best interests will be my compass.

Heidi Fraser-Krauss is now in post as the new Chief Executive of Jisc. She was previously Executive Director of Corporate Services at the University of Sheffield and replaced Paul Feldman who is retiring after six years in office. Her appointment was announced in June.

6 new non-executive directors have been appointed to the UKRI board. Their backgrounds provide a blend of business, scientific and technological expertise. They will work with UKRI’s Chair, Sir Andrew Mackenzie, to support and challenge UKRI to maximise the benefits from government investment into R&D and help secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower. They are: Sir Ian Boyd, Dr John Fingleton, Professor Anthony Finkelstein, Priya Guha, Nigel Toon, and Ruwan Weerasekera.

The Student Loans Company is moving its headquarters to Glasgow.

Free Speech

Freedom of Speech in HE remains big news this week as consideration of the Bill continued with the final evidence hearings this week. Here are the most notable points in brief:

Cost

  • Emma Hardy (ex-Shadow Universities Minister) – It is worth pointing out that what is proposed in the Bill does not come cost-free. The impact assessment estimated that the cost of compliance with the Bill would be around £48.1 million. Bearing in mind the points I have made previously about the overlap with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education and the confusion that some students will have, it seems fairly ludicrous that the Government wish to spend £48.1 million replicating something that already exists in another form.
  • Matt Western (current Shadow Universities Minister): …she is absolutely right: this is not just something that already exists, but something that exists relatively cost-free. The cost of £48.1 million that she has mentioned—which is the Department’s estimate of what the Bill will cost student unions and universities across the country—should not be ignored.
  • Matt Western: That must be a real concern: the simple fact that you can bypass all the processes and go straight to court. The clause should therefore be removed or at least amended to reflect the Government’s own views on how they wish the tort to operate.

Misuse: Matt Western:

  • …We have wider concerns that the Bill will create a culture of lawfare against universities. Clause 3 does not restrict the tort to those who personally feel that their speech has been restricted or those who have been directly affected. It therefore risks opening up vexatious claims against universities from those who seek to do them harm. As Dr David Renton and Professor Alison Scott-Baumann said in their written evidence, the Bill means that, “any lecture, seminar or guest speech could lead to a lawsuit.”
  • They pointed out that the statutory tort element of the Bill will open the floodgates to civil litigation and forms of lawfare, most likely from well-funded American groups on the hard right, or perhaps groups such as the Chinese state Communist party.
  • …we will see ambulance chasers, for want of a better term. There will be people putting their cards around student campuses who are looking for opportunities to be mischievous and to make money out of situations that can be manufactured on our campuses.

Cost and Misuse

  • Matt Western paraphrased evidence from Smita Jamdar, Lawyer, Shakespeare: Some of the cases may be small claims, where even if the university is successful in defending the claim, it will not recover its legal costs. Even getting rid of vexatious claims by striking them out can be expensive. So there are significant costs for the university whatever happens…a few thousand pounds in every case could be spent getting rid of claims that are either very trivial or unmeritorious generally.”––[Official Report, Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Public Bill Committee, 7 September 2021; c. 48, Q90.]
  • MW: Do the Government really want to take money from hard-hit students and place it into the hands of far-right holocaust deniers or… those state actors wishing to do us harm?

Ranking: Universities Minister Donelan: the amendment seeks to introduce a requirement on the Office for Students to publish an annual report that would assess and rank higher education providers on their compliance with their freedom of speech duties.

Fines: Michelle Donelan confirmed that the level of fines levied by the Free Speech Commissioner would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny – no further detail was provided.

Impartiality: The independence of the intended Free Speech Commissioner was also discussed.

Exemptions: Wonkhe have a short blog explaining why Michelle Donelan has chosen to exempt the students’ unions attached to individual colleges at Oxford and Cambridge from the Student Union Freedom of Speech duties proposed by the Bill: It’s one rule for most SUs and no rules for Oxbridge 

Costs – loans, grants, and student withdrawals

It comes as no surprise that the House of Commons Library have published a raft of new briefings relating to student finance. MPs are busy buffing up on student finance ahead of the spending review and party conferences. And the sector awaits the Government’s decisions on final outcome of the Augar review rather than the drip drip of changes and warnings of change to come that have been received so far. While it might not have been big news this is the one waiting in the wings.

I will confess I’m a Commons Library brief fan. Even so do take the time to read Student finance in England: How much would it cost to bring back grants? Spoiler: about £0.7 billion for £3k grants if it replaces the loan and isn’t in addition to loans. The brief also explains why receiving a grant wouldn’t change the repayment amounts for low income students – only the minority that go on to become high earners would see a reduction in loan repayments (because lower income students will not fully pay the debt back before the cut off). However, it would likely cut the debt for disadvantaged graduates from £60k to £45k – although one has to ask whether this would really tip the scales to progress to HE for debt adverse graduates.

If we’ve whet your appetite the Commons Library has more briefings in this series –

Both Abolition of maintenance grants in England from 2016/17 and The value of student maintenance support gives more background on changes to maintenance support.

They also have an introduction to student finance in England providing the basics which will be suitable if you are new to this field.

There is also How much do graduates pay back? which outlines the current financial transactions and repayments from graduates.

Meanwhile two new reports have been published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) – one on the tuition loan system, and one on post-HE geographical mobility and graduate earnings.

Tuition Loan system: The impact of living costs on the returns to higher education was commissioned by the DfE and finds that it would be essentially impossible for the Treasury to save money on university tuition fees in England without hurting graduates on average earnings in favour of their wealthy peers. Key findings and recommendations:

  • Despite its many flaws, the current system does have the desirable characteristic that it is progressive: the highest-earning borrowers repay by far the most towards their student loans, and lower-earning borrowers pay less.
  • The chancellor should use the income tax system rather than student loan repayments as a way of raising revenue from the highest-paid graduates.
  • Increasing the repayment rate on student loans would be the most straightforward way to raise more money, but seems to be both politically unpalatable and economically misguided.
  • Lowering the income threshold at which loan repayments start – currently £27,295 – would see more graduates facing an effective marginal tax rate of 50% on their salary and employer’s national insurance contributions when the new health and social care levy takes effect. Non-graduates would face an equivalent rate of just 42%.
  • A more realistic alternative on the table is to extend the loan term for student loans. At the moment, all outstanding student loans are written off 30 years after students start repaying, which generally happens in the year after they leave university. Many commentators, including the authors of the Augar Review, have suggested extending the loan term to 40 years.
  • Researchers estimate that each year-group of domestic undergraduates costs the government about £10bn. Approximately 80% of students will never repay their loans in full, with the IFS’s modelling suggesting that 44% of the value of the loans will be written off.
  • Researchers at the IFS have constructed a calculator, in partnership with the Nuffield Foundation, showing the options and costs available to the Treasury.
  • Looking at post-graduation living costs, and how this might impact tuition loan repayments, they find there are indeed large differences in where graduates from different universities live after leaving education – around 60% of individuals who attended university in London still live there at age 27, while less than 20% of graduates from institutions outside of London live in London at age 27.

Ben Waltmann, senior research economist at IFS, said: With a series of tweaks to the student loans system, successive chancellors have painted themselves into a corner.  The system is expensive but there is essentially no way to raise more money from it without hitting borrowers with average earnings more than the highest-earning ones. If [Sunak] wants to raise more from the highest earners, the chancellor will need to use the tax system.

Nick Hillman, Director of the HEPI and the architect of the 2012 regime during his SpAd years, said the IFS’s analysis confirms that many of the changes being suggested would make the system less progressive: It’s absolutely crucial, however, not to lose sight of the fact that half of all people still do not benefit from higher education. So any assessment looking at graduates only does not show the true distributional impact on the country as a whole. That sounds like a call to back the Government’s graduate metrics and value for money judgements.

Student Loans Company – withdrawals and guidance note: Wonkhe summarise the Student Loans Company (SLC) data release on early-in-year student withdrawal notifications between academic years 2018-19 and 2020-21. The overall withdrawal rate across England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose by 6 per cent compared to the previous academic year, with a total of 32,364 students leaving their courses before completion. However, the total number of withdrawals still lies below the number seen in 2018-19.

The SLC also published an information note setting out the 2021/22 funding arrangements for undergraduate and postgraduate students following the lifting of covid-19 restrictions.

Graduate Mobility: Returning to the second IFS report: London calling? Higher education, geographical mobility and early-career earnings (again commissioned by DfE) this finds that HE enables graduates to move to places with better career prospects, but that this also leads to a ‘brain drain’ from the North and coastal areas.

HE leads to higher geographical mobility:

  • At age 27, around 35% of graduates and 15% of non-graduates have moved away from the travel to work area (TTWA) where they lived at age 16.
  • Around two-fifths of the difference in mobility between graduates and non-graduates can be explained by differences in their background characteristics, such as socio-economic status, prior educational attainment and area of origin. All else equal, graduates are 10% more likely to have moved by age 27 than non-graduates.
  • Graduates of more selective universities are more mobile, even controlling for background characteristics and subject choice.

Graduates move to places with better labour market opportunities.

  • Graduates tend to move to large cities, especially to London – around a quarter of graduates who do move go to London. In contrast, non-graduates do not disproportionately move to London and other large cities.
  • In general, places with high average earnings attract graduates through migration. Graduates who grew up in places with low average earnings are more likely to move away.
  • For a given level of average earnings, cities attract and retain more graduates than other areas. In addition to London, Brighton, Bristol and Leeds all gain large numbers of graduates through migration.
  • By enabling people to move to labour markets that offer better career opportunities, higher education appears to reduce inequality of opportunity between people who grow up in different areas.

Ethnic minorities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to move, and the effect of higher education on mobility is much weaker for these groups.

  • People from the bottom socio-economic status (SES) quintile are 16% less likely to have moved by age 27 than people from the top SES quintile, though most of this difference can be explained by differences in prior attainment and other background characteristics.
  • Young adults of Indian and Pakistani ethnicity are around 7% less likely to have moved by age 27 than White British people, even controlling for differences in background characteristics.
  • Higher education appears to have a much smaller impact on mobility for low SES and ethnic minority groups. All else equal, young people from the poorest families are only around 4% more likely to move if they graduate from university. Black and Asian graduates are no more mobile than Black and Asian non-graduates.
  • Of those who do move, low-SES graduates are less likely to move to major cities than graduates from higher-SES backgrounds, even controlling for background characteristics.

Graduates gain higher earnings from moving.

  • On average, male graduates who move earn 10% more at age 27 than otherwise similar graduates who do not move. For women, the estimated gain to moving is 4%.
  • Estimated ’moving premiums’ are very similar across SES and ethnic groups, with the exception of Asian women, for whom movers earn less than stayers.
  • Subject impact – moving is associated with little/no gain in earnings (controlling for background characteristics) in nursing, education and social care, but very large gains among graduates of law, technology, languages, business and economics – particularly for graduates who move to London.
  • This suggests that moving to certain areas might be necessary to take full advantage of the returns to some degrees.

Patterns of mobility exacerbate regional inequality in skills.

  • Rates of higher education participation vary hugely across the country. Less than 20% of people born in the late 1980s who grew up in Grimsby and Wisbech went on to get degrees, compared with over 40% of those from Tunbridge Wells and High Wycombe.
  • Many cities that gain large numbers of graduates through migration – such as London, Brighton, Leeds and Bristol – already have relatively high levels of higher education participation.
  • In contrast, many places with low levels of higher education participation, such as Grimsby and Wisbech, further lose graduates through migration.

Xiaowei Xu, Senior Research Economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: In moving from more deprived areas to London and other cities, graduates improve their own career prospects, but this exacerbates geographical inequality in skills. As well as ‘levelling up’ educational attainment across the country, policymakers should think about how to attract and retain talent in places that are currently less well-off.

Wonkhe have a blog on the IFS report: Should graduates move to get better jobs? Excerpt: What’s coming through here for me is more evidence that having a university in your area is a great way to have more qualified young people staying in your area – be they originally from there or from elsewhere. 

And on the dichotomy: for the good of some local areas, we could get better at keeping graduates in the area they studied. But for the good of graduates, we should make it easier to move away. Traditionally, individual benefit has trumped societal benefit in Conservative policy – I look forward to one arm of government telling graduates to stay where they are to level up struggling areas, and then another labelling the courses low quality because they lead to low salaries and unskilled jobs.

Research

  • Wonkhe outline the REF arrangements: The Research Excellence Framework (REF) team has writtento higher education providers in the UK to provide details of the arrangements for publishing the REF 2021 results. Institutions will receive their own REF results under embargo on 9 May 2022, with the full publication of REF 2022 taking place on 12 May. Institutions will also receive the full results under embargo on 10 May, with feedback on their REF submissions arriving in June.
  • The Government’s Regulators’ Pioneer Fund has awarded £3.7m of funding to 21 projectsto propel cutting-edge innovation across the UK. The Fund awards projects that help support the country’s regulatory environment to keep pace with technological advances of the future such as using drones to transport vaccines. The Fund is part of wider government work on regulation. This includes the recent Reforming the Framework for Better Regulation consultation and the Better Regulation Committee, chaired by the Chancellor, which aims to drive an ambitious reform agenda ensuring the UK’s regulatory framework is fit for purpose and delivers the government’s strategic objectives.
  • National AI Strategy published.
  • Wonkhe blog: Forging prosperous pathways for early career and postdoctoral researchers.
  • Commons Oral Questions – What steps his Department is taking to establish the UK’s position as a world leader in science, research and innovation.

Admissions, Access & Participation

HEPI have an interesting personal blog which looks at how a student attended a combination of access programmes which both informed and supported successful application and settling in at the chosen university. The individual and parent seem self-motivated and found a range of opportunities they confidently accessed. The blog makes suggestions for universities on what is important.

NEON report on a BBC article which highlights admissions bias. The BBC reported this week that out of the 132 UK universities, listed by UCAS, just nine had a higher offer rate for black applicants. The article also highlights that, in Wales, all institutions had a higher offer rate for white, rather than black, applicants. The article highlights the experiences of three Welsh pupils as they talk about the factors that influence their future choices. Commentating on the data Dr Jason Arday, associate professor of Sociology at Durham University, said the figures highlight that higher education is “systematically disadvantaging particular minority groups” through unconscious bias of admissions teams and programme leaders.

Interestingly, David, one of the interviewees stated:  When you’re looking for universities you have to look for a place that suits you. Sometimes looking for that place might not be on paper the best university, but it’s the best university for you…I know that’s not good or fair, but it’s what I’ve done to have the best university experience.

Anecdotally this is recognised as a regular student phenomenon, after all it is all about personal choice. However, the Government would see this as a failing of the sector, they would like David to feel comfortable and apply to the highest tariff institution his ability would stretch to. It is unrealistic to expect HE to be all things to all people but where do we draw the line? Is the fact that David feels like he belongs less at one institution a failing, is it a combination or personal factors, or is it a demographic which perpetuates and if so – how big a factor is admissions in perpetuating the diversity of the student body?

TASO is tendering for the extension of its research portfolio into supporting student mental health, reducing equality gaps for disabled students, reducing equality gaps in employment and employability, survey scale validation for widening participation and success. They’re all calling for a diverse set or organisations to join the evaluation panel. We can look forward to the conclusion of the successful tenderer’s work in the above challenge areas in the future.

A short insightful Wonkhe blog from Martin at the National Deaf Children’s tackles the difficulties of the continuing Covid related restrictions on campus. It covers problems with mandated mask wearing and auto captioning on remote learning. Important factors which relate to the OfS’ agenda about a student’s experience of quality within their HE institution.

Levelling Up

The Institute for Government published Levelling up an analysis paper in which they examine what the Government actually means by ‘levelling up’. It stated the levelling up agenda lacks clear objectives, with policies often contradicting ministerial rhetoric about decentralising power. It highlights these three aspects for the Government to urgently address:

  1. Is government prioritising the most deprived people or the lowest economic output areas?
  2. What is the role of regional cities in the levelling up agenda?
  3. Does levelling up mean decentralising power or not?

They also note that many of the levelling up policies give most decision-making power to central government – which jars with government rhetoric. The Levelling Up Fund, Towns Fund and Community Renewal Fund are all centrally run and rely on local areas bidding for money. This gives central government a lot of power in deciding where funding goes and what types of projects are eligible.

These analyses recognise that the Government is due to publish a white paper on levelling up this autumn and suggests a further five questions the white paper should address. More content here.

Accompanying the paper is also the explainer report on the Towns Fund

International

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Non-graduate esteem: text Wonkhe describe Education divide a Social Market Foundation publication championed by the former Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Stowell which characterises the gaps between graduates and non-graduates as “the most important division in Britain today”. Noting evidence that a person’s level of education is currently the best predictor of voting behaviour in the UK – and the “domination” of politics, media, and business by graduates – the report will argue that the non-graduate majority often feel “ignored and excluded”.

Stowell recommends that politicians and businesses should do more to “restore the social norms” that previously offered non-graduates esteem and respect in society – and that those holding non-graduate jobs such as those in public transport and retail should be seen as authority figures. There are also calls for employers to offer non-graduates opportunities to progress and lead.

Student Loan calculator: Wonkhe – The Institute for Fiscal Studies has released an interactive calculator for examining how different reforms would affect student loans in England. The calculator produces estimates of the costs and consequences of changes to variables such as the loan term, the repayment threshold, and the interest rate. The Guardian covers the tool.

Careers: Wonkhe tell us – The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing on careers guidance in English schools, colleges and universities. The briefing covers the current state of careers guidance and how the Skills for Jobs white paper plans to strengthen existing services.

Emergency contact: The Information Commissioner’s Office blogged about Sharing personal data in an emergency – a guide for universities and colleges.

UCAS Policy Groups: UCAS is looking for new members to join their nation-specific – English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish – Policy Groups. These new groups will represent the diverse interests of UCAS’ customers and stakeholders, and their progression to UK post-secondary education including higher education (HE) and apprenticeships. Their principal role is to influence and inform UCAS’ policy positions and supplement the work of UCAS Council, which advises the UCAS Board. UCAS invites new member applications from across the sector and aims for these advisory groups to be a diverse community with different views, approaches and insights – colleagues from a broad range of backgrounds, demographics and cultures are therefore encouraged to send their expressions of interest. The groups will meet twice a year. Members will be expected to be active in the sector, engage with the group, contribute to its activities, and seek views and feedback from their own networks and other groups. The current list of members, vacancies and Terms of Reference can be found on the groups and forums web page. Contact the policy team if you are interested in this opportunity.

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HE policy update – w/e 10th September 2021

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

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

You must have missed all this?  No?

Freedom of Speech Bill

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

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

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

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

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

Spending Review, Fees & Student Loan rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much do students spend on living costs?

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick News

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

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

Williamson speaks…

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

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

Quality:

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

Back to campus: 

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

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

Access & Participation:

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

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

A confusing bit on technical education:

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

Wonkhe on Access:

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

Wonkhe correcting the line on apprenticeships –

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

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

Culture wars:

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

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

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

Rethinking HE

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

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

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

Admissions

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

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

Exam results – Education Select Committee (held 7 September)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exam Results

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

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

Access and Participation

Research Professional report on the IPPO review – details below.

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Economic benefits

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

Public costs

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

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

Student Mobility: Turing

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

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

Student Voices

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th July 2021

The expected deluge of summer regulatory news is still a trickle, but one outstanding consultation has reported  – the one on monetary penalties, which no-one hopes to have to deal with. The Skills and Post-16 Bill began the Committee stage with interesting debate and the continued criticism of what is lacking; Lord Storey’s essay mills bill was warmly received in its second reading by a small group of attending Lords; UCAS data shows growth in applications and offer making for new entrants; Nicola Dandridge remains as Chief Executive of the OfS (for now); there is Life Sciences news; and the Government announcements unlocking the Covid restrictions permit face to face teaching, for now, anyway.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill entered the Committee stage. You can read the full debate or we bring you the most relevant HE discussion below. All amendments debated were either withdrawn or not moved, however, the content of the discussions is useful and interesting and Government advisers will have taken note of the points raised and general feeling within the Lords chamber.

  • Amendment 1 sought to ensure that the interests of students whose needs were not encompassed by local employers were included within the Bill…a strong link between local business and local skills provision were a good idea, but the interests of potential students were missing.
  • A request that providers of distance learning were taken into account when creating local skills improvement plans…the likes of the Open University had been “a life-changer for many who could not study residentially.”
  • Amendment 22 (Lord Addington) aimed to ensure special education needs provision was included in the initial planning of courses and training…a key benefit…would be in helping them to identify those in high-needs groups, and provide the relevant support. And Amendment 26 sought to ensure those with SEND would be supported to look further afield than their local area, to find appropriate careers that were more comfortable to them.
  • Baroness Fox of Buckley’s major concern with the Bill was that “it focuses too narrowly on the skills required by local employers,” which she said could narrow the options for students. She stated that agreed with the Chief Executive of the Workers’ Educational Association who has stated that Bill was “quiet on support for any qualifications below Level 3″, which “offer many adult learners key progression routes.” Also that the Bill did little to support subjects outside a narrow band of technical disciplines.
  • Defending the Bill on behalf of the Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (DfE and DTI), Baroness Berridge, said the Bill was much wider than just the technical education part that formed the “central plank” of the local skills improvement plan… the Bill did not exclude any particular level of qualification. The limiting was the technical education section of what the providers in a local area would have due regard to when they considered the local skills improvement plan.
  • Lord Aberdare (CB) cited a 2019 report by Future Founders that revealed that 51 percent of British young people aged 14 to 25 had thought about starting, or had already started, a business. He said that the Bill should address their needs, and not focus only on the skills need of existing employers.
  • Lord Young (Lab) said he was fascinated to learn that students applying to UCAS were not just given the opportunity of university places but directed towards apprenticeships.
  • Baroness Berridge (Government representative) added that the designated employer body would need to engage and work closely with providers, which included the Careers and Enterprise Company, local careers hubs, the National Careers Service, area-based contractors and Jobcentre Plus. She continued that they were currently contemplating two study programmes specifically designed to prepare young people for employment: traineeships and supported internships.
  • Baroness Hayman (CB) moved Amendment 3, which would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training was “material” to a specified area, consideration had to also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities or expertise align with the UK’s net zero She added that an estimated 3.2 million workers in the UK needed to increase their skill level or retrain in a new qualification if the UK was to meet its net zero target, and if they were to get the jobs that would be available.
  • Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) moved Amendment 4 (to Amendment 3), which would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training is “material” to a specified area, consideration must also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities and expertise aligned with biodiversity targets.

The above two points illustrate the frequent criticism that the Bill did not offer more content linked to the climate and ecological emergency. Moreover:

  • The Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change, Lord Oates, stated that the local dimension was often missing from thinking on net zero. Baroness Wilcox of Newport, there was currently not a single reference to climate considerations in the Bill. Baroness Berridge offered assurance that the Government took net zero skills seriously, and there would not be a green gap in the guidance. She stressed that net zero, green technology and decarbonisation were common themes in the proposals that Government had received from the employer representative bodies seeking to lead the local skills improvement panel trailblazers. She added that the expectation was that the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under Clause 1 would reflect zero-carbon goals as businesses and employers responded to climate change and the biodiversity agenda.
  • Opposition Spokesperson for Education Lord Watson of Invergowrie warned – Although we fully support the principle of employers playing a more active role in driving certain aspects of the skills system, as well as a more specialised role for FE colleges in delivering higher-level technical skills, that must take place within the context of a holistic and objective overview of the whole education, skills and employment support system, to guard against introducing further complexity.
  • Baroness Berridge (Government representative) told the chamber that the local skills improvement plans would set out the key changes needed for post-16 technical education training, and make it more responsive to employers’ needs. Addressing some of the amendments, she said that “the relevant providers will play an important role, working with the employer representative bodies to develop these plans. We have not taken them out of the picture; the duty is there to co-operate.”

Wonkhe explain about the Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs): Though the committee was not divided, speaking on behalf of the government, Baroness Berridge confirmed providers (including distance learning providers like the Open University) will be able to participate in multiple LSIPs. We also learned that the six-to-eight “trailblazer” LSIPs, from 40 bids, would be announced later this month and will run until 2022.

The Bill will be debated at Committee Stage again on 15 and 19 July.

Contract Cheating

Lord Storey’s Private Member’s Bill (PMB), the Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill, completed the second reading stage on 25 June with support and warm words from a small group of peers and the Minister.

Lord Storey currently has an amendment lodged to the Skills Bill, it wasn’t chosen for debate this week. We’ll wait to see if it comes up in the two remaining days of the Bills’ Committee stage. If it is it’ll give us an indication of the wider parliamentary mood for the abolition of essay mills. If his amendment succeeds (in some form) he’ll likely withdraw his PMB. Or it may go the other way, and the amendment be dropped in favour of another measure.  PMBs rarely make it onto the statue book because of shortage of time, but this time government support may help it go further.

The second reading discussion also clarified that while contract cheating may also be taking place during A levels the Minister favours confining the Bill to HE. Whilst the tone of the second reading was favourable there is still a long road the Bill needs to traverse.  You’ll also note in the Minister’s response below that emphasis is placed on HE institutions to addressing contract cheating.

Excerpts from Minister’s response:

  • It is clear that there is a strong case for supporting institutions to address this matter robustly. We have much sympathy with the noble Lord’s aims through his Bill and would welcome further discussion with him about it.
  • Some of the Bill’s provisions need careful attention…he has brought forward the Bill in the spirit of seeking to find a solution to the problem…It has the potential, particularly as part of a wider approach, to reduce the number of essay mills in operation. It would also send a clear sign to students and the companies themselves that this activity is illegal.
  • Some noble Lords mentioned the international action that has been taken…Emerging evidence in both those jurisdictions suggests that those laws are deterring essay mills from providing services to students, and regulators there have reported that having the legislation has provided them with more tools to engage students, higher education providers and cheating services, and that it has given them additional routes to tackle the problem.
  • It is an important and timely Bill that needs to be considered carefully to maximise its effectiveness but, alongside a continued and collaborative effort with the sector to deter, detect and address contract cheating, it is one that could enable us to face the problem head-on.

Meanwhile Research Professional states that universities have been warned that essay mills are targeting institutions’ websites in a bid to reach students, which could put the “reputation and integrity” of universities at risk.

Research

UKRI Chair: The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee supported the appointment of Sir Andrew Mackenzie for the role of Chair of UKRI (report). The Committee concludes that, on the basis of the discussions during the pre-appointment hearing, its consideration of his CV, and the answers he provided to the Committee’s questionnaire, Sir Andrew’s career provides him with the professional competence and many of the skills required for the role of Chair of UK Research and Innovation. The Committee raises concerns that a robust process should be put in place to manage any actual or perceived future conflicts of interest between the role of Chair of UKRI and Sir Andrew’s part-time role as Chair of Shell.

Life Sciences: The Government published a new UK Life Science Vision setting out a 10-year strategy for the sector to build on successes achieved during the pandemic. The Vision outlines 7 critical healthcare missions for Government, industry, the NHS, academic and medical research charities:

  1. Accelerating the pace of studies into novel dementia treatment
  2. Enabling early diagnosis and treatments, including immune therapies such as cancer vaccines
  3. Sustaining the UK’s position in vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing
  4. Treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases and its major risk factors, including obesity
  5. Reducing mortality and morbidity from respiratory disease in the UK and globally
  6. Addressing the underlying biology of ageing
  7. Increasing the understanding of mental health conditions, including work to redefine diseases and develop tools to address them

A central component of the vision is that it contains a focus on cultivating a business environment which will allow UK life science firms to access finance to innovate and grow; and are incentivised to onshore manufacture and commercialise their products.

To support the vision, the Government has launched a £200m Life Sciences Investment Programme and expects the programme to leverage further private sector investment. Dods tell us that new funding will also come from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company, which has committed to invest £800m to the life sciences industry, working with British Patient Capital.

The Minister may have changed but the content of the speeches hasn’t – new Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: We have made immense strides in health research over the past year – the discovery of the use of dexamethasone and our vaccine rollout have been crucial to saving hundreds of thousands of lives and tackling COVID-19. It’s crucial we continue to harness this enthusiasm and innovation, and map out a new route as we build back better. Today’s bold vision commits to putting the lessons we’ve learnt into action to transform the UK into a life sciences superpower.

Life Sciences Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: We want to bottle up this scientific brilliance, and the Life Sciences Vision provides a roadmap for how we apply this innovation at the heart of our NHS helping to solve major health challenges such as dementia and obesity – all while ensuring the UK remains a global leader in life sciences.

Research Professional blog: Focusing life sciences policy on medicine would miss huge opportunities in other fields, says Neil Hall.

ARIA: Recruitment for the first Chair of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) has begun with a focus on management over research experience. In their scrutiny of the full Bill text, MPs were keen to ensure clear measures of transparency were in place for the head of the new agency, and that there could be no room for conflicts of interest. The chair will act as a “custodian for Aria’s mission and objectives,” and be responsible for supporting overall direction and management, ensuring that the board takes an effective governance role. It adds that it is vital that any applicant is an “experienced board member”, among a list of other management-focused essential criteria. But “experience in public or private sector R&D” is only listed as desirable. It is a 4-5 year appointment (2 days a week, £60k). The ARIA Bill itself is still awaiting a Second Reading date for its procession through the House of Lords, so far a one month delay.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said whoever is appointed “will have the opportunity to make history” as the holder of one of ARIA’s pivotal roles: “We are looking for someone who commands the confidence of academic, business, higher education and policy communities, promote[s] effective stakeholder engagement, guide[s], and challenge[s] the development of Aria’s organisational approach.”

Ethics Appointment: Felicity Burch has been appointed executive director of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

Admissions – applicant data

UCAS released interactive data for applications made to the 30 June 2021 deadline highlighting increased offer making and application levels. Searches for apprenticeships also continue to rise. There were 456,190 18 year old applicants to English institutions. Overall, a total of 682,010 applicants (+4% on 2020) made 2,955,990 applications (+6%), resulting in 1,998,690 offers (+3%).

Also reported is that UCAS’s CareerFinder, which helps students find jobs and degree/higher apprenticeships, saw a record 1.35 million searches in the last 12 months, up 37% from 986,000 in 2020. These searches have resulted in 225,000 job applications, an increase from 181,000 last year (+24%).  You’ll want to play with the data as it offers all these additional granular options.

Research Professional’s Admission Control interprets the data excellently. The piece quickly reminds us of the history of how students bear the financial burden for funding HE institutions and the associated decline in the teaching grant over the year; it touches on grade inflation in school results, explains the jump in applicant numbers, and that applications to the higher tariff and more selective institutions increased – reminding that some institutions will likely be losers despite the greater numbers intending to enter HE. Also:

  • The bigger problem may be shifts within institutions, with healthcare, for example, a growing part of the post-1992 portfolio; while the arts and social sciences are retreating into high-tariff institutions, with corresponding departmental closures elsewhere.

Confirmation and clearing are expected to be different this year:

  • With more cautious offer-making this cycle, higher-tariff universities may well be filling their places with applicants who have made them their firm first choice, and have less room for recruitment of school leavers in clearingIf awarded grades are much closer to predicted grades than in a year when in-person examinations were held, we might anticipate more school leavers’ places being settled in confirmation than in clearing.

Data HE also make an interesting point: because the main Ucas deadline in January was disrupted and moved to a later date, the figures this year give “a fuller picture of demand” than in previous years…while total offers were up, the offer rate to 18-year-olds appeared to be down—which…would be “the first fall of the post-2012 era”…This was “driven by a five-point collapse in the offer rate from higher-tariff providers, probably back to levels we last saw seven or eight years ago”. “These universities are responding the best they can to the twin pressures of surging applications and unprecedented uncertainty in the [A-level or equivalent] awarded grades…Even with their trimming back of offers, and probably harsher offer conditions too, many will be on full alert for results in August, where another strong increase in grades could be hard to honour in full. With no reason at the moment to expect demand to recede in the 2020s, this downward turn in the offer rate might well be the first chill wind of a harsher world for university applicants. Where the balance of supply and demand is no longer in their favour, and greater flexibility on universities and subjects might be needed to get in.”

On this Wonkhe conclude similarly: Last year saw a sizable increase in applications to higher tariff providers, and this trend continues into 2021. However, even though the number of offers made has also grown, the effect is that the offer rate (the proportion of applications that result in an offer) has dropped – from around 73 per cent in 2019 and 2020 to 68 per cent in 2021. My proposed explanation for this would be capacity – many high tariff providers are already above capacity for 2020, taking too much from the fertile pool that is 2021 starts to put serious pressure on estates and available accommodation.

What the coverage doesn’t raise is the Government’s agenda to divert a proportion of students away from HE into a higher technical route which they believe will be more controlled and meet local and national business and skills needs. The government are also very concerned about the rising cost of the student loan book. If record numbers enrol for September the sector will likely need to brace itself for a fresh wave of criticism from Government as they seek to assert more control and value for money.

Wonkhe offer blogs by UCAS – Rich O’Kelly breaks down the data and says the rise in applications is not all down to Covid-19; and everyone’s favourite HE data guru David Kernohan: More eighteen year olds from China have applied to start a UK undergraduate course in 2021 than eighteen year olds from Wales. And just what is happening with Nigerian mature students.

Excerpts from David’s blog: With youth unemployment at a historic high, you’d be wise to expect an uptick in applications to undergraduate higher education in 2021. And you’d be right. It’s testament to the continuing attractions of university study after a sustained period of barely-disguised ministerial attacks – the application rate in England has hit 43.9 per cent. It also notes the continued decline of EU domiciled applications.

And on the best approach to teaching and the student experience the blog says:

  • Playing into a captive market – there’s not many jobs about, placement-related learning and apprenticeships are tricky, travelling is unlikely – we should be wary of complacency regarding the experience of students in a likely Covid-filled autumn. There’ll certainly be no help from government. We should by now have learned what works online and what doesn’t – the planning of contact hours should be the key thing course teams are looking at right now.
  • I would argue that the instinct to shift large lectures online is the right one. A combination of the increasing demand for recorded lectures from students, and the still-a-thing pedagogic trend of the split classroom both play in to shifting the mass transmission of information online to prevent the mass transmission of Covid-19.
  • The trouble will come in… A sensible pedagogic and public health decision can also look like a decrease in value for money. This effect has already played a part in the “contact hours” debate, and it has certainly been the main colour to the arguments about the lack of face to face this year. In person teaching in small groups is what we should be looking for – ditching the big lecture hall events will have a reputational but not a pedagogic impact.

Access & Participation

Importance of Place: Research Professional report – Chris Millward returned yesterday in a blogpost looking at the impact of “place” on university access. Using an analysis of the OfS’s “associations between characteristics of students” measure, he found that “more than 90 per cent of the lowest-participation group are white students who have been eligible for free school meals or come from the lowest-participation neighbourhoods”. “So income is important, but so is place,” he concluded. You can read the blogpost here. It’s an OfS blog.

Wonkhe: The Office for Students blog has a transcript of Director of Fair Access Chris Millward’s contribution to a Sutton Trust webinar on the factors that affect access to higher education.

And you can read the latest about Chris Millward below in Other news.

Parliamentary Questions:

How to be an ally

Our own Toluwa Atilade (SUBU Vice-President Welfare and Community) and Roshana Wickremasinghe (SUBU Policy Adviser) have written a blog for Wonkhe “Where are the black squares now?” on allyship.  They note:

  • With the press coverage of the recent Freedom of Speech Bill, it was clear that students’ unions still have a reputation for upholding “cancel culture” through no-platforming, or the use of safe spaces.
  • Our commitment to creating a culture of allyship hopefully shows that this is not the case, and that we understand that students and staff are willing to learn more and work on their own biases. 

You can find the SUBU allyship hub here.

Post Graduate survey

Wonkhe: The Office for Students has finally published some details about the 2019 trial of a PGT student questionnaire. The regulator learned “valuable lessons” about how the survey operated and how to obtain a robust sample, and has indicated that it will refine the questionnaire to make it more relevant to distance learning and part-time students via some workshops with provider and student representatives. A news story adds that students are keen to share views about course experiences, and that further information will be available by the end of Summer 2021.

More detail is available on the OfS blog: Developing a survey of taught postgraduate students.

International

A parliamentary question: Q – Munira Wilson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will make it her policy to grant cost exemptions to students who need to extend their visas to complete their course in the UK as a result of the duration of their courses being extended due to the covid-19 outbreak.

A – Kevin Foster: We have no plans to exempt students from paying an application fee where they require further time to complete a course of study.

Wonkhe tell us that The Independent has a piece from Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran on support for Hong Kongers arriving in the UK on the British Nationals Overseas scheme – including helping them access higher education.

Covid unlocking

The Government announcements on progression with the Covid roadmap was followed by a House of Commons parliamentary debate on Covid-19 in Education Settings lead by Education SoS, Gavin Williamson. Operational guidance for HE providers was also published. As you’ll likely be aware of the announcement we’ll cover them as quickly as possible. If you’d like more detail do read the transcript of the debate or this Commons’ Library research briefing.

  • From September no restrictions on in-person teaching at universities, unless students were told to isolate or were impacted by local outbreaks.
  • Williamson said a “more proportionate set of controls” would apply to early years, schools, colleges and HE institutions, and that these would maintain their baseline of protective measures, while minimising disruption. Settings will continue to have a role in working with health protection teams in the case of a local outbreak. Where necessary, some measures may need to be reintroduced.
  • Williamson: looking towards 2022 and assessment and the awarding of grades. It is our intention to move back to an exam system, but we recognise that we must ensure that mitigations are in place for pupils taking that assessment in the next academic year. We will look at sharing more information about what those mitigations are before the summer, and we will update his Education Committee and the House accordingly.
  • Emma Hardy (Labour) asked What are the Government doing to prevent the chaos of last year by ensuring that all higher education students can receive both vaccinations before moving around the country to their university? How will the Secretary of State ensure that those turning 18 late in this academic year are offered both vaccinations before they move to university? Williamson stated they were working closely with the university sector to “get the message through about how important it is for youngsters—students—to be out there getting their vaccine: it protects not only them, but their friends, their family and their community.”
  • Williamson: I want to encourage all teachers, educational staff and eligible students to get their vaccines
  • Christian Matheson raised that exam changes were made at the last minute, with very little time for schools and pupils to prepare. If the Secretary of State is considering changes to the exam system, will he have an open consultation with school leaders and teachers, and will he get the plans in place as early as possible, so that there is not the sense of teachers being dumped on at the last minute? Williamson responded: we talk continually to school leaders, teachers and many in the education sector on these issues. I can assure him that…we will be sharing further information on assessment in the next academic year.

A related parliamentary question asks about the resumption of face-to-face lectures in September 2021, Donelan responds, excerpt:

  • There will be no requirement for social distancing or other measures. Providers are, therefore, able to shape their courses without restrictions to face-to-face provision.
  • During the COVID-19 outbreak, many providers have developed their digital offering and, as autonomous institutions, some might choose to retain elements of this approach. However, they will not have to do this because of COVID-19 restrictions, and our expectations are very clear: universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition and ensure it is accessible to all students.
  • We expect providers to have contingency plans to deal with any identified positive cases of COVID-19 or outbreaks. HE providers should communicate clearly to their students what they can expect from planned teaching and learning under different circumstances and scenarios, so that they are able to make informed choices.
  • We will continue to keep these measures under review, informed by the latest scientific evidence and advice.

And another parliamentary question this time on Vaccinating young HE starters: If the Government will consider prioritising 17-year-old students [who are classed currently as children and not eligible for the vaccine] planning to start university in September 2021 to receive their first covid-19 vaccine so that those students will be able to be in receipt of two covid-19 vaccinations prior to the start of the 2021-22 academic year. Answer – we’ll be told in due course.

Wonkhe describe the media coverage:

  • The BBC, the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Independent cover Williamson’s statement, focusing on schools, and the Telegraph has an opinion piece wondering how Gavin Williamson still has a place in the cabinet.
  • The Times also has a comment by the columnist Sarah Ditum that argues students are right to ask for face-to-face teaching in September, while the Mail covers OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge’s comment to universities that lectures should only remain online where “standards are not being compromised”.

Wonkhe also have blogs: Jim Dickinson runs down how the guidance will change after 19 July and David Kernohan looks at the group of students most affected by vaccine age disparities ahead of the new academic year.

Research Professional have a good write up picking out and analysing key points in No limits, for now. Including:

  • In effect, responsibility for infection control is being passed from the Westminster government to higher education institutions in England. The devolved assemblies have yet to announce plans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • After 16 August, under-18s and fully vaccinated people who come into contact with a positive case of Covid will not be required to self-isolate. What could possibly go wrong? No chance of a general flouting of the rules. It all feels a bit like the prime minister has for now run out of road with his backbenchers—but that we will all be back in lockdown come the autumn.
  • We hope we are wrong. It would be heartbreaking to see another cohort of students recruited on a promise of open campuses only to spend the winter locked down in their rental accommodation.
  • Perhaps the reason a plan for the next academic term is not forthcoming from the Department for Education is because there is no plan for the country.

In addition last Friday Research Professional reported that

  • Johnson released a social media video to students graduating this year. He said that while “most of you faced, in fact, a very low personal risk from the coronavirus…the impact on your studies and on your lives, and in many cases the toll on your mental health, has been immense. I know in many cases it’s not what you signed up for.”
  • In his Twitter commencement speech, Johnson thanked graduating students for the “resilience” they had shown, before urging them to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He concluded by saying: “Thanks to your amazing spirit and dedication over the last 18 months, I know I can count on a whole generation of fantastic people with all the grit and determination and moxie and mojo and general oomph to make [‘building back better’] happen.”
  • Johnson failed to mention the modelling underway in the Treasury and the Department for Education with the aim for graduates to make larger student loan repayments to help cover the post-Covid national debt. Something else that they didn’t sign up for when they started their degrees.

Research Professional say:

  • What it means for universities is that come September, when students are returning to campus to form new households in shared housing and halls of residence—frequently identified as vectors of transmission—there will be little in the way of national planning for infection control. Despite the extension of the rollout to 18-year-olds, it is clear that vaccines on their own are not enough.
  • We still do not have a track-and-trace system up to the job, or financial support for isolation, or adequate border controls, or a strategy for effective local lockdowns. The prime minister and his new health secretary seem to be solely relying on vaccines as an emblem of the UK’s apparent status as a science superpower and are neglecting all the other elements necessary in a comprehensive and coherent strategy for public health.
  • The irreversible roadmap to freedom could yet unravel for the UK. It will certainly test universities this autumn.

Wales – university issues

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee held a one-off session on issues facing the Welsh University sector. It turns out that lots of the issues facing Welsh universities are similar to those facing English universities. Content included Erasmus, Horizon Europe, casualisation of staff, attractiveness of universities and the implications of the immigration system.

Graduate careers

Parliamentary question: Graduate work support and working with local employers to support new graduates into employment

Graduate training: Wonkhe highlight – report published today by the Learning and Work Institute and NOCN found that graduates are four times more likely to have received job-related training than those with lower level qualifications.

Blogs

Wonkhe: In the absence of a steady career ladder and predictable monetary returns for graduates, Zahir Irani says the HE sector will need to rethink how it delivers value for money.

HEPI: Careers Education for the ‘no-collar’ worker.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

As the first part of the regulatory deluge we have been expecting this summer (so far more of a trickle), the OfS have published the outcome of their consultation on monetary penalties.  Hopefully of minority interest, and with no surprises:

Following a thorough consideration of the consultation responses, the OfS has decided:

  • as a general principle, to calculate a monetary penalty by reference to a provider’s ‘qualifying income’ (which broadly includes all relevant fees for relevant higher education courses and OfS grants received by a provider for the relevant year)
  • to apply a five-step approach to the calculation, which takes into account a range of factors, including any mitigating and aggravating circumstances, before deciding on an appropriate penalty
  • to allow a provider to request a ‘settlement discount’ (leading to a discounted monetary penalty) in certain circumstances, where the provider agrees that it has breached a condition and accepts a monetary penalty
  • to recover the OfS’s costs in relation to the imposition of sanctions where appropriate.

Other news

Languages: Research Professional – The University Council of Modern Languages and the British Academy published (kind of) a report on granular trends in recruitment to higher education courses. To read more on Research Professional’s analysis and the limitations of the report scroll to part way down through this article.

OfS leaders: Nicola Dandridge’s contact as Chief Executive of the OfS has been extended for 1 more year until December 2022. Research Professional has the story here. Dandridge was originally appointed on a four-year term in 2017…  Education secretary Gavin Williamson has the option to extend Dandridge’s contract for 10 years, but the OfS said her contract could be extended again at the end of June next year.

Meanwhile Chris Millward Director for Fair Access and Participation will leave his role in December (when his contract ends) however Research Professional report he’ll be taking on a different role in the OfS. Research Professional: Millward has been busy in recent weeks, telling universities to stop using their Teaching Excellence Framework awards to promote themselves, heralding the number of women taking artificial intelligence postgraduate conversion courses and responding to a call from MPs for universities to be targeted on the number of white working-class students accessing higher education.

Open Access: Wonkhe tell us that Jisc has announced a two-year open access pilot agreement with the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Under the agreement, Jisc member institutions will be able to access and publish in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences without incurring any charges.

Decentralisation: Research Professional talk about the artificial divide between FE and HE in England and what more devolution (decentralisation) might offer.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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